WEST VIRGINIA:

Tea party questions Democrat's coal credentials after industry rally

LOGAN, W.Va. -- Gov. Joe Manchin came here yesterday hoping to cement himself in voters' minds as a supporter of the coal industry. But he was greeted by tea party opposition and left behind a trail of skeptics.

At a "Friends of Coal" rally in the Logan Grade School gymnasium, Manchin, the Democratic nominee in a special Senate election, promised a crowd of about 50 that he would be a voice for the industry and its miners.

Manchin has the endorsement of the West Virginia Coal Association and the United Mine Workers of America in the race to complete the term of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D). He has also sued U.S. EPA over new regulations on mountaintop removal coal mining, and his campaign is running an advertisement in which he fires a bullet through the cap-and-trade bill the House passed last year.

But while that is enough to win a pro-coal label in Washington, D.C., it may not be enough for West Virginia.

Manchin's Republican opponent John Raese, a business mogul and three-time failed candidate in statewide races, is telling voters that Manchin will sell out the industry when he gets to Washington. Raese says the governor will be a "rubber stamp" for the Obama administration's attempts to regulate the industry's mining and carbon emissions.

Those accusations yesterday followed Manchin to Logan, a town of fewer than 2,000 in the southwest corner of the state.

As Manchin's motorcade arrived, he was greeted by protesters from the local tea party -- here, the West Virginia Coalfield Tea Party Patriots. They said Raese was the real friend of coal and waved signs with slogans such as "Obama says vote Democrat," "Obama, One Big Ass Mistake America," and "Kill Liberalism."

Shaun Adkins, a lumber yard manager and founder of the local tea party chapter, said Manchin had done some good things as governor but could not be trusted to support the coal industry in Washington.

He criticized the governor's support for a state renewable energy standard passed last year. "The law is basically West Virginia's version similar to the cap-and-trade bill in Congress," Adkins said.

Manchin told Greenwire yesterday that the attacks on his coal record were part of Raese's "fear and smear" campaign financed by millions of dollars of out-of-state money. They are "trying to tell people that I'm somebody that I've never been and would do things that I've never done in my life," he said. "People in West Virginia understand. They've seen me, I've been there for many, many years."

Some of Manchin's supporters do not share his confidence. Chris Hamilton, senior vice president for the coal association, said the criticisms of Manchin's coal record were unfounded but effective.

"I do think it's working in some areas. I think that people are bombarded with more and more information, and in this case there's been a relatively large volume of negative information about the governor," Hamilton said. "I've seen the polls, and I've seen there's a tremendous backlash against incumbents."

Long after Manchin had left for his next campaign stop, Logan locals discussed his coal record over beers at the American Legion post.

Donny Harvey, who said he was unemployed after losing his job last year at a furniture loading dock, said he would vote for Manchin because he was the candidate who would "do the most for the coal fields."

Down the bar, Tim -- who asked his last name not be published because of his employer's policies on speaking with reporters -- was not so sure. The salesman for a mining machinery maker said he was voting for Raese because the Republican is the "least evil."

"Manchin had his opportunity to support the coal industry, and he didn't do enough," he said. "Why not give [Raese] his opportunity?"

Tim said he might have voted for Manchin had he sued EPA over the new mining regulations shortly after they were announced in April, but the governor's filing early this month struck him as a purely political move.

For a scattered few, Manchin may be doing too much for coal. A 21-year-old named Snyder, who plays slide guitar in a garage band that was rehearsing outside the Legion hall, said he would not vote for Manchin or Raese because both supported mountaintop removal mining, which he said is terrible for the environment and employs fewer workers than underground mines.

When asked if Manchin's mining support would cost him any other votes, Snyder was skeptical. "Probably not," he said, nodding to his bass player wearing a black "Friends of Coal" bracelet. "Politically, I'm ass-backwards from everyone around here."

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