This article originally provided by The Daily Mail

September 6, 2006

Republicans divided on Blankenship

Kris Wise
Daily Mail staff

Republicans trying to secure their foothold in the state Legislature are looking at the election agenda of coal mogul and political powerhouse Don Blankenship with a mix of hope and hesitation.

Some concerns remain that Blankenship's focus on defeating his Democratic foes could backfire. Several candidates say they worry the attention the Massey Energy CEO puts on Democratic rivals -- while critical -- could still bolster Democrats' name recognition in the eyes of some West Virginia voters. That's a key goal for any candidate looking to score high on November's ballot.

"If somebody wanted to run a campaign against the current slate of representatives in the 30th, there's a lot of low-hanging fruit to choose from when it comes to their voting records," said Phil Raines, a Kanawha County Republican running for a seat in the House of Delegates 30th District.

"But the approach he's taking can be a double-edged sword," Raines, a South Charleston accountant, said of Blankenship's political strategy. "The House of Delegates race is a name recognition contest, and some viewers won't tune into the issues. They'll just hear the names."

Blankenship has put together a team of political analysts and allies to try to wrest control of the House of Delegates from Democrats in November. Rather than publicly rallying around certain Republican candidates, however, Blankenship has focused on spending millions of dollars on television and radio advertising. His campaigns are focused on dissecting the voting records of his Democratic foes and on urging voters against re-electing incumbents he wants to see defeated.

"If someone feels compelled to expose the voting records of people they're concerned about, there's the freedom to do that," Raines said. "I'm confident that most of the voters, if they get enough information, I don't think it could be a bad thing. If in some way he gets into the voters information they don't have now, then that could be helpful."

Blankenship said Tuesday his election goals and plans have so far focused on cleaning house rather than on a drive to get one or several specific candidates elected to office.

"It's not so much about Republican and Democrats," Blankenship said. "It's that we have to make changes and to do that we have to get out incumbents, and for the most part incumbents happen to be Democrats."

Blankenship said he will, in the near future, switch the focus of some of his campaign spots to give more publicity to candidates he wouldn't mind seeing take the reigns of the state Legislature.

"There will be lots of things done that should raise the name recognition of the challengers and at the same emphasize the voting record of the incumbents," Blankenship said. "It's hard for challengers to get any money, and I've always been for challengers."

Still, Blankenship said his association with most political newcomers and many GOP candidates is limited, even non-existent.

"I don't have any real association with them," he said Tuesday.

The statement is echoed by those vying for office.

Some sitting Republicans have said they are frustrated with the perception -- one many Democratic leaders have fostered -- that GOP candidates are working hand in hand with Blankenship to come up with an expensive election strategy.

Many incumbents and new candidates said they're familiar with Blankenship only through his campaign ads, and they said they know as little about his intentions as the politicians he's pledged to help defeat.

"It's what the unions do, it's what the lobbying groups do and I'm not sure how what he's doing is much different," said Delegate Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha. "What I understand is that his goal is just to let voters know how each incumbent voted, and I'm not sure how that can be criticized."

Armstead said regardless of whether or not Blankenship is publicly standing behind any candidates, his campaign focus is likely to help the GOP connect with voters and separate from the pack of Democrats that has held power in the House for decades.

"I think that if what he is doing is letting the voters know how each person voted, then that's a real goal," said Armstead, who is seeking re-election in the House's 32nd District.

"It's easy to go in there and vote one way and then go out and campaign for another, and it's really hard for there to be any accountability there right now. Any one of us should be willing to have our votes out there, and then get out there and stand behind them."

Many GOP candidates have received individual contributions from Blankenship, who has spent more than $4 million in the past two years trying to defeat Democrats, including former Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw, and trying to get lawmakers to adopt his legislative goals, including a repeal of the state food tax.

Blankenship also has organized his own political action committee, called And For the Sake of the Kids, to raise even more money for his election agenda.

The individual campaign donations drawn from Blankenship amount to a drop in the bucket compared to what their Democratic rivals have received from other lobbyists, GOP candidates argue. Some said they wish that issue would take precedence over the amount Blankenship has vowed to spend.

"I have received donations in the past from him, but $1,000 is the most you can get from an individual," Raines said. "What I do find interesting is that a lot of people are focusing on donations he's making, but one opponent of mine who's an incumbent received over $42,000 from trial attorneys. To me that's a lot more significant than any dollar amount I will receive from one person, him or anyone else."

At least a few Republicans seem to fear that the focus on how much money Blankenship is spending might shift attention from how much trial attorneys and other groups also have spent to support Democratic candidates of their choice.

"Don Blankenship is not the only guy spending money in politics," Mike Stuart, a Charleston lawyer and Republican running for a seat in the 30th District, wrote in a recent campaign e-mail. "He is, however, new to the game of spending money in politics. Others have done it longer and more quietly."

Contact writer Kris Wise at or 348-1244.


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