West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) launched her campaign for Senate on Tuesday with a vow to fight President Obama if his energy policies threaten the state's coal industry.
"I will fight any Republican or any Democrat, including President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaThe Memo: Winners and losers from the battle over health care Ex-Trump aide: Tillerson is ‘part of the swamp’ Rand Paul takes victory lap on GOP health bill MORE, who tries to kill our energy jobs, whether they are coal, natural gas, wind or water."
Tennant, who is considered an underdog in the race to fill the seat being vacated by Sen. Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerObama to preserve torture report in presidential papers Lobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner MORE (D), also slammed her likely Republican opponent Rep. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Moore CapitoGOP govs: ObamaCare repeal bill shifts 'significant' costs to states Here's how Congress can get people to live healthy lifestyles Overnight Tech: DOJ charges Russians with Yahoo hack | Trump to grade agencies on cybersecurity | Senators push for broadband study MORE as "part of the problem" in Congress.
She spoke in front of about 100 supporters and entered to Shania Twain's "Man, I Feel Like a Woman," a nod to the fact that she could make history as the state's first female senator.
Regardless of which party wins, however, West Virginia looks likely to send a woman to the Senate.
Capito is expected to win her primary, despite facing a conservative challenger, former state Del. Patrick McGeehan (R).
Rockefeller endorsed Tennant immediately upon her entrance into the race, asserting that West Virginians "cannot afford to let this Senate seat fall in the hands of the party of Paul RyanPaul RyanReport: Trump didn't want to talk details in Freedom Caucus meeting Rock band Papa Roach joins in on Twitter joke about Ryan being a fan Trump, GOP fumble chance to govern MORE and Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThe Memo: Winners and losers from the battle over health care GOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Under pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support MORE."
"[Tennant] is a West Virginian through and through. She has an unwavering commitment to public service and, most importantly, a ceaseless passion for the people of West Virginia and our challenges," he said.
Though the Mountain State hasn't sent a Republican to the Senate since the 1950s, it's become increasingly red in recent years, and Obama lost there in 2012 by more than 25 percentage points.
That red tint informs the strategy Republicans are already formulating: to tie Tennant to the national party, particularly on Obama's policies surrounding coal, which is a significant part of the state's economy.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Collins called Tennant Obama's "biggest" friend in West Virginia in a statement.
"Barack Obama doesn't have many fans in West Virginia, but his biggest one is without question Natalie Tennant. Natalie Tennant is an Obama-supporting liberal more in the mold of [Senate Majority Leader] Harry ReidHarry ReidThis obscure Senate rule could let VP Mike Pence fully repeal ObamaCare once and for all Sharron Angle to challenge GOP rep in Nevada Fox's Watters asks Trump whom he would fire: Baldwin, Schumer or Zucker MORE than [Sen.] Joe ManchinJoe ManchinUnder pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support The Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Senate confirms Trump's pick for Israel ambassador MORE [D-W.Va.] when it comes to coal and energy, jobs, and ObamaCare," he said.
He also noted that the Environmental Protection Agency is releasing a proposal this week to limit greenhouse gases produced by future power plants, which would significantly impact the coal industry.
"It's telling that Natalie Tennant … is launching her campaign the very same week that a new phase of the Obama Administration's war on coal and American energy was launched," he said.
But Tennant, aside from criticizing Obama on coal, also on Tuesday, suggested new policies that would promote coal exports and invest in ports that transport coal.
She pledged to push for a "new covenant" for the coal industry to "[keep] its promise for health care benefits and pensions to its miners."
She also defended the Affordable Care Act as offering benefits to coal miners whose health is negatively impacted by the industry, though she said aspects of the law need to be fixed.
She'll continue her kickoff tour with Tuesday stops in Charleston and Morgantown.