GOP to mine for votes in coal states

In 2008, Republicans didn’t get hold of Barack Obama’s comments to the San Francisco Chronicle about bankrupting the coal industry until far too late to do any damage.  This time, armed with those comments, the cap-and-trade bill that would have fulfilled Obama’s promise, and the EPA hostility towards the coal industry, the GOP plans to make much more effective use of the danger to the coal industry in states that rely on it for economic survival.  With even leading Democrats questioning Obama’s credibility on the issue, Republicans expect to mine gold with it:

Republicans believe there are three words so powerful that they might reshape the political order in an economically beleaguered corner of the country: War on coal.

With Democrats holding total control of the federal government and a cap-and-trade bill still looming, the GOP is fanning widespread coal country fears that the national Democratic Party is hostile to the coal mining industry, if not outright committed to its demise.

Those efforts are putting a group of coal state Democrats at risk as Republicans leverage the tremendous economic anxieties surrounding the future of an industry that is a vital part of their states’ economies.

In fact, some of these challenges come entirely on this single issue.  A state judge with good name recognition changed his party registration specifically to run against Rep. Nick Rahall in a coal-dependent district:

In an interview with POLITICO, Maynard said: “Our part of the world and way of life is threatened by liberal Democrats in Washington.”

He pointed out that some environmentalists want to stop all surface mining, the above-ground technique that happens to account for about 40 percent of the state’s coal jobs.

His message, he said, was simple: “If you vote for Spike Maynard, you’re voting for your job and to mine coal. If you’re against me, you’re voting against your job and against mining coal.”

Some West Virginia Democrats voted against the cap-and-trade bill, but that was mainly because Nancy Pelosi had enough votes to manage the final ballot.  She allowed Rahall and Allan Mollahan to vote against the bill, but Republicans expect to argue that allowing Democrats to keep their seats only keeps Pelosi in power.  As long as she’s Speaker of the House, Democrats will try to ram through their cap-and-trade legislation, and Congress will allow the EPA to do through regulation whatever damage Congress can’t do by legislation to the coal industry.

That message will resonate in a state where the EPA has already begun costing West Virginians their jobs.  Thanks to added scrutiny and delays on permits for surface mining, hundreds of jobs have already been lost, and thousand more are at risk.

And that’s not just true in West Virginia.  Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky all have economies that rely on coal, as does Indiana to a lesser degree.  Kentucky is usually reliably Republican, but Pennsylvania and Ohio have trended Democrat in the last few cycles.  A big shakeup in either state would not only bode ill for Democrats in the midterms — it could also signal the loss of these states in the next presidential cycle as well, which would be devastating for Obama’s re-election chances.

Energy will be a winning issue for Republicans nationwide, but especially in these states.  Expect to see this clip running constantly in the latter months of 2010:

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