Exclusive: U.S. miners' union to endorse
two more Democrats in coal country
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[March 23, 2018]
By Timothy Gardner and Valerie Volcovici
(Reuters) - The main U.S. coal miners'
union is set to endorse two Democrats running for Congress in West
Virginia, two sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday - a
boost for Democrats trying to win over a constituency that voted heavily
for Republican Donald Trump in 2016.
The United Mine Workers of America on Friday will endorse Richard Ojeda
for U.S. Representative in the state's third district, as well as
incumbent Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat and former West Virginia
governor, the sources said. They asked not to be named as they were
discussing a confidential matter.
The union sees Ojeda and Manchin as supportive of major issues facing
coal miners, particularly efforts to preserve their pensions, the
sources said. In addition, neither candidate has fully embraced the
Democratic Party's push for climate regulation, a sticking point for
Trump's White House win in 2016 was due in part to his promise to revive
the ailing coal industry, which has lost more than 40 percent of its
work force in less than a decade, by rolling back environmental
regulation. While his administration has chipped away at regulations,
the coal sector remains in the doldrums, under pressure from cheaper and
cleaner natural gas, more than a year into Trump's presidency.
Republican control of Congress will be at stake in midterm elections in
November, when all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 34
of the 100 Senate seats will be up for grabs.
The endorsements in West Virginia this week follow the union's support
for Conor Lamb in a special election for a House seat in Pennsylvania
that he won earlier this month.
Political observers have said that upset could be a bellwether for
future races in areas that had supported Trump. The UMWA had organized a
rally, door-to-door canvassing, and phone bank operations for Lamb.
UMWA President Cecil Roberts told Reuters that Lamb - a former Marine
who wore work boots while talking with voters - won because he focused
on protecting miners' pensions, which are at risk of insolvency due to
bankruptcies and mine closures.
"That's how Conor Lamb was able to swing those voters to his side,"
Roberts said Ojeda, a tough-talking former Army paratrooper who comes
from a long line of coal miners, reminded him of Lamb.
'FIST FIGHT FOR WORKERS'
The UMWA has endorsed about three more Republicans than Democrats in
House races so far in this cycle. But the tally will likely become
evenly split between the two parties in the coming months as the union
looks to races in Ohio, Colorado, and Arizona, said one of the sources.
[to top of second column]
United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts
(top) leads his members in a rally outside the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, DC, U.S., October 7,
2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
It is unclear how much the endorsements will help the candidates,
but miners are seen as an influential political constituency,
particularly in Appalachia - the epicenter of the U.S. coal
Ojeda, currently a state senator in West Virginia who is seen as a
favorite in a Democratic primary to pick the party's candidate on
May 8, faces a tough election battle in his heavily Republican
southern West Virginia district.
Trump won the district by 49 percentage points against his
Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Ojeda himself voted
for Trump. Ojeda did not comment about the coming endorsement, but
said in an brief interview, "I'm going to fist fight for workers who
have been neglected."
Ojeda has said he supports more coal mining, especially to fuel
steel furnaces, but also backs biofuels, solar and wind power.
In 2016, the UMWA endorsed a Republican in Ojeda's district, Evan
Jenkins, who is retiring to run for the U.S. Senate.
Manchin, meanwhile, has long been the Democratic Party's strongest
supporter of coal interests, advocating more production and backing
controversial subsidy proposals. But several Republicans are lining
up against him in the midterm elections.
Among them is Don Blankenship, a former coal company executive who
served a year-long prison sentence for conspiring to violate safety
standards at the Upper Big Branch mine - where 29 miners died in
Manchin's office did not immediately respond to a request for
comment on the coming endorsement.
The Democratic National Committee is not endorsing candidates before
the primary votes, but the organization likes what it sees in coal
"Focusing on middle class families, on American workers, in these
Appalachian and more rural areas is something that is successful for
Democratic candidates to run on," said Elizabeth Renda, a DNC
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Valerie Volcovici in Washington;
Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Frances Kerry)
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