FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's competitive U.S. Senate race shifts east this week as both campaigns fight for votes in the heart of the state's coal country, a historically Democratic stronghold that experts say has been weakened by the unpopularity of Democratic President Barack Obama.
Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and Republican Mitch McConnell will both bring in reinforcements for their eastern Kentucky campaign swings. Former President Bill Clinton, who won Kentucky twice and is making his second trip for Grimes, will raise money for Grimes in Lexington and rally voters in Hazard on Wednesday.
McConnell, meanwhile, will be joined byHal Rogers for a 10-county bus tour on Thursday and Friday. The Republican congressman has represented eastern Kentucky for more than three decades and has partnered with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear lately on a bipartisan plan aimed at lifting the region out of poverty.
"Clearly eastern Kentucky is a battleground. Votes are up for grabs, more so than any other Democratic nominee has had to deal with up to now," said Mike Ward, a Democratic consultant and former congressman.
Eastern Kentucky has struggled economically for generations, and now is grappling with the decline of the state's coal industry. Kentucky is still the nation's third-largest coal producer, but eastern Kentucky alone has lost 7,000 coal-related jobs since 2012, according to the Kentucky Coal Association.
The Grimes campaign blames McConnell, who they say has not done enough to help eastern Kentucky during his 30 year tenure. But the McConnell campaign blames Obama and his energy policies that they say have handcuffed the state's coal industry.
That's why it helps Grimes to have Clinton with her as she returns to eastern Kentucky.
"Who better to bring in than President Clinton, who created a large number of jobs and who did really boost the economy," said Grimes' campaign manager Jonathan Hurst. "Alison is a Clinton Democrat. That's something she feels very strongly about and it's something we will continue to talk about through the race."
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