West Virginia’s GOP Senate primary will take place on Tuesday, and all eyes are on convicted criminal Don Blankenship (R).  Whoever wins Tuesday’s GOP primary will face off against current West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D), and that is causing Republicans some concern given how important it is for them to keep the Senate in November.

Republicans are concerned that West Virginia will turn into another Alabama where another wildcard candidate won the GOP primary but lost the Senate race.

Blankenship has ruffled a lot of feathers with some of the most cringe-worthy campaign ads I’ve ever seen.  Here’s an example:

Needless to say, this didn’t go over well with . . . anyone.

Over at HuffPo, he’s being called “xenophobic,” and Republicans are coming to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s and his wife’s defense.

Sen. Mitch McConnell’s allies started more openly punching back at a brash West Virginia Senate candidate following the release of a racially charged ad targeting the Senate GOP leader’s family.

Republican Don Blankenship — running in Tuesday’s West Virginia U.S. Senate primary — has escalated attacks on the Kentucky Republican in the final days of the primary as part of a strategy to run against so-called establishment Republicans. In an ad unveiled Thursday, the coal baron alleges “swamp captain” McConnell has “created millions of jobs for China people” and gotten rich from his “China family.”

The racially charged attack alludes to McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan. Her family owns a U.S.-based shipping company. Earlier in the week, Blankenship pledged to “ditch Cocaine Mitch,” an apparent reference to a 2014 report about drugs being found aboard one of the company’s vessels.

Watch the report (including another of Blankenship’s horrific campaign ads, this one addressing his prison sentence):

Blankenship spent one year in prison for his role in conspiring to violate mine safety standards, the alleged violations resulted in the deaths of 29 men.

The New York Times reported in 2016:

Donald L. Blankenship, whose leadership of the Massey Energy Company catapulted him from a working-class West Virginia childhood into a life as one of the wealthiest and most influential men in Appalachia, was sentenced on Wednesday to a year in prison for conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards.

The prison term, the maximum allowed by law, came in Federal District Court here six years and one day after an explosion ripped through Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine, killing 29 men. Although Mr. Blankenship was not accused of direct responsibility for the accident, the deadliest in American coal mining in about 40 years, the disaster prompted the inquiry that ultimately led to his conviction. Federal officials have said that last autumn’s guilty verdict was the first time such a high-ranking executive had been convicted of a workplace safety violation.

. . . . Minutes earlier, standing in the courtroom where jurors heard weeks of evidence before they convicted him of a single misdemeanor, Mr. Blankenship said, “My main point is wanting to express sorrow to the families and everyone for what happened.” As he spoke, relatives of dead miners cried in the courtroom’s gallery, and one wiped her face with a crumpled piece of paper.

Mr. Blankenship, however, was also defiant and told Judge Berger, “It’s important to me that everyone knows that I am not guilty of a crime.”

Despite his insistence on referring to Chinese people as “China people,” Blankenship not only has a Chinese fiance but also a keen interest in China’s recent embrace of capitalism and lack of safety regulations.

The New York Times reports:

China, as it happens, is a topic of personal interest to Mr. Blankenship. His fiancée, Farrah Meiling Hobbs, was born there. The two met on a flight from Atlanta to Las Vegas about eight years ago, Mr. Blankenship said. According to the website of an international trading company Ms. Hobbs founded, she is “a former Chinese professional basketball player and part-time model” who moved to the United States in 1996.

. . . . In his campaign, Mr. Blankenship positions himself as a West Virginia populist, an “American competitionist” who stands for unfettered capitalism. The heart of the government’s case against him at trial was that he rapaciously sought profit while ignoring mine safety.

Yet he identifies the new frontier of uninhibited capitalism as China. In a telephone conversation he recorded in 2009, introduced at his trial, Mr. Blankenship said he might move to Asia where governments enforce fewer regulations.

“I’m actually considering moving to China or somewhere and being more like George Washington if I can get citizenship,” he said. “I can probably get citizenship in India. I’d rather be in China.”

In the interview, he repeated this sentiment and freely discussed his financial history in China, though he said foreign citizenship was no longer a priority for him — perhaps dual citizenship would be useful, he mused.

In a somewhat startling statement, Blankenship addressed the problem he sees in Americans “confusing” communism and dictatorship.  He noted that China’s “dictatorial capitalism” is “very effective.”

He expressed admiration for how Beijing exercises central control over its economy.

“Americans confuse the words communism and dictatorship,” he said. “The Chinese are running a dictatorial capitalism and it’s very effective. That’s the way corporations are run. Corporations are not a democracy.”

After digesting this statement and its implications, it’s worth noting that Blankenship is capable of using the term “Chinese” instead of the choice he makes in his campaign ads.  One might conclude that he’s deliberately trolling and/or attempting to show that he can be politically incorrect (he does package himself as “Trumpier than Trump,” after all).  Either way, he comes across as cynical, phony, and not a little skeevy.

All in all, Blankenship sounds like a hot mess, so why are Republicans worried?  Because if he somehow manages to win Tuesday’s GOP primary—he is currently polling in last place, he’ll face off against Manchin.  And will almost certainly lose.

President Trump won West Virginia by a resounding margin (he beat Hillary by 42%), and Republicans have a real chance to defeat Manchin in that climate.

Real Clear Politics considers the race a toss up if Manchin faces West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey:

In 2010, voters elected Gov. Joe Manchin, a popular social conservative who fits the state well, to replace legendary Sen. Robert Byrd. Manchin was elected to a full term in 2012.  But the state has shifted considerably toward the Republicans since Manchin won his seat, and the Party of Lincoln now controls almost all of the statewide offices, the congressional delegation, and the state legislature.

There is a heated primary between Massey Coal C.E.O. Don Blankenship, Rep. Evan Jenkins, and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.  Donald Trump is still popular in this state, and this race will severely test the degree to which popular incumbents with idiosyncratic ideologies can win in states where their party identification no longer matches up with the state’s.

FiveThirtyEight notes that due to Trump’s popularity in the state, the GOP has a real chance of a pick-up in West Virginia . . . if Blankenship is not the GOP candidate.

And while party identification might be in flux in the state, Trump’s popularity is not — 61 percent of the state’s residents approved of his job performance in 2017, according to a Gallup poll.

There’s a narcissism-of-small-differences whiff to the primary; the top three candidates have gone out of their way to demonstrate proper fealty to the president or at least the president’s cause, as with one Jenkins ad spot: “Working with Trump. West Virginia values. Evan Jenkins.” Morrisey, who didn’t endorse Trump until around the GOP convention, has used a drain-the-swamp message. One ad shows a West Virginia mountain crushing the Capitol building: “Let’s not just change Washington, let’s blow it up and reinvent it.” Blankenship, meanwhile, said in a debate that he was “Trumpier than Trump” and has run an ad saying, “We need to arrest Hillary.”

. . . . Manchin’s unsteady approval ratings and the competitive Republican primary serve to demonstrate the unsettled mood — on both sides of the aisle — that has fallen over West Virginia politics in the Trump era. Tuesday’s primary could mark another twist if Blankenship prevails. Republicans fear his win in the primary would give Manchin a vulnerable opponent — one who would allow him to stay in the Senate, even with Trump in the White House.