From prison to politics, ex-coal ceo set for senate vote kite electricity generation

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., talks with a staffer on Capitol Hill in Washington, after passage of a procedural vote aimed at reopening the government. Former coal executive Don Blankenship went from prison to politics after serving a one-year sentence related to the deadliest U.S. mine disaster in four decades. His quest: To take down the man he blames for fueling public distrust of him, Democratic Manchin of West Virginia.

The self-funded Blankenship is among six candidates in the Republican Senate primary Tuesday, almost a year to the day since his release from a California prison. He has launched a scorched-earth advertising campaign aimed at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that some have labeled racist for its characterization of the Kentucky Republican’s wife, Elaine Chao, who is the U.S. secretary of transportation.

Blankenship is “adding uncertainty to West Virginia politics,” said Robert Rupp, a political history professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College. “And it’s an obstacle for political observers to figure out what’s happening. It threw all our calculations out.”

Rupp said lower voter turnout for a midterm primary could enable Blankenship to wrestle victory away from U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Despite Jenkins’ credentials as a sitting congressman, his chances “may be troubled” by a crowded Republican field, Rupp said.

Jenkins and Morrisey have mostly focusing their campaigns on their own merits, and on criticism of Manchin and each other. Both have touted their own efforts to reduce the scourge of the opioid epidemic in the state, which leads the nation in the rate of drug overdose deaths, and have distanced themselves from McConnell.

He’s used his campaign to try to clear his name and blame the federal government for the explosion, in particular the policies of the Mine Safety and Health Administration under former President Barack Obama. Blankenship has used his website to repeatedly accuse Manchin of helping cover up the truth about the mine explosion.

Four investigations found that worn and broken cutting equipment created a spark that ignited accumulations of coal dust and methane gas. Broken and clogged water sprayers allowed what should have been a minor flare-up to become an inferno. The federal jury held Blankenship at least partially responsible.

On Sunday, Morrisey said Blankenship had not filed a personal financial disclosure form for his candidacy in violation of the Ethics in Government Act. Blankenship campaign spokesman Greg Thomas responded that the candidate is “in the process” of filing the paperwork and that Blankenship’s form is complicated.

Manchin is seeking his second full six-year term and faces Paula Jean Swearengin in Tuesday’s primary. He was West Virginia’s governor during the mine explosion and said then that Blankenship “had blood on his hands.” After Blankenship’s release from prison, Manchin said he hoped Blankenship would “disappear from the public eye.”

A few miles north of the shuttered mine, retired teacher Shelia Anderson of Sylvester has been a lifelong Republican in Boone County, where Democrats outnumber them 3 to 1. Anderson said she prefers Manchin over Blankenship if they’re paired in the fall.

The self-funded Blankenship is among six candidates in the Republican Senate primary Tuesday, almost a year to the day since his release from a California prison. He has launched a scorched-earth advertising campaign aimed at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that some have labeled racist for its characterization of the Kentucky Republican’s wife, Elaine Chao, who is the U.S. secretary of transportation.

Blankenship is “adding uncertainty to West Virginia politics,” said Robert Rupp, a political history professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College. “And it’s an obstacle for political observers to figure out what’s happening. It threw all our calculations out.”

Rupp said lower voter turnout for a midterm primary could enable Blankenship to wrestle victory away from U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Despite Jenkins’ credentials as a sitting congressman, his chances “may be troubled” by a crowded Republican field, Rupp said.

Jenkins and Morrisey have mostly focusing their campaigns on their own merits, and on criticism of Manchin and each other. Both have touted their own efforts to reduce the scourge of the opioid epidemic in the state, which leads the nation in the rate of drug overdose deaths, and have distanced themselves from McConnell.

He’s used his campaign to try to clear his name and blame the federal government for the explosion, in particular the policies of the Mine Safety and Health Administration under former President Barack Obama. Blankenship has used his website to repeatedly accuse Manchin of helping cover up the truth about the mine explosion.

Four investigations found that worn and broken cutting equipment created a spark that ignited accumulations of coal dust and methane gas. Broken and clogged water sprayers allowed what should have been a minor flare-up to become an inferno. The federal jury held Blankenship at least partially responsible.

On Sunday, Morrisey said Blankenship had not filed a personal financial disclosure form for his candidacy in violation of the Ethics in Government Act. Blankenship campaign spokesman Greg Thomas responded that the candidate is “in the process” of filing the paperwork and that Blankenship’s form is complicated.

Manchin is seeking his second full six-year term and faces Paula Jean Swearengin in Tuesday’s primary. He was West Virginia’s governor during the mine explosion and said then that Blankenship “had blood on his hands.” After Blankenship’s release from prison, Manchin said he hoped Blankenship would “disappear from the public eye.”

A few miles north of the shuttered mine, retired teacher Shelia Anderson of Sylvester has been a lifelong Republican in Boone County, where Democrats outnumber them 3 to 1. Anderson said she prefers Manchin over Blankenship if they’re paired in the fall.