COLUMBUS, Ohio—Ted Strickland, a U.S. Senate candidate in Ohio, described Hillary Clinton’s recent comments about coal-industry jobs as "unartful" after the former secretary of state received criticism for pledging to put coal miners and companies out of business.
While Strickland, a longtime Clinton ally, criticized the Democratic presidential candidate’s phrasing, he argued that she accurately stated that coal-industry jobs are dwindling during an interview with the Washington Free Beacon outside a polling place in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday.
"What Hillary Clinton said, unartfully I believe, is the truth—that coal jobs are being lost, but they’re being lost for a lot of reasons," Strickland said. "They’re being lost because of mechanization, they’re being lost because natural gas is cheap and plentiful and burns cleaner, and so there are lots of reasons why coal jobs are being lost."
Strickland, a former governor of Ohio, went on to elaborate on Clinton’s proposals to help Appalachian communities where coal-industry jobs have been lost, including increasing the royalties that coal companies pay in western coal fields.
Strickland defended Clinton’s message as Ohio voters flocked to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in the presidential and Senate primaries in the state. In order to win their respective primaries, Strickland and Clinton will in part need to rely on support from the state’s coal-country voters. While polls have showed Strickland far ahead of his challengers, Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) are locked in a close battle in the Ohio Democratic presidential primary.
Clinton made her statement about cutting coal jobs during a Sunday evening CNN-TV One Democratic town hall at Ohio State University, which was attended by both Clinton and Sanders.
"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," Clinton said. "Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business."
She added that the country needs to "move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels," though emphasizing that she does not want to forget individuals who work in the coal industry. At a press conference in Columbus earlier that day, Strickland commended Clinton’s economic message.
Strickland, who said Tuesday that Clinton would make a "great president" and predicted that she would win the Ohio primary, has been scrutinized for his connection to the former secretary of state in the wake of her comments on coal, which have angered pro-coal groups such as the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy and the Ohio Coal Association.
When asked about Strickland’s defense of Clinton, Christian Palich, the president of the Ohio Coal Association, told the Free Beacon that the free market forces Strickland described are not the leading force harming coal-industry jobs.
"Of course market forces play a small component on the coal industry’s struggles. But the main component is regulations from D.C. liberals led by Barack Obama who have systematically attempted to destroy Ohio coal country over the last seven years. Then, when asked about her plan, Mrs. Clinton took the time to reinforce that if elected president she will ‘put coal miners out of business,’" Palich said.
"Using her own words, we can determine that a vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote against coal, and we believe voters in eastern and southeastern Ohio will hold her, as well as those that support her, accountable."
While Strickland has pledged to work for Ohio’s coal communities, he has previously come under fire for his connection to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with a marked anti-coal agenda. Strickland served as the head of the Washington, D.C., organization’s advocacy arm for a year leading up to the launch of his Senate bid. One of Strickland’s former colleagues there, Carol Browner, worked on President Obama’s climate policies at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Should Strickland prevail in the primary Tuesday, he will pivot toward the November election where he will face incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R). Corry Bliss, Portman’s campaign manager, criticized Strickland for refusing to denounce Clinton’s admission that she will go after the coal industry.
"Ted Strickland turned his back on coal country when he went to work for an anti-coal liberal special interest group in Washington, and it is a shame that he refuses to denounce Hillary Clinton's attacks on hardworking Ohio families who are trying to make ends meet," Bliss stated Tuesday.
Strickland has already focused his criticism on Portman, calling out the GOP senator for arguing that a nomination to the Supreme Court to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia should be delayed until next year.
Before Scalia’s death, the Supreme Court put a temporary hold on Obama’s effort to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants. When asked whether he would support the nomination of a liberal Supreme Court justice if it meant the regulations would move forward, Strickland indicated that he would.
"I believe the president has a constitutional obligation to bring forth a qualified nominee to the Supreme Court and I believe the Senate has an obligation to carefully and thoughtfully consider that nominee," Strickland said, adding later, "Yes, I believe in clean air, I believe that the president has a right and an obligation to protect the health and safety of the country, and that means making sure that we have clean air to breathe just as we need clean water to drink."
The Free Beacon also asked Strickland to weigh in on Obama’s plan to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison, which would involve transferring terrorist detainees to U.S. prisons. Strickland has previously remained mum on the issue.
"I believe the first thing we should do is to make sure that America and Americans are safe, and we should do nothing that would in any way endanger American citizens," Strickland said. "I trust the president to make the right decision when it comes to protecting American citizens."
Asked about whether he would support Obama using executive action to transfer suspected terrorists to stateside detention facilities even though current law bars the military from completing such transfers, Strickland said, "I think we ought to observe current law, certainly."