GOP struggles with supporting Blankenship in West Virginia

GOP struggles with supporting Blankenship in West Virginia
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Senate Republicans are grappling with what support, if any, they should give ex-coal CEO Don Blankenship if the controversial candidate wins Tuesday's primary in West Virginia.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran As many as eight GOP senators expected to vote to curb Trump's power to attack Iran MORE (R-S.D.) told reporters this week that Republican leadership is actively discussing the "various scenarios" that could be sparked by a Blankenship victory on Tuesday night.

"Uh, don't know. Let's just hope and pray that that doesn't happen," the No. 3 GOP senator said after a closed-door leadership meeting. "It wouldn't be good."

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Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisErnst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Trump pick for Fed seat takes bipartisan fire Three Senate primaries to watch on Super Tuesday MORE (R-N.C.), the vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said there would be a "discussion" if Blankenship wins but that he will not support him.

"I'm sure that will be a discussion. I personally wouldn't. You know I'm involved with the NRSC but I just don't see a scenario where that's a positive projection of the Republican brand," he said, asked by The Hill about the NRSC's thinking.

Blankenship, who was released from prison less than a year ago, has sparked panic among national Republicans who believe his victory will blow their chances of defeating Democratic Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinLawmakers push back at Trump's Pentagon funding grab for wall Overnight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Senate Democrats pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit MORE (W.Va.).

And the candidate appears to have momentum heading into Tuesday, with multiple internal polls showing him leading rivals state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsWest Virginia New Members 2019 Republican Carol Miller holds off Democrat in West Virginia House race Trump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report MORE (R-W.Va.).

GOP leadership in Congress has publicly kept the race at arm's length, worried that any attempts to influence who wins the Republican primary could backfire. But Blankenship, who is running as an anti-establishment candidate, has blasted GOP leadership in ads.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellErnst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Trump declares war on hardworking Americans with new budget request MORE (R-Ky.) declined to say on Tuesday if Blankenship's ads saying the GOP leader helped create jobs for "China people" and got money from his "China family" were racist.

"Well, we're going to find out what happens in West Virginia tonight, and I may have more to say about that tomorrow," McConnell told reporters when asked if Blankenship's ads are "racist."

McConnell's wife, Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoWatchdog sues for records of Boeing's communications with Trump's Transportation Department The Hill's Morning Report - Report of Bolton tell-all manuscript roils Trump defense Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate MORE, was born in Taiwan. Her family emigrated from China to the United States and founded an international shipping company.

Pressed on Tuesday on whether he and the NRSC would support Blankenship, McConnell similarly demurred, saying he would wait to see who won the GOP primary.

The NRSC didn't take a side in the primary and hasn't said what, if any, help it will offer Blankenship if he wins.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerErnst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Senate Democrats pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Impeachment fallout threatens to upend battle for Senate MORE (R-Colo.) sidestepped when asked if the Senate GOP campaign arm would support Blankenship, saying he's "confident [West Virginian voters will] elect somebody who can win in November."

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCensus Bureau spends millions on ad campaign to mitigate fears on excluded citizenship question Bloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Democratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister MORE has compared Blankenship to former controversial Alabama Senate candidate Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreAlabama Senate contender hits Sessions in new ad: 'Hillary still ain't in jail' The Hill's Campaign Report: Rising Klobuchar, Buttigieg face test in diverse states Sessions in close race for Alabama GOP Senate nomination: poll MORE. The NRSC cut ties with him when Moore was accused of pursuing relationships with teenage girls while he was in his 30s. Moore won the primary but lost the general election.

In addition to potentially cutting ties with Blankenship, the NRSC could take a less drastic step and passively support him by simply not speaking negatively about his candidacy.

Tillis isn't the only GOP senator who is keeping Blankenship at arms length.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report Democratic senators press Interior official over proposed changes to migratory bird protections MORE (R-Okla.) said he would have a "hard time" supporting him and that he's "not my favorite person."

West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoTrump hammers Manchin over impeachment vote Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle Democrat Richard Ojeda announces Senate bid after dropping out of presidential race MORE (R) noted that she voted in the primary on Friday but refused to say who she voted for.

"I had a written record. And luckily nobody else could see it but me," she told reporters. Asked if Blankenship as the nominee would be "problematic," she added: "You know, let's just see what happens."

But Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcSally launches 2020 campaign Sinema will vote to convict Trump Senate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle MORE (R-Ariz.), who is retiring after 2018, urged the party not to support Blankenship, arguing his behavior shouldn't be "normalized."

"That's kind of a Faustian bargain in my view. ... I feel the same way [about him] as I did about Roy Moore," he said. "You just don't go there, you just don't."