The Republican Party got some welcome news out of Tuesday’s West Virginia Senate primary: the party’s not as overtly xenophobic and racist as previously feared! While that might sound like faint praise for the primary winner, State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is projected to defeat Rep. Evan Jenkins, it speaks to the potential damage that a victory by coal baron Don Blankenship threatened to inflict on the credibility of the party in November and beyond. The Trump-styled candidate, who served a year in prison after being held criminally liable for a deadly mine disaster, hovered third in the polls throughout much of the primary season, but in the lead up to Primary Day, Blankenship’s candidacy appeared to take flight, boosted by a series of rambling, incoherent, explicitly xenophobic TV ads that raised eyebrows, as well as his profile.
The ads speak for themselves really. “Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people,” Blankenship said in a 30-second ad. “While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich. In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars.” During the race, Blankenship has obsessed over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Chao was born in Taiwan and came to the United States as a child.
When asked about the racist ad, Blankenship responded: “We’re confused on our staff as to how it can be racist when there’s no mention of race. There’s no race. Races are Negro, white Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian. There’s no mention of a race. I’ve never used a race word.”
Despite all that, disconcertingly for national Republicans, Blankenship caught fire and, according to some internal polling, appeared to pull ahead of his two rivals in tracking polling the weekend before the election, registering 31 percent of the vote to 28 percent for Jenkins and 27 percent for Morrisey. The snubs of the Republican establishment, including Trump during a visit to the state, did not appear to be working and the president, himself, weighed in on the race on Twitter. While not explicitly disparaging Blankenship or his views, Trump urged Republican voters in the state to look elsewhere. “To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference,” Trump tweeted. “Problem is, Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can’t win the General Election in your State… No way! Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey!”
While West Virginia voters may not have listened per se, they did agree. Both candidates, Morrisey and Jenkins, were considered far more palatable to the GOP establishment, though Jenkins was the GOP insiders choice in this race. Morrisey touted himself as the only true conservative in the race and snagged the endorsement of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Morrisey now moves on to the general election against longtime Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, in a race the GOP desperately wants to win and may even need to win in order to keep control of the Senate in November.