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Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship enters U.S. Senate race

By JOSELYN KING

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va.  — Just six months ago, he was released from federal prison. On Wednesday, former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship officially joined the 2018 race for U.S. Senate in West Virginia.

Don Blankenship
Blankenship has filed the necessary paperwork to become a candidate in the Republican primary, confirmed his campaign strategist, Greg Thomas of Targeted Communication Strategies in Charleston. Candidates for Senate seats file by paper with the secretary of the Senate, while House candidates file electronically or by paper with the Federal Elections Commission.

Thomas said Blankenship was in Charleston on Wednesday, and planned to return to his residence in Williamson.

Blankenship was acquitted of felony charges in late 2015 for lying about safety procedures at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010 that resulted in the deaths of 29 miners.

His charges were reduced to a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to wilfully violate mine safety and health standards, and he served a one-year sentence at FCI Taft in California.

Blankenship was released from prison in May. Since then, he has become a critic of both the Mine Safety and Health Administration and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Blankenship will seek Manchin’s seat in 2018.

“Were not putting out a statement,” Thomas said. “Mr. Blankenship will be continuing his campaign to educate people at what happened at UBB, and the government coverup. He wants people to follow what’s going on.

“Sen. Manchin has been avoiding the issues surrounding Upper Big Brand, and now he will no longer be able to avoid it.”

Blankenship joins a Republican primary race that is expected to include State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins.

And Thomas isn’t certain how Blankenship’s presence will affect the race.

“It’s going to be an unconventional campaign,” he said. “It’s hard to predict things in the current political environment.”

West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas called Blankenship “another voice in the chorus of individuals wanting to defeat Joe Manchin.”

“All candidates will have the opportunity to make their case for the nomination,” Lucas said. “And Don Blankenship will be another candidate out there exposing Joe Manchin’s liberal hypocrisy, and this will only help Republicans to defeat Manchin in November.”

Manchin’s campaign issued a cryptic statement Wednesday under the topic, “A Growing GOP primary.”

“Joe Manchin is focused on working in the Senate for West Virginia families, not campaign politics,” said campaign spokesman Grant Herring. “He won’t be distracted by Mitch McConnell’s backroom deals in Washington, D.C.”

Jenkins’ and Morrisey’s campaigns also weighed in on Blankenship’s entry into the Senate race.

“Everyone has a right to run for public office,” Morrisey said. “I welcome anyone into this contest, but I will continue to run on my positive record of obtaining conservative results for coal miners and West Virginia taxpayers, fighting for the unborn, protecting gun rights and ridding the state of this terrible opioid epidemic.”

Jenkins agrees “every citizen has the right to run for office.”

“And I have no doubt that West Virginia Republicans will choose their nominee with careful consideration,” he said. “My candidacy offers voters a clear choice on issues they care about most, a fighter for our shared West Virginia values, a close-working relationship with President Trump and the one candidate West Virginia voters can count on to defeat Joe Manchin.”

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