Don Blankenship to seek U.S. Senate in West Virginia as member of Constitution Party

Former Massey Energy executive Don Blankenship says he will seek the office of U.S. Senate representing West Virginia as a member of the Constitution Party. (WCHS/WVAH)

Don Blankenship, the controversial former Massey Coal executive who finished third in the GOP U.S. Senate race in West Virginia, said he is not through vying for the office.

Blankenship said in a news release Monday that he has accepted the nomination to become the Constitution Party’s West Virginia candidate for U.S. Senate.

In the May primary, Blankenship finished in third place in the six-member GOP field with 20 percent of the vote. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won the nomination, receiving 35 percent of the vote. U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins was second with 29 percent.

Morrisey is facing U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who won the Democratic primary, in the fall. Manchin and Blankenship are bitter rivals.

There have been questions swirling whether Blankenship under state law could be on the ballot in the fall as an independent candidate, but he has decided to run as the Constitution Party candidate.

“I hold in the highest regard the founding principles of the United States Constitution, and I’m willing to fight to protect both West Virginia and America from all enemies – foreign and domestic,” Blankenship said in the news release.

The West Virginia secretary of state's legal counsel says it's too early to focus on whether the third-party candidacy of Blankenship is legal.

Steve Connolly says the only notice the secretary of state's office has received is Blankenship switching from the Republican to the Constitution Party.

Connelly says Blankenship hasn't filed a certificate of nomination with the Constitution Party. When he does, Connelly says "then we'll come to a decision. As of right now, we don't have anything in front of us to decide."

Earlier this year, the state Legislature strengthened state code by specifying candidates who fail to win their party's primary cannot become a candidate for the same office through another party's nomination or certificate process. That change is effective June 5.

The West Virginia secretary of state's office has said Blankenship wouldn't be permitted to run after losing the Republican primary.

The comments came before Monday's announcement that Blankenship would run as a third-party candidate, with the Constitution Party.

Mike Queen is communications director for Secretary of State Mac Warner. Queen made the remarks for a story Saturday in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Queen says there's no specific language code spelling out a "sore loser" law. He says his office would look to lawmakers' "intent."

"The Secretary's position is that Mr. Blankenship is not permitted to run again in the general election for the United States Senate,” Queen said. “If Mr. Blankenship pursues the matter, he will most likely have to bring a legal action to force the Secretary to approve his candidacy."

On Monday, the office referred questions to its lawyer, who didn't immediately respond to questions.

During the primary, President Donald Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr., both weighed in on the U.S. Senate race, urging voters not to vote for Blankenship. Blankenship said in the fall his campaign will not be surprised.

"This time we won't get surprised by the lying establishment. We were assured by White House political staff that they would not interfere in the primary election Obviously, that turned out not to be true. Now that we know that the establishment will lie and resort to anything necessary to defeat me, we are better prepared than before," Blankenship said.

Blankenship said it was especially appropriate for him to be nominated by the Constitution Party since his rights were violated when he was “falsely charged and politically imprisoned following the unfortunate mining accident at Upper Big Branch.”

Blankenship served a one-year sentence at a California prison for conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards.

Blankenship's misdemeanor conviction came after 24 days of testimony in connection with his involvement in the Upper Big Branch explosion that killed 29 men in 2010.

The AP contributed to this report.

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