Obama Faces Political Problems In Coal Country

If you ever want to dispel the myth that Barack Obama represents the economic interest of the working class, take a drive through coal country. This last weekend, I drove through central Pennsylvania and the signs were out in force, demanding that Obama be the next worker to get laid off.

The reason? These aren’t voters who put the rights of the unborn at the top of their agenda, as much as I’d like to see that change. None of the signs were about preserving gun ownership. In short, this wasn’t about bitter people clinging to guns and religion, as the president so memorably put in when he was kissing up in Hollywood back in 2008.

The struggles of coal in one of America's poorest regions is leading its voters away from the Democratic Party

Voters in Coal Country believe the Obama Administration is killing their livelihood, and it’s reflective in long-term political trends and short-term polling data. West Virginia used to be as reliable a Democratic state as there was. Then George W. Bush won it in 2000—had WVA stayed blue, the whole Florida recount debacle would have been irrelevant. Bush won it again in 2004. Not only is Mitt Romney going to carry West Virginia this November, but polling is showing that it won’t be close.

Political supporters of Obama are fond of believing he represents “the 99 percent” to use the Occupy Wall Street phrase. How many economic elites in the 1 percent do you think live in West Virginia? Drive through the state sometime and come back with your answer. It isn’t many.

Then we move to Ohio and Pennsylvania. Obama’s political strength in urban centers carried both states in 2008—Pennsylvania in decisive fashion—but the president’s political problems with coal are taking a toll here. Polling averages show his lead in Ohio to be within two points and even Pennsylvania is looking in play, with the margin down to about five points.

It was just this summer that Obama strategists were saying they weren’t worried about Pennsylvania—not in a cocksure way that said they couldn’t lose. But because they believed if their man got in trouble in the Keystone State it would be part of an overall campaign meltdown which would render state-by-state strategies insignificant.

I won’t say they have their meltdown—the overall national polling seems to have stabilized in a dead heat, but Obama certainly flirted with it, and if he lets Pennsylvania slip away he’s going home to Chicago.

What makes Obama’s loss of political support in Coal Country even more striking is that it’s not as though the Republicans nominated a candidate who has natural appeal here. While Ronald Reagan’s blue-collar Democratic roots made him a natural to appeal to these voters and in later years George W. Bush’s Christian faith and down-to-earth persona would go over well, Mitt Romney possesses neither. Yet in three states that conventional wisdom says he shouldn’t win, will produce at least one victory and possibly a sweep.

The current Republican nominee’s political strength lies in an appeal to the entrepreneurial class and to the suburbs. Yet blue-collar Democratic constituencies are, at minimum, giving him a long look, and in some cases embracing his candidacy. Even the Coal Miners Union opted to sit this one out. There is usually a gap between the elites of organized labor, who toe the left-wing line, and the rank-and-file, who vote their economic interests. Not in 2012 with this union.

The political priorities of the left wing are coming home to roost. When forced to choose between the environmental causes of suburban liberals and the real-life economic interests of working-class voters, they have consistently chosen the former and opted to try and dazzle the latter with rhetoric alone.

We’ll know in nineteen days what the short-term choice of these voters will be. But we already know what the long-term decision is, and it’s alienation from the mainstream political process. Because it was the Democratic Party that long held their votes, it is that party that is logically the one hurt by the alienation. I hope all those campaign donations from the Suburban Left were worth it.

Dan Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of TheSportsNotebook.com



  • Rick S.

    I saw a bunch of “Stop the War on Coal” signs in PA a few weeks ago. I was in Somerset County which doesn’t like him much but that was more signs than I saw in ’08 for sure. Coal is a way of life that contributes to people having a real living wage in an area where there are very few decent jobs. Would you rather live 75 years as a productive person using the skills God gave your or 80 years on welfare?

    • Rich

      There are only two options?
      Did Obama take away the rest too?
      Or was are these the Romney positions he holds, one on even days and the other on odd.

    • http://twitter.com/PapalMarriage Papal Marriage Laws

      How about we train the workers to work in the green energy sector building wind turbines and solar panels. Then the workers can use their God given talents to be productive, live to be 80, AND we can all enjoy cleaner air and longer lives. That would be a win for everyone!

      • Rick S.

        In that part of PA there are many wind turbines. They are not as efficent as coal. Sorry that has to be the case.

        • pammie

          In California there could be many more wind turbines. They are more efficient than coal here. We could use more, if they built them in PA. I’d much rather buy one from PA than from China. Let’s do it!

          • Rick S.

            It can’t be built in PA. There are no factories to build anything and no people trained to build them. Why don’t we build iPhones in PA. Short answer is we can’t do it as well as China.

    • Bette

      The average life expectancy of a coal miner is 52.7 years, The average life expectancy of an American is 78.2 years. When we rely on cheap coal to power our “i” devices, our TV screens, and our video games, we are condemning our neighbors to shorter lives their children to lives without their parents and grandparents. Shame on us.

      • Rick S.

        I don’t know where you get your facts. Here is a study which shows that coal miners have a life expectancy of 1,100 days less than average. That is about 4 years.

      • Joe M

        Bette. Obama has opposed surface mining which is much safer for workers than traditional methods. Basically, Obama appeals to people who place the importance of owls higher than humans.

  • Rich

    So you are abandoning Abortion as the moral issue and taking on Coal?
    What is the Bishops position on Coal. Surely you are not suggesting that workers have some kind of rights or something? Because you have not endorsed that before. (You guys are gettting as confusing as Mitt himself, changing positions as it benefits you.)
    Or are you thinking that by electing a person who thinks tha Corporations are people, that these new peopleorrations will mine more coal because – oh wait, you don’t have to have a positve reasons as long as you bash the President.

    • Julie T.

      Troll alert! This is another of the anti-Catholic operatives who do not possess even a SCINTILLA of *integrity* to actually use their REAL names when they come here to dump their trash in the service of Satan. As Jesus said, they have eyes and ears, but they do not see or hear, but one day YOU will face HIM and cutesy or smart-aleck remarks WON’T be part of the proceedings. You might want to give it that some thought, whoever you really are..

      • Rich

        Julie – aren’t you tired of just being stupid?
        I guess if you have nothing of value to say, you can just do you cut and paste and sound like at 16th century witch-burner. It is not I who sold my Soul for the CV vision of Mitt (not even the real candidate)

        • Julie T.

          “Rich”…because that is the name that appeared here originally…aren’t you tired of BULLYING people on Catholic Web sites? You are a condescending, mean-spirited, rude, snide BULLY. I don’t know how trolls like you manage to operate multiple pseudonymous identities here, but I sincerely hope Catholic Vote can find a remedy to it. You are not here to discuss or learn anything because in EVERY one of your posts, you deride and ridicule and berate. I’m sorry for whatever experiences you had that turned you into a bully, but behaving the way you do here won’t solve your problems.

          • Rich’s New Best Friend

            I’m sad he gone. I was having fun going to all the posts he posted on and trolling HIM. Dang it! Technology! Maybe he learned to not be so argumentative and “mean spirited.” 😉

  • http://twitter.com/PapalMarriage Papal Marriage Laws

    Coal is dirty and nasty. Coal power plants contribute to epidemic emphysema and other respiratory disorders plaguing our young children. Coal miners have significantly shorter life spans. These are basic facts. Coal kills (so says Mitt Romney).

    Obama is against the Keytstone Pipeline, that will make it easier for Canada to ship us their coal shale. Mitt Romney is for it. Coal shale is easier to harvest and cleaner to process. If anything is going to put our coal mines out of business, it’s the Keystone pipeline and Mitt Romney’s support of it.



Receive our updates via email.