CHARLESTON, W.Va. — 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 papers Friday to run as a Democrat for the seat vacated by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.
Blankenship’s entry into this year’s race came a day before the May 14 primary filing deadline for political candidates. The deeply red state’s Democratic Party immediately distanced itself from Blankenship, who has two primary opponents.
“No matter 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 later lost his bid in the general election as a third-party candidate. Manchin won a second full term this fall, defeating current Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Manchin announced in November that he would not seek reelection.
Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, served a year in federal prison after being convicted of conspiracy to violate safety standards, a misdemeanor, at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia before a explosion in 2010 that killed 29 men. In 2022, the United States Supreme Court rejected a request by Blankenship to review the conviction.
For voters, the candidate is a deeply polarizing figure. Retired miners and families of those who died in the explosion called Blankenship self-centered, callous and heartless. Yet some residents of the coal community called him assertive and a man of integrity.
In 2018, Blankenship attempted to align himself with then-President Donald Trump, presenting himself during the campaign as “more Trump than Trump.”
“Many will be surprised that I registered as a Democrat,” Blankenship said in a written statement announcing his candidacy in this year’s election. “I confess that I am not a Washington, D.C. Democrat. This is exactly why I hope West Virginia Democrats and Independents will vote for me and help me begin the process of returning the Democratic Party and America to sensible, moral, pro-American politics.
In the statement, Blankenship said he opposed illegal immigration and was “gravely” concerned about the nation’s drug crisis and overdose deaths. He also said transgender people should not be allowed to use restrooms corresponding to their gender identity and transgender women should not be allowed to participate in women’s sports competitions. In a 2022 interview published on the Charleston Gazette-Mail website, Blankenship called climate change an “absolute hoax” and reiterated his claims of innocence in his trial.