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Coal Fires Up Two Key Senate Races in 2014

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
McConnell, above, and Capito are likely to try to tie their respective Democratic opponents to party leaders when it comes to the issue of coal in the 2014 Senate races.

However, Republicans intend to tether her to national Democrats viewed as unfriendly to the coal industry. That includes highlighting those who help her raise money and equating a vote for Grimes with one to keep Reid as the leader of the Senate.

“There is plenty of evidence to indicate that there is a bright line on coal in this race,” said Scott Jennings, the head of Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a pro-McConnell super PAC. “No matter what Alison Grimes says, she’s hanging out with, getting money from and being recruited by people who share a distinctly different view.”

Bissett said the industry is appreciative of Grimes’ public statements of support, but he said he hopes to hear in more detail over the next year how she’ll be effective against the leaders of her own party.

Grimes has been touring the state partly to do just that, including holding roundtable discussions on jobs and the economy. Last month she was in Letcher and Breathitt counties in eastern Kentucky, a battleground region for votes next year.

The Grimes campaign has also been working to cut holes in McConnell’s argument that he is coal’s best friend in Washington. In a recent campaign statement, spokeswoman Charly Norton said, “McConnell has failed to deliver solutions that could end the devastating job loss felt in Eastern and Western Kentucky.” The statement also reiterated that Grimes “will stand up to members of her own party.”

There’s a similar battle in West Virginia, where GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito will likely face West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller. Tennant distanced herself from the Obama administration on coal in her campaign announcement video, while the Capito campaign has wasted no time in tying her to Reid on the issue.

In a brief interview on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Tennant said she often discusses the importance of coal to the state and said she will stand up for the industry as the state’s next senator. She also brushed off the attempts to tie her to the national party that are sure to come.

“They can try to tie that, but this is about West Virginia values, and this is about what we’re going to do as West Virginians to build our economy,” Tennant said. “This is a West Virginia race. This is a West Virginia seat.”

Obama didn’t reach 38 percent of the vote in either state in 2012, but other Democrats have had recent statewide success. There’s no better example than Sen. Joe Manchin III, who constructed his own unique brand after two gubernatorial elections — he has now won two Senate races by double-digit margins. To accomplish this, Manchin literally shot a hole through the cap-and-trade bill in an ad during his first Senate race.

Replicating Manchin’s success won’t be easy for Grimes and Tennant — two candidates whose brands remain largely undefined. The two Democrats, both current secretaries of State, have virtually no legislative record on this pivotal issue, so Republicans will work to define them.

Aware of what’s to come for these challengers, Manchin said in a brief interview that Mountain State Democrats are their own breed, and he hopes voters recognize that in Tennant next year.

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