COLUMBUS, Ohio—A Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio is under scrutiny for his support of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton after she pledged to eliminate coal industry jobs.
Ted Strickland, a former Ohio governor and longtime Clinton ally, reiterated his support for Clinton at a press conference ahead of the Ohio Democratic Party Legacy Dinner Sunday night, hours before the former first lady made the controversial comments at the CNN-TV One Democratic presidential town hall at Ohio State University. The success of both Strickland and Clinton’s campaigns in Ohio will depend on their abilities to win over the state’s coal-country voters.
Clinton’s comments at the town hall were made in response to a question about how her economic policies would benefit poor whites in rural portions of the United States.
"I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key to coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business," Clinton said at the town hall, claiming that she does not want to forget "those people."
"Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health—often losing their lives—to turn on our lights and power our factories. Now, we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels. But I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on," Clinton added.
The former secretary of state, who has been a vocal proponent of President Obama’s clean-energy agenda, received immediate criticism for the remarks.
Clinton’s statements could spell trouble not only for her campaign but for that of Strickland, who is running to unseat incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R.) in November. Clinton appeared at the town hall two days before voters in Ohio head to the polls to cast their votes in the presidential and senate primaries.
Earlier in the evening, Strickland appeared alongside Ohio Democratic Party chair David Pepper at a press conference convened for the state party’s annual dinner, which was attended by both Clinton and her primary challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.). While the Ohio Democratic Party has pledged to remain neutral in the state’s presidential primary race, Strickland has not concealed his ties to Clinton, who he endorsed in 2008.
When asked by a reporter to explain the difference between a Sanders-led presidential ticket and a Clinton-led ticket given his support for the latter, Strickland said Sunday afternoon that he has his "personal preference" but that both candidates offer positive economic plans.
"They both have a very positive message, an economic message that I think resonates with the people," Strickland said. "I think this is going to be a good year for Democrats and I think, consequently, it’ll be a good year for me in this Senate race and I will benefit from what’s happening."
"I have my personal preference, but as David said, this is an evening where we are making crystal clear that it is a level playing field as far as we are concerned," Strickland added when pressed on which candidate was more electable. "Both of them are great candidates; I know them both and I appreciate their talents and their message."
Christian Palich, the president of the Ohio Coal Association, said Monday that Strickland’s ties to Clinton should discourage Ohio voters from casting their ballots for him.
"Ted Strickland’s cozy relationship with Hillary Clinton became even more troubling after her comments here in Ohio last night. Her promise to send Ohio coal miners to the unemployment line if elected tells Ohioans they should not send Mr. Strickland to Washington, D.C., to back her up," Palich told the Washington Free Beacon Tuesday.
The Ohio Coal Association also called Clinton’s comments "reprehensible" and said that the state’s coal-country workers will "vote to keep their jobs and not for the unemployment line" on Tuesday as well as in the November general election.
Strickland has previously been scrutinized for his ties to the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington, D.C., think tank that pushes anti-coal policies and a progressive environmental agenda. There, Strickland worked alongside Carol Browner, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator who helped craft Obama’s climate policies.
Strickland, who served as the head of the Center for American Progress Action Fund for the year leading up to his Senate bid, has received thousands in campaign contributions from his former colleagues at the think tank. A senior vice president at the Center for American Progress also hosted a fundraiser for Strickland’s campaign in the nation’s capital last November.
The United Mine Workers of America, which backed Strickland in the past, has thus far elected to stay out of the Senate race in Ohio.
Strickland faces Cincinnati city councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and occupational therapist Kelli Prather in the primary contest Tuesday. Sittenfeld has repeatedly attacked Strickland for switching his position on gun control measures and demanded, unsuccessfully, for the former governor to engage him in primary debates. While polls show Strickland with a significant lead over his primary competitors, he has lost a series of endorsements to Sittenfeld, including those of the editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and former Ohio Gov. Dick Celeste.
A representative for the Strickland campaign did not respond to a request for comment.