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Frankfort, Ky. • Facing a backlash from Appalachian Democrats, Hillary Clinton's campaign on Monday tried to reaffirm her commitment to coal communities one day after declaring on national television she was going "to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business."
Clinton's comments came during a Sunday night appearance on CNN, when she was asked a question about how her policies would benefit poor white people in Southern states who generally vote Republican.
"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," Clinton said. "We're going to make it clear that we don't want to forget those people."
Clinton was touting a plan she released last year that would set aside $30 billion to protect the health benefits for coal miners and their families. But her quip about putting coal miners out of business gave Republicans a perfect sound bite to use against her in states like Kentucky and West Virginia, where the party has made historic gains in coal communities in recent years by running against President Barack Obama's energy policies.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, denounced Clinton's comments on the Senate floor as "callous" and "wrong."
The top three coal producing states of Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky all saw production declines of between 5 percent and 20 percent in 2015. In Ohio, site of Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary, coal production is down 22 percent. Democrats in those states tried to distance themselves from Clinton's comments.
"I was very disappointed to hear the comments that came out of the debate," said Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's secretary of state and a close friend of the Clinton family who received their endorsement during her unsuccessful challenge to McConnell in 2014.
Brian Fallon, Clinton's national press secretary, said Republicans were trying to twist Clinton's words. But later in the day, the Clinton campaign released a statement that appeared to walk back her comments that she would put coal miners and coal companies out of business.
"Coal will remain a part of the energy mix for years to come, and we have a shared responsibility to ensure that coal communities receive the benefits they have earned and can build the future they deserve," she said.
Clinton has been dogged by a series of slip-ups recently. On Friday, she outraged LGBT and HIV/AIDS activists when she attributed early efforts to combat the disease to former first lady Nancy Reagan. A day later, she prompted swift blowback from Sanders' team when she said she didn't know "where he was" when she was trying to get a health-care overhaul through Congress in 1993.
His team produced a photo of Sanders standing right behind her at an event promoting the plan and a handwritten note from Clinton thanking him for his work on the issue.