Campaign 2014:

E&E Daily's Quiñones talks role of coal politics in McConnell re-election bid

As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) faces a tough re-election challenge, the politics of coal are increasingly becoming a critical part of his campaign. On today's The Cutting Edge, E&E Daily reporter Manuel Quiñones previews the key questions facing McConnell as he seeks his sixth term in office and the role energy issues are playing in the race.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell facing a tough primary challenge next week. E&E Daily's Manuel Quiñones joins me with details on the role energy is playing in the Kentucky Senate race. Manuel, Senator McConnell is seeking a sixth term in Kentucky. He's up against Matt Bevin next week. What are his prospects going into the primary?

Manuel Quiñones: Well, they're much better than many people thought several months ago. Many people, many observers thought he would get a serious tea party challenge. He's been in Congress for a long time, he's very much seen as an establishment person. Some people question his conservatism, but what the political observers are saying now is that Bevin has not done what he needed to do to prove to be a true challenge to McConnell. A couple of missteps, you know, during the campaign; a political science professor yesterday said that, you know, the inexperience -- Bevin's inexperience showed he's a businessman. So it looks like McConnell maybe doesn't have it in the bag, but he's pretty sure too to win the nomination for his party.

Monica Trauzzi: So the race will really start to get interesting after the primary next week. Coal is a major industry in Kentucky. What role are energy issues playing in this election?

Manuel Quiñones: Well, energy issues are play an immense role, especially coal is playing an immense role. We saw that during the presidential election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Coal came up a lot, and in several congressional races. Some people were wondering whether that was going to continue because it really had mixed results, but it has continued to influence, especially in West Virginia and Kentucky. Between Alison Lundergan Grimes, the preferred Democratic nominee, or the preferred Democrat to win the nomination for her party, and McConnell, they've been going back and forth at each other when it comes to coal.

Monica Trauzzi: So what does that dynamic look like? What are they going back and forth on? What are the issues?

Manuel Quiñones: Well, both of them want to be the pro-coal candidate and both of them want to be the candidate that is against President Obama's agenda, regulatory agenda when it comes to coal, Environmental Protection Agency climate, and even though she's a Democrat, she's definitely, you know, blasting the president when it comes to that front. And one of the fronts that they've been fighting is donors. Both of them are scrutinizing each other's donors to see who's getting the pro-coal donors, who's getting the anti-coal donors and what that could mean.

Monica Trauzzi: And where is the coal industry putting its money?

Manuel Quiñones: Well, the coal industry, for the most part, is putting its money behind McConnell. He's the incumbent, so not only is he the incumbent, but he's a pro-coal guy, and in their view, he has helped deliver whatever he can in this gridlocked Congress. Alison Lundergan Grimes and Matt Bevin have gotten some coal-related donations, but McConnell has definitely gotten the most.

Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned the president's regulations. The Obama administration has announced it will release its existing power plant standards on June 2nd. It'll be a major news event. Do you expect that to become a discussion point between Grimes and McConnell as they head into November?

Manuel Quiñones: Oh, very much so, especially -- and going a little bit more on the donations, she has gotten a lot of donations from people who would support what the president is doing and from donors who are also considered to be environmentalists. They're giving to her, a candidate who will surely oppose what the president proposes, and they're doing it because their desire to beat McConnell is so much greater than anything she stands for when it comes to the energy industry, including the Keystone XL pipeline, that I guess they're willing to hold their noses and give her money. McConnell also has gotten some environmental-related donations, but just a trickle, but her camp and Democrats have been short to point that out as a tit for tat when it comes to donations.

Monica Trauzzi: Has McConnell been weakened at all by the Senate leadership's inability to find a path forward on the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill?

Manuel Quiñones: It remains to be seen whether it will actually have an effect, but Alison Lundergan Grimes has definitely used it to her advantage. She's been using any failure, setback in the Senate, the shutdown, to call him part of the problem in Washington. You know, Senator Gridlock that they've nicknamed him, and so the Shaheen-Portman and whatever else happens will be part of that narrative against McConnell.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, Manuel. An interesting race to watch. Thanks for coming on.

Manuel Quiñones: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.

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