When Hillary Clinton went to coal
country Monday, she ran smack into a wall of anger – and it wasn’t built by
Donald J. Trump.
Clinton built it herself, word
Like most politicians, Clinton
tries to please everyone all the time, tuning her pitch to different audiences.
Once in a while, though, real life intervenes, as it did in Williamson, West
While hundreds of protesters outside
shouted “We want Trump” and “Go home, Hillary,” Clinton talked with local
people, among them Bo Copley, a 39-year-old father of three who recently lost
his job as a coal mine foreman and maintenance planner.
Copley handed Clinton a picture
of his family and quietly asked:
“How can you say you’re going
to put a lot of coal miners out of jobs and then come in here and tell us how
you’re going to be our friend? Because those people out there don’t see you as
In March at a CNN town hall in
Ohio, Clinton had said, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal
companies out of business.” Understandably, many in coal country are still livid.
“What I said was totally out of
context with what I meant,” Clinton said in Williamson, blaming herself for her
Clinton’s views on coal and
climate change matter because West Virginia’s primary is Tuesday.
Before he wrapped up the
Republican nomination, Trump won many hearts with promises to end President
Barack Obama’s “war on coal” and bring back the coal industry and coal jobs.
Politicians have been talking
about helping Appalachia since John F. Kennedy traversed West Virginia in 1960,
but the region still struggles. Clean energy may be America’s future, but, as
Copley reminded Clinton, real people are suffering in the transition.
In 2008, Clinton sailed to
victory over Obama in the West Virginia primary. Now, Bernie Sanders, who
continues his uphill fight for the Democratic nomination, leads her 45 percent
to 37 percent in the state, with 18 percent of voters undecided, a Public
Policy Polling survey released Tuesday found.
was narrowly ahead among Democrats, but Sanders held a commanding advantage among
independents. Independents – about 20 percent of the state’s electorate -- can
vote in either primary.
How Clinton came to eat her
words reflects a risk politicians face when trying to be all things to all
Asked in March to make her case
to poor whites who vote Republican, Clinton said she was the only candidate with
a plan to bring economic opportunity to coal country with clean renewable
energy after coal miners and companies were out of business.
She talked about uniting the
country but referred to miners as “those people.”
“We’re going to make it clear
that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines
for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn out our
lights and power our factories.
“Now we’ve got to move away
from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from
the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied
on,” she said then.
Clinton wants to expand President
Obama’s Clean Power Plan, tough new Environmental Protection Agency regulations
aimed at curbing coal consumption. The Supreme Court has put the regs on hold,
Her $30 billion plan to
revitalize coal country includes preserving miners’ pensions and benefits and
spending more money for roads and bridges and economic development.
She even says she’ll bring her
husband out of retirement and put him in charge of helping coal country. Bill
Clinton won West Virginia in the 1992 and 1996 general elections – something no
Democratic presidential nominee has done since.
But times have changed. The
former president was booed and heckled May 1, in Logan, W.Va.
“I came here to tell you that I
care about what you’re going through,” he said. “I get it.”
Tuesday’s vote will be a test
of the old Clinton magic.
The Facebook page for the West
Virginia for Bernie Sanders group invites Hillary Clinton’s supporters to join,
saying: “We’ve been waiting for you.”