A day after the controversial Senate candidacy of Don Blankenship was soundly defeated in the West Virginia Republican primary, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell boasted that his strategy paid off.
"It worked out very well. We have a nominee who can win in November," the GOP leader said about that candidate Patrick Morrisey. "That's what we hoped for."
McConnell, who typically avoids talking to reporters in the Capitol corridors, took a few questions as he departed the Senate floor. He appeared clearly happy with the results and more confident about the prospects of maintaining the GOP majority next Congress.
"I think that happened in Indiana as well and we anticipate that happening in the rest of the primary season," McConnell said, referring to the Senate Republican primary victory of businessman Mike Braun.
During the unusual West Virginia campaign, Blankenship targeted McConnell repeatedly in bitterly personal and even racist terms.
"Didn't seem to work too well did it," the senator said coolly.
President Donald Trump, who won West Virginia by a wide margin, also urged GOP voters to pick someone other than Blankenship, a former coal executive who went to jail related to safety violations at one of his company's mines where 29 miners were killed.
"Patrick Morrisey will be a good candidate," said a smiling Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican, who credited Trump's involvement with the outcome. "I'm pleased with the results."
McConnell said the lessons learned in past GOP primaries when controversial candidates advanced to November and then lost to Democrats provided a valuable roadmap for his party.
In 2012, for example, Rep. Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican, was handily defeated by Sen. Claire McCaskill after he mulled whether women actually get pregnant from "legitimate rape."
As she seeks re-election this year, McCaskill likely will face a more formidable candidate in Josh Hawley, the Missouri attorney general.
"In '14, '16 and '18, after the malfunctions of 2010 and 2012, we were determined to have nominees on the general election ballot who could actually win. Pretty simple, if you don't nominate somebody who's appealing to a broader audience, you can't win. Since then, the only place that didn't work out well was Alabama," McConnell said referring to the recent Democratic victory in that conservative state after Republicans picked Judge Roy Moore in the primary.
"I think we are in the process of getting fully electable nominees in all our primaries this year, which gives us the best chance possible," McConnell added.
Asked if he thinks Morrisey can beat incumbent a Democratic Sen. Manchin, McConnell indicated he is hopeful.
"We certainly are going to be competitive, yeah," McConnell said.
Despite GOP joy over the outcome, Democrats claim Morrisey is not a perfect candidate and note that he attended Rutgers University and ran for a New Jersey congressional seat in 2000 but lost.
Morrisey's official biography notes that be moved to West Virginia in 2006.
"We think the fella who was nominated carries some pretty substantial liabilities," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate.
"I want to say one thing very clearly," Manchin told reporters who huddled around him in the basement of the Capitol. "There was only one conservative West Virginia Republican in that race and he was Don Blankenship."
An aide to the senator said Manchin was conveying that Morrisey is not really conservative and not really a West Virginian, two themes Manchin plans to hammer home to voters during the general election.
This story has been updated to include additional comment from lawmakers.
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