By Jim EllisApril 27, 2018 — The nomination races in the May 8 primary states are heating up as Election Day draws near, and one of the more interesting campaigns is in West Virginia. There, three major Republican candidates are vying for the party nomination to earn the right to challenge Sen. Joe Manchin (D) in November.
Two polls were released earlier in the week, each projecting a different leader. The first came from National Research, Inc. for GOPAC, a long-established political organization that supports Republican candidates. The survey (April 17-19; 411 likely West Virginia GOP primary voters) gives Attorney General Patrick Morrisey a 24-20-16 percent lead over US Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-Huntington) and former Massey Energy company CEO Don Blankenship who recently spent time in a Nevada prison for his role in a mine explosion that killed 29 of his company’s workers in 2010. Five years later, Blankenship was found guilty of conspiring to willfully violate government safety standards. He received the maximum sentence, which resulted in a one-year prison term and a $250,000 fine.
The second poll comes from Fox News, employing their normal research process. The media organization conducts its surveys in collaboration with two polling firms, one a Democratic research organization, Anderson Roberts Research, and the other Republican, Shaw & Company Research. In West Virginia, their poll was in the field over the April 18-22 period and interviewed a more robust 985 likely West Virginia Republican primary voters.
These results found Rep. Jenkins taking first place with 25 percent preference, followed by Morrisey (21 percent) and Blankenship (16 percent). The fact that both the GOPAC and Fox News polls have Blankenship dropping to third position is significant.
The former CEO had spent $1.8 million in the campaign through March 31, all from his own personal fortune. His message centered on attacking the Washington establishment and blaming government regulation for the mining disaster that killed his employees and sent him to prison. Blankenship’s argument for being convicted was that President Obama’s Justice Department had targeted him, and he is basically a victim. The approach appeared to be paying off as Blankenship began rising in the polls.
The Republican leadership responded, largely through a Super PAC called Mountain Families PAC at least loosely associated with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s political organization, with attacks on Blankenship, and these two polls now suggest that the tainted former energy company executive is seriously fading, potentially to the point of no return. President Trump attended a West Virginia rally, and aligned himself with both Jenkins and Morrisey, who were also present at the rally.
For obvious reasons, the Republican leaders are wary of a Blankenship nomination, which would very likely result in an easy path to re-election for Sen. Manchin and the GOP blowing an opportunity to at least engage in a competitive Senate general election campaign in a place which proved to be President Trump’s strongest performing state.
This West Virginia Senate primary is an important one as the states begin to shape up for the general election. It clearly resides in the top tier of GOP challenge opportunities to the ten Democratic senators seeking re-election in states that President Trump carried.
May 8 percent features three other key state primaries, those in Indiana, North Carolina, and Ohio. Of the three, important Senate contests are found in Indiana and Ohio, and particularly so in the former where three top Republican candidates, US Reps. Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg/Lafayette) and Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/Muncie), and former state representative and manufacturing company owner Mike Braun are also engaged in a tough three-way primary battle.