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Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Republicans in D.C. are panicking over Tuesday's West Virginia Senate primary.

The problem: Don Blankenship, a coal baron who's spent time in prison, is running a demagogic campaign in which he's repeatedly invoked the Chinese heritage of Mitch McConnell's wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

  • He's also taken to calling McConnell "cocaine Mitch" in his ads — which, according to Politico, "is in reference to a 2014 report that drugs were once found aboard a shipping vessel owned by McConnell's in-laws."
  • Blankenship is outspending his opponents on TV and has a ton of his own money to play with. He’s aired one ad that refers to “China people,” which you can watch here (or not).
  • And yet ... he's gaining in the polls and may win on Tuesday.

Behind the scenes: Republican officials monitoring the race tell me it's hard to get reliable polling data, but some internal polls show Blankenship has surged over the past week and now leads his two Republican opponents — conservative Patrick Morrisey and establishment-favorite Evan Jenkins.

  • A Republican source familiar with the internal polling of one of Blankenship's opponents told me: "At the beginning of last week, the internals showed a 2-man race between Jenkins and Morrisey, with Morrisey having a slight edge and Blankenship down in the teens.
  • "However, following a week centered on media coverage of Blankenship's feud with 'cocaine Mitch' and a bombardment of attack ads against Jenkins over the airwaves, the same poll now shows Blankenship surging with a slight lead over Morrisey, and Jenkins now down in the teens."
  • Another national strategist who is engaged in the race told me: "There is rising concern that, without any refereeing from the national party, Morrisey and Jenkins have beaten each other to a pulp and that may be giving Blankenship an opening."

Several Republicans involved in the race told me primary candidates can usually boost their popularity by sparring with McConnell, given how much the party’s base loathes Washington leadership.

The bottom line: Republican leaders at outside groups worry that if Blankenship wins Tuesday, he'll get crushed in November by the otherwise beatable Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. It's the Roy Moore nightmare.

Go deeper: Politico's Alex Isenstadt, who's been covering this race minute-by-minute, has a closer look at Blankenship's late surge.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to actually deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden calls Fox News reporter a "stupid son of a b---h" on hot mic

President Biden blasted Fox News' Peter Doocy on Monday after the reporter asked if the nation's soaring inflation is a political liability, saying, "what a stupid son of a b----h."

The latest: The president called Doocy Monday evening, the reporter told Fox's Sean Hannity. "He cleared the air and I appreciated it. We had a nice call," Doocy said when asked whether the president apologized, adding: "I don't need anyone to apologize to me."

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February.
  2. Vaccines: The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: New York Supreme Court strikes down Gov. Hochul's mask mandate for public areas — Sarah Palin tests positive for COVID, delaying defamation trial — Virginia school boards sue Gov. Youngkin for lifting mask mandate.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker