Election day is here in West Virginia, where Republicans have grown increasingly alarmed by ex-coal executive and former prisoner Don Blankenship’s rise in the final days leading up to Tuesday’s primary.
Blankenship, who spent a year in prison for violating mine safety standards after a mine explosion killed 29 people, has seen a late surge, with a couple of internal GOP polls showing him narrowly in the lead. But Republicans fear a Blankenship primary win would doom their chances against Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump administration seeks to use global aid for nuclear projects Shelley Moore Capito wins Senate primary West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice wins GOP gubernatorial primary MORE (D-W.Va.), a top GOP target in November.
ADVERTISEMENTRepublicans are hoping that either GOP Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsWest Virginia New Members 2019 Republican Carol Miller holds off Democrat in West Virginia House race Trump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report MORE or state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) can pull off a win against Blankenship.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is projected to win the primary.
McConnell campaign taunts Blankenship with “Cocaine Mitch” joke
Updated at 10:15 p.m.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote GOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases No, ‘blue states’ do not bail out ‘red states’ MORE’s (R-Ky.) campaign celebrated Blankenship’s defeat by tweeting a picture of McConnell superimposed over an image of Colombian cocaine trafficker Pablo Escobar from the Netflix series “Narcos” — a reference to Blankenship’s nickname for McConnell, “Cocaine Mitch.”
Thanks for playing, @DonBlankenship. #WVSen pic.twitter.com/TV1ETgQdmu
— Team Mitch (@Team_Mitch) May 9, 2018
Morrisey looks closer to a winUpdated at 10:04 p.m. Morrisey has been leading the primary field all night as a victory looks closer in sight. With 72 percent of precincts reporting, the attorney general is still in first place with 35 percent of the vote. The results for second and third place are also essentially unchanged. Jenkins is still in second with nearly 29 percent of the vote, followed by Blankenship with about 20 percent. Blankenship’s chances look grim
Updated at 9:27 p.m.
Blankenship has been stuck in third place all night, even though internal GOP polls showed him with a narrow lead days before the primary.
That’s led some election forecasters to believe his chances are quickly fading — and even some to say he’s got no shot as results continue to roll in. Dave Wasserman, an analyst for Cook Political Report, has projected that Blankenship will lose the primary. But there are still no projections about who will win the nomination.
Projection: Don Blankenship (R) loses #WVSEN primary.
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) May 8, 2018
NBC is characterizing the WV race as follows: Don Blankenship is running in 3rd place in both the raw vote and in our models and not leading in any region of the state.
— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) May 8, 2018
Blankenship: Early results “not encouraging” Updated at 9:04 p.m. Blankenship took the stage at his election night party to greet the crowd and share with them his analysis of the early returns, which have him in third place. “What we’ve seen so far is not encouraging. That doesn’t mean it won’t change, but it’s not encouraging,” Blankenship told the crowd. He added that his campaign expected to be trailing in early votes because he surged late, but admitted both on the stage and during an interview with ABC News immediately after his remarks that things are not trending in his direction. “I don’t think it’s impossible to have a comeback, but the numbers are not where I’d expect them to be at this point in time,” Blankenship told ABC.
Morrisey lead holds firm
Updated at 9 p.m.
The results are holding firm with more than a quarter of precincts reporting.
Morrisey continues to lead the pack, with 35.5 percent of the vote. Jenkins is in second with almost 28 percent, and Blankenship still lags behind in third with nearly 21 percent.
Also-ran candidates in West Virginia racking up votes
Updated at 8:37 p.m. While the West Virginia primary is a three-man race, a significant portion of the vote is going to some of the lesser-known candidates. It’s still very early, with less than 1 percent of precincts reporting, but Thomas Willis, a former Green Beret, is pulling about 10 percent; Bo Copley, a miner whose memorable confrontation with then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE went viral, has 3 percent of the vote. Jack Newbrough, a Navy veteran who made headlines when he called for waterboarding drug dealers, has 3 percent of the vote. At this point, 10 points separate the leader, Morrisey, with Jenkins. And 13 points separates Morrisey from Blankenship. So if the also-rans keep up this rate, they could end up with more votes than the margin of victory.
Morrisey’s lead shrinks
Updated at 8:30 p.m.
Morrisey is still in the first place, but his lead is starting to shrink. The state attorney general leads the six-candidate primary with a little more than 35 percent of vote, with 7 percent of precincts reporting. Jenkins remains in second place with nearly 27.5 percent of the vote, with Blankenship in third with about 21 percent. Blankenship apologizes to those “legitimately offended” by “Chinaperson” comments Updated at 8:16 p.m. Blankenship, who has escalated a bitter feud with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his Chinese-American wife, Secretary of Transportation Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoTrump campaign launches Asian Pacific Americans coalition Bottom line Democrats to probe Trump’s replacement of top Transportation Dept. watchdog MORE, apologized Tuesday night for controversial comments he made about Chao and her family. But he added that his apology only extends to those “legitimately offended” by his comments, adding that he believes politicians stoked faux outrage in order to try to knock him down a peg ahead of his primary. “I do apologize to anyone that’s legitimately offended, but I don’t believe the politicians are legitimately offended. I think they could not find other legitimate issues they could beat me and they tried to bait me into that issue, which is ridiculous,” he told ABC News on Tuesday night. “We refer to people as German people or whatever. China people is no different,” he said. Blankenship repeatedly referred to Chao as a “Chinaperson,” doubling down with advertisements criticizing McConnell’s “China family.” Blankenship: Little “baggage” on me compared to Manchin Updated at 8:10 p.m. Former coal executive and ex-convict Blankenship swatted aside the idea that he can’t win a general election thanks to a criminal conviction that put him in jail for a year, telling ABC in an interview Tuesday he’s far less vulnerable than Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. “There’s very little baggage against me compared to the baggage we have on Manchin. Manchin ran around the state with Hillary Clinton saying they are going to put all the coal miners out of work, he supported Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHarris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Five ways America would take a hard left under Joe Biden Valerie Jarrett: ‘Democracy depends upon having law enforcement’ MORE,” said Blankenship, who ran a coal company when an explosion at a mine it operated killed 29 people. “Beating Joe Manchin will be very easy,” he said.
Morrisey takes a very early lead
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Updated at 8 p.m.
Morrisey jumps into the lead as the first results come in — albeit with less than 1 percent of precincts reporting.
The attorney general is in first with 46 percent of the vote, followed by Jenkins with 24 percent and Blankenship with 16 percent.
Man who says his cousins died in blast at Blankenship mine still votes for him
Updated at 7:48 p.m. During an interview with outside a West Virginia polling place, one man declared he’d still be voting for Blankenship even though three of his cousins died in the blast at Blankenship’s Upper Big Branch Mine. “I want an honest crook, and that’s Blankenship,” the man told ABC News. Blankenship served a year in jail on a misdemeanor violation of mine safety rules related to that explosion, but claims he was set up by the government.
West Virginia voter who says he lost three cousins in mine disaster tied to Don Blankenship tells @TomLlamasABC he’s voting for the coal baron anyway.
“I want an honest crook, and that’s Blankenship.” https://t.co/aGMcEI9deX pic.twitter.com/ZnMVpdBQCr
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) May 8, 2018
Polls are closed
Updated at 7:30 p.m.
The polls have closed in West Virginia. Results should start being posted sometime before 8 p.m.
Blankenship vs. McConnell
Updated at 7:10 p.m.
Blankenship may have been running against Jenkins and Morrisey for the GOP nomination, but he spent most of his time attacking someone who didn’t appear on the ballot: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Blankenship repeatedly railed against McConnell, vowing that if he wins he’ll help “ditch Mitch.” He dubbed the Kentucky Republican “swamp captain” and “Cocaine Mitch” — an obscure nickname meant to reference the discovery of a cocaine package on a ship owned by McConnell’s wife’s family.
The war between the two Republicans escalated further when Blankenship said that McConnell has a conflict of interest because his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s, father is a “wealthy Chinaperson.” He’s also accused McConnell of wanting to create jobs for “China people.”
McConnell fired back at the racially tinged remarks, saying he doesn’t have a comment “about a ridiculous observation.” The majority leader has largely stayed out of the race — at least publicly — but he’s taken a jab at Blankenship by saying that he hopes voters choose “somebody who can actually win the general election.”
Dems spend heavily for preferred Republican nominee
Updated at 7 p.m.
As Republicans sounded the alarm about Blankenship’s perceived electability issues, a Democratic outside group went out of its way to beat his opponents down.
The Democratic group Duty and Country PAC said it planned to attack both Jenkins and Morrisey, but the spending told a different story.
The group spent almost $2 million in attacks on Jenkins, but less than $50,000 on attacking Morrisey, according to Federal Election Commission data culled by Open Secrets — a clear sign that Democrats saw Jenkins as the bigger threat to Manchin.
Jenkins seized on the spending disparity on the campaign trail in the hopes of bringing Republicans to his side. But it remains to be seen whether he found a way to play that to his advantage. And Washington Republicans sought to keep pace with an outside group of their own that targeted Blankenship — the Mountain Families PAC spent about $1.3 million against the former coal baron over the course of the campaign.
Interestingly, Duty and Country’s treasurer, Booth Goodwin, is no stranger to Blankenship. Goodwin was the U.S. attorney who prosecuted Blankenship on the misdemeanor mine safety charge that put him in prison for one year.
Blankenship could challenge GOP Senate hopes
Updated at 6 p.m.
President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE won the deep-red state by more than 40 points in 2016. But many national Republicans believe a winnable seat will be at risk if Blankenship wins the nomination.
Trump made an eleventh-hour plea for voters to back either Jenkins or Morrisey.
Blankenship’s anti-establishment rhetoric has put him at odds with the party leadership, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Blankenship has repeatedly gone after McConnell, calling him “Cocaine Mitch” and making racially tinged comments about his family.
Polls in West Virginia close at 7:30 p.m. The Hill will be providing live updates on the high-stakes primary as results roll in.
Other closely watched primaries are happening tonight in Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina. Read our story here on the seven primaries to watch on Tuesday.