Washington (CNN)Don Blankenship, a Republican candidate for US Senate in West Virginia, is defending an ad his campaign released Monday in which he referred to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as "Cocaine Mitch."
GOP Senate hopeful Don Blankenship defends calling Mitch McConnell 'cocaine Mitch'
In a press release on Tuesday, Blankenship's campaign claimed McConnell and his family have "extensive ties" to China before elaborating on the reasoning behind the ad.
"His father-in-law who founded and owns a large Chinese shipping company has given Mitch and his wife millions of dollars over the years. The company was implicated recently in smuggling cocaine from Colombia to Europe, hidden aboard a company ship carrying foreign coal was $7 million dollars of cocaine and that is why we've deemed him 'Cocaine Mitch,'" the press release reads.
James Chao, McConnell's father-in-law, was born in China, but moved to the United States before starting the Foremost Group, a shipping company, in New York. The press release points to a 2014 article in The Nation that reported cocaine was found on a ship belonging to Chao's company.
A spokesman for McConnell referred a request for comment on the ad to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and did not respond to a request for comment on the press release. The NRSC did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Blankenship campaign also did not immediately respond to a request comment.
In the ad released Monday, Blankenship said, "One of my goals as US senator will be to ditch Cocaine Mitch."
This isn't the first time that Blankenship has attacked McConnell's family. Last month, the he referred to McConnell's father-in-law as "a wealthy Chinaperson," saying, "I have an issue when the father-in-law is a wealthy Chinaperson and there's a lot of connections to some of the brass, if you will, in China."
McConnell, who is married to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, later told Fox News, "My father-in-law is an American who lives in New York. I don't have any comment about ridiculous observations like that."
Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to McConnell, tweeted, "this candidate is as contemptible a human being as you will find," in response to those remarks.
Blankenship, a former coal executive who served a year in prison stemming from a 2010 mine explosion, is running against Republican Representative Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey in the West Virginia Senate Republican primary, which will take place next week.
A recent Fox News poll showed Blankenship lagging behind Jenkins and Morrisey. The winner of the primary will face off against Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin in the general election.