Don Blankenship is out of jail and ready to mingle. He donned his best upholstery-blue jacket, and entered West Virginia’s 2018 Republican primary race for Senate. But there are two problems: Blankenship is legally restricted to the state of Nevada until next May, and he’s the reason 29 coal miners are dead.
Does he have a chance? In fact, he might. Blankenship has mastered the art of victimhood, and as we’ve seen with Donald Trump and Roy Moore, Republican voters love a victim narrative. Blankenship has long maintained that the federal charges he faced were invented by the Obama administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). These claims are contested by the facts; The Washington Post reported in May that his company, Massey Energy, received 50 citations in March 2010 alone for safety violations at its Upper Big Branch mine. In April of that year, an explosion at the mine killed 29 workers, and a federal court found Blankenship culpable for failures to adhere to basic safety standards.
Senator Blankenship is still an unlikely possibility. West Virginia has a long tradition of radical organized labor, and Blankenship’s actions recall some of the most politically galvanizing moments in its history. He also told a court that his legal home is in Las Vegas, which is where he is bound to reside until one day after the Republican primary ends. Furthermore, his opponents can saturate West Virginia airwaves with any number of damning quotes. (A favorite: “If it weren’t for MSHA we’d blow ourselves up.”) But it’s unwise to completely count him out. The war on coal needs a villain, and Blankenship is an ideal vehicle to make sure that villain remains Barack Obama.