Jenkins, Blankenship Leading in W.Va. GOP Senate Race

WHEELING — Most recent polling in West Virginia shows U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins leading in the race for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, with former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship now in second place and gaining in the race.

The survey by Harper Polling — and commissioned by Jenkins — also shows West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey losing considerable ground and falling to third place in the race to unseat U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

The polling lists Jenkins with 29 percent of the prospective Republican vote; Blankenship now close at 27 percent; and Morrisey at 19. Tom Willis and Jack Newbrough are each listed with 4 percent of the vote; and the sixth candidate, Bo Copley, at 2 percent. The survey reports the remaining 13 percent as undecided.

Jenkins said one month ago he was at 33 percent; Morrisey, at 25 percent; and Blankenship, at 18 percent — but that was before Blankenship spent $1.8 million on advertising, according to Jenkins.

Much of Blankenship’s advertising has been focusing on Morrisey, his alleged relationships with the pharmaceutical industry and the role of his wife, Denise, as a Washington, D.C. lobbyist.

Earlier this year, most expected the race to be between Jenkins and Morrisey, but this is changing, Jenkins said.

“This race is now very different than what people expected.” Jenkins said. “There are several candidates on the ballot vying for the Republican nomination to face Joe Manchin this fall. Don Blankenship has put almost $1.8 million into an aggressive TV advertising campaign so far. Patrick Morrisey has not gained any traction and the voters are concerned about his deep ties to the drug industry, D.C. lobbying background, and the fact that he ran for Congress in 2000 from New Jersey, touting his Jersey values.

“Don’s checkbook has put him into second place, but polling shows he’s a very polarizing candidate.”

The same survey measures favorability among the candidates, with Jenkins scoring a 51 percent favorability over Morrisey’s 46 percent, and Blankenship’s 39 percent.

Blankenship served a one-year sentence at FCI Taft in California, beginning in 2016. This came after he was acquitted of felony charges in late 2015 for lying about safety procedures at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine, the site of a 2010 disaster that killed 29 miners.

His charges were reduced to a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety and health standards.

Blankenship’s unfavorability rating is at 51 percent, Morrisey’s at 38 percent, and Jenkins’ at 21 percent.

Six percent of respondents said they had never heard of Jenkins, while just 2 percent didn’t recognize Blankenship’s name and 1 percent didn’t know Morrisey.

“The primary is just eight weeks away and it’s a two-way race now between me and Don,” Jenkins said. “I know being in the lead makes me the target of negative attacks from the other candidates. But I think as voters learn more about my strong West Virginia roots and values, conservative record of accomplishments and close working relationship with President (Donald) Trump, they will see through the mudslinging and know I’m the best candidate to take on and defeat Manchin in November.”

Blankenship spokesman Greg Thomas sees Blankenship’s numbers improving as the primary approaches.

“While we don’t have much confidence in other people’s polls, it is not surprising that more and more West Virginians would be supporting Don Blankenship,” he said. “Don’s message of being a proven job creator and a conservative leader in West Virginia who will fight against the D.C. establishment is being received well everywhere we go.

“Don Blankenship has had town hall meetings in Logan, Beckley, Huntington, Parkersburg, Wheeling, Weirton, Morgantown and Hurricane, with many more planned in the primary. The more people know about Don, the more they like him. We are doing everything we can to make sure people hear our positive message.”

Morrisey’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

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