FRANKFORT — You don’t need a political science degree to know coal will be an issue in the 2014 U.S. Senate race in Kentucky.
Republicans and their coal industry allies successfully burned Democratic Congressman Ben Chandler with a controversial vote he cast on climate legislation on their way to electing Republican Andy Barr to Chandler’s Sixth District seat in 2012.
Cries of a “war on coal” echo from the hollows of eastern Kentucky and the hallways of Frankfort.
Incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell is already mining the issue in television ads, using some of them to bolster his image as Barack Obama’s nemesis, some to tar the image of likely Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes.
(Owensboro contractor Ed Marksberry, Louisville musical promoter Bennie Smith and University of Louisville professor Greg Leichty are also seeking the Democratic nomination, but Grimes, 34, the first-term secretary of state, is the favorite.)
But some coalfield Democrats, who profess no fealty to Obama and frequently seem defensive about their national party, are saying the issue won’t doom Grimes’ candidacy.
“She’ll do very well back home in my opinion,” said Pike County state Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps.
He said McConnell’s recent trip to the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky received a warm reception and “he did a very good job” of defending coal.
“But she’ll take the right positions on coal, and she’ll have Bill Clinton on her side,” Hall said. “Bill Clinton walks on water down there.”
Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, like Hall, is an passionate defender of coal who complains about national environmental policies and what he considers an all-out attack on the coal industry. But Adkins said he plans to campaign and raise money for Grimes if she is the Democratic nominee as he expects her to be.