Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Winning Back Coal Country

During the 2008 Presidential election, Southwest Virginia's blue collar coal mining counties voted for Democrat Barack Obama. This unlikely geopolitical swing in 2008 ensured that then Senator Obama would receive Virginia's hotly contested battleground electoral votes. Four years later, Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney's campaign looked to coal country to deliver The Old Dominion back into Republican hands. With federal environmental regulations and changing markets hurting local economies in Virginia's coal country, the Romney camp and other Republican groups focused much of their ground game in Southwest Virginia. While Romney won back coal country from Obama, it ultimately was not enough to win Virginia on November 6.


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An anti-Obama billboard is seen along Route 23 in Wise, Va. in Southwest Virginia's coal country on Friday, October 26, 2012. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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Unused Caterpillar dump truck hoppers rest in a vacant lot in Norton, Va. in the midst of the coal industry downturn in Southwest Virginia's coal country. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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A Norfolk Southern Railroad locomotive switches in a rail yard in the town of Norton in Southwest Virginia. Norfolk Southern recently furloughed approximately 200 employees due to reduced coal traffic. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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Due to decreased coal use and production, excess coal is seen piled around a coal conveyor near a mine in Appalachia, Va. in Southwest Virginia's coal country. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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Jay Swiney, 43, Mayor of Appalachia, Va., stands for a portrait behind the Appalachia Town Hall in Southwest Virginia's coal country after working the night shift in a local coal mine on Friday, October 26, 2012. Reduced productivity from local coal mines has meant fewer tax revenues for the county. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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Appalachia Mayor Jay Swiney does paperwork in the Appalachia Town Hall after his night shift. Swiney doesn't accept a paycheck from the town, instead making his living from the mine. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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An Appalachian Electric Power coal-fired power plant is seen at sunset in Carbo, Va. in Southwest Virginia's coal country. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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A pro-coal anti-Obama bumper sticker is seen on a jeep in the parking lot of Appalachia Town Hall in Southwest Virginia's coal country. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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Residents of Appalachia, Va. cross railroad tracks after letting a Norfolk Southern coal train pass by near the old city hall building in Appalachia, Va. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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A horse grazes near a rusting antique car in a field in Lebanon, Va. in Southwest Virginia's coal country on Friday, October 26, 2012. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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Downtown Appalachia, Va. in Southwest Virginia's coal country. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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A vacant downtown storefront in Appalachia, Va. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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Locals congregate at Kegley's Service Center in Lebanon, Va. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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Campaign literature and bumper stickers cover a table at the Romney Campaign Victory Office in Abingdon, Va. in Southwest Virginia 12 days before election day on Friday, October 26, 2012. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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Romney campaign volunteers and staffers work at the Romney Campaign Victory Office in Abingdon, Va. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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Coal mining flags and a photo of Ronald Reagan hang on a wall at the Romney Campaign Victory Office in Abingdon, Va. in Southwest Virginia 12 days before election day on Friday night, October 26, 2012. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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A church steeple and an abandoned coal silo are seen in Appalachia, Va. in Southwest Virginia's coal country. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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The fading sign for the old Appalachia High School in Appalachia, Va. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

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Old kitchen appliances sit on the side of the road near St. Paul, Va. in Southwest Virginia's coal country. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

Thanks for looking!

**Photos copyright Luke Sharrett and The New York Times**

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