Ex-coal CEO Don Blankenship is preparing to run as a third-party candidate in the West Virginia Senate race after losing his bid for the GOP nomination in a move that is likely to spark a fierce legal battle.
Blankenship’s campaign announced that he will file paperwork on Tuesday to appear on the ballot in November as the Constitution Party’s Senate nominee.
The move will probably spark a high-stakes legal battle in the state, viewed as one of a handful of contests that will determine which party controls the Senate next year.
“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 on Tuesday.
Republicans, including the West Virginia Secretary of State, argue that West Virginia’s “sore loser law” prevents Blankenshipp from running as a third-party Senate candidate after losing the Republican nomination in May to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
Steven Allen Adams, a spokesman for West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner (R), told The Hill after Blankenship first announced his plans that it’s the secretary’s view that Blankenship is barred from running as a third-party candidate.
“West Virginia does have a sore losers, sour grapes law,” he said. “We feel the law is pretty clear.”
But some legal experts say the wording of the state’s code could give Blankenship an opening to challenge the law, setting up a legal battle between the failed GOP candidate and Republican officials.
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 on Monday, 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.
Morrisey is hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in November. Manchin is regarded as vulnerable due to Trump overwhelmingly winning the state by more than 40 points in 2016.
Though Manchin has a 7-point lead in a Real Clear Politics average of recent polling, Republicans believe Manchin could still be defeated in a state that has swung sharply away from Democrats in recent years.