There’s no separating coal from the politics of West Virginia and Kentucky, two must-win states in the GOP’s calculus to regain the Senate majority in 2014.
But there’s also little apparent separation on the issue between the Democrats and Republicans likely to face off in the general elections in those states — largely because the Democrats have no legislative record on coal to compare. This has set off a battle of guilt by association, which means voters in these Appalachian states should expect to see plenty of President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in Republican TV ads next year.
Like immigration in the Southwest, coal is more than just a single issue in this region. As two of the top three coal-producing states in the country, where coal powers the vast majority of residents’ electricity, it’s inherently connected to everyday life in West Virginia and Kentucky. Even if it’s not the only issue, it’s always an issue.
“They want to see them fighting for their lives,” veteran Kentucky Democratic operative Jimmy Cauley said of voters. “It’s their jobs and their culture that coal represents.”
The coal industry took a hit last week when the Tennessee Valley Authority announced it will close eight coal units, including two of the three units at the Paradise Fossil Plant in western Kentucky. Those two will be replaced by a gas-fired plant.
Read More on Roll Call: Coal Fires Up Two Key Senate Races in 2014