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Blankenship registers to run as a Democrat for U.S. Senate

Don Blankenship, political lightning rod and former coal titan who spent a year in jail on a mine safety conspiracy conviction, is running as a Democrat for U.S. Senate.

This is the seat that Senator Joe Manchin, an independent-minded mainstay of West Virginia Democratic politics, has chosen to bow out of competing to retain. Most pundits believe the seat is likely to flip to a Republican, and the top candidates on that side are incumbent Gov. Jim Justice and Congressman Alex Mooney.

Blankenship has been involved with Republican politics in West Virginia for many years, first as an activist and financial backer just before the GOP swung to dominance and then in 2018 with a competitive race in the Republican Primary for U.S. Senate.

The West Virginia Democratic Party did not welcome his candidacy.

“Blankenship, or as he’ll forever be known, federal prisoner 12393-088, lost a previous race for U.S. Senate when he ran as a Republican. He followed that up with a failed race for President running on the Constitution Party ticket,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Pushkin in a statement released by the party.

“He’ll officially join the three-time loser club when he’s rejected by voters, yet again, in the 2024 West Virginia Democratic primary.”

Blankenship registered to run Friday at the Secretary of State’s Office at the Capitol. He said he’s regularly lived in West Virginia, but acknowledged splitting his time elsewhere, including Nevada. He said realistically and legally what matters is being embraced by West Virginia voters.

He is the former Massey Energy chief who was tried in 2015 on three federal charges of conspiracy, securities fraud and making false statements. He was not tried for directly causing the 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 workers, but the charges were prompted by the disaster.

Blankenship was found guilty of conspiring to willfully violate safety standards, a misdemeanor. He spent a year in jail and then announced a 2018 candidacy for U.S. Senate, running in a competitive Republican primary that included state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and then-Congressman Evan Jenkins.

During that race, he clashed with Sen. Mitch McConnell, then the majority leader, and started calling him “Cocaine Mitch,” a nickname that stuck.

Now, “if Democrats do not choose me as their candidate it is 100% certain that West Virginia will send another McConnell bought and paid for Republican to the U.S. Senate,” Blankenship said on a one-page statement handed out to reporters. “A Democrat vote for me is a vote against McConnell and his pro China, anti America, anti West Virginia agenda.”

Blankenship said Friday he registered as a Democrat, although he expressed significant policy differences with the party, particularly on affirmative action issues, how to handle the U.S. border and transgender rights.

“I think the Democratic Party needs some leadership. You know, you look at what they’re doing the policies they have are crazy. They’re never going to participate in the things that are needed to correct the country, so I’m going to try to pull them out of that doldrum and get the them to think about real issues,” he said.

He does not anticipate support from the Democratic Party. “I would expect them to be very upset that I’m even in the race,” he said.

And when asked whether, if he were to win, he would caucus with Senate Democrats, Blankenship said he would act independently and called both major parties dishonest power brokers.

“I will probably form my own caucus if I win called the America First caucus because neither the Republicans under McConnell nor the Democrats under Schumer are going to make the country better,” Blankenship said.

“The two political parties are basically criminal organizations and the Supreme Court has allowed them to act as political action committees. People think of them as part of the government, but basically they are given powers of a political action committee, they raise money by selling legislation and they raise money by selling foreign policy and they shouldn’t be allowed to do that.”

Blankenship offered some criticism of Justice and Mooney.

“Obviously Jim has done real well as far as governor. You would expect a businessman to do that. I think I made that possible over the last 20 years, since 2004 when we first elected a Republican to the Supreme Court in West Virginia for the first time in years, the right to work law, the tax reductions, the less litigious business climate, have allowed businesspeople to get elected in West Virginia and make a

“I think Jim has done that. I don’t know Mr. Mooney very well, but I assume he’s done a pretty good job as well compared to what we used to have. So the state’s gotten a lot better, but I’m concerned that I see signs that the party is not recognizing the seriousness of the drug epidemic and not understanding that the poor people of the state are going to have to be helped along with the business community.”

He added, “I think I’ve helped the business community. I’m going to turn to the poor people now.”

Blankenship did not address the campaigns of Democratic candidates Glenn Elliott, who is mayor of Wheeling, or former Marine Zach Shrewsbury. He said he would be glad to debate.

“I think anybody that wants to debate any time about anything,” he said, “I’ll be prepared to debate.”