Suddenly, coal matters to Obama and Romney
PRESIDENT Barack Obama disapproves of coal. In a video from the 2008 campaign, Vice President Joe Biden dismissed "clean coal" power and insisted that the Obama team is "not supporting clean coal . . . . No coal plants here in America."
As for Romney, he led an effort against a coal-burning power plant as governor of Massachusetts.
"I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people," Romney said in 2003. "And that plant - that plant kills people."
But placating environmentalists, whether in California or Massachusetts - is easy money compared to running for president of the United States.
Twenty-five states produce coal. Coal mining
And in some states, coal's impact is very large. West Virginia is one of four states than produced more than 50 million tons of coal in 2010. Tens of thousands of families depend on the jobs it supports.
Now the president finds that he needs the votes of tens of thousands of people in coal-producing states to keep his job. Ohio in particular is considered a "swing state" essential to winning the presidency.
It is just as essential to Romney that he win Ohio.
Now both candidates are talking up coal.
West Virginia, with its five electoral college votes, has been what is called a "flyover" state.
But a close contest changes that. Both Obama and Romney will have to learn at least a little about the concerns of the people they want to hire them.
What matters to people in coal-producing states suddenly matters to would be presidents..
Plentiful supplies of natural gas, hostile regulation by the Obama administration and a warm winter have done great damage to coal economies.
Some of West Virginia's largest producers have idled mines and laid off hundreds of people. Alpha Natural Resources was just the latest.
These are hard times in coal country.
It should be a clarifyingly hard time for political candidates as well.