President Donald Trump on Monday weighed in on the U.S. Senate race in West Virginia, urging Republican voters to reject combative newcomer Don Blankenship, a retired coal company executive, in favor of two more mainstream GOP candidates.
Blankenship pushed back at the Trumps for aligning with the "establishment", though he did claim his end goal is to promote the president's agenda.
But now that Blankenship is within striking distance of upsetting two candidates who Washington Republicans would rather see run against vulnerable Democratic Sen.
Trump wrote on Monday, "To the great people of West Virginia we have, together, a really great chance to keep making a big difference". He also is running television ads targeting the Taiwanese heritage of McConnell's wife, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has said fellow Republican Blankenship failed to file a personal financial disclosure form in violation of the Ethics in Government Act.
Last week, Trump's eldest son Don Jr. tweeted that West Virginia should oppose Blankenship.
Both Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey have positioned themselves as ardent Trump supporters, denouncing special counsel Robert Mueller's Russian Federation investigation as a "witch hunt" and echoing Trump's calls to "drain the swamp". Moore lost a deep red seat to Democrat Doug Jones, thinning Republican's majority in the U.S. Senate to the current 51-49 margin.
As Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics explains, the keys to Democratic competitiveness in West Virginia are the economically left-leaning, culturally conservative working-class voters in the southwest part of the state.
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Blankenship's statement blamed "the establishment" for Trump's comment about him and said he would defeat Manchin.
"Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey!" the president also said in his tweet Monday.
Trump, seeking to tap into nativist sentiment across the country, kicked off his 2016 campaign with harsh rhetoric on Mexican immigrations to the United States, labeling undocumented immigrants as "rapists" who are "bringing drugs" and "bringing crime".
The victor of Tuesday's primary will face incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin in November.
Republicans want to retain control of Congress in the November congressional elections that are viewed by some as referendum on Trump's presidency. But winning in West Virginia has become increasingly important for them in recent months, now that Democrats are posing credible challenges to GOP-held Senate seats in Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee.
Blankenship was convicted of conspiracy to violate federal mine safety laws after 29 miners were killed in the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.
Blankenship has centered his candidacy around attacking fellow Republican Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, accusing him of undermining Trump. "We need to win in November".
"We don't think that even President Trump can stop it", Blankenship told Fox News.