Romney and Obama are engaged in an Ohio tug of war, with both candidates making appeals to the state’s coal voters and industrial base to gain an edge there in what has become a tight race.
Romney, and the GOP at large, has taken the offensive on coal, saying EPA regulations rolled out under the Obama administration aim to put coal out of business.
But Democrats and the administration say market forces explain coal’s recent struggles, as power companies have turned to the cheaper natural-gas source for electricity generation.
The past year’s warm winter also allowed coal to stockpile, industry analysts have said. They also contend that harder-to-mine seams have made coal extraction more expensive.
Trumka also took Romney to task on a new campaign advertisement running in Ohio that has widely been panned as false and misleading.
That advertisement said Chrysler would shift some of its Jeep brand’s North American production — located in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio — to China.
Jeep slammed the advertisement as false, saying it merely planned to add Chinese production centers to satisfy growing customer demand there.
The Romney campaign declined to comment on criticism of the commercial, instead citing an earlier Bloomberg report on which it made its claims. Chrysler has said the Bloomberg story accurately showed the firm was adding — but not shifting — production in China, and that several news reports that cited the Bloomberg story were misleading.
“It is the most bizarre thing I have ever seen,” Trumka said. “I guess they thought they could get away with it.”
The Obama campaign called the advertisement “dishonest” and “false,” accusing Romney of misleading voters in an attempt to diffuse criticism of his opposition to the $80 billion bailout given to Chrysler and General Motors in 2008 and 2009.
Trumka said the AFL-CIO has been on the ground in states like Ohio for months gearing up its members, many of which are in the auto and coal industries. Trumka said he would visit Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
He will come bearing the message that coal production has increased 7 percent under Obama, and praise the president’s $5 billion of spending on “clean” coal technology research through a clean-energy stimulus program Romney plans to cut.
Still, Obama’s reputation has taken a hit in coal-mining Appalachia, traditionally a source of Democratic strength given its union sentiment. Many voters there cite EPA regulations as the subject of their ire, with the United Mine Workers of America opting not to endorse Obama this year after doing so in 2008.
Republicans and Romney have been quick to capitalize on that attitude, claiming Obama and the EPA have launched a “war on coal.”
The GOP-controlled House passed a package of bills in September that would curb or end a slew of EPA rules they say harm the coal industry. That vote, made just before lawmakers left Washington, D.C., for the election homestretch, was largely considered a political messaging vehicle, with the Democratic-majority Senate not likely to vote on the bill.
Romney has taken up the coal war cries on the campaign trail, making several visits to industrial and coal-mining towns in swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. He has pledged to roll back EPA rules and to increase use of coal, natural gas and oil.
But Trumka said mine operators that had historically stood in the way of workers’ rights bankroll Appalachia’s resistance to Obama. Those operators are more aligned with Romney’s economic and political philosophy than those of the miners, he said, adding Obama would better promote for miners’ interests.
Romney’s plan “follows the same failed policies of the past 30 years that hollowed out the middle class and destroyed our economy,” Trumka said. “Mitt Romney says coal country is his country, but he’s wrong — it’s our country.”
-- This story was updated at 12:22 p.m.