The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

September 26, 2012

GOP sees collateral damage amid W.Va. Obama strategy

CHARLESTON — Some Republicans are getting caught in the crossfire from the GOP’s strategy of making President Barack Obama a campaign issue in West Virginia, where the Democrat suffers low approval ratings.

The Republican Governors Association has aired TV ads that seek to link Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to Obama, partly by comparing legislation that Tomblin supported to Obama administration measures. But the state Democratic Party responded this week with automated phone calls reminding voters in certain legislative districts that state Republican lawmakers helped pass both of the bills cited in those ads. One addressed public retiree health care costs, the other increased a coal-related tax to fund the cleanup of abandoned mine sites.

“They’re not coming clean with the public,” Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said Tuesday. “They’re either not saying that their legislators voted for these things, or they’re throwing their legislators under the bus.”

One of the RGA ads also credits U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin for, while governor, suing Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency. Manchin’s Republican opponent, John Raese, has repeatedly sought to portray the Democrat as in league with Obama and the EPA.

Raese counts Manchin among an anti-coal “Gang of Four” that also includes Obama, EPA Secretary Lisa Jackson and United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts. Raese spokesman Josh Sowards said the campaign has not seen the RGA ad, and declined comment Tuesday.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, meanwhile, targets U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall in West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District with a TV ad that says that “with Obama as President, we just can’t count on Nick Rahall.” The line has raised questions, first reported by the National Journal on Monday, about whether it is suggesting Obama will likely win over Republican Mitt Romney in November.

That’s not the ad’s implication, NRCC spokesman Nathaniel Sillin said Tuesday.

“The ad is about Nick Rahall and President Obama’s current war on coal,” Sillin said.

Critics of the Obama administration’s energy policies, pursuit of environmental standards and handling of mining-related permits allege they amount to a “war on coal.”

One of the state bills cited by the RGA outlines a plan for gradually closing a funding shortfall from health benefits promised to public employees once they retire. That bill included a provision listing several ways that the Public Employees Insurance Agency, which oversees those benefits, can cut costs. The ad seeks to compare this provision to the federal health care overhaul.

Proposed by Tomblin, the retiree health care bill was unanimously passed by the Senate, which has six Republicans. It passed the House 83-17, though after a GOP-led effort failed to remove the cost-containment language.

“The truth is Republicans tried to amend the healthcare-related legislation, but their efforts were rebuffed,” RGA spokesman Mike Schrimpf said Tuesday

Of the House’s 35 Republican delegates, 18 voted for the final bill’s passage. The Senate had also unanimously passed the other measure cited in the RGA ads. It raises a per-ton tax on processed coal earmarked for treating water during abandoned mine cleanups.

State Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman requested the tax increase, and the West Virginia Coal Association had told lawmakers the bill was necessary. The House passed it 85-14, with nine Republicans and five Democrats opposing it.

The campaign of Tomblin’s GOP opponent, Bill Maloney, slammed the robocalls Tuesday. In a written complaint to Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who is West Virginia’s elections chief, campaign manager Seth Wimer alleged the calls wrongly fail to identify who funded or recorded them.

West Virginia has sought to require disclosure of such pre-election communications, but Tennant spokesman Jake Glance cited rulings by a federal judge that have limited the state law to TV and radio ads.

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