GOP panics as convicted criminal surges in West Virginia primary


Add West Virginia to the long list of races Republicans are suddenly nervous about.

Republican panic continues to spread as upcoming elections that should be automatic wins for the GOP are suddenly seen as possibly catastrophic losses.

Such is the political landscape under Trump, whose erratic and chaotic presidency is casting an extraordinarily long shadow over the GOP's midterm chances.

The GOP's latest cause for red state concern comes from West Virginia, where convicted criminal and recent federal prisoner Don Blankenship, the former head of Massey Energy Company, appears to be surging in the Republican primary race.

"With Blankenship skyrocketing in the West Virginia Republican Senate primary and blanketing the airwaves with ads assailing his fractured field of rivals as career politicians, senior party officials are wrestling with how, or even whether, to intervene," Politico reports.

The fear among Republican leaders is that running a convicted criminal might not be the best way to knock off the state's incumbent Democratic U.S. senator, Joe Manchin.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is already on the record saying he did not want Blankenship to win the nomination.

Blankenship, a former coal mining king pin, was convicted in 2016, following the deaths of 29 miners died at his Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. He was sentenced to prison for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards.

"Throughout a lengthy, complex trial, government officials portrayed Mr. Blankenship as, in effect, the kingpin of a criminal enterprise," the New York Times reported at the time.

Now Blankenship seem to have emerged as a rising star in Republican politics, which could doom the party's chances in November. Politico reports that some GOP operatives are afraid Blankenship will emerge as a "stain" on the party.

One year ago, Manchin was seen as easy pickings for Republicans, who placed him on the top of their list of Democratic senators they wanted to defeat in 2018. After all, Trump won West Virginia in 2016 with 68 percent of the vote.

But since then, the electoral mood everywhere has shifted and Democrats are posting wins in red states like Alabama, as well as in deeply red districts like last week's showdown in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District.

In quick succession, Republicans have raised red flags about looming elections in Kansas and Mississippi that, under normal circumstances, would be easy GOP wins. But now in the Trump era, not so much.

Suddenly, defeating Joe Manchin in West Virginia doesn't seem so easy.