West Virginia GOP Senate candidate Don Blankenship defended on Tuesday his use of the term “Chinaperson” to describe the father-in-law of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
During a Fox News GOP primary debate, Blankenship said his earlier use of the term “wealthy Chinaperson” to describe the father of McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, is not racist.
“This idea that calling someone a ‘Chinaperson’ – I mean, I’m an American-person – I don’t see this insinuation by the press that there is something racist about saying a ‘Chinaperson,’” Blankenship said. “Some people are Korean-persons, some people are African-persons — it’s not any slander there.”
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. Blankenship has said McConnell is “soft on China” and that his marriage to Elaine Chao raises “the potential for conflict of interest.”
Earlier this week, Blankenship’s campaign also released an ad calling the majority leader “Cocaine Mitch,” pointing to a 2014 article in The Nation that reported cocaine was found on a ship belonging to Chao’s company.
Asked at the debate about how he would get along with McConnell given the animus, Blankenship reiterated: “He has conflicts of interest in China.”
“His family is very powerful in China and very powerful in the United States,” Blankenship continued, later adding that he’s “not going to DC to get along.”
Blankenship, a former coal executive who served a year in prison stemming from a 2010 mine explosion, is running against Republican Rep. 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 Sen. Joe Manchin in the general election.
CNN’s Clare Foran and Eric Bradner contributed to this report.