Those familiar with the party’s deliberations say the results are clear: With a little more than a month until the May 8 primary, Blankenship, a towering figure in West Virginia politics long before this campaign and an avid opponent of unions, has vaulted into essentially a three-way tie with his rivals and is positioned to move ahead.
All three candidates are trying to align themselves with the Trump agenda—a smart move in West Virginia, where Trump’s 61 percent approval rating is the highest of any state. But Blankenship can lay a truer claim to the sort of positions that got Trump elected. That’s because in many ways, Blankenship blazed the trail Trump rode to the presidency, having spent years railing against free trade and government over-reach in his role as the state’s most powerful coal executive.
New York Magazine explains his appeal:
His power peaked on Labor Day 2009, when, on the top of a mountain that had been leveled for coal mining, to a crowd of tens of thousands, Blankenship delivered a broadside against his many enemies: the federal government, environmentalists, and companies that send jobs overseas. Clad in an American flag hat and shirt, he gave a performance that in hindsight seems torn from the page of a Trump stump speech, right down to the phrase “making America great” and invective against government regulation. “I know that the safety and health of coal miners is my most important job,” Blankenship said. “I don’t need Washington politicians to tell me that, and neither do you.”
See also Raw Story and Think Progress.
While it’s easy to dismiss this newfound fascination with Blankenship as a passing media fad, we need only go back two years to see that sometimes such candidates go on to capture more than just a few moments in the spotlight.
Update - 3/21
Somehow missed Charlie Pierce's take on Blankenship:
So the guy who loves completely deregulated capitalism even when it kills a couple dozen people, and someone who believes he was the real victim in the explosion that killed those couple dozen people? Don Blankenship is straight out of central casting, if your casting director is the unbridled, rampaging Republican Id. And that is not entirely out of the realm of possibility. . . .
But, really, people? Don Blankenship? Did somebody lose Bernie Madoff’s phone number?