West Virginia Republican US Senate candidate Don Blankenship escalated his racial attacks on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a new ad ahead of Tuesday’s primary.
And then – in an interview defending his use of the term “China people” in the ad – he said it wasn’t racist because “races are Negro, white Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian. There’s no mention of race. I’ve never used a race word.”
The new ad comes days before Tuesday’s three-way GOP primary to take on Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in November. Blankenship faces attorney general Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan Jenkins.
“Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people,” Blankenship says in the new ad, a low production value, direct-to-camera 30-second spot.
“While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich,” he says. “In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars.”
Blankenship is referring to McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Chao’s parents moved to the United States from Taiwan nearly 60 years ago and launched a shipping company from New York.
McConnell told Fox News last month, after Blankenship first made racially charged comments about his family, “My father-in-law is an American who lives in New York. I don’t have any comment about ridiculous observations like that.”
In an interview with Roll Call’s Simone Pathe on Thursday, Blankenship argued that the ad is not racist.
“They’ve always said about me, ‘West Virginia people.’ Is ‘West Virginia people’ racist? We’re confused on our staff as to how it can be racist when there’s no mention of race. There’s no race,” Blankenship said. “Races are Negro, white Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian. There’s no mention of a race. I’ve never used a race word.”
Blankenship’s campaign did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Blankenship, a coal baron who lives in Las Vegas who had mines across West Virginia, launched his Senate campaign right after spending a year in prison on charges stemming from the deaths of 29 miners in a 2010 incident.
In the ad, Blankenship also again referred to McConnell as “Cocaine Mitch,” a reference to drugs being found aboard a ship owned by Chao’s family in 2014.
Chris Pack, the spokesman for the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund, pointed to a New York Times article detailing how Blankenship previously expressed interest in moving to China.
“There is only one candidate in this race, maybe in the history of candidates running for US Senate, who has ever entertained the idea becoming Chinese,” Pack said. “His name is ex-convict Don Blankenship.”
McConnell’s top political adviser, Josh Holmes, compared Blankenship to failed GOP Alabama US Senate candidate Roy Moore in a tweet Thursday.
“For those asking, this is my response to West Virginia Roy Moore: ‘This clown is a walking, talking case study for the limitation of a prison’s ability to rehabilitate,’ ” Holmes said.