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>> Convicted criminal Don Blankenship.>> This game is about money.>> In the mountains of West Virginia, a Republican primary contest for the Senate is turning downright ugly, and laying bare divisions within the GOP. I'm Andy Sullivan in Washington, where Republican leaders are increasingly concerned about Don Blankenship, a former coal baron with a criminal record.
He's one of three GOP candidates running for the Republican nomination to take on Senate Democrat Joe Manchin in the fall. Republican leaders are doing everything that they can to stop him. Blankenship is no stranger to the West Virginia voters. He served a year behind bars for violating safety laws after an explosion at his upper big branch mine killed 29 workers.
Blankenship denies responsibility for that incident. He's built his unlikely campaign on a promise to revive the coal industry. But the National Party is throwing up road blocks, worried that if he wins the primary on May 8th, they'll lose their chance to unseat Manchin. A Republican political group has spent more than $1 million attacking Blankenship.
In ads like this one, calling him a criminal and accusing him of polluting West Virginia water.>> West Virginia families paid the price.>> Now Blankenship is hitting back with everything he's got. In recent weeks going after Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell in increasingly personal terms.>> And now his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
Blankenship has repeatedly raised the fact that she was born in Taiwan. Pointing to a news account from several years ago that 90 pounds of cocaine was once found on a ship owned by Chow's father. Now Blankenship is running his own ads, calling McConnell, Cocaine Mitch.>> One of my goals as US Senator will be to ditch Cocaine Mitch.
>> We've reached out to McConnell and other Republic groups for comment. They haven't responded, perhaps not wanting to fan the flames. They're well aware that their efforts to drive out controversial candidates can backfire. Look at Alabama, where Republican Roy Moore clashed with McConnell last year before losing to Democrat Doug Jones in a special Senate election.
If Republicans want to retain control of the Senate this year, they can't afford to have that happen in West Virginia.