FRANKFORT — An official with the United Mine Workers of America union lambasted a new TV ad by Republican Andy Barr on Monday because it features a Western Kentucky coal executive who appears to be speaking as an Eastern Kentucky miner.
In the ad, Heath Lovell, the vice president of River View Coal in Union County, accuses Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler of trying to destroy the coal industry. Lovell is wearing a t-shirt, bib overalls and a coal miner's helmet. He is identified by name only.
"I've never seen anything so appalling and deceitful from the coal industry and in a campaign," said Steve Earle, a regional vice president of the UMWA in Kentucky. "You have a pencil pusher acting like a coal miner."
Barr, a Lexington attorney, is the Republican nominee this year in Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District race. He is trying to unseat Chandler after losing to the incumbent by only 647 votes two years ago.
In the ad, Lovell talks about the decline of coal trains in Ravenna in Estill County, which is in the 6th District. Lovell claims that Chandler, President Barack Obama and the federal Environmental Protection Agency "are destroying us.
"They are putting the coal industry out of business, and it's just devastating," he says
Lovell, who has contributed $2,500 to Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, said in an interview that the ad is not misleading.
"I still consider myself a coal miner," he said. "I still go underground and keep up my training."
Lovell said he did the ad as "a friend of Andy Barr."
He disputed Earle's claim that Joe Craft, president and chief executive officer of Alliance Resource Partners, was connected to the ad. River View Coal is owned by Alliance Resource Partners.
"I didn't ask him if I could do it and he never told me to do it," Lovell said of Craft. "I don't know if he's even seen it."
Lovell said the ad was shot on railroad tracks in a small community outside of Richmond. He could not recall the name of the community.
Republicans have tried to link Chandler with Obama, who has been criticized in the coalfields for his administration's environmental policies
Earle said the union supports Chandler in the 6th District race because of his efforts to promote mine safety.
"If the UMWA did not think Ben Chandler was pro-coal, then we wouldn't have endorsed his campaign," Earle said.
Chandler's campaign manager, Eric Nagy, called Barr's ad "embarrassing and shameful."
"Andy Barr is so out of touch with Central Kentucky that he had to bring in an outsider who is a coal company executive and Republican donor to masquerade as a blue collar coal worker from Estill County," Nagy said in an email.
David Host, a spokesman for the Barr campaign, responded by calling Chandler a "footsoldier" in Obama's "war on coal" who has opposed efforts to "curb the EPA's regulatory abuses."
"That's the choice Kentucky miners and others who depend upon coal for their livelihoods have in this election," Host said in an email. "I believe they're more concerned about taking care of their families than the political opinions of an out-of-touch labor boss."