Democratic domination of coal country over?

It sure seems that way to Politico after the midterm elections. The writing has been on the wall since the Democratic Party nominated and elected a President who declared that his energy policies would “bankrupt” coal operators in a 2008 interview, but the cycle didn’t complete itself until after Barack Obama’s EPA began to pursue those policies in earnest. What used to be the heart of Democratic working-class union strength has now flipped entirely red, and probably permanently:

The Republicans’ romp this week may have permanently turned coal country from blue to red.

Coal-heavy districts in West Virginia, Kentucky and Illinois that had been steadily moving away from Democrats in recent elections appear to have completed that shift Tuesday, when they overwhelmingly backed Republicans who vowed to oppose what they call President Barack Obama’s “war on coal.” …

In West Virginia, once a long-time Democratic stronghold, Republicans will take control of both houses of the state legislature for the first time since 1931. Republicans picked up seven seats in the state Senate to bring the balance to 17-17, and then Democrat Daniel Hall switched parties Wednesday to give the majority to the GOP.

Voters there also elected Rep. Shelley Moore Capito as their first GOP senator in 56 years, and Republicans won three congressional contests, even kicking out 38-year incumbent Rep. Nick Rahall.

Coal was only one issue for voters, who also cited the economy and Obamacare as reasons for ditching the Democrats in the midterms. But with EPA moving ahead on rules to limit greenhouse gases from power plants, and its past pollution regulations helping push dozens of old coal-fired power plants into retirement, candidates who line up with the president became a tough sell in areas that have few other industries outside the shrinking coal-mining sector.

Democrats did manage to win in Pennsylvania, unseating unpopular Republican Tom Corbett in a 10-point walk, but that’s more of an anomaly. Republicans won 13 out of 18 House districts in the Keystone State, making the state look like this:


On top of that, despite Corbett’s loss, Republicans actually extended their majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. They added 3 takeaways to get a 30-20 majority in the state Senate and picked up eight seats in the state House and now have a commanding 119-84 margin. Tom Wolf will become governor, but he’s not going to have much luck getting a progressive agenda through the state legislature.

In the House of Representatives map, coal country now looks like this (pickups shown in light pink):


The problem for Democrats won’t just be with coal, either. Natural gas is an emerging energy source that could provide much cleaner conversion, and has abundant resources for the next century or more at today’s known holdings. However, fracking will be necessary to extract it, and Obama’s EPA has made it clear that they will be hostile to that technology as well. The fracking map goes beyond the coal-country map, which means that Democratic attempts to squelch that industry will have a wider impact than Obama’s war on coal.

It will have a longer-lasting impact, too. Democrats tell Politico’s Erica Martinson that they think they’ll have a chance to woo back coal-country voters after Obama leaves office, but it’s no secret that Democrats have backed efforts to curtail fracking and shut down efforts to extract that natural gas that could provide coal country another lease on economic life, as well as other areas outside of the traditional coal-producing region. The EPA’s attacks on fracking now will have echoes for years, perhaps decades, in this very same region and beyond. As the campaign of Alison Lundergan Grimes showed in losing by 15 points, merely paying lip service to coal miners won’t be sufficient for Democrats who keep playing footsie with the environmental extremists that want to put these voters and their families out of work and out of options.

If Democrats want to win elections in this region, they have to stop killing its primary industries. In the words of James Carville, it’s the economy, stupid.