FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's beleaguered coal industry, suffering under economic conditions that have cost the jobs of some 2,000 miners over the past year, isn't so feeble after all.
Just ask U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, the Democrat from Versailles who was pummeled in last week's general election by coal-backed Republican Andy Barr in the 6th District.
Barr featured coal miners in his TV ads, talked incessantly about the Obama administration's "war on coal," and raked in campaign cash from wealthy coal executives angry about federal environmental regulations that have made it more expensive to unearth coal.
By the time the race was over, President Barack Obama had been vilified as an enemy of the mining industry, and Chandler had been portrayed as his surrogate in Kentucky. That turned out to be Chandler's undoing. Obama lost Kentucky overwhelmingly, and took Chandler down with him.
"I'm afraid President Obama was a little too heavy for us in some of the rural counties," Chandler told supporters in his concession speech Tuesday night.
Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett said voters wanted to send a message to Obama.
"A lot of his disfavor here is connected directly to his anti-coal policies," Bissett said. "It is our hope that this message was heard by the president and that perhaps he changes his position."
King Coal, as the industry has been dubbed, still packs a powerful political punch. Industry executives have been flexing their muscles in a fight against increasing government restrictions on emissions from power plants and against regulatory constraints on aggressive mining methods like mountaintop removal.
Barr, a Lexington attorney, focused intently on the coalfield job losses that he blamed on the Obama administration's environmental policies, and he charged that Chandler supported those policies.