Hillary’s Coal Country Problem.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton blew off Indiana in the final days of the primary campaign, focusing instead on the next state to vote — West Virginia.
Maybe she should skip that one, too.
Clinton has spent part of her time in the Mountaineer State defending her comments about putting coal miners out of business, and a new poll this week indicates she is trailing Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Clinton painted a target on her own back in March when she explained her environmental agenda like this: “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
Campaigning in West Virginia this week, that remark, televised during a CNN town hall event, has come back to haunt her. According to The New York Times, she faced a gauntlet of people shouting, “Go home” and holding Donald Trump signs.
“How you can say you’re going to put a lot of coal miners out of jobs and then come in here and tell us how you’re going to be our friend?” asked Bo Copley, an out-of-work coal industry worker. “Because those people out there don’t see you as a friend.”
Clinton maintained that her comment in March “was totally taken out of context,” and said that she had presented a plan last summer to help coal-dependent regions.
Certainly, shifting away from coal has been a priority of environmentalists. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign boasted Tuesday that with the announced closure of three coal-fired power plants in Illinois, 100,000 megawatts have been turned off since 2010. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement that it was a “clear sign that we are winning — coal plant by plant — in the effort to transition our communities away from dirty coal electricity.”
A survey this week by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, found that more likely Democratic primary voters view Clinton negatively than positively. On the horse race question, Sanders beats her 45 percent to 37 percent.
Scott Crichlow, chairman of the political science department at the West Virginia University, told LifeZette that Clinton’s problems in the state run deeper than her coal comment.
“That statement is not going to win her any friends in southwest West Virginia, but she’s been down for a while,” he said.
Crichlow said West Virginia has more in common demographically with states Sanders has won. It is much whiter than the nation as a whole, and Clinton has struggled in states without large numbers of minority voters.
The polling numbers are not good for Clinton, but this week’s survey actually represents an improvement over February, when a MetroNews poll had Sanders up by 28 points. Still, Crichlow said, it is a bit of a puzzle why Clinton is even bothering to campaign in West Virginia since she faces an uphill fight in the primary — and the state looks no better for her in November.
“It’s unusual,” he said. “Normally, you expect politicians only to be campaigning in states where they think they have a shot. It would be a shock if Republicans didn’t win in West Virginia.”
Once a reliably Democratic state, West Virginia has swung hard toward Republicans over the past two decades. In 2000, George W. Bush became the first Republican to win the state since Ronald Reagan, and it has not voted for a Democrat since. Crichlow said the Mountaineer State has taken a similar trajectory as states in the once solidly Democratic South but has taken longer to complete the transformation.
“West Virginia was the last one to sort into the general ideological divisions that we’ve seen,” he said.
The PPP poll also suggests West Virginia is one of the most pro-Trump states in the union.
“It’s hard to find better Trump territory than West Virginia,” PPP President Dean Debnam said in a statement. “He’s by far and away the strongest candidate, both among Republican voters and among the general electorate. It will be hard to find many places where he has an overall positive favorability rating but West Virginia is one of them.”