GOP struggles with supporting Blankenship in West Virginia

Senate Republicans are grappling with what support, if any, they should give ex-coal CEO Don Blankenship if the controversial candidate wins Tuesday’s primary in West Virginia.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names The Hill’s Morning Report – Treasury, Fed urge more spending, lending to ease COVID-19 wreckage MORE (R-S.D.) told reporters this week that Republican leadership is actively discussing the “various scenarios” that could be sparked by a Blankenship victory on Tuesday night.

“Uh, don’t know. Let’s just hope and pray that that doesn’t happen,” the No. 3 GOP senator said after a closed-door leadership meeting. “It wouldn’t be good.”


Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisKoch-backed group launches ad campaign to support four vulnerable GOP senators The Hill’s Campaign Report: It’s primary night in Georgia Tillis unveils new 0,000 ad in North Carolina Senate race MORE (R-N.C.), the vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said there would be a “discussion” if Blankenship wins but that he will not support him.

“I’m sure that will be a discussion. I personally wouldn’t. You know I’m involved with the NRSC but I just don’t see a scenario where that’s a positive projection of the Republican brand,” he said, asked by The Hill about the NRSC’s thinking.

Blankenship, who was released from prison less than a year ago, has sparked panic among national Republicans who believe his victory will blow their chances of defeating Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump administration seeks to use global aid for nuclear projects Shelley Moore Capito wins Senate primary West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice wins GOP gubernatorial primary MORE (W.Va.).

And the candidate appears to have momentum heading into Tuesday, with multiple internal polls showing him leading rivals state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsWest Virginia New Members 2019 Republican Carol Miller holds off Democrat in West Virginia House race Trump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report MORE (R-W.Va.).

GOP leadership in Congress has publicly kept the race at arm’s length, worried that any attempts to influence who wins the Republican primary could backfire. But Blankenship, who is running as an anti-establishment candidate, has blasted GOP leadership in ads.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote GOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases No, ‘blue states’ do not bail out ‘red states’ MORE (R-Ky.) declined to say on Tuesday if Blankenship’s ads saying the GOP leader helped create jobs for “China people” and got money from his “China family” were racist.

“Well, we’re going to find out what happens in West Virginia tonight, and I may have more to say about that tomorrow,” McConnell told reporters when asked if Blankenship’s ads are “racist.”

McConnell’s wife, Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoTrump campaign launches Asian Pacific Americans coalition Bottom line Democrats to probe Trump’s replacement of top Transportation Dept. watchdog MORE, was born in Taiwan. Her family emigrated from China to the United States and founded an international shipping company.

Pressed on Tuesday on whether he and the NRSC would support Blankenship, McConnell similarly demurred, saying he would wait to see who won the GOP primary.

The NRSC didn’t take a side in the primary and hasn’t said what, if any, help it will offer Blankenship if he wins.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior faces legal scrutiny for keeping controversial acting leaders in office | White House faces suit on order lifting endangered species protections | Lawmakers seek investigation of Park Police after clearing of protesters The Hill’s Campaign Report: Republicans go on attack over calls to ‘defund the police’ MORE (R-Colo.) sidestepped when asked if the Senate GOP campaign arm would support Blankenship, saying he’s “confident [West Virginian voters will] elect somebody who can win in November.”

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE has compared Blankenship to former controversial Alabama Senate candidate Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreSessions goes after Tuberville’s coaching record in challenging him to debate The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip Sessions fires back at Trump over recusal: ‘I did my duty & you’re damn fortunate I did” MORE. The NRSC cut ties with him when Moore was accused of pursuing relationships with teenage girls while he was in his 30s. Moore won the primary but lost the general election.

In addition to potentially cutting ties with Blankenship, the NRSC could take a less drastic step and passively support him by simply not speaking negatively about his candidacy.

Tillis isn’t the only GOP senator who is keeping Blankenship at arms length.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill MORE (R-Okla.) said he would have a “hard time” supporting him and that he’s “not my favorite person.”

West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoTim Scott to introduce GOP police reform bill next week Senate GOP shifts on police reform Shelley Moore Capito wins Senate primary MORE (R) noted that she voted in the primary on Friday but refused to say who she voted for.

“I had a written record. And luckily nobody else could see it but me,” she told reporters. Asked if Blankenship as the nominee would be “problematic,” she added: “You know, let’s just see what happens.”

But Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism Kelly holds double-digit lead over McSally in Arizona: poll Trump asserts his power over Republicans MORE (R-Ariz.), who is retiring after 2018, urged the party not to support Blankenship, arguing his behavior shouldn’t be “normalized.”

“That’s kind of a Faustian bargain in my view. … I feel the same way [about him] as I did about Roy Moore,” he said. “You just don’t go there, you just don’t.”

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