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Convicted ex-coal exec releases first ad in Senate campaign

Former coal executive Don Blankenship has launched his campaign for the United States Senate with an advertisement asserting his innocence in a mine disaster that killed 29.

Blankenship’s ad, posted online Wednesday night, alleges that the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, for which he has been blamed, was actually “Obama’s deadliest coverup,” and specifically implicates Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump makes new overtures to Democrats Gillibrand backs Manchin, Bredesen despite their support of Kavanaugh Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees MORE (D-W.Va.) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

It’s the first formal volley from Blankenship in the race for Manchin’s Senate seat, for which the Republican former Massey Energy Corp. head is expected to file formal paperwork Thursday.

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“Obama’s deadliest coverup has been uncovered by MSHA’s own documents. Documents which say the MSHA Upper Big Branch internal report was fixed,” the voiceover in the ad says.

“Government corruption is pandemic,” it concludes after making more allegations about the MSHA investigation.

Since the 2010 disaster, Blankenship has been working tirelessly to clear his name.

Investigators concluded that Massey, at Blankenship’s direction, often violated mine safety rules. The Upper Big Branch disaster was caused by an explosion fueled by mine dust the company did not properly clean, investigators said.

Blankenship alleges that MSHA caused the disaster itself, because it told workers to reduce ventilation, resulting in a natural gas buildup that exploded. Multiple investigators have dismissed the theory.

Blankenship was convicted in 2015 of conspiring to violate federal mine safety rules at Upper Big Branch and spent a year in prison. He unsuccessfully appealed up to the Supreme Court.

He is facing West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan JenkinsEvan Hollin JenkinsJenkins resigns from House, is sworn in on W.Va. Supreme Court More than 50 Dem House challengers outraise GOP incumbents Key Republican says House taking targeted approach to combating opioid epidemic MORE for the GOP nomination.

Morrisey and Jenkins welcomed Blankenship to the race in a Wednesday statement.

“I welcome anyone into this contest, but I will continue to run on my positive record of obtaining conservative results for coal miners and West Virginia taxpayers, fighting for the unborn, protecting gun rights, and ridding the state of this terrible opioid epidemic,” Morrisey said in a statement.

"Every citizen has the right to run for office, and I have no doubt that West Virginia Republicans will choose their nominee with careful consideration," said Jenkins. "My candidacy offers voters a clear choice on issues they care about most, a fighter for our shared West Virginia values, a close working relationship with President Trump and the one candidate West Virginia voters can count on to defeat Joe Manchin."

Manchin was West Virginia’s governor at the time of the 2010 disaster and has been a leading figure in denouncing Blankenship for his alleged role in it.