Sanity prevailed in West Virginia Tuesday as voters beat down an attempt by Donald L. Blankenship, an iconoclastic former coal baron, from becoming the Republican candidate in November’s race for the U.S. Senate.
Blankenship, who was released from federal prison about a year ago on a misdemeanor charge relating to his role in a fatal 2010 coal mine explosion, garnered only 20 percent of the vote. The winner, with 35 percent, was state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
For years, Blankenship has relished a self-created role as a megalomaniac who creates division wherever possible, very much in the style of President Trump, who did not support Blankenship for the nomination. Regretfully, that style is emulated by a number of other hard-right politicians, notably Corey A. Stewart who wants to win the Virginia Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D).
Blankenship spent millions pushing an image of a tough individual who fights for his version of the American way. His website is titled the “American Competitionist” and offers a lot of American flags, essays on how government is over-regulating the coal industry and stale tirades against former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Hitting back against charges that his mine operations were grossly unsafe, one website piece brags about a new safety helmet for miners that he claims he has developed. “Don’s new miner hat will be increasingly used in the mining industry going forward. It is a hat conceived by Don which does not require a battery cord, which is lighter, and which reduces the amount of dust a miner breathes.”
Sounds great but it sure didn’t do much to help the 29 miners who died at the Upper Big Branch mine on April 5, 2010. It was operated by Blankenship-led Massey Energy, which had been fined hundreds of times for safety and environmental violations.
The national GOP establishment was terrified, in the wake of their embarrassing loss of Roy Moore in Alabama last year, that it might have to deal with such a vulgar oddball as Blankenship.
When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from neighboring Kentucky vigorously countered the Blankenship gambit, Blankenship got personal, criticizing Mitchell’s wife Elaine Chao, Trump’s secretary of transportation, for her Chinese heritage. He tried to play the racial division card by complaining that too many American jobs were going to China.
This is indeed ironic because at one time Blankenship threatened to move to China because he was fed up with government regulation in this country. Another irony is that a good bit of Massey Energy’s coal was exported to help make the steel that helped make China a world economic power.
There have been reports that Blankenship might try to run as an independent. He’s got the money for political thrill seeking.
He reportedly spent $2 million on his primary bid. In 2009, he reportedly spent $1 million on a Labor Day outdoor show featuring conservative stars such as rocker Ted Nugent and commentator Sean Hannity. The spectacle was designed to counter celebrations by the United Mine Workers of America, which Blankenship has fought for years. He wore an outfit styled like an American flag for the shindig.
Luckily, West Virginia voters, who went for Trump in 2016, had enough sense to ditch Don. For decades they’ve had the rich and powerful play them for suckers, pitting person against person and community after community.
But it’s not over yet. Blankenship is sure to be back.