Don Blankenship to run for Senate on Constitution Party ticket

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Don Blankenship

After a third-place finish in the West Virginia Republican primary, Don Blankenship has announced he is still in the race for the US Senate – only now as a candidate for the Constitution Party.

This is interesting.

Don Blankenship – Constitutionalist?

News that the former Massey Coal executive had not given up on the Senate race emerged on West Virginia local media yesterday. WVAH-TV explained, “Blankenship said…he has accepted the nomination to become the Constitution Party’s West Virginia candidate for U.S. Senate.”

In other local media (but not on their official website or social media either) the West Virginia Constitution Party have enthusiastically supported Blankenship’s candidacy.

Party Vice Chairman Phil Hudok said, “We are excited to have Don Blankenship as our candidate for U.S. Senate. This will be a great opportunity to put the principles of our party on display and to elect someone who will represent the values of West Virginians instead of those of the D.C. establishment.”

According to Ballot Access News, as a non-ballot-qualified party in West Virginia, Blankenship could appear on the Constitution Party ballot line if he collects 4,537 signatures before August 1st. Less clear is if having stood in the GOP primary Blankenship is even eligible to be nominated by another party. A West Virginia “sore-loser” law appears to outlaw the practice of jumping to a 3rd party after a major party primary loss:

“THE “SORE LOSER” or “SOUR GRAPES” LAW (W. Va. Code §§ 3-5-7(d)(6) and 3-5-23) Candidates affiliated with a recognized political party who run for election in a primary election and who lose the nomination cannot change her or his voter registration to a minor party organization/unaffiliated candidate to take advantage of the later filing deadlines and have their name on the subsequent general election ballot.”

Blankenship has indicated his willingness to fight any legal battles. In his quoted statement he said, “Although the establishment will likely begin their efforts against us by mounting a legal challenge to my candidacy, we are confident that—if challenged—our legal position will prevail, absent a politically motivated decision by the courts.”

Don Blankenship – spoiler or contender?

Having come in only third in the GOP primary and losing to winner Patrick Morrisey by about fifteen points, many are doubting Blankenship’s motives for continuing in the race.

According to Josh Vorhees writing in Slate:

“If Blankenship’s name does end up on the November ballot, he’d be expected to siphon off a small but potentially significant number of votes from Morrisey. Blankenship won just under 20 percent of votes in the primary, but he has a nearly unlimited amount of money to continue attacking [Mitch] McConnell and Morrisey, in a race where even a few percentage points could be the difference. In short, then, Blankenship could still ruin the GOP’s chances in an otherwise winnable Senate race. Indeed, he seems almost determined to do just that.”

It is hard to argue that Blankenship remaining in the race is not a boon for Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin, but that does not mean this is Blankenship’s primary reason for seeking the Constitution Party nomination. After weeks of national media exposure, he may simply enjoy the fight and want to continue getting the attention.

Opportunities and dangers for the Constitution Party

Don Blankenship may cost the GOP a coveted seat in the US Senate, but he also presents the Constitution Party with some tricky challenges.

The former coal CEO and ex-convict will certainly be the highest profile candidate the West Virginia Constitution Party has ever fielded, (possibly even the highest profile Constitution Party candidate of all time). There is a lot to be gained for the party from this opportunity, but also a lot to be lost.

The history of high-profile individuals opportunistically joining a 3rd party for ballot access is not a completely happy one. In some cases, such as when Howard Stern was nominated for Governor of New York by the Libertarian Party in 1994, the celebrity candidate can refuse to be a team player. Initially a huge publicity boon for the Libertarians, relations between Stern and the state party grew strained over time. Stern then dropped out of the race in August rather than file the legally required financial disclosure forms with the state.

Former professional wrestler and Hollywood star Jesse Ventura successfully ran for Governor of Minnesota on the Reform Party ticket in 1998. He served one term, but left no party infrastructure in place after his departure. Riven by infighting and division, the Reform Party has shrunk to a size just a tiny fraction of its 1990s peak.

With oodles more money, name recognition, and campaign infrastructure than the rest of the Constitution Party combined, Don Blankenship will not have the standard candidate-to-party relationship. If he wants to pursue a course different from party leadership, there will be little anyone can do to stop him. And like it or not, how Blankenship defines the Constitution Party will likely be all anyone knows about the party for years to come.

Some think Don Blankenship is a patriot. Some think he is the devil. Whatever he is, the Constitution Party have made a pact with him. Soon there will be no going back.

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