West Virginia official rejects Blankenship's third-party Senate bid
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The West Virginia secretary of state is blocking ex-coal CEO Don Blankenship's efforts to appear on the ballot in November as a third-party candidate, setting up a high-stakes legal fight.

Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) said on Thursday that Blankenship's attempt to appear on the ballot as the Constitution Party's candidate would violate the state's "sore loser" law after Blankenship lost his bid for the GOP nomination in May.

"According to the plain language of the law, which controls my decision, a candidate who loses the Primary Election cannot use the nomination-certificate process to run another campaign in the General Election. Any other decision would be contrary to the law," Warner said.

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Warner's office notified Blankenship's campaign of their decision in a letter on Thursday.

The decision is expected to spark a closely watched legal battle. Blankenship indicated earlier this week that he expected the secretary of state's office would deny him a spot on the ballot and that he would challenge the state's laws.

"Mr. Blankenship does not expect the filing to be certified and will vigorously challenge the denial through all legal means necessary. Mr. Blankenship fully expects to be on the ballot this November," Blankenship's campaign said in a press release.

Following Warner's announcement, Blankenship knocked "establishment politicians" for blocking his attempt to run as a third-party candidate and signaled he will challenge the decision.

"We are confident that the denial of my certificate of announcement will be overturned, and I am looking forward to running a spirited campaign for U.S. Senate as the only candidate who is not supported by Planned Parenthood and opiate drug distributing companies," he said in a statement.

Blankenship came in third in the state's May GOP primary, losing to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

If Blankenship successfully challenges the state's laws his third-party candidacy would create headaches for national Republicans, who spent millions to undercut his bid for the GOP nomination. Republicans worried that his baggage—including a prison stint and a coal mine explosion that killed 29 people—would tank the party's chances of defeating Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump’s big wall isn’t going anywhere — and the polls show why Senate Judiciary announces Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing Anti-abortion group launches ads against Manchin over Planned Parenthood MORE (W.Va.) in November.

Blankenship faces an uphill bid to appear on the ballot but some legal experts say the wording of the state's code could give him an opening to challenge the law.

The ambiguity circles around a section of the code cited by the secretary of state’s office as the basis for the sore loser law. The section says that groups of citizens can nominate individuals who “are not already candidates in the primary election for public office otherwise than by conventions or primary elections.”

The use of the present tense “are” instead of a past tense “were,” could allow Blankenship to argue in court that the language doesn’t apply to him because he’s no longer a candidate in a primary election.

The West Virginia legislature passed a separate "sour grapes" law in March, which went into effect after 90 days.

But Blankenship's campaign appeared to take a shot at that bill, calling it a "discriminatory law."

"This is what the Communist or Nazi party would do and is a perfect example of political party behavior that violates an American's guaranteed right to equal opportunity," he said.

Updated at 4:49 p.m.