A brewing fight between West Virginia GOP Senate candidate Don Blankenship and national Republicans spilled into the open Monday when the coal baron compared Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell to Russians interfering in his state’s election.
“McConnell should not be in the U.S. Senate, let alone be the Republican Majority Leader. He is a Swamp captain,” Blankenship said in a statement Monday. “The Russians and McConnell should both stop interfering with elections outside their jurisdictions.”
“West Virginians are aware that McConnell cannot vote in their election,” Blankenship adds. “They want him to mind his own business and do his job. A job he has not done now for over 30 years. Balance the budget Mitch and stay out of West Virginia.”
The pushback came days after a recently-established super PAC generically called “Mountain Families PAC“ started airing TV ads blasting Blankenship, a coal baron who spent a in prison following a deadly 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine. While the GOP leadership has not taken credit for the attack, its fingerprints are all over the super PAC.
Federal election filings show that last week the super PAC paid over $700,000 to three GOP consulting firms that in the past have worked with Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-aligned super PAC. And the ad making firm that created the commercials, McCarthy Hennings Whalen, Inc., has worked closely with McConnell in the past.
A spokesperson for McConnell‘s political operation did not respond to a request for comment. Senate Leadership Fund declined to comment.
Blankenship has spent over $1 million on TV ads, far outspending his two more mainstream opponents, GOP Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. The coal baron has used his TV blitz to cast himself as the victim of an Obama Justice Department and to blast his opponents as overly establishment.
Republican officials are worried that Blankenship is gaining traction in the primary — and that if he wins the nomination, it will destroy the party’s prospects of defeating Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in November. Blankenship begged to differ, saying, “My dog could beat Joe Manchin this fall.“
In his statement, Blankenship also sought to distinguish himself from former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who the party establishment unloaded on in a failed attempt to stop him from winning the nomination.
“The media, McConnell and others also like to spread the rumor that my candidacy is akin to that of Roy Moore. This is nonsense. Roy Moore’s accusers were women and teenage girls,” he said. “My accusers are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. I was imprisoned for a misdemeanor based on false charges and a political prosecution.”