West Virginia Republicans Battle To Take On Joe Manchin

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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GOP Candidates in West Virginia’s Senate primary are giving their final sales pitch before voters head to the booths next week, where the winner will play a pivotal role in determining which party controls the chamber in 2019.

Republican primary voters in West Virginia will go to the polls May 8 to pick a nominee to take on Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who found himself representing a state that has lurched widely to the right since his last election. With the GOP controlling a razor-slim 51-49 majority in the Senate, an election victory in this state could prove crucial in the party retaining control of the upper chamber of Congress.

Fox News hosted a debate Tuesday between the top three candidates — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and coal magnate Don Blankenship. President Donald Trump — while not present at the debate — was an underlying theme during the back-and-forth, with all three candidates looking to align themselves with the coal-friendly president who remains deeply popular there.

Polling has been minimal in the GOP primary, but numbers do indicate a very tight race. Jenkins has a slight lead, beating Morrisey 25 to 21 percent, with Blankenship trailing not far behind at 16 percent, a recent Fox News survey shows. Considering low voter turnout typically seen in primary elections and internal numbers also showing a close race, the election is widely considered a toss up.

“Conservatives are really coalescing behind my candidacy in the state because people know I’m the one proven and credible conservative running for U.S. Senate,” Morrisey said during a Thursday interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation. “There’s only one person who’s been consistent and proven and has a record of going after Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and winning huge victories for the state while defending our conservative values.”

When it comes to finding a candidate who most vehemently fought against then-President Obama’s “war on coal,” Morrisey has the battle scars to boast, using his position as West Virginia’s attorney to block overregulation in the courtroom. In 2014, he led a 12-state coalition in a lawsuit against the EPA’s attempts to place more regulatory burdens on coal-fired plants. In an historic victory, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor in 2016.

“We worked very hard to defeat the Obama power plan, which was one of the single biggest pieces of overreach regulation in our generation. We won in the Supreme Court in a historic 5-4 vote, stopping the Obama power plan. That helped protect many thousands of West Virginia jobs,” Morrisey said, using a play on words for Obama’s Clean Power plan. “We also helped lead the way against the unlawful Waters of the United States rule. We were part of a 30-state coalition that helped organize it, wrote briefs, argued cases, and ultimately we were able to get a national stay of that Waters of the United States rule.”

Morrisey’s work to block job-killing regulations puts him in close similarity to Trump, who has turned the Environmental Protection Agency into a regulation slashing machine since entering office. So far, Trump has overseen the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, Waters of the United States, onerous vehicle admission standards and the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords.

The attorney general of West Virginia is pleased with Trump’s work.

“It’s really been terrific to work with President Trump and the White House as he’s gone after the overregulating of the American economy. We played a central role helping to pull a lot of the regulations back. We’ve worked closely with President Trump as he’s gone after unlawful sanctuary cities. I think the president has accomplished a lot in his tenure in office, and I’m looking forward to working closely with him to advance conservative values for West Virginia,” Morrisey explained to TheDCNF.

Whoever wins the GOP primary will face incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who has been a mainstay in West Virginia politics for decades. Despite Manchin’s widespread name recognition among voters, Republicans believe the Democratic Party’s toxic image among coal country makes the race competitive. Manchin has tried to distance himself from the more liberal leaders of his party — a move Morrisey and other Republicans aren’t buying. “I think Joe Manchin has just really let West Virginia down. Whether it’s the question of Hillary or Barack Obama, Planned Parenthood, Second Amendment rights, federal overreach — Joe Manchin has become a go-to part of the Senate Democrat leadership under Chuck Schumer.”

While his work to battle federal overreach has earned accolades from many anti-establishment figures, Morrisey has had to also fight accusations of being a carpetbagger — a label Jenkins throws continuously — because he had lived in New Jersey for many years before relocating. During Tuesday’s debate, Jenkins, a representative of West Virginia’s 3rd District, touted his deep roots in the state and said he would fight for “West Virginia values.”

Despite trailing the top two candidates, Don Blankenship’s presence could not be ignored — neither at the debate nor on the campaign trail. The former CEO of Massey Energy who just finished serving one year in prison for a mine explosion, Blankenship is, without a doubt, the most anti-establishment candidate in the race. Before the debate began, Fox News had to take away MAGA-style red hats he tried to bring onstage that read “Ditch Mitch” — a clear message to Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

While many insurgent conservative candidates make jabs at the Kentucky senator, the former coal magnate’s attacks on McConnell are truly unprecedented. Blankenship has run ads where he promises to “ditch cocaine Mitch.” The ads are in reference to an incident in 2014 where 90 pounds of cocaine were seized from a freighter McConnell’s father-in-law owns. The Senate Majority Leader is married to Elaine Chao, who currently serves as Secretary of Transportation. Chao’s family founded the Foremost Maritime Corporation, a vast shipping operation.

Blankenship has gone to call Chao’s father a “Chinaperson” and has questioned McConnell’s allegiance to the country. The Republican Majority Leader refused to acknowledge the attacks

Nevertheless, Morrisey argues he is the true outsider in this race, vowing he will serve as an anti-establishment figure if he makes it to the nation’s capital.

“We’re going to turn the place completely upside down. When I went down to Charleston, I wasn’t there to make friends with all the establishment politicians. I was there to fundamentally change things, and that’s what we did. I’m going to be ruthless in advancing West Virginia values in Washington,” Morrisey said.

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