Manchin, Morrisey Split on Blankenship's Challenge to 'Sore Loser' Election Law

Jul 24, 2018

Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2018 at 5:05 p.m.

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has again filed paperwork with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office to run for U.S. Senate -- this time on a third-party’s ticket. His new bid for office -- filed Tuesday, July 24, with the Secretary of State’s office -- is a challenge to the state’s so-called “sore loser” law.

Candidates in the race from the two major parties expressed differing views on Blankenship’s potential challenge to the state’s election laws.

Blankenship came in third in the GOP primary, behind West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan Jenkins. Now, his campaign -- this time under the Constitution Party -- already says he does not expect to be certified and vows to challenge any denial. How that plays out, is as of yet unknown.

“That’ll be up to the attorneys. But we probably start at state level -- we could start at the federal level. It is clearly a constitutional violation. You can’t have a law that is enacted retroactively,” Blankenship said.

He’s referring to a law that clarified aspects of the state’s election law, which forbids losing a primary and then running for a third party in the same race. Approved this past legislative session, the law went into effect June 5 -- after the May primary.

Representatives from the Secretary of State's office will review the 11,000-some signatures Blankenship gathered to determine ballot eligibility. Officials from that office were not immediately available for comment Tuesday. 

In May, the Secretary of State’s office submitted a request for proposals through the Attorney General’s office to retain outside counsel “related to potential legal challenge(s) to West Virginia Code provisions governing the nomination process for individuals seeking election to federal office.”

A written determination on the request from the Secretary of State’s office hinted at Morrisey’s bid for U.S. Senate and Blankenship’s suggestion at the time that he might seek ballot access through a third party.

That document states: “the Office of the Attorney General has determined that due to the potential conflicts that may arise in these potential actions the Office deems it appropriate and in the best interests of the State to appoint qualified outside counsel to assist the West Virginia Secretary of State with these important matters.”

The former coal executive spent a year in prison for willfully conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards following an explosion that killed 29 men at the Upper Big Branch mine in April 2010. His one-year term of supervised release ended one day after the May 8 primary.

Surrounded by members of the press Tuesday, Blankenship made reference to his federal prison sentence when asked how he sees his upcoming court battle in terms of his third-party candidacy.

“I don't think that judges anymore are impartial -- in any event. The judges have proven in my cases, at least for the last 30 years, that they're not impartial. But we expect this situation is so cut and dry that they won’t have any choice but to uphold the Constitution,” he said.

The run for U.S. Senate under the Constitution Party could be seen as a boon for Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin and a threat to Republican challenger Morrisey.

Blankenship has long feuded with Manchin about mine safety issues and has argued with Manchin about the cause of the Upper Big Branch explosion. Blankenship immediately took aim at Morrisey following the Republican primary, saying the GOP was headed in the wrong direction.

Asked to comment on his Democratic and Republican rivals for U.S. Senate, Blankenship took aim at both candidates.

“Well, they're pretty well equal. Manchin, obviously, led us to last. He's been in public office for 28 years,” Blankenship said. “Morrisey is obviously not a loyal West Virginian, who has lobbied for opiate drug use [and] distributors. So neither one of them are going to do a good job for West Virginia.”

Manchin’s campaign indicated they would not challenge Blankenship’s candidacy should he be certified to be on the November ballot.

“Senator Joe Manchin has always encouraged people to get involved and run an honest campaign,” said Manchin campaign spokesman Grant Herring.

Morrisey’s campaign offered a much different tone.

"Voters won't be distracted by efforts to divert attention away from lying liberal Joe Manchin’s record of supporting pro-abortion policies, gun control, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign against coal miners," said Nathan Brand, a spokesman for Morrisey.

Asked whether the Morrisey campaign would challenge Blankenship’s candidacy, Brand did not respond.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Molly Born contributed to this report.