The Slatest

Racist Ex-Convict Coal Baron Enters Presidential Race

Don Blankenship smiles as he speaks to reporters.
Then–Senate candidate Don Blankenship in 2018 in Charleston, West Virginia.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Don Blankenship, a former coal baron and ex-convict whom President Donald Trump once spoke out against for being too extreme, said on Monday that he planned to run for president as a third-party candidate. The news, while bizarre, doesn’t mean much in terms of real campaign politics, given that he stands pretty much no chance of making any real ripples. But it does give us the opportunity to revisit Blankenship’s past electoral failure.

Blankenship, who spent a year in prison in connection with 29 coal miners’ deaths, ran for a Senate seat in West Virginia in 2018. His campaign was rooted in anger (mostly related to his own past incarceration) and xenophobia. He called Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan and moved to the U.S. as a child, a “China person,” and he blasted out an ad claiming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is married to Chao, had been bribed by his “China family” into creating jobs for “China people” instead of Americans. When pressed about the ad, Blankenship rejected criticism by saying he could not have been racist by just mentioning Chinese people: “Races are Negro, white Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian. There’s no mention of a race.” His poll numbers began to surge, and he pulled to the front of the pack. Despite Blankenship calling himself “Trumpier than Trump,” the president exhorted followers to vote against Blankenship, reminding them of Roy Moore’s loss in the Alabama special election.

It also didn’t help that Blankenship was found to have been responsible for a 2010 explosion that killed 29 coal miners in what was considered the worst mining disaster in 40 years. Blankenship was convicted of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards in 2015 and spent a year in prison. He has maintained that federal regulators were actually to blame and that he was targeted for political reasons, appealing to the right-wing conspiracy theory crowd.

Patrick Morrisey, the state attorney general, beat out Blankenship—who came in third, after former Rep. Evan Jenkins—in the Republican primary. Blankenship responded to the news by announcing he would run as a third-party candidate with the Constitution Party—a tactic banned by the state’s “sore loser” law. The state Supreme Court blocked his bid, and Blankenship’s name did not make it onto the ballot. Morrisey went on to lose to Democrat Joe Manchin.

In Monday’s statement, Blankenship, who again wants to run with the Constitution Party, said he was “attempting to be the first person ever to become an occupant of the White House after having been in the ‘big house.’ ” He also promised to be the right candidate for “Americans who can no longer stand the constant drama and haggling that we have seen on our televisions the past three years.” Seems about right.

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