CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Leaders of four West Virginia business and labor groups this week vigorously defended their endorsements of Democratic incumbents Sen. Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for re-election next month.The Republican Party and its candidates -- John Raese for senator and Bill Maloney for governor -- have been running television and Internet ads claiming Manchin and Tomblin are hurting the coal industry and killing jobs.The groups endorsing Manchin and Tomblin include: the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the West Virginia AFL-CIO, the West Virginia Coal Association and the United Mine Workers of America.Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said, "Throughout his career, Earl Ray has been very supportive of the coal industry. Coming out of Logan County, he understands the coal industry. He wants it to succeed because he understands it vividly, having grown up with it.
"With Joe, it's been the same way. In his public life, he has always been supportive of the industry. Now he is in Washington trying to educate other senators about how coal is needed and how critical it is to West Virginia."One of Raese's billboards reads: "Gang of Four, End of Coal. Jackson, Manchin, Roberts, Obama" -- referring to Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Manchin; Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers; and President Barack Obama.Phil Smith, the UMW's national spokesman, said such ads and statements "are clear signs of campaigns grasping at straws."Anybody who knows anything about the coal industry in West Virginia knows Joe Manchin and Earl Ray Tomblin have been longtime supporters. And we have no doubt they will continue to be."Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said his organization has a "member driven" process of choosing which candidates the chamber backs.
"We go to our members and ask them who they are inclined to support. It is not a staff-driven process, but a member-driven process. Our members overwhelmingly said they support the re-elections of Sen. Manchin and Gov. Tomblin."Roberts said a number of factors over the past eight years have encouraged Chamber members to support Manchin and Tomblin, including: medical malpractice reform, Workers' Compensation reform, insurance reforms and cutting taxes for businesses and individuals, such as state food taxes.Kenny Perdue, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, said, "We only hear attacks from Maloney and Raese. It borderlines on stupidity to attack a governor and a senator over things they have supported for years -- working people and the state's industries."It shows how out of touch the leaderships of the Maloney and Raese campaigns are, and how out-of-state they are."Maloney and Raese haven't said anything they are going to do for the state. All they do is attack it. They don't give anyone any idea about what their own policies are," Perdue said.Steve Roberts also praised Manchin and Tomblin for "their accessibility and willingness to work with business people and to address issues of concern to them.
Roberts said many Manchin and Tomblin supporters he knows have been "traditional Republican" voters."Within the business community, there are a lot of people who appreciate that Manchin and Tomblin have been willing to go against national party leaders and have taken on the EPA and the president and his administration."Elections are about choices," Roberts said. "Sometimes you have more than one good choice. You have to stop and think about who is the best choice."Reach Paul J. Nyden at firstname.lastname@example.org