Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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June 10, 2014

Coal wars between McConnell, Grimes

FRANKFORT — If you don’t have a personal stake in the coal industry, you may want to tune out this year’s U.S. Senate race. Anyone hoping to hear discussion of other issues may soon grow weary if not sick of coal.

Three weeks ago, incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes won their respective primaries. Since then both campaigns have enveloped themselves in the rhetorical smog of coal, each trying to outdo the other in their love of coal and loyalty to the industry which almost exclusively fuels Kentucky’s electrical generation but employs less than 1 percent of the workforce.

The latest salvo came Monday when McConnell’s campaign seized on a story in POLITICO which reported that an audio recording of Grimes’ appearance at a Washington fundraiser last week with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated Grimes never spoke about coal.

Despite its small workforce, coal is a dominant issue in Kentucky politics and the fallout from the POLITICO report could hurt Grimes.

Reid once said, “Coal makes us sick,” and McConnell relentlessly tries to tie Grimes to Reid. In response, Grimes pledged prior to last week’s D.C. fundraiser to discuss with Reid the impact on Kentucky and its miners of new carbon emission regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

POLITICO reported Grimes never mentioned coal during her remarks to those gathered at the fundraiser, including Reid who introduced Grimes.

On the recording, Grimes also speaks warmly of Reid. McConnell would replace Reid as Senate Majority Leader if he wins re-election and the GOP picks up six seats overall. That’s part of McConnell’s pitch to Kentucky voters — that Kentucky can “lead the Senate.”

McConnell’s campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore said the story proves Grimes tells Kentuckians one thing and then does another when she met Reid.

Both Grimes’ campaign and Reid’s office said Grimes did indeed discuss the issue with Reid, both prior and subsequent to the actual fundraiser. POLITICO also quotes a “Democratic source” said Grimes spoke to Reid about the issue by telephone after the event.

POLITICO reported that most of Grimes’ comments were criticisms of McConnell as “senator of yesterday.”

The Grimes campaign followed up on the POLITICO story with its own outrage Tuesday: pointing to a FactCheck.org report that an outside group supportive of McConnell is “off base” with claims that Grimes has “been silent [as] Obama attacked coal.”

The ad is paid for by Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, a SuperPAC supporting McConnell and advised by former McConnell aide Scott Jennings. FactCheck cited numerous newspaper accounts of Grimes’ criticism of Obama’s environmental policies and newly proposed carbon emissions regulations.

Grimes’ campaign sent reporters a lengthy list of public statements Grimes has made criticizing Obama’s policies and supportive of the coal industry.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter

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