US presidential election: The miners betting on Romney

Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally in West Chester, Ohio, 2 November Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mitt Romney is seen here campaigning in West Chester, Ohio, on Friday

Vast vehicles out of some cyber punk dystopia rip at the earth to uncover the coal below. The clawed beasts, with wheels taller than a person, are driven by weather-beaten men, unshaven, rough and dusty in hard hats and shades. The personification of the white working class.

This is Ohio's coal country, a rich seam of votes for Mitt Romney. He has accused President Barack Obama of waging a "war on coal" by bringing in new rules which make it harder for power stations to burn coal. Mining is not doing well. It lost 9,000 jobs last month, Friday's figures show.

In many places green policies are a lure to voters. Not in coal country. But my visit to the Oxford open cast mine is also a healthy reminder voters are individuals with complex views, not merely ciphers in a demographic.

John "Cheeseburger" Doyle is the foreman here and he has been mining since he was 13, when he helped out in his uncle's mine. Not that the rules allowed it, even then, but back then the rules did not matter so much.

He grumbles slightly about the regulations, and more about the lack of coordination from the various authorities which enforce them.

He is proud of their landscaping - and one agency is very happy with the careful way they created a large meadow of beautiful waving grass surrounding four ponds. The rules made them do it. That is the way it is.

They have torn up the earth, taken out the coal, so they put it back together like it was. Only another agency says there should be a stream, not ponds. The argument is wearing.

But his real worry is what the rules mean for the jobs of the 60 or so people here. This mine has another year's worth of coal in it, at least. But they cannot get a permit to open up another one, down the road.

'Can't stand Obama'

Cheeseburger says of Mr Romney: "I've heard he's really friendly to coal so I am ready to give him a chance.

"We've done alright but we're the exception. Just heard another mine just down the river laid off a bunch of guys. He's a businessman so I'm thinking right now we needs some jobs, I want to give a man who had businesses a chance to help us out.

"If he can't sort it out in four years, we'll give some one else a chance."

But Cheeseburger has another reason for not voting for Mr Obama. (The nickname? "Don't ask," he says, it's a long story. I do. It is.)

He is a Catholic and says his number one issue is abortion. That is more important than anything else, his job, the economy. "I have to sleep at nights, you know."

A man in a hard hat, I guess in his 50s, who does not want to give his name, seems to be making a careful consideration.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Barack Obama is seen here campaigning in Lima, Ohio, on Friday

He is traditionally a Democrat and his wife is a teacher. Mr Obama would be better for her job. But it is not really at risk, and his is. So he will go for Mr Romney. Probably.

There is no doubt about Tim's vote - he cannot stand Obama: "I don't care for him.

"I don't think he has done a very good job. I think he's running this country into the ground. He wants to do away with burning coal for energy, and that's my livelihood."

He tells me Mr Obama will take away their guns, their hunting guns. I question this. After all, he has not done so in four years, why should he if he is re-elected ?

Oh, he has done stuff, he says, although he cannot say what. He tells me Mr Obama will do it because the United Nations has a plan to get rid of all guns.

This is the stuff of extreme right-wing conspiracy theorists since the 50s so I ask him where he gets this idea. It was in a pamphlet he got last night.

Which group was it from? He seems surprised. "Why the Democrats, I suppose, they were telling us what they were gonna do."

I cannot tell if he is an unwitting victim of black propaganda or just believes what he's long believed.

Lone Democrat

Ted is a lone voice at the mine, a tentative Obama supporter. Most of the men used to be Democrats, now he seems to be the only one.

"It is kind of a toss-up but my preference is still Obama," he says.

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"Romney has just been contradicted so many times by himself, that you don't know where you stand with him. He's not for the working class of people, I think Obama would stick by the working class and help us out."

He is not swayed by the argument that Mr Obama's green policies are hurting his industry.

"Of course our industry is in turmoil, but I think natural gas is what has waged a war on coal," he says.

"We can see that coming down the road - the Appalachian coalfields are going to get shut down because of price completion."

His vote is more about class solidarity in the face of market forces, the traditional politics of Democrats, than his job.

Mr Romney is right, there are votes to be mined, not just here but in coal country in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. But coal is not the only fuel that fires political views, long and deeply held.

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