In the Kentucky Senate race, Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign boiled the issues down to three words in what is destined to become a classic bumper sticker: "Coal. Guns. Freedom."
Now that McConnell has won re-election — the race was called the moment the polls closed — his Senate neighbor to the east, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, essentially confirmed the bumper sticker’s analysis of the race.
Of course, guns and freedom are important. But the Obama administration’s policy on coal — commonly referred to as the "war on coal" in places including Kentucky and West Virginia — sank Democratic hopes in those states, Manchin told MSNBC on election night. The states have lost thousands of high-paying jobs, Manchin said, and voters there blame President Obama, who once vowed to destroy the coal industry.
"They believe the president has doubled down on them," Manchin told MSNBC. "It just doesn’t make sense that we have to fight so hard against our own government, against our own administration." Certainly the voters in Kentucky agreed; in exit polls, 62 percent said they were dissatisfied with the Obama administration.
In his victory speech, McConnell mentioned only one specific Kentucky industry, and it was coal. Noting "the pain that distant planners in federal agencies are causing our state," McConnell said, "Tonight, I pledge you this, whether you’re a coal miner in eastern Kentucky who can’t find work … I’ve heard your concerns, I’ve made them my own, and you will be heard in Washington."
In Manchin’s home state, of course, Republicans picked up their first seat of the night, with the victory of Shelley Moore Capito. Both Capito and her Democratic opponent, Natalie Tennant, stressed their support of the coal industry, but Capito’s trump card was Tennant’s support of Obama. In states where coal is produced, the Obama brand was absolutely toxic.