BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant kicked off her bid for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday by distancing herself from the Obama administration's policies on coal, hoping to blunt one of the Republican Party's main lines of attack in a state that's heavily dependent on the coal industry.
The Democrat announced her candidacy in front of about 100 supporters at the Tamarack Conference Center in Beckley, which she called the center of coal country. She's seeking the seat of retiring Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who won five terms by comfortable margins and endorsed her on Tuesday. But the state has been growing slightly more Republican in recent years and the GOP plans to make Democrats' policies on energy a central issue in their efforts to take the seat.
"Let me make this clear right here, right now - I disagree with the Obama administration's policies on coal. I will fight any Republican or any Democrat, including President Barack Obama, who tries to kill our energy jobs whether they are coal, natural gas, wind or water," Tennant said in prepared remarks she planned to read at similar events in Charleston and Morgantown later in the day.
TENNANT: Claims Capito is part of the problem in D.C.
Tennant said she would push for a partnership where the government promotes coal exports through "sensible" trade policies, renew federal investment in locks and dams at ports that transport coal and advocate for a "new covenant" where the coal industry "keeps its promise for health care benefits and pensions to its miners."
Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced last fall that she would run, too, and former state senator Patrick McGeehan has announced plans to challenge her.
In a roughly 15-minute speech, Tennant didn't make any references to the potential gender barrier that she may break. Instead, she spoke about her upbringing in the state, said she would work to make college more affordable and combat drug abuse. She also took several shots at her likely Republican rival.
Among other things, Tennant said Capito is part of the reason Congress is gridlocked and said that her support for turning Medicare into a voucher program would limit medical care for senior citizens.
"There's no way around it, Congresswoman Capito has been part of the problem in a broken Congress for the last 13 years," Tennant said.
"We can't have someone who always stands in our way and says no to ideas, says no to progress and says no to the people of this state, offering nothing in return."
The Republican rebuttal came in a series of statements that were released before Tennant had even finished speaking. Capito's campaign manager issued a statement linking Tennant to national Democrats.
"Harry Reid and the liberal D.C. Democrats handpicked Natlie Tennant to be their nominee. It is no wonder they picked West Virginia's biggest supporter of Obamacare, the War on Coal and President Obama's entire extreme agenda," Chris Hansen said in a statement.