Don Blankenship, who was defeated in his maverick bid for the Republican nomination to run for Senate in West Virginia, said Monday he’ll run as a third party candidate in November, tossing the race in turmoil.
Mr. Blankenship said he has accepted the nomination of the Constitution Party, saying it was a natural fit for his views — and suggested he was out for vengeance against President Trump’s political team.
“This time we won’t get surprised by the lying establishment,” he said. “We were assured by White House political staff that they would not interfere in the primary election. Obviously, that turned out not to be true.”
State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won the GOP’s nomination in a May 8 primary that turned into a three-man race with him, Mr. Blankenship and Rep. Evan Jenkins. In the waning days of the race, Republicans ganged up on Mr. Blankenship, with Mr. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging voters to pick anyone but the maverick former coal-mine owner, after Mr. Blankenship bizarrely suggested Mr. McConnell was involved in cocaine trafficking.
The GOP had been hoping the race would be one of its best pickup chances in November, with incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin running in a state Mr. Trump won by more than 40 percentage points.
Mr. Blankenship’s independent bid, should he be allowed to follow through on it, complicates the picture.
First, he’ll likely have to face a legal hurdle. West Virginia has a “sore loser” law that, on its face, would appear to prohibit Mr. Blankenship from running in November, after losing the primary.
The secretary of state’s office says someone who loses in one party’s primary cannot change registration in order to “take advantage of the later filing deadlines and have their name on the subsequent general election ballot.”
But legal experts told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that the laws are drafted badly, and Mr. Blankenship may be able to fight the state in court.
Mr. Blankenship has officially updated his registration to the Constitution Party, the secretary of state said Monday. Now, he has until Aug. 1 to gain the signatures needed.
Mr. Blankenship signaled in his statement Monday that he expects to meet resistance, but said he’ll fight in court if he has to.
“Although the establishment will likely begin their efforts against us by mounting a legal challenge to my candidacy, we are confident that — if challenged — our legal position will prevail, absent a politically motivated decision by the courts,” he said.
Mr. Blankenship was released from prison last year after serving a one-year sentence for conspiring to violate mine-safety standards, after an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine run by Massey Energy killed 29 people. Mr. Blankenship was CEO of Massey.
After release, he launched a bid for Senate, arguing he was more Trumpian that the president, pointing to his battles with party leaders.
Republicans had been worried he would claim the nomination, but he ended up in third place with 20 percent of the vote, well behind Mr. Morrisey’s 35 percent and Mr. Jenkins’ 29 percent.
It’s unclear what being on the Constitution Party ticket would mean for Mr. Blankenship — other than a potential role as spoiler.
In the 2016 presidential race, its nominee won about half a percentage point of the vote in West Virginia. And in 2014, the last time the state had a U.S. Senate race, the Constitution Party nominee in that race also won slightly more than half a percentage point.