News / USA

In Coal Country, Democrat Grimes Fights Party Label

Democratic Senate challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, left, speaks with former Presidet Bill Clinton at a fundraiser, Galt House Hotel, Louisville, Kentucky, Feb. 25, 2014.
Democratic Senate challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, left, speaks with former Presidet Bill Clinton at a fundraiser, Galt House Hotel, Louisville, Kentucky, Feb. 25, 2014.
Reuters
At campaign stops in the coal-rich mountains of eastern Kentucky, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes likes to say she embodies the words that frighten her Republican Senate opponent Mitch McConnell the most: “pro-coal Democrat.”

For Grimes and other coal country Democrats, embracing that label is more than a political convenience. It's vital for political survival.

In one of the year's top Senate races, McConnell and his Republican allies have poured millions into Kentucky to link Grimes to President Barack Obama and what they call his “war on coal,” betting that voters who blame Obama for a devastating wave of mine closures and job losses will not put a fellow Democrat in the Senate.

Whether Grimes can convince them she is a different breed of Democrat, one who can stand up to Obama and the party's green lobby and fight environmental regulations, will play a big role in her November battle with McConnell and help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.

The fight in Kentucky echoes an argument playing out in Senate races in other conservative states such as Louisiana and Alaska, where Republicans claim their Democratic opponents will be a rubber-stamp for an Obama agenda that imposes big-government solutions on every problem.

That argument will be in the spotlight next week, when the administration unveils new regulations limiting carbon emissions for existing power plants that already have the coal industry and its political allies gearing up for battle.

“I don't agree with the president's war on coal, I think it's wrong for Kentucky,” Grimes said after a primary victory last week that set up her election fight against McConnell, the Senate Republican leader.

“I will fight to make sure that coal has a long-term place in our national energy policy,” she said. “I won't answer to the president.”

Obama, who lost Kentucky by 22 percentage points in the 2012 election, has not visited Kentucky to support Grimes, and national Democratic groups so far have spent modestly on ads targeting McConnell.

Polls show Grimes and McConnell enter the general election campaign in a dead heat, giving Democrats hope of stealing a seat from Republicans in a year when they are desperately trying to hang on to their six-seat Senate majority.

During her campaign, Grimes, currently Kentucky secretary of state, has promised to create jobs, fight for equal pay for women and for a higher minimum wage.

But the debate over coal has become one of the most prominent issues in Kentucky, which generates more than 90 percent of its power from coal and ranks third among states in U.S. coal production behind Wyoming and West Virginia.

The industry has been in decline for decades as technological improvements and low prices for coal's natural competitor, natural gas, have undermined jobs.

The state still prides itself on its coal history and  voters in Appalachia blame the Obama administration's regulatory rules and its alliance with environmental groups dedicated to phasing out fossil fuels for coal's woes.

'Very leery'

That puts more pressure on coal-friendly Democrats like Grimes — along with Senate candidate Natalie Tennant and U.S. Representative Nick Rahall, both of West Virginia, who also have criticized Obama's coal agenda — to prove the sincerity of their break with the national party.

“It makes someone like me very, very leery of Grimes,” said Tim Birman of Harlan, a 38-year-old single father who lost his coal mining job years ago and now drives to construction jobs in a nearby county.

“Obama and the Democrats have done so much to hurt the coal industry, it makes me question how trustworthy she can be.”

On a recent bus tour through eastern Kentucky's battered coal country, Grimes repeatedly promised to fight the new environmental regulations and help attract new businesses to the counties hit hardest by coal's plight. She questioned how much McConnell had done to help.

“We have lost thousands of good coal jobs on his watch, not mine. We have seen overburdensome regulations come into effect on his watch, not mine,” she told about 50 voters at a Harlan community center. The scariest thing to McConnell, she said, was a “pro-coal Democrat.”

Grimes said she would push for tax incentives to develop clean coal technology and work with other pro-coal Senate Democrats like West Virginia's Joe Manchin to develop a comprehensive energy policy with room for coal.

McConnell, she said, has been more interested in partisan politics during his 30 years in the Senate than in working on behalf of coal interests.

“The people of Kentucky know who I am. They have spent millions on these false, negative ads about me and it has not made a difference,” Grimes said on her bus after a day of rolling up and down mountainous roads for a series of coal-country rallies.

In response, McConnell rarely passes up the chance to utter the phrase “war on coal” and link Grimes to Obama and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, whose 2008 comment that “coal makes us sick” has made him deeply unpopular in Kentucky.

“My opponent is in this race because Barack Obama and Harry Reid want her in this race,” McConnell said after beating a Tea Party-backed businessman in the Republican primary.

The coal industry is still celebrated proudly in Kentucky. The most popular bumper sticker on trucks in Harlan County is still “If You Don't Like Coal, Don't Use Electricity,” but the skeletons of abandoned mine operations and the high unemployment rates — nearly 17 percent in Harlan in March — are a testament to the industry's decline.

Coal mines and preparation plants in eastern Kentucky laid off another 2,232 employees in 2013, leaving employment in the region's coalfields at 7,332 — barely half of what it was in the summer of 2011, a recent state government report said.

'Never be like it was'

“I have come to accept the fact that the coal industry will never be like it was,” said George Noe, 43, who works the night shift at one of a handful of operating mines in Harlan County, which decades ago had more than 180 thriving coal operations.

“I would just like to hear somebody say they are going to work with us to keep what's left of the industry, and find a way to keep at least a few jobs down here,” said Noe, who is undecided in the Senate race.

Some leaders of the state's coal industry are wary of Grimes, who does not have as much history with them as McConnell.

“She hasn't been very specific about how she can help us on coal,” said Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, which does not make political endorsements.

Two independent groups backing McConnell, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group and a Super PAC run by a former adviser to President George W. Bush, already have spent more than $2.8 million primarily on ads hitting Grimes on coal, and the race is expected to be among the country's most costly.

Stephen Voss, a political scientist at the University of Kentucky, said Grimes could find her candidacy “a hard sell” with voters as long as the Senate race was dominated by the “war on coal” debate.

“No matter what she believes and how she is going to vote, she is still going to put that party that backs those anti-coal policies in charge of the Senate,” Voss said.

You May Like

Video Protests Continue in Ferguson, Spread to Other US Cities

Missouri officials say deployment of more than 2,000 National Guard soldiers helps curb second night of rampant arson and looting in Midwestern town More

Video Ebola, Crackdown on Illegals Hit Business in Guangzhou

Chinese city has largest community of Africans in Asia More

Video Legendary Lebanese Actress, Singer Sabah Dies at 87

Music and film diva, affectionately called 'Sabbouha' by millions of her fans, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London, Olympia in Paris, Sydney Opera House in Sydney More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid