Republican Senate candidate Don Blankenship stepped up his unconventional attacks on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday with a new ad that accuses him of creating “millions of jobs for China people.”
With a deadpan delivery and a defiant attitude that has become his trademark, the former coal baron focused his onslaught on the family of McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, which owns an international shipping business.
Blankenship also repeated his recent nickname for McConnell, “Cocaine Mitch,” an apparent reference to a seizure of drugs on one of Chao’s family’s ships.
“The war to drain the swamp and create jobs for West Virginia people has begun,” Blankenship says, in reference to McConnell (R-Ky.). “I will beat Joe Manchin III and ditch Cocaine Mitch for the sake of the kids.”
The ad comes as Blankenship’s two main rivals for the Republican nomination, Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey have focused their fire on each other with just days to go before the May 8 primary.
Blankenship, by contrast, has redirected his campaign to attack McConnell, whom he blames for a group called Mountain Families PAC, which has been running ads in the state against Blankenship.
The last public poll, by Fox News between April 18 and 22, found Jenkins and Morrisey pulling ahead of Blankenship, who is self-funding his campaign.
Allies of McConnell have expressed concerns for weeks that a primary win by Blankenship would jeopardize Republican hopes of beating incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) in the general election this fall.
Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to McConnell, responded to the latest ad with an attack on Blankenship. “This clown is a walking, talking case study for the limitation of a prison’s ability to rehabilitate,” Holmes wrote.
The former CEO of Massey Energy, Blankenship began the campaign while still on probation, after serving a year in prison for a misdemeanor conviction of conspiring to violate mine safety rules. Twenty-nine miners died at a Blankenship-run mine in Raleigh County, W.Va., in 2010.
The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. weighed into the race as well on Thursday, tweeting that voters in West Virginia should reject Blankenship. “No more fumbles like Alabama,” he wrote, in reference to the failed campaign of Alabama Supreme Court judge Roy Moore. “We need to win in November.”
Blankenship responded with a statement that did not reference Trump Jr. by name. “The establishment is doing everything they can to keep Joe Manchin in office,” he wrote. “No other Republican can beat Manchin without my full support and neither Morrisey nor Jenkins is deserving of my support.”
The younger Trump responded with another tweet. “Ha, now I’m establishment? No, I’m realistic,” he wrote.
The cocaine nickname for McConnell appears to be a reference to a 2014 seizure from a ship in Colombia bound for the Netherlands. Colombian officials seized 90 pounds of cocaine.
The ship came from the maritime company founded by Chao’s father, James Chao, who emigrated from Taiwan. The incident received some attention after the Nation reported it in 2014, about a week before McConnell faced reelection.
Blankenship’s own fiancee and a frequent companion on the campaign trail, Farrah Meiling Hobbs, was also born in China. Blankenship praises her on his campaign website, writing that he enjoys “spending time with my best friend, Meiling.”
From early in the campaign, Blankenship has boasted of his willingness to go negative. “I think the biggest reason you should have confidence that I would defeat Joe Manchin is because I will run hostile ads against him,” Blankenship said at a candidate forum in Martinsburg, W.Va., on April 3. “I will tell everyone what Joe Manchin has done.”
Blankenship defended his use of the terms “China person” and “West Virginia person” at an event Thursday night, according to a report from Roll Call.
“Is West Virginia people racist?,” Blankenship asked, according to the report. “We’re confused on our staff as to how it can be racist when there’s no mention of a race. There’s no race. Races are Negro, white Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian. There’s no mention of a race. I’ve never used a race word.”
Paul Kane contributed to this report.