Trump urges West Virginia voters to reject Blankenship

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A defiant Don Blankenship fired back today after President Donald Trump urged West Virginia voters to support two of the convicted ex-coal executive’s opponents in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

Blankenship said in a statement issued by his campaign that “I will win the primary and I will beat Joe Manchin. Neither of my opponents can beat Joe Manchin without my support, but I will beat Joe Manchin even without the support of the establishment.”

Trump felt otherwise when he said in a tweet that Blankenship would lose the general election to Manchin, the Democratic incumbent senator.

Blankenship is among six GOP candidates in Tuesday’s primary. Others include two-term U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

“To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference,” Trump said on Twitter. “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!”

Trump cited Alabama Republican Roy Moore, who lost a special Senate election after allegations of past sexual misconduct. Trump had endorsed Moore in that race.

The 68-year-old Blankenship, the former CEO at Massey Energy, served a one-year prison term on a misdemeanor conviction for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 miners were killed in a 2010 explosion. Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of his release from a California prison. He filed Senate candidacy papers late last year.

Blankenship has taken aim at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with racially charged accusations of corruption. He responded that Trump doesn’t know him and “the establishment is misinforming him because they do not want me to be in the US Senate and promote the president’s agenda.”

He added: “As some have said, I am Trumpier than Trump and this morning proves it.”

Blankenship also touted his millions of dollars in contributions to past Republican campaigns in the state, including spending $3.4 million to help elect the first Republican to the state Supreme Court in 2004.

“West Virginia voters should remember that my enemies are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and my opponents would not even be running as Republicans had I not resurrected the Republican Party in West Virginia,” Blankenship said.

West Virginia gave Donald Trump his largest margin of victory in the nation in 2016.

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