Mandel Uses Brown's Coal Vote as a Club in Ohio Race

Mandel Uses Brown's Coal Vote as a Club in Ohio Race

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - June 22, 2012

Josh Mandel, Ohio's Republican U.S. Senate nominee, often refuses to say how he would vote on legislation. I'm not going to cast imaginary votes like a Washington politician, he invariably says when asked for his views. But a Senate vote this week upholding a controversial Obama administration regulation on coal-fired power plants handed a timely election issue to Mandel as he focuses his campaign in southeast Ohio, where coal is king. This is one bill on which he has weighed in.

His opponent, Sherrod Brown, is among a handful of vulnerable Democrats up for re-election who opposed a GOP measure to weaken the EPA regulation, and Republicans will use their votes to portray these opponents as supporting the president’s “job-killing” agenda and his “war on coal.”

Mandel’s stance on this legislation could be helpful for the Romney campaign in the critical swing state of Ohio, as advisers say the Senate candidate’s messaging and focus on energy and coal is a particular boon for the presumptive GOP nominee. Mandel has been painting Brown as an out-of-touch politician who is too far to the left for the state --a familiar theme in the Romney-Obama race.

“Sherrod Brown is also out of touch not supporting Joe Manchin, [who] wanted to exempt certain coal-fired plants from falling under EPA regulations,” one Romney campaign adviser in Ohio said, referring to the Democratic West Virginia senator, widely remembered for literally shooting a bullet through cap-and-trade legislation in a campaign ad. “No matter how out of touch and out of step you believe Barack Obama is with voters in Ohio, he wouldn’t be able to accomplish that if he didn’t have allies like Sherrod Brown in the U.S. Senate carrying water for him, getting him to where he needs to be.”

Manchin bucked his party Wednesday to support a Republican bill that would have blocked an Environmental Protection Agency rule regulating mercury emissions. (The measure lost, 53-46.) Proponents of the rule cited health concerns associated with potentially toxic emissions, and argued it can save lives and create jobs in the rebuilding or renovating of failed plants. Opponents said it will drive up utility costs and threaten thousands of jobs if a plant has to close down because it can’t comply with the regulations.

“From the day I arrived in the Senate, I have been determined to stop the EPA’s jobs-killing agenda, and this Resolution of Disapproval takes an important step to rein in this out-of-control agency,” Manchin said on the Senate floor. “West Virginians are outraged at the ways the EPA is overstepping its bounds on regulation after regulation.”

But Manchin’s in-state (and coal country) colleague, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, voted against the measure, and gave a surprising Senate floor speech advising the coal industry to “face reality.”

“The dialogue on coal, it’s impact and the federal government’s role has reached a stunningly fevered pitch,” he said. And later: “Coal company operators deny that we need to do anything to address climate change despite the established scientific consensus and mounting national desire -- including in West Virginia -- for a cleaner, healthier environment.”

Rockefeller isn’t up for re-election until 2014, but his stance on this rule will likely have strong implications for him if he decides to run again. The frankness of his speech, though, suggests he might retire. But coal country Democrats running for re-election this year, including Brown in Ohio, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, and Jon Tester in Montana, sided with Rockefeller. Brown has called the choice between jobs and environmental policy a false one, and expressed concern about health risks. Their respective Republican opponents are sure to hold them accountable for those votes in the months ahead.

Mandel -- whose candidacy has been plagued by an FBI investigation into contributions made to his campaign, charges of cronyism in his office as state treasurer, and numerous red flags raised by fact-checking sites -- accused Brown of threatening jobs in Ohio.

“Sherrod Brown did not have the courage to stand up to Barack Obama and radical environmentalists in order to protect jobs in Ohio’s coal industry,” he said in a statement after the vote. On the presidential level, Ohio is perhaps the swingiest swing state of the aforementioned bunch, and Romney advisers see Mandel’s focus on this issue as an asset in their attempt to defeat the president.

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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