Blankenship, who maintained his innocence during his year in prison, "entered this race because he has an axe to grind with Joe Manchin," state House Democratic Minority Whip Mike Caputo told Loh. "It's more personal than politics." But to face Manchin, Blankenship has to get through the May 8 GOP primary. His foes are more experienced politicians, but he has blown past state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in polling and is only two percentage points (within the margin of error) behind U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, who represents the state's southern third.
Many West Virginians seem to have accepted Blankenship's claim that he's a victim, and some miners associate him with better times, when the state's coal production was three times higher than today. Through his anti-union, anti-illegal immigration stances, "Blankenship has tapped into the anger of working people in West Virginia and their deep frustration over the state’s stagnant economy," Loh reports. "To understand Blankenship’s appeal is to understand the current conservative movement in rural America, and how, in the span of several years, West Virginia became one of the reddest states in the country after decades as a Democratic enclave."