President Donald Trump, West Virginia State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, and the populist conservative movement were the big winners in Tuesday’s West Virginia Republican U.S. Senate primary.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV), convicted misdemeanant and coal industry magnate Don Blankenship, incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), establishment Republicans, and the Democratic party were the big losers.
State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won a hotly contested three-way battle for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia on Tuesday night.
With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Morrisey had 35 percent of the vote, followed by Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) with 29 percent of the vote. Coal magnate and convicted misdemeanant Don Blankenship finished a distant third with 20 percent.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), wishing to place another establishment Republican in the U.S. Senate as a potential ally in the next session of Congress, backed the very establishment Jenkins, and unwisely focused the fire of his affiliated PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, on the pro-Trump Morrisey.
That move revealed McConnell is more motivated by a desire to maintain his own political power in the Senate than he is to support the Trump agenda.
“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is eying Rep. Evan Jenkins as his preferred choice to run against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia in 2018,” the Washington Examiner reported as far back as January 2017, a time when most Republicans in the state were preparing to back Morrisey for the Senate nomination:
McConnell and Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, the chairman of the party’s Senate campaign arm, have been actively recruiting a slate of midterm candidates since last year, before the presidential campaign concluded. Several Democrats appear vulnerable at the outset of the midterm cycle, and Republicans are hoping to build on their 52-seat Senate majority.
West Virginia is high on their target list, in part because it voted overwhelmingly for President Donald Trump, and because the state continues to shift right in partisan allegiance at the state and federal level.
The battle lines between Trump agenda conservative populists and the McConnell establishment wing of the Republican party were clearly established in September, when the Citizens United Political Victory fund endorsed Morrisey, as Breitbart News reported:
“CUPVF is proud to support conservative change agent Patrick Morrisey for U.S. Senator from West Virginia,” Citizens United president Dave Bossie, the deputy campaign manager of President Donald Trump’s successful 2016 presidential campaign, said in a statement provided exclusively to Breitbart News ahead of its public release.
“Attorney General Morrisey is a conservative stalwart who will come to the U.S. Senate to fight for the interests of West Virginia, not the Washington establishment.”
“We support Patrick Morrisey for Senate because he has a proven record of results fighting for conservative West Virginia values and against the harmful liberal agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton,” Bossie added. “Attorney General Morrisey was there to take on executive overreach at the Obama Environmental Protection Agency for the coal miners and he’s been there to support President Trump’s agenda taking on sanctuary cities and pushing for much needed tax reform. I look forward to working with Patrick Morrisey to enact President Trump’s conservative agenda when he gets to the Senate. I urge all Republican primary voters in West Virginia to support conservative outsider Patrick Morrisey for the United States Senate.”
Morrisey is emerging as a key conservative insurgent in West Virginia, while McConnell and his allies are pushing Jenkins—a former Democrat who once backed failed 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for president back in 2008. The battle has become one of the flash points in the intra-GOP war.
No one in the country outside of Washington, D.C., has done more to help implement the Trump agenda than Morrisey, who has led the way in a number of successful lawsuits filed by more conservative states that have pushed back against over-reaching regulations imposed on businesses and states by the Obama administration.
To supporters of the populist conservative movement, there is no finer champion than Morrisey.
And yet, McConnell opposed him.
That opposition opened the way for convicted misdemeanant and coal magnate Don Blankenship, who poured millions into the race, and, for the last week of the campaign, appeared to have the momentum to slip through to the nomination, thanks to the onslaught of attacks by Jenkins on Morrisey.
Blankenship attempted to capitalize on anti-Washington and anti-Republican establishment sentiment by launching a controversial ad criticizing “Cocaine Mitch,” which attempted to tie McConnell to a drug smuggling incident on a ship owned by the family of his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
But Blankenship stepped on his own momentum the day before election when he tried to out-Trump President Trump by saying he would challenge the president in a presidential primary if he got in his way.
Trump hit back hard on Monday, urging West Virginia voters to vote for either Morrisey or Jenkins–anybody but Blankenship.
In the end, West Virginia Republican primary voters picked President Trump and Patrick Morrisey over Blankenship.
The results were also bad news for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), one of ten incumbent Democratic senators up for re-election in 2018 in a state won by Trump in 2016. Morrisey is considered the strongest general election threat to Manchin.
Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in West Virginia in 2016 was a complete shellacking for the Democratic nominee: Trump won by 42 points, 68 percent to 26 percent.
At a West Virginia event in April, Trump tore into Manchin for his vote against Trump’s landmark 2017 tax cut bill, which most analysts concede has resulted in a significant economic boom.
“President Trump criticized Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Thursday and encouraged voters to oust him in November, after cultivating a working relationship with the red-state Democrat last year,” the Hill reported:
Trump took particular aim at Manchin’s decision to vote against legislation slashing tax rates in December, but added that he’s “done other things I don’t like.”
“I’ll be honest with you, he does other things,” Trump said at a tax reform roundtable event in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
“So you’re going to have a chance to get a senator that’s going to vote our program,” he added, referring to the upcoming election. “That’s going to help you in so many different ways. And you’re not getting that now.”
Manchin’s own victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary was underwhelming, as he defeated relatively unknown Paula Swearengin by only a 70 percent to 30 percent margin, an indication of potential weakness against Morrisey in the fall.
The Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), of which Morrisey is a leading member, reacted quickly to the news of their colleague’s victory, issuing a statement with a warning to his rival in the fall: “Two Words for Senator Joe Manchin: Watch Out.”
“RAGA Chairman and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge praised her current colleague, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, on becoming the Republican Senate nominee,” the statement read:
I have two words for Senator Joe Manchin: Watch Out. To the West Virginians who feel they no longer have a voice in the United States Senate with Manchin, the wait is over. Patrick Morrisey is a conservative fighter who will never back down. He will stand up for West Virginian values; a strong pro-life, pro Second Amendment, rule-of-law champion, I am proud to call Patrick a colleague and a friend. I know Patrick will bring his trademark tenacity to the remainder of this race and all the way to victory in November.
McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund was forced to eat crow late Tuesday night and congratulated Morrisey on his victory. Senate Leadership Fund President and CEO Steven Law said in a statement:
Congratulations to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey on securing the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate this evening. General Morrissey was a champion for West Virginia coal when Barack Obama was trying to run it out of business and Joe Manchin was busy unsuccessfully peddling Hillary Clinton to West Virginia voters. We look forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with Patrick Morrisey to defeat Joe Manchin this November,” Senate Leadership Fund President and CEO Steven Law said in a statement.
McConnell attempted to salvage some political dignity from the Jenkins loss, however, by making fun of Blankenship’s poor showing with this tweet Tuesday night:
— Team Mitch (@Team_Mitch) May 9, 2018
Editor’s note: The original version of this article referred to Mr. Blankenship as a “convicted felon.” He is not a “convicted felon” but is instead a “convicted misdemeanant,” as the article now reflects.