Coal miners union backs Republican Portman in Ohio Senate race

Coal miners union backs Republican Portman in Ohio Senate race
© Greg Nash

The nation’s main union for coal miners is supporting Republican Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenate panel advances bill to protect government devices against cyber threats Senate panel advances bill to protect government devices against cyber threats House passes bill to establish DHS cyber 'first responder' teams MORE in his tough reelection fight for Ohio’s Senate seat.

In a letter to Portman, United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts and International Secretary-Treasurer Daniel Kane praised the support Portman has "given both active and retired coal miners and their families, especially in such difficult times as the coal industry is experiencing today” in endorsing him.

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The Wednesday announcement through the UMWA’s PAC is a rare endorsement of a Republican for a Senate race from the union.

Democrats’ support for organized labor has historically ensured that the party’s candidates would get the UMWA’s backing, but issues like President Obama’s environmental agenda and its impact on the coal industry have frayed relations with the party.

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) is running to replace Portman. The UMWA endorsed Strickland in his 2006 and 2010 gubernatorial runs and has only endorsed Democrats in Ohio races since 2010.

The race is being watched nationally by numerous interest groups and political leaders, who see it as a top race in Democrats’ quest to retake control of the Senate.

Portman said he is “honored” to get the UMWA’s support.

“Ted Strickland likes to remind people that he's from southeast Ohio, but he has a record of turning his back on Coal Country,” he said in a statement.

“Even though coal is a proven source of relatively inexpensive energy that supports thousands of jobs across Ohio, and even though Ohio relies on coal for approximately 70 percent of our electricity, Ted worked on behalf of a liberal special interest group in Washington that is dedicated to ending coal jobs,” Portman said, referring to Strickland’s leadership of the Center for American Progress Action Fund from 2014 to 2015.

Strickland’s campaign and the Ohio Democratic Party fought back, saying the Democrat is the real champion of coal miners.

“Sen. Portman is the ultimate Washington insider, and his record of pushing the agenda of the wealthy and well-connected has been devastating for Ohio’s coal workers,” Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Daniel van Hoogstraten said in a statement.

“Portman couldn’t care less about working families in Appalachia — Portman voted to slash mine safety funding and restrict access to black lung health care and benefits for miners and their families and took campaign cash from coal barons like convicted criminal Don Blankenship,” he said.

Strickland’s campaign responded with statements from local Ohio coal country leaders who called into question the UMWA’s decision.

The most recent Quinnipiac University poll for the race, taken in late April and early May, has Strickland ahead with 43 percent of the vote to Portman’s 42 percent — well within the margin of error of 3 percentage points.