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Trump urges vote against ex-Massey chief Blankenship

07 May 2018 16:38 (+01:00 GMT)
Trump urges vote against ex-Massey chief Blankenship

Washington, 7 May (Argus) — US president Donald Trump today urged West Virginia Republicans to vote against Don Blankenship, former chief executive of coal producer Massey Energy, in tomorrow's Senate primary election.

Blankenship is vying with five other candidates to become the Republican nominee. The winner will likely face incumbent US senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, in the November midterms. Trump in the 2016 presidential election carried the state with 69pc and the Republicans are hoping to dislodge Manchin to expand their present 51-49 majority in the Senate.

"To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference," Trump wrote via Twitter. "Problem is, Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can not win the General Election in your State...No way!" Trump urged his supporters to vote for West Virginia state attorney general Patrick Morrisey or US representative Evan Jenkins.

Blankenship entered the race after completing a year-long prison sentence in May 2017 for conspiring to violate mine safety standards in connection with the April 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion, which killed 29 miners. Blankenship was Massey's chief executive at the time of the tragedy. He has appealed his conviction and claims he is a political prisoner who was implicated in the Upper Big Branch explosion by former president Barack Obama's administration.

Blankenship's positions on the coal industry are similar to policies supported by Jenkins and Morrisey. All three would relax or set aside Obama-era environmental and other regulations they view as harmful to the industry. West Virginia is the second-largest coal-producing state in the country.

A Fox News Poll survey of likely Republican voters last month showed Jenkins with 25pc support, followed by Morrisey's 21pc and Blankenship with 16pc. Another 24pc of voters said they were still undecided.

Blankenship is seeking to distinguish himself as a candidate willing to take on the Republican establishment and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). He is making his case, in part, through the use of racial slurs against McConnell's wife, US transportation secretary Elaine Chao, who is a naturalized US citizen born in Taiwan.

"His China family has given him millions of dollars," Blankenship said in an ad. "Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people."

Manchin is running against activist Paula Swearingen for the Democratic seat in West Virginia's congressional delegation, and his positions on the coal industry and environmental regulations set him aside from the majority of his party. Trump has repeatedly urged Manchin to switch parties, just as West Virginia's governor Jim Justice — another coal magnate — did last year.

Trump said he wanted to prevent a defeat similar to one inflicted on the Republican party last year in Alabama. Doug Jones, a Democrat, won Alabama's vacant Senate seat against Roy Moore — a maverick Republican candidate with a long history of quixotic causes who had defeated primary candidates endorsed by the Senate Republican Conference.

Blankenship in response said that "the establishment is misinforming (Trump) because they do not want me to be in the US Senate and promote the President's agenda."

Jenkins at a campaign rally today thanked Trump for "giving us a wonderful shout out, saying that he was encouraging support for Evan Jenkins for Senate in the Republican primary tomorrow." Jenkins highlighted his endorsement of Trump in 2016, before then-presidential candidate clinched his party's nomination.

Morrisey, who has received endorsements from senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), also claimed that Trump's tweet was meant to support him exclusively. "President Donald Trump just came out to support my candidacy and strongly oppose Don Blankenship. Help President Trump and I defeat the convicted criminal, who would get crushed by Senator Manchin in the fall," Morrisey said.