Blankenship's impact on election unclear, expert says

By Chris Dickerson | Oct 27, 2006



CHARLESTON – A top state political scientist says he has no idea what impact Don Blankenship's efforts will have on the House of Delegates races in next week's General Election.

Still, Dr. Robert Rupp from West Virginia Wesleyan University says Blankenship's efforts with his And For The Sake Of The Kids political action committee are unique.

"It certainly is novel," Rupp said of Blankenship's tactics. "It hasn't happened before, here or anywhere. It has potential to have a strong impact. He's focusing money on delegate races that usually are local and don't have that much money involved and typically aren't that sophisticated."

Blankenship, the Massey Energy CEO who in 2004 worked to unseat former state Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw in 2004, has promised to do whatever it takes to oust incumbent Demoratic delegates in about two dozen districts across the state.

From July to September, Blankenship spent nearly $300,000 on those races, accounting for nearly half of the $620,000 raised by the candidates during those three months, according to the Charleston Daily Mail. The political group also has spent money on signs, billboards and ads on issues, promoting those candidates and spotlighting the voting records of the targeted incumbents.

"He's bringing in money, funds and survey techniques, plus he's building up an infrastructure and a database of voters," Rupp said. "He's using party tools that typically are used on a state level or a national level.

"They're going straight to the voter. It's outside the party."

While he doesn't know what impact Blankenship's efforts will have on the makeup of the Legislature, Rupp thinks Blankenship might be onto something.

"Whatever it is, I think it could be a longer trend," he said. "With a decline of party as a mechanism and institution, you have to have other things to take its place. And that's what this is doing, to some extent. Twenty years ago, we wouldn't have seen it."

Something like this hasn't happened before in other states. Rupp said that might be because West Virginia has what you could call "The Perfect Storm."

"The Republican Party isn't that strong, and Don Blankenship is very determined," he said. "It's all coming down to mobilization. He has this database of sympathetic voters. He's going to try to get those people out to help his favorite candidates. He's pouring millions into these delegate races that haven't seen that kind of money before.

"Will it have results? That's the question. Regardless, his actions are novel and innovative."

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