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President Donald Trump quickly turned a tax reform event in West Virginia into a broad political venting session Thursday, including repeated swipes at the state's vulnerable Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin.
Flanked by Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.V., and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey — candidates in the Republican Senate primary — he slammed Manchin for opposing Republican plans to overhaul the tax code and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Trump added: "And he does other things that I don't like, I'll be honest with you."
Trump argued that "we have to get more Republicans in office" to support both his economic policies and pledges to crack down on immigration.
"You're going to have a chance to get a senator that's going to vote our program. That's going to help you in so many ways," Trump said.
Trump's event also made for a subtle jab at the race's other candidate, coal baron and ex-convict Don Blankenship, whom some in the pro-Trump state believe could prove too contentious to win a general election. He declined to state a preference for either Jenkins or Morrisey, however, and told voters to "go out and vote" in the May 8 primary election.
Republicans look to take down Manchin in November as they try to hold on to their 51 seats in the Senate. Manchin is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the chamber, as Trump carried the state with about 68 percent of the vote in 2016.
Blankenship, the former chief executive of Massey Energy, served a year in prison after an explosion at the company's West Virginia mine left 29 people dead. But he could seriously challenge for the GOP nomination: He has funneled his own money into the race, portraying himself as an outsider and attacking Jenkins and Morrisey as establishment figures.
Both Jenkins and Morrisey have cast themselves as pro-Trump figures who would promote his agenda in the Senate. Ahead of the president's visit, Jenkins said the trip "will highlight [Trump's] work to create jobs and opportunities for West Virginians and all Americans, and I'm proud to work to advance his policies in Congress."
A Harper Polling survey in March showed Jenkins leading the race with 29 percent of support, compared with 27 percent for Blankenship and 19 percent for Morrisey, according to the Wheeling News-Register. Jenkins commissioned the poll.