West Virginia Senate candidate Don Blankenship: Trump fell "victim to fake news"

Blankenship fires back against Trump

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In a tweet on Monday, President Trump urged Republican voters in West Virginia not to vote for Don Blankenship in the state's Senate primary on Tuesday, saying the ex-con former coal executive can't win in November.

The message the former coal executive is pushing in the final hours before West Virginia's Senate primary is: "On Tuesday, voters in West Virginia will send a message to the establishment." Blankenship spent a year in federal prison after the 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch mine. The disaster left 29 miners dead.

He blames his conviction on an Obama-era conspiracy, but Republicans like Mr. Trump fear his role in the tragedy will make Blankenship unelectable in the fall. 

"The president is as misinformed as the public is. He's fell victim to fake news," Blankenship said at his hotel in Charleston on Monday.

"And you don't bear any responsibility for the death of those 29 dead people?" we asked.

"I bear the same responsibility that you would bear if the government came in and blew your house up if you were gone for 10 years," he said.

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Don Blankenship CBS News

Shortly after that, a campaign aide rushed him away.

"We've got the media availability, so why don't we let Mr. Blankenship check into the hotel?" the aide said.

In a state heavily dependent on the coal industry, miners who survived the blast like Goose Stewart said a Blankenship victory would reopen old wounds.

"Don Blankenship is not qualified to be a U.S. senator. He doesn't deserve to be a senator. Anyone that would vote for Don Blankenship may as well stick a knife in their back and twist it," Stewart said.

Blankenship has also tried to deflect criticism onto establishment Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by running racially charged ads that appear to reference the family of McConnell's wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

"Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people," Blankenship said in the ad.

Mr. Trump won West Virginia by more than 40 points in 2016. The Republicans think they have a pretty good shot here, but they are worried Blankenship and his record could spoil their chances to defeating Democrat Joe Manchin in November.