WASHINGTON — West Virginia Republican Senate debate candidate Don Blankenship is pushing back against claims that a term he had used to describe Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s father could be construed as 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 Tuesday evening at the Fox News debate in Morgantown. “Some people are Korean-persons, some people are African-persons — it’s not any slander there.”
Chao is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). She was born in Taiwan but immigrated to the U.S. as a young child.
In a Tuesday campaign press release Blankenship said: “McConnell and his family have extensive ties to China.” Blankenship cited as evidence large campaign contributions Chinese-born James Chao — the transportation secretary’s father — made to McConnell as evidence.
James Chao owns the New York-based shipping company Foremost Group. In 2014, The Nation reported that Colombian authorities found cocaine abroad one of the company’s ships.
In a Monday radio interview, Blankenship cited the incident as a potential conflict of interest for McConnell and went on to refer to Chao’s father as a “wealthy Chinaperson.” Blankenship, who is a convicted felon, referred to McConnell as “cocaine Mitch” in a recent campaign ad. Blankenship defended the smear in the Tuesday press release.
A recent Fox News poll showed Blankenship trailing behind leading candidates Rep. Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrissey.
The primary is Tuesday.
The winner will face Sen. Joe Manchin (D) in the general election.
Many pundits said the race could determine which party controls the Senate next year.
West Virginia was considered a Democratic stronghold during the 20th century. Since 2000 the Republican presidential nominee has carried the state.
President Donald Trump won West Virginia by 42 points in the 2016 election.