Three states hold U.S. Senate primaries Tuesday, all of them are in states won handily by President Trump in 2016 but are represented by Democrats in the Senate, and the biggest drama is playing out in West Virginia, with Trump begging GOP voters there not to nominate the candidate that both conservatives and moderates believe has no chance of winning in November.
Conservatives are trying to rally the base to get West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey into the general election, but polls show him locked in a tight primary with Rep. Evan Jenkins and former Massey Energy chairman Don Blankenship.
The winner faces Sen. Joe Manchin in November.
Blankenship, who spent time in prison after being convicted in connection with the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, had been fading in the polls. But he is getting a great deal of free media attention for referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “Cocaine Mitch” and accusing McConnell of helping “China people” through his in-laws. McConnell is married to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, whose father is a prominent businessman in the Far East.
The Senate Conservatives Fund is backing Morrisey in the race. The group’s president, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, says all the attention on Blankenship’s comments means this race is completely up in the air.
“The spike in talk about Blankenship has really confused things substantially,” said Cuccinelli.
He also says the Democrats see a chance to lock up this seat and are meddling intensely in the primary.
“(Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer has funded a PAC that has been taking shots at Morrisey first and foremost, and some at Jenkins, because they want Blankenship as the Republican nominee,” said Cuccinelli.
Stung by the lost opportunity in the special Senate race in Alabama in December, President Trump is urging West Virginia voters to stay away from Blankenship.
“To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference. 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 tweeted.
Cuccinelli welcome the first part of the tweet but not the closing line.
“He said vote either for Morrisey or Jenkins. It’s not like he’s endorsing the conservative in the race. In fact, the president has never endorsed a conservative when there were others in a race,” said Cuccinelli.
So what’s wrong with Jenkins? Cuccinelli says the congressman’s very recent past presents a very big problem, since Jenkins switched from being a Democrat to a Republican just a few years ago.
“Jenkins has just what you’d expect from a 20-year Democrat in terms of his public record. It creates all sorts of problems for him, nothing less than supporting Hillary in 2008 and voting for Obama in ’08 and ’12,” said Cuccinelli, noting both Clinton and Obama were drubbed in West Virginia due to their anti-coal policies.
In contrast, Cuccinelli points out Morrisey sued the Obama administration over efforts to target the coal industry. He also fought back against the Obama administration’s transgender initiatives.
In addition, Morrisey is joining with five other states to force the Trump administration to end the DACA program, as Trump had ordered to happen by early March. He is part of a 20-state effort to have the remainder of the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional as a result of the recent tax bill removing the individual mandate penalty and thus allegedly ending the ability of the government to consider the individual mandate a tax,
Cuccinelli says the conservative grassroots in West Virginia are squarely behind Morrisey.
“West Virginians for Life is behind Morrisey. The West Virginia gun groups are for Morrisey. There’s virtually no West Virginia grassroots group supporting either Jenkins or Blankenship. They are all supporting Patrick Morrisey,” he said.
Cuccinelli says Morrisey is also the one best suited to defeat Manchin.
“Manchin is a family name. He goes back a long way. He’s not just a first-term senator. He is part of a long and strong political family in West Virginia. This is no easy task but he is beatable and Morrisey is the best guy to beat him.
“It’s why the Senate Conservatives Fund endorsed him, that in addition to his conservative track record,” said Cuccinelli.
He is confident the conservative base is with Morrisey. Now it’s just a matter of getting them to the polls.
“He’s got a track record of beating Democrats, but he isn’t going to get a chance to beat Manchin if he doesn’t get enough votes from conservatives tomorrow in West Virginia,” said Cuccinelli.