West Virginia candidates feud over coal, economy in debate

West Virginia candidates feud over coal, economy in debate
© Greg Nash

Each of the two women vying for West Virginia’s open Senate seat tried Tuesday night to show that they were the best candidate for the state’s coal industry and its economy as a whole.

Both candidates took every opportunity to link the answers in their first and only televised debate to either coal or the economy of West Virginia, which ranks 49th in the country in per-capita income.

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“People are really concerned about the future of this state,” said Rep. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoGaetz: Some lawmakers reviewed transcript at White House On The Money: Trump takes aim at China in UN address | Consumer confidence fell as trade tensions rose | Senate proposes billion for Trump border wall Senate proposes billion for Trump border wall MORE, the Republican candidate. “For the last six years, our economy has been under assault by the policies of President Obama.”

“The way to get Washington working for us is to elect a United States senator that will get rid of the obstructionism of Harry Reid, the agenda of President Obama,” she said.

Capito worked frequently in the hour-long debate to tie her Democratic opponent, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, to the unpopular policies of Obama in energy, healthcare, guns and other areas.

Tennant tried to distance herself from other Democrats, while working to show voters that Capito has done little for the state in her 14 years in the House.

“I’m here to tell you that this race is about West Virginia,” she said. “Not President Obama, not Harry Reid. They are not on the ballot.”

Tennant proudly stated that her first televised campaign ad received national attention. To protest Obama’s environmental policies that she said hurt coal, she turned off the lights at the White House.

“Whether the president believes it or not, coal is still 40 percent of the electricity in this country and more than 90 percent here in West Virginia,” she said.

She touted her endorsement from the United Mineworkers of America, saying that it is a recognition of her dedication both to the coal industry and the miners themselves, in terms of safety and health protections.

Tennant said she wants the Energy Department to take $8 billion from loan programs and instead invest in carbon capture technology for coal-fired power plants.

But Capito still tied her opponent not just to President Obama, but to the harm she said he has caused the state.

“My opponent has supported the president that is putting West Virginians out of jobs,” she said. “And that’s exactly what she would do if she would go to Washington.

Capito said Tennant has supported the president in his attempt to cut black lung benefits, ObamaCare and cuts to Medicare.

“Every single mining job that’s lost is attributable to the policies of President Obama, Harry Reid, who are supporting my opponent’s election,” she said, estimating that West Virginia has lost 7,000 coal miner jobs due to Obama’s environmental policies, along with 28,000 more jobs that they supported.

Both women oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed carbon pollution limits for power plants, though Capito used it as another opportunity to tie her Tennant to Obama.

“My opponent supports his policies, so she must support this,” she said.

On ObamaCare, Capito said she has voted repeatedly to “repeal and replace” it, keeping popular pieces such as a prohibition on denying health insurance policies to people with preexisting conditions and allowing young people to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.

She said she supports “preserving” Medicare, including voting for budgets proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to allow some retirees to take private plans supported by the federal government.

Capito accused Tennant of working to block a Republican candidate from being on a state ballot, costing the state $37,000. The state’s highest court overturned the decision.

“The Supreme Court basically told the secretary of State ... that she got it wrong, blatantly wrong,” she said. “And it was obviously for political reasons.”

“Your job is the chief elections officer, and you’re getting wrong,” Capito said.

Tennant defended her record as secretary of State, saying that a bipartisan commission on which she sits made the ruling that was eventually overturned.

Recent polling has Capito beating Tennant by double digits. She was up by 23 points in a CBS News/New York Times poll earlier this month.