Top GOP candidate in West Virginia Senate race now attacks Blankenship

A top Republican candidate in the party’s bid to upset West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in 2018 this weekend changed his campaign strategy, going after insurgent primary challenger Don Blankenship.

“Convicted criminal Don Blankenship didn’t vote for President Trump and is a resident of Nevada, where he must report to his parole officer,” candidate Patrick Morrisey says in the "robo" call released Saturday. 

Before the final-hours shift, most of the Republican-backed efforts to keep Blankenship from winning Tuesday’s GOP primary have been funneled through a GOP-connected super PAC.

That has allowed Morrsiey, the state's attorney general, and fellow top GOP primary contenders Rep. Evan Jenkins to engage in policy debates that have essentially ignored Blankenship, who recently served a year in prison for conspiring to violate mine safety laws.

The conviction against the former coal industry executive was in connection with the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in West Virginia in 2010 that killed 29 workers.

The call also replicates a warning from allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who doesn’t think Blankenship can beat Manchin, who's seeking a second full term in a state that President Trump won in 2016 over Democrat Hillary Clinton by 42 percentage points.

“A vote for Blankenship is a vote to advance liberal positions, higher taxes and abortion on demand,” Morrisey also says in the automated call. “That’s because Blankenship would get crushed in November.”

Morrisey’s  focus on Blankenship follows a Fox News debate last week in which Blankenship jokingly ducked behind a podium to avoid answering a question on whether he’d support McConnell, if elected, as the Senate’s leader and top Republican.

The crowd in Morgantown responded by erupting with laughter and applause.

Blankenship’s campaign is unfazed by the new negative attention from Morrisey.

“Too little, too late,” said campaign spokesman Greg Thomas.