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Poll: Blankenship Within Striking Distance of Morrisey

In the Republican primary for U.S. Senate from West Virginia, coal baron Don Blankenship -- whose candidacy was formerly seen as a long shot -- is polling at 22.6% in an Osage Research survey.

U.S. Senate candidate Don Blankenship

Thanks to Blankenship's $1.1 million in television advertising, he trails only Patrick Morrisey, the attorney general of West Virginia. Morrisey has the support of 24.1% of the respondents, and his lead is within the poll's 4.38% margin-of-error.

Blankenship was the CEO of Massey Energy from 2000 to 2010, but his career was marred by a coal dust explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia. The disaster led to the deaths of 29 miners, and Blankenship was found guilty of violating mining safety regulations.

After he was released from prison in May 2017, Blankenship ramped up his attacks on former President Barack Obama's regulatory regime. He accuses the Obama administration of targeting -- and framing -- him for the safety violations.

Blankenship said that "Obama’s deadliest cover-up has been uncovered by MSHA’s own documents," stating that the papers prove that "the MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) Upper Big Branch internal report was fixed."

The defense presented by Blankenship was unsuccessful in the court of law, but it appears to be resonating with Republican voters in West Virginia. The Osage Research poll, which showed Blankenship at 22.6%, has him ahead of U.S. Representative Evan H. Jenkins.

Congressman Jenkins has been attacked by both Blankenship and Morrisey for switching his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 2013. Blankenship has attacked Morrisey for not prosecuting those responsible for the opioid crisis in West Virginia.

The winning candidate, whether it be Blankenship, Morrisey, or Jenkins, will face incumbent U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) in November. A poll conduced by Axios & SurveyMonkey shows Manchin behind a generic Republican by nine points.

Manchin is among the dying breed of West Virginia Democrats, a political bloc that has largely fallen into irrelevance since the 2010 death of political behemoth and U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd. The state went for President Donald Trump by 42.1 points in the 2016 election.