HAZARD — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell brought his campaign to the heart of coal country with a stop in Hazard last week. The senator addressed a small, enthusiastic crowd of supporters at the Rental Pro Shop, just off Highway 15 near Applebee’s.
McConnell was joined by long-time House Representative Hal Rogers, State Senator Brandon Smith, and City of Hazard Mayor Nan Gorman only one day after his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, and former President Bill Clinton filled the Forum in Hazard with over 1,000 people.
McConnell’s stop was part of a two-day, 10-county Team Mitch Coal Country Bus Tour.
Rogers stressed the importance of the upcoming election, noting that, if elected, McConnell would likely become the Senate Majority Leader, while Grimes would be largely ineffectual as “a freshman in the minority on the back row of the Senate.”
“America’s future is riding on this election,” said Rogers. “We’ve seen our country spiral downward in every aspect you can think of under this president. And he does it by getting into the Senate and the House, when he can, people who will go his way without raising a fuss or who are incapable of raising a fuss.”
Rogers went on to bemoan, what he termed, President Obama’s “War on Coal,” which he said has laid off 7,000 Eastern Kentucky coal miners in the last two years alone. He strongly suggested that Grimes would only serve to support the president’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations and that McConnell was the true pro-coal candidate.
“I can’t wait to send an EPA-cutting budget over to Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and watch what he does with it,” said Rogers, to loud cheers from the partisan crowd. “Obama wants Allison. Kentucky needs Mitch McConnell.”
McConnell, despite clinging to a slim lead of just over two percentage points in the latest polls for the state senate race, seemed totally undaunted by Grimes, neglecting even to mention her by name throughout the duration of his speech.
Instead, he aimed his sharpest barbs at the Clintons and President Obama, seemingly viewing Grimes as simply a tool to be used by them.
“Bill Clinton supports the new EPA regulations,” said McConnell. “President Obama is so grateful to him … that last year they named the EPA building after Bill Clinton, for God’s sake. There’s not any difference between a Clinton Democrat and an Obama Democrat, and we’re going to show them that come the first Tuesday in November this year.”
Republicans have had growing success in Kentucky’s coalfields, taking advantage of an unpopular president whose policies are deemed by many people in the region as standing in direct opposition to their values and needs. McConnell repeatedly used the word “they” when referring to the Obama administration and its supporters in Washington, effectively painting an “us versus them” philosophy.
“They don’t respect the way we are,” he said. “They don’t like the way we live. … They think they’re smarter than we are, and they want to restructure our lives.”
McConnell argued that the Obama administration’s fixation on global warming has led to the struggles currently faced in Central Appalachia.
“This is a depression here,” the senator said. “When you don’t have enough money to put clothes on the backs of your children or food on your table for your family, this is my definition of a war.”
Dorothy Messer, a mother of two from Perry County, who attended the McConnell event, said that she and her husband have felt the full effects of the economic downturn in Eastern Kentucky.
“Oh, it’s put a big hit on us,” Messer said. “I was out of work for a while. Just the kids being able to have what they want, what they need, it’s a whole lot harder for us to support them.”
Messer’s husband had worked in the coal industry as an electrician, she said, but is now unemployed. She said she believed McConnell was the right choice for Eastern Kentucky, because “he’s been in there 20 plus years and has always been for coal.”
Before leaving to shouts of amen and the chanting of his name, McConnell took one last opportunity to convince the people gathered there that he was one of them, no matter how many decades he’d spent away from the state in the nation’s capital.
“We know what they think of us,” he said. “And November’s the time for us to tell them what we think of them.”
Mindy Miller can be reached at 606-436-5771 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.