The Democratic nominee in the closely watched 2013 Virginia governor’s race has endorsed the Obama administration’s new regulations on coal -- a daring political move considering his single-digit lead in a state with deep ties to coal mining.
Candidate Terry McAuliffe, known nationally as a powerful Clinton fundraiser, took his stance Tuesday, about two weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency issued the tighter regulations and after months of being pressed to take a position on what is a major election issue.
“I support what we need to do to obviously protect our air and our water,” he said during a campaign stop in northern Virginia, according to The Washington Post.
The regulations would limit the amount of carbon that new gas- and coal-firing electric power plants can put into the air, which would make opening one almost financially impossible.
Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli swiftly characterized his opponent’s position as a show of support for the Obama administration’s so-called “war on coal.”
"The war on coal in Virginia is a war on our poor," he said Saturday night at a fundraiser he and Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz attended for the nonprofit Family Foundation, the state's best-known lobby for socially conservative legislation.
The regulations could sharply reduce the demand for coal from mining regions such as southwestern Virginia – which largely votes conservative, along with the state’s Tidewater-Newport News area that is home to many military and retired military residents.
McAuliffe, also the former head of the Democratic National Committee, leads the race by 5 percentage points, according to a recent averaging of polls by the nonpartisan website RealClearPolitics.com.
Democrats have won in the swing state by focusing on northern Virginia, a liberal-voting part of the state that borders Washington and has grown rapidly in recent years in size and population.
Democratic consultant Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, who doesn't support McAuliffe, says McAuliffe was in bad shape in southwestern Virginia before his announcement and still is.
The other key issue in the contest -- considered only real competitive gubernatorial race next year – is ObamaCare.
Cuccinelli was the first state attorney general in the nation to sue the federal government alleging the health care overhaul violated the U.S. Constitution.
McAuliffe supports the health care overhaul and has pledged to expand Medicare eligibility to about 400,000 Virginia working poor if elected, saying the state would forfeit $21 billion in federal support over seven years without it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.