FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The United Mine Workers of America union rushed to the defense of U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler on Monday after an attack ad portrayed him as an enemy of the coal industry.
UMWA Regional Vice President Steve Earle said Chandler, who is seeking re-election in Kentucky's 6th District, has always been a friend to miners and an advocate for more stringent laws to protect their safety.
Chandler's Republican opponent, Lexington attorney Andy Barr, is running a TV spot ahead of the Nov. 6 election that blames Chandler, President Barack Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for "devastating" the coal industry. The ad has coal executive Heath Lovell dressed in miner's garb and a hardhat making that claim.
"Chandler hadn't done anything to hurt the coal industry," Earle said. "He's tried to make these mines safer where these women will have a husband and these kids will have a father at the end of a shift every evening. And for Andy Barr to pull a stunt like this, it's unconscionable. It's deceitful. It's evil. It's sinful."
The UMWA endorsed Chandler, a former Kentucky attorney general who has held the congressional seat for the past eight years.
In the ad, Lovell laments that coal trains have nearly stopped running in the tiny Estill County town of Ravenna.
"They're putting the coal industry out of business, and it's just devastating," Lovell said. "This is our way of life, and it means jobs for people around here. Good paying jobs. And Ben Chandler, he doesn't even care."
Coal issues have played big in the matchup in the Lexington-based congressional district even though most of the state's mines are miles away in the more mountainous Appalachian region.
Coal executives and their political action committees have contributed more than $40,000 to the Barr campaign.
Both candidates know mining issues matter in Lexington, which has a sizeable bloc of Appalachian transplants as well as offices for the Kentucky Coal Association and several major mining companies. The city is also home to environmentally concerned voters who bitterly oppose the effects of mining on water quality and the Appalachian landscape.
Republicans have tried to paint Chandler as a surrogate to President Barack Obama, who has been sharply criticized in the coalfields for his administration's environmental policies. Chandler, however, insists that characterization is misguided. He opposed Obama earlier this year by calling for the EPA to back off of policies that have made it difficult for Kentucky companies to open or expand coal mines.
Chandler and Barr are engaged in what is expected to be Kentucky's most competitive general election congressional race. Barr, a Lexington attorney, sought a rematch with Chandler after losing a squeaker to him two years ago.