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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dust-Up Over Ad in Kentucky House Race Featuring Executive Dressed as Miner


The man wearing a hard hat and jean overalls draped over a neon green T-shirt has his arms folded and stares sternly into the camera. Standing on a graveled railroad track, he speaks bluntly of the decline of the coal industry as images of Ravenna, Ky., flash across the screen. The blame, he says, is with President Obama, Representative Ben Chandler, a Democrat from Kentucky, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

This latest television ad from Andy Barr, the Lexington lawyer running as a Republican to unseat Mr. Chandler, has drawn sharp criticism from the incumbent â€" in large part because the man dressed as a coal miner is a coal company executive who has contributed thousands of dollars to politici ans, mostly Republicans, and has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Mitt Romney and Karl Rove at fund-raising events. The executive, Heath Lovell, vice president of River View Coal, does not live in Ravenna or anywhere in the district Mr. Barr is running for.

“His ad is not only shamefully deceptive, but it's an insult to hard-working Kentucky coal miners who put their lives on the line every day to power our communities and our economy,” Eric Nagy, Mr. Chandler's campaign manager, said in a statement. “Ben Chandler has a long history of fighting to protect coal jobs and ensure the safety of coal miners, and Barr should be ashamed to use a corporate shill to suggest otherwise.”

Mr. Lovell and Mr. Barr's campaign pushed back forcefully, saying that Mr. Lovell started working in coal mines as a teenager and worked his way up to become an executive. Mr. Lovell said his father and grandfather worked in coal mines. He still goes i nto the mine he manages every week, Mr. Lovell said.

“That was my hard hat in the video,” he said. “That was not some costume that I've put on.”

David Host, a spokesman for Mr. Barr, said the idea for the ad was conceived during a jobs tour in the spring in which residents of Ravenna told the candidate that their town was once a thriving railroad hub that transported coal, but much of that industry has since vanished. Mr. Barr has blamed that on what his campaign describes as burdensome regulations put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency, backed by Mr. Obama and Mr. Chandler.

Even though Mr. Lovell was not from the area, he was speaking of problems the coal industry faces statewide that he sees firsthand, Mr. Host said.

“What he has to say accurately reflects the sentiments of miners in his mine and across Kentucky, about the war on coal,” Mr. Host said. “They're concerned about their future, about their jobs. That certainly is something that the ad brings across.”

Mr. Chandler's campaign argues that he has been an important ally of the mining industry, advocating for the safety and rights of miners and speaking out against overreaching regulations.

In the ad, Mr. Lovell stands in front of another man dressed in miner's clothing.

“Devastating,” he says. “Four, five, six a day. Northbound. Southbound. Full rails, full of coal. Now near nothing.” He goes on to say that Mr. Obama, Mr. Chandler and the E.P.A. “are destroying us.”

“They're putting the coal industry out of business, and it's just devastating,” he adds. “This is our way of life.”

Mr. Lovell and his wife, Lori, have donated $21,400 to candidates for federal office over the past two years including to Mr. Romney and Rand Paul. Mr. Lovell was at a fund-raiser at the home of the founder of Papa John's Pizza, according to pictures on his wife's Facebook page, one of which showed him making a pizza with Mr. Romney.

“Heath and Mitt Romney,” Mr. Lovell's wife wrote about the picture. “I am pretty sure this was the greatest day of Heath's life!”