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Blankenship’s Political Ambitions Hobbled by His Past

U.S. Senate hopeful Don Blankenship has just finished a one-year prison sentence related to the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. (Don Blankenship for U.S. Senate)
U.S. Senate hopeful Don Blankenship has just finished a one-year prison sentence related to the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. (Don Blankenship for U.S. Senate)
April 27, 2018

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Controversial coal baron Don Blankenship has drawn national attention with his U.S. Senate run - but polling and conversations with voters suggest he won't shake his criminal conviction for endangering miners.

The former Massey Energy CEO served a year in prison for mine-safety violations leading to the 2010 Upper Big Branch disaster that killed 29 people.

Blankenship called himself innocent, a political prisoner persecuted by federal officials. But a recent Republican poll shows him running third of the three major candidates.

Levi Harrah of Cross Lanes said he isn't sure who he'll vote for - but he has ruled out one candidate.

"I don't believe I'll be voting for Don Blankenship, I know that. He was convicted, and I mean, as far as I'm concerned he's a criminal," Harrah said. "It don't matter whether he has a million dollars or has two dollars in his pocket, a criminal's a criminal, and at least partly responsible for what happened in the mine."

The GOPAC Election Fund poll showed nearly 40 percent of voters undecided. Blankenship was backed by 12 percent, a figure that is half the percentage of Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the front-runner in the Senate campaign.

Blankenship has spent some of his immense personal wealth on campaign ads. But a national group of GOP leaders is funding ads attacking Blankenship, arguing he would be a weak candidate in the general election this fall.

Chad Rieve of Hurricane said he's also undecided, and noted the ads haven't swayed him. But he said the opinions of people he knows have given him a negative impression of Blankenship.

"Kinda hearing from the guy, he's done some shady stuff in his past, and I don't want to vote for somebody like that," Rieve observed. "Not necessarily [what I've heard from] the ads on TV, but you know, just from regular, working-class people."

Blankenship has criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for being married to a woman from China. McConnell's wife, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, was born in Taiwan. Blankenship also attacked a recent article in the New York Times about him as "communist propaganda."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV