MIDDLESBORO, Ky. (AP) — Campaigning in coal country, Sen. Mitch McConnell pinned the loss of thousands of Kentucky mining jobs on President Barack Obama's Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday and said his Democratic election rival would be a vote to continue them in Congress.
Rarely, if ever, mentioning Alison Lundergan Grimes by name, McConnell instead said unspecified "people are against the Kentucky way of life and need to be sent a strong message by the voters in November. ..."
"They question our values. They question our work habits. These people are not the kind of people we have here in Kentucky," he said.
McConnell is in a close race with Grimes in his drive to win a sixth term. As the Senate's top Republican, he is also in line to become majority leader if the party gains a majority this fall.
His two-day bus tour through hilly, gritty eastern Kentucky included stops in counties that he won in his most recent race in 2008 and in counties he lost. The region itself is in the midst of a political transition. Once a stronghold of the United Mineworkers Union, it reliably voted Democrat.
In recent years, though, the union's presence has withered, and Republicans have fared better in the socially conservative, economically depressed region.
Obama is particularly unpopular, and the senator criticized him by name repeatedly. He linked Grimes to the president and his policies, saying, if elected she "would be a new face that will do what Obama says."
Grimes has consistently denied the charge when it comes to coal, saying frequently that she opposes the president's approach. In a statement, her campaign manager, Jonathan Hurst, said McConnell has "a 30-year record of failing to stand up for our coal miners."
McConnell campaigned before appreciative audiences as his bus made its way from one small town to another. "Legalize Coal," read T-shirts that were handed out at one stop.
In addition to the campaign rhetoric, one audience heard from Jimmy Rose, a native of Kentucky who finished third on "America's Got Talent" and is best known for the song, "Coal Keeps the Lights On."
He set out one day after former President Bill Clinton campaigned for Grimes in Hazard, which is located in a county that is losing mining jobs, according to state figures.
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