Visiting Kentucky and West Virginia this week, Hillary Clinton, as well as Democrats, found themselves in an awkward situation.
Blue-collar workers remembered her stinging comments earlier this spring: “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” Visiting coal country, Clinton took a softer approach, calling the industry's downturn “a tragedy.”
But instead of vowing to eliminate regulation that’s crippling the coal industry, Clinton called for a $30 billion investment in alternative jobs, many of them green, comparing it to the Marshall Plan.
Similar green-investment efforts have yielded lackluster results under the Obama administration, so Clinton is likely to face skepticism from out-of-work miners.
Then again, Clinton finds herself in a tough spot on energy issues. "Investment” is one of the few talking points that won’t infuriate some subset of the Democratic Party.
On one hand, Clinton faces pressure from blue-collar, union supporters who have long been a powerful force within the Democratic Party.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, struggled to explain Clinton’s environmental stance to his coal-mining constituents on Monday, the Hill reports:
Manchin, who had endorsed Clinton already, said he was upset about the statement, but called her to discussed it.
“If I thought that was in her heart, if I thought she wanted to eliminate one job in West Virginia, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” he said Monday at a roundtable with miners in Williamson, W.Va.
“I’m willing to take the flack because I believe in her. I know that’s not in her heart.”
On the other hand, the green left is also proving unruly. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, insisted yesterday that Clinton was not backtracking her incendiary comments on coal.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders– who is giving Clinton a tougher-than-expected challenge and stubbornly won’t drop out of the race– has also pushed Clinton further left on environmental issues.
What's a front-runner to do?
Though Clinton finds herself at the center of the rift, she’s not the only Democrat caught in this dilemma. Energy and environment issues are becoming growing wedge issues on the left. Republicans would do well to make a play for the blue-collar voters feeling frustrated and abandoned.