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Out Of Prison, Former Massey CEO Don Blankenship Running For Senator

DAVE MISTICH, BYLINE: And I'm Dave Mistich in Morgantown, W.Va. President Trump's support remains high here in the state, and Republican candidates are using his popularity to boost their own campaigns. Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is one of them. He announced his run for U.S. Senate in November after being released from federal prison in May. He was convicted of conspiring to violate federal mine safety standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine where 29 men died in 2010. Thursday, he put on a town hall meeting in Logan where he shared his own rags-to-riches story, bringing his audience up to the most recent chapter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DON BLANKENSHIP: Eventually, after the poorhouse, the outhouse and the bathhouse, I was invited and ate at the private dining table at the White House. And just last year, I lived in California in the big house.

MISTICH: Blankenship says his experience in federal prison taught him a lot about the issues facing the country. In turn, he's now campaigning on hard-line conservative positions, many of which are at the heart of the shutdown negotiations in D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BLANKENSHIP: Illegal immigration - another issue. Illegal means illegal, and that's not complicated. A wall or something similar does need to be built.

MISTICH: Despite being such a controversial figure, Blankenship's first public campaign appearance was met with no visible or audible opposition.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I think the reason you're not getting a lot of questions - you gave us a lot of answers, and we appreciate what you have told us tonight.

(APPLAUSE)

MISTICH: Blankenship hopes to take on Democrat Joe Manchin this November. And he seems to be looking back to the 2016 election as a source of momentum, especially among voters in West Virginia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: If you get elected, are you going to hold Manchin accountable for the damage that he's done to this state?

BLANKENSHIP: Right after we finish with Hillary.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

MISTICH: For NPR News, I'm Dave Mistich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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