Fading in the polls and running out of time before next week’s West Virginia primary, Republican Senate hopeful and ex-con Don Blankenship is ratcheting up his attacks on the GOP establishment.
In a new ad posted to Facebook on Monday, Blankenship seemed to suggest Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell either uses or sells hard drugs. Or as Blankenship puts it near the end of the lo-fi spot: “One of my goals as U.S. senator will be to ditch ‘Cocaine Mitch.’ ”
While Blankenship offers no explanation for his new nickname for McConnell in the ad, Fox News reports that his campaign told the network that it is rooted in “accusations of drug smuggling on Chinese ships associated with the family of McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.” (The Nation reported in 2014 that Colombian inspectors once found 90 pounds of cocaine aboard a shipping vessel owned by the family.) The ad continues Blankenship’s recent semiobsession with Chao, who was born in Taiwan before coming to the United States at the age of 8. In a series of recent interviews, Blankenship has referred to Chao’s father, who was born in Shanghai but is now a U.S. citizen, as a “wealthy China-person,” and suggested that Chao and McConnell can’t be trusted to put America’s interest first because of their “connections in China.”
The rest of the 30-second ad is just as absurd. Blankenship begins like so: “The politicians are running a lot of crazy ads. They blew up the coal mine, and then put me in prison. Now they’re running ads that say the coal mine blew up and I went to prison. There’s no surprise there.”
Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, is correct that there is no surprise that his time in prison has become an issue in the campaign. This time last year, Blankenship was still in a halfway house finishing out his one-year sentence after being convicted of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards in connection with the devastating 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine, which killed 29 men. Blankenship alleges that it was federal regulators who were really to blame for the blast and that he was merely a “political prisoner” in the Obama administration’s war on coal and an innocent victim of a Benghazi-style cover-up. So unbelievable is that claim that not even our conspiracy- and persecution-minded president wants to be seen with Blankenship.
McConnell and the rest of the GOP establishment fear that if Blankenship were to win the GOP nomination next week, he will spoil their chances of defeating Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin this fall in a state Trump won by more than 40 percentage points in 2016. The party had hoped they could ignore Blankenship, but after he emerged as a serious contender this spring, GOP allies launched a well-funded covert attack against him last month. It appears to be paying off.
A pair of polls last week found Blankenship in a distant (but not too distant) third pace behind his two main rivals, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins. McConnell, however, isn’t celebrating just yet—and not just because the primary is still a full week away. On Tuesday night, Blankenship, Morrisey, and Jenkins will all be onstage for an evening debate hosted by Fox News. No one expects Blankenship to go quietly.