The Biggest Problem Hillary Clinton Will Face In Wyoming

Hillary Clinton has a problem in Wyoming. The Democratic presidential candidate has found it difficult to gain ground in the Cowboy State after speaking out against an industry many residents rely heavily on. Could coal prove to be Clinton's downfall in Wyoming? One specific comment certainly could.

Wyoming has been the nation's top coal producer since 1986. With nine of the top 10 producing mines located within the state, the coal industry has long had a heavy influence on the Wyoming's political landscape, but it has been an especially hot topic this year as the state faces deep layoffs amid an increasingly challenging business environment. Two days before Wyoming's Democratic caucuses, 200 coal miners were laid off across the state by Arch Coal, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January. The nation’s largest coal producer, Peabody Energy, laid off 235 Wyoming miners earlier this month, Bloomberg reported.

Some of those recently laid off miners showed up to protest a campaign event hosted by former President Bill Clinton at the Kiwanis Community House in Cheyenne. As Clinton spoke to a crowd of roughly 500 about his wife's plans to expand Medicaid and transition from fossil fuels like coal to renewable energy resources, "a small group of coal workers stood outside protesting," Wyoming Public Media reported.

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Clinton has come under criticism in Wyoming for comments she made during a CNN Town Hall in March, which some perceived to be anti-coal. Said the former secretary of state:

I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country, because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right, Tim? And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t 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.

Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who is campaigning to replace retiring Rep. Cynthia Lummis in the House, levied hefty criticism against Clinton in an open letter to her husband a few days prior to the date of his initial campaign visit in Wyoming in mid-March. (A storm caused Clinton to reschedule his visit.) "Bill Clinton shouldn’t set foot in Wyoming to ask for one vote, or one campaign donation, until he looks Wyoming coal miners in the eye and explains why Hillary Clinton wants to take away their jobs and devastate their families," Cheney said.

Clinton certainly goofed when she uttered the phrase "we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business," but her comment on making the move to clean, renewable energy came as she discussed her plan to revitalize underserved poor communities by bringing new jobs and opportunities. Clinton has specifically proposed injecting $30 billion into depressed coal mining regions, like Wyoming's Powder River Basin.

Clinton's plan has been largely overshadowed by her unfortunate choice of words, meaning that much of the support her proposal could have garnered her in Wyoming has been squandered. Moreover, Clinton is hardly responsible for the inevitable decline of Wyoming's coal industry. Frustration and anger have meant Clinton has found few friends among Wyoming's coal workers.