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West Virginia Democrat Tries to Turn Tables on Senate Foe

Graham points out that in 2012, Romney beat Obama in West Virginia by a hefty margin, winning all 55 of the state’s counties.

“There are no doubts in the minds of West Virginians that Obama is to blame for the war being waged on West Virginia coal,” she said.

Graham did not, however, specifically address the questions Tennant’s camp raised about Romney’s record on coal.

Tennant At Disadvantage

There are differences between the two campaigns’ use of Warren and Romney to score points and label each other a hypocrite. In addition to coal, for instance, the Capito campaign also sought to link Tennant to Warren’s more-liberal positions on the Second Amendment and Obamacare, among others.

Tennant’s campaign, on the other hand, zeroed in solely on Romney’s coal stance.

The different approaches highlight one of the biggest challenges for Tennant, who, for the record, supports the Second Amendment and largely opposes Obamacare in its present form. Most of the national Democratic Party’s positions — from guns and health care, to the environment and abortion — don’t go over well in West Virginia. That means Capito can target Tennant on those issues, regardless of her personal position, analysts say.

The national GOP’s policies, though, fare much better in the Mountain State, leaving Tennant with far less to work with when trying to tie Capito to a national surrogate like Romney. Obama’s unpopularity in West Virginia, and the state’s rightward tilt in recent elections, is the main reason Tennant has trailed Capito throughout the campaign, analysts say. But the deficit, while not tiny, isn’t insurmountable. Capito’s lead is currently at about 9 points in most polls, and with nearly three months before the election, Tennant could still make a move.

Romney Could Deliver Conservative Democrats

Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, said the dust-up over Romney’s past position on coal isn’t likely to hurt Capito. For one thing, it’s no surprise that Romney, as a matter of political pragmatism, would oppose coal-polluting plants in the Bay State.

“You can’t be pro-coal and win in Massachusetts,” Farnsworth said.

And whatever West Virginians think about Romney and his past position on coal doesn’t outweigh the potential votes he could help deliver to Capito.

“Mitt Romney is more popular now than when he was a candidate for president,” he said. “He speaks to that moderate cross section of voters — the conservative Democrats and independents — that Capito needs to win. In that sense, he could be very valuable.”

Indeed, West Virginia’s registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in the state, even as the state has voted increasingly for GOP candidates in recent years. To win in November, Capito, therefore, needs to appeal to those centrist Democrats. And with her consistent lead in the polls, it appears Capito, for now at least, is doing just that.

“At this point,” Farnsworth said, “this isn’t a particularly close race.”