After endorsing Barack Obama for president in 2008, the United Mine Workers union refused to make the same mistake when he was up for re-election in 2012. Obama’s blatantly anti-coal policies were just too much for the union to swallow.
But now, the UMW has endorsed a candidate whose support for Obama has never flagged. The union announced this week it endorsed Natalie Tennant in the race for a Senate seat from West Virginia.
That probably came as a surprise to many rank-and-file coal miners, including members of the UMW. They are aware that Rep. Shelley Capito, R-W.Va., has been a staunch supporter of miners – in many ways – even as Tennant was abandoning them.
Capito, the Republican candidate for the Senate, has been praised by the UMW for her work in the House of Representatives. She and Rep. David McKinley, also R-W.Va., introduced the Coal Healthcare and Pensions Protection Act of 2013, intended to safeguard the health insurance and retirement benefits of tens of thousands of former miners and their families.
While Capito, McKinley and like-minded lawmakers were fighting for miners, Tennant was busy defending Obama. She said in 2012 she did not believe the president’s policies would devastate the coal industry. In 2013, first lady Michelle Obama said it was important Tennant be elected to the Senate.
Even before Tennant defended Obama, the damage from his anti-coal campaign was apparent. Since 2011, more than 17,000 mining jobs have been lost in the United States – many of them in West Virginia.
Tennant makes it clear her plan is to bolster the president’s power. She has refused to say that, if elected, she would vote against Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., for Senate majority leader. In that position, Reid has refused to allow pro-coal bills to even come to a vote in the Senate.
Some miners may go along with their union’s endorsement, as they did in 2008 in sending Obama to the White House. But supporting Tennant – a candidate who will do nothing meaningful to stop the war on coal – will not appeal to the many thoughtful miners who wonder where she was when they needed help.
Capito will be the choice of miners worried about their futures – because they know they can count on her.