"There wasn't ever a time when we didn't feel like this was an important issue to focus upon," said Barr spokesman David Host. "The Obama administration's war on coal was a very salient issue throughout the 6th District."
Host said internal polling bore that out, especially after the campaign started running a TV spot featuring coal executive Heath Lovell in mining garb lamenting the decline of the coal industry. When Democrats responded by attacking Lovell, the polling showed Barr pulling ahead.
Financial reports filed with the Federal Election Commission showed coal executives gave at least $85,000 directly to Barr's campaign. They also helped finance independent groups that ran TV ads bashing Chandler and promoting Barr.
Chandler, a former attorney general who has served in Congress since 2004, insists that he's no enemy of coal. He called earlier this year for the EPA to ease up on regulations that have made it difficult to open or expand coal mines in Kentucky.
And the United Mine Workers of America endorsed Chandler for re-election. Steve Earle, a regional vice president for the UMWA, said Chandler's loss shows that King Coal remains a force to be reckoned with in Kentucky.
"They're a formidable adversary," Earle said. "I think they probably have more influence now than they ever did. Their money buys them a lot of influence."