CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Former West Virginia coal executive Don Blankenship, who lost by a wide margin when he ran for a U.S. Senate seat as a Republican in 2018, filed paperwork Friday to run as a Democrat for the seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.
Blankenship’s entrance into this year’s race came a day before the deadline for political candidates to file for the May 14 primary. The state Democratic Party in the deeply red state immediately distanced itself from Blankenship, who has two primary challengers.
“I don’t care what letter he has after his name this week, Don Blankenship is not a Democrat and does not represent the values of our party,” West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Mike Pushkin said in a written statement.
Blankenship finished third among six candidates in the 2018 GOP Senate primary with 20% of the vote. He then lost a bid to run in the general election as a third-party candidate. Manchin won a full second term that fall, defeating current Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Manchin announced in November that he won’t seek reelection.
Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, served a year in federal prison after being found guilty of conspiring to violate safety standards, a misdemeanor, at West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine before a 2010 explosion that killed 29 men. In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request by Blankenship to review the conviction.
For voters, the candidate has been a deeply polarizing figure. Retired miners and families of those who died in the explosion have referred to Blankenship as self-centered, ruthless and cold-hearted. Yet a few coal community residents have called him assertive and a man of integrity.
In 2018, Blankenship tried to align himself with then-President Donald Trump, portraying himself during the campaign as “Trumpier than Trump.”
“Many will be surprised that I registered as a Democrat,” Blankenship said in a written statement announcing his candidacy for this year’s election. “I admit that I am not a Washington, DC Democrat. This fact is exactly why I expect West Virginia Democrats and Independents will vote for me and help me begin the process of returning the Democrat Party and America to sensible, moral and pro-American policy.”
In the statement, Blankenship said he opposes illegal immigration and is “gravely” concerned with the nation’s drug crisis and overdose deaths. He also said transgender people should be barred from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity and that transgender women shouldn’t be allowed to compete in women’s sports. During a 2022 interview posted on the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s website, Blankenship called climate change “an absolute hoax” and repeated his claims of innocence in his court case.