Senate election is seen as a prime opportunity for Republicans to win a seat currently held by a Democrat…
(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) A race for U.S. Senate in West Virginia is showing that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just can’t seem to stop himself from being in the middle of intra-party primary fights across the country.
McConnell, blamed by many for heavy-handed intervention in a special election in Alabama last year that resulted in a Democrat taking a U.S. Senate seat long thought safely Republican, is now the subject of withering fire from former coal mining executive Don Blankenship, one of the three Republicans in the West Virginia race.
The West Virginia election is seen as a prime opportunity for Republicans to win a seat currently held by a Democrat, in this case by supposedly centrist Joe Manchin, who first entered the Senate in 2010.
For the first time in well over a year, a statewide poll shows a (bare) plurality of his constituents disapproving of the job Manchin is doing – and aside from Manchin, almost all major officeholders in the state are now Republican.
Republican Donald Trump won West Virginia with a whopping 68.5 percent of the vote in 2016.
Blankenship on Monday said “the Russians and McConnell should both stop interfering with elections outside their jurisdictions.”
Blankenship’s near-equation of McConnell with Russians was in response to some three-quarters of a million in ad spending against him by a little-known political action committee that is contracting with a group closely associated with McConnell.
Unlike in Alabama, where the McConnell team’s involvement was more direct (about which, more in a moment), McConnell’s fingerprints are not so directly evident on the ads sponsored by the so-called Mountain Families PAC, for which the PAC paid the Main Street Media Group to produce.
But Main Street is a prime vendor for McConnell’s own PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund.
And McConnell told the New York Times earlier this year that he opposes Blankenship – preferring, apparently, either of the other two candidates, U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins or state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
The Republican establishment thinks Blankenship will have a hard time defeating Manchin in part because Blankenship was jailed for a year before being acquitted of charges related to a fatal mining accident.
But Blankenship has a feisty persona and has been rising in the polls as he runs a populist conservative campaign.
Part of that populism involves targeting McConnell.
Many grassroots Republican voters consider McConnell to be insufficiently conservative, or far too much of a compromised Capitol insider, or both.
Attacking (or distancing oneself from) him seems to be a staple of Republican primary campaigns this year, especially for candidates positioning themselves as anti-establishment activists.
Last year’s Alabama race gave McConnell a particularly bad political black eye, after years of the Republican leader seeming to be damned if he did not intervene in party Senate primaries but also damned if he did.
In Alabama, McConnell tried to grease the skids in favor of the temporarily appointed incumbent senator, Luther Strange, whose unusual ascension to the seat had been clouded in controversy.
According to multiple independent reports, McConnell’s associates threatened harsh political and job-related reprisals for any candidate who challenged Strange, or any campaign strategist who worked for such a challenger.
But Alabama analysts insisted, rightly, that the controversy surrounding Strange made him an unviable candidate all along – and that by scaring other strong candidates out of the race, and by airing millions of dollars of attack ads against conservative challenger Mo Brooks, McConnell’s team merely made it more likely that the only challenger left standing against Strange would be the ultra-controversial former judge Roy Moore.
Sure enough, Moore and Strange earned slots in a runoff primary, which Strange, as predicted by all but McConnell’s team, lost badly.
Moore in turn lost the otherwise safe seat to Democrat Doug Jones – the exact result McConnell was trying to avoid, but which his “ham-fisted” intervention presumably made more likely rather than less.
Alabama was just the latest in a series of campaigns in which McConnell was embarrassed when he tried to tip the scales against conservative candidates, in favor of establishmentarians.
He also intervened unsuccessfully in past races against Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska – all of whom won not only the primary but the general election and then established largely conservative voting records in the Senate.
On the other hand, many Washington Republicans still think party insiders did not do enough in prior years to intervene against controversial conservatives in other Senate primaries in which the conservatives beat the party insiders, only to embarrass themselves and lose extremely winnable races.
Those losing conservatives included Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada in 2010, and Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana in 2012.
But critics of this line of thinking say that insider intervention is self-defeating, because Republican primary voters are just as likely to exhibit a backlash against the intervenors like McConnell as they are to be swayed by the negative ads McConnell’s team specializes in.
Better, say the critics, that Washington Republicans save their money and energy for the general election campaign against Democrats than to try to dictate who the GOP nominee will be.
West Virginia now becomes the latest test case for this ongoing debate.