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Sen. Joe Manchin and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (Photos: Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call, Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

Ties to the opioid industry have emerged as a liability in West Virginia's contentious Senate race — for both Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, one of the contenders in the GOP primary.

Why it matters: West Virginia has the highest opioid death rate in the U.S., making the opioid crisis deeply personal to many voters. It's also a Senate seat Republicans are hopeful about picking up. But if Morrisey is their candidate, his own opioid ties could weaken the GOP attack against Manchin.

Background:

  • Morrisey's wife lobbied Congress on opioid-related issues for Cardinal Health, the largest opioid distributor in the state, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.
  • At the same time, Morrisey's office was overseeing a lawsuit against Cardinal, accusing it of fueling the opioid epidemic. Morrisey removed himself from the case in 2013.
  • Manchin's daughter, Heather Bresch, is the CEO of Mylan Pharmaceuticals. The company faced controversy after hiking the price of the EpiPen, but Mylan also makes a fentanyl patch.
  • Mylan and its employees contributed more than $57,000 to Manchin's 2012 campaign and almost $5,000 this cycle, per the Center for Responsive Politics.

What they're saying: While the national Republican campaign committee has begun attacking Manchin for his Mylan ties, the GOP candidates are still fighting it out among themselves among themselves ahead of the May 8 primary.

  • Evan Jenkins, another Republican vying for the nomination, has hit Morrisey for his ties to the industry, accusing him of being "bought-and-paid-for by Big Pharma."
  • Morrisey's campaign has criticized Jenkins for voting for a bill that weakened the Drug Enforcement Agency's enforcement efforts against opioid abuse, saying Jenkins "fueled [the] opioid crisis while Morrisey tackled substance abuse" as attorney general.
  • Don Blankenship, the firebrand coal baron running for the GOP nomination against Morrisey and Jenkins, also released an ad attacking Jenkins on the opioid issue. "Huntington residents are not proud. Instead, they are angry, because Evan has represented them for twenty years. And Huntington is the drug abuse capitol of America," the ad says.

Between the lines: Both sides think the opioid attack will resonate with West Virginia voters.

  • Manchin's "deep ties to a controversial drugmaker who’s being sued for pushing opioids into poor communities and overcharging families for epipens... [is] his single biggest liability," said one GOP operative familiar with midterm strategy.
  • Democrats think both Morrisey and Jenkins have made each other more vulnerable to opioid attacks in the general election would be happy to reap the benefits of whatever damage the primary does to either of them.

Go deeper

Cuomo: "No way I resign" after sexual harassment accusations

Cuomo at a Feb. 24 press conference. Photo: Seth Wenig/pool/AFP via Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was defiant on Sunday, stating again that he would not resign even as more former aides have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior.

The big picture: Cuomo has denied all sexual harassment allegations against him and said that he "never inappropriately touched anybody." He acknowledged in a statement that "some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation." Some of the calls for Cuomo to resign have come from within the Democratic party.

N.Y. Times faces culture clashes as business booms

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

New York Times columnist David Brooks' resignation from a paid gig at a think tank on Saturday is the latest in a flurry of scandals that America's biggest and most successful newspaper company has endured in the past year.

Driving the news: Brooks resigned from the Aspen Institute following a BuzzFeed News investigation that uncovered conflicts of interest between his reporting and money he accepted from corporate donors for a project called "Weave" that he worked on at the nonprofit.

America rebalances its post-Trump news diet

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Nearly halfway through President Biden's first 100 days, data shows that Americans are learning to wean themselves off of news — and especially politics.

Why it matters: The departure of former President Trump's once-ubiquitous presence in the news cycle has reoriented the country's attention.

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