West Virginia Democrat Tries to Turn Tables on Senate Foe

When Democrat Natalie Tennant invited Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to stump for her Senate bid in West Virginia earlier this summer, her opponent’s campaign pounced. Republican Shelley Moore Capito’s spokeswoman immediately criticized Tennant for bringing in “one of the staunchest opponents of coal” to the Mountain State, saying the decision highlights Tennant’s “hypocrisy” on the emotional issue.

Six weeks later, though, Tennant is turning the tables on her Republican foe. Now Tennant’s camp is the one charging hypocrisy, noting Capito’s embrace of another Massachusetts pol with an anti-coal streak: 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The former Massachusetts governor will attend a fundraiser for Capito on Monday night in Charleston, and will headline a rally for her the following day in Beckley, where he will endorse her and two Republican House candidates, Alex Mooney and state Sen. Evan Jenkins.

Tennant, West Virginia’s secretary of state, and Capito, who represents the state’s second district in Congress, are vying to succeed retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.)

'That Plant Kills People'

After the Capito campaign announced Romney’s visit last week, Tennant’s campaign pointed to a speech the then-governor made in 2003 in front of a Salem, Mass. coal-burning plant. Doctors and other health experts had said the plant, which Romney accused of being one of the state’s worst polluters, was responsible for 30 premature deaths per year.

"I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant — that plant kills people," Romney said at the time.

Two years earlier, he supported new rules passed by Massachusetts to reduce power-plant emissions.

“The fact that Congresswoman Capito would align herself with someone who believes coal ‘kills people’ just to make a quick buck shows how quickly she will turn her back on West Virginia coal miners to get Wall Street dollars,” Tennant spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue said this week.

She said Romney has been, and will continue to be, “coal’s No. 1 enemy.” The charges are similar to those made by President Barack Obama in 2012, when he raised the same “that-plant-kills” quote in a debate with Romney that fall. Romney says he changed his mind about coal and now supports it — much as Tennant has said she supported Obama in 2012, but opposes his own plan to reduce emissions at coal plants.

Tennant: No Rubber Stamp For Obama

The Democrat’s campaign hopes the flap over Romney’s statements on coal will short-circuit the Capito camp’s constant drumbeat over Tennant’s support for Obama’s reelection in 2012. Tennant, Republicans say, would be a rubber stamp for the new regulations Obama wants on coal-burning power facilities. The new mandates, which may still be revised, would be devastating to the mining industry in West Virginia, Capito says.

But Tennant says that while she supported Obama in 2012, she is an ardent supporter of coal, and as senator would fight the regulations, and work to save the state’s mining industry.

Capito's Camp: Obama To Blame

Capito’s spokeswoman was quick to fire back this week at the Tennant campaign’s criticism of the Romney invite, saying Tennant’s position is, in a roundabout way, a defense of Obama.

“Natalie Tennant is once again defending Obama's anti-coal policies by saying Mitt Romney — not Barack Obama — is coal's number one enemy,” Graham said. “She just can't seem to let her 2008 and 2012 position on Team Obama go.”