Mr. Clinton won eastern Kentucky coal country, defined here to include both Democratic and Republican-leaning areas, by 11 points. He lost the rest of the state. Since then, the Democrats have fared worse and worse in coal country. The Democrat Daniel Mongiardo, who nearly won a Senate contest in 2004, won coal country by eight points in 2004. Mr. McConnell then carried coal country by five points in 2008, and Rand Paul by 13 points in 2010.
The inexorable decline of Democratic standing in coal country has been driven by the collapse of the national Democratic Party in this region, where environmental regulations on coal-fired power plants are deeply unpopular, as are Democratic positions on cultural issues. Like in West Virginia, Kentucky coal country first swung to the Republicans in 2000, and the G.O.P. presidential nominee made additional gains in every successive election. Mr. Obama suffered cataclysmic losses between 2008 and 2012 because of the so-called War on Coal.
Knott County, the most Democratic county in the heart of coal country, was perhaps the most Democratic county of the 20th century. It never gave less than 64 percent of its vote for the Democratic presidential candidate. Mr. Clinton won by a margin of 73 to 18 percent. Barack Obama won just 24 percent of the vote here in 2012.
As a result, the traditional and narrow Democratic route to victory in Kentucky might not exist anymore, at least for a candidate seeking federal office. Ms. Grimes would need to fare better in the rest of Kentucky than any federal candidate since 1976.
"War on Coal" is to Kentucky what "optics" are to DC, a not-so-subtle code switch that has everything to do with Barack Obama's race and how Kentucky Democrats feel about him. Here's a hint: people around here despise the man. Democrats would rather chew off their own arms than deal with him. I bet in 2016 they'll pull the lever for Hillary, EPA support and all.
But keep telling yourself it's President Obama's position on the EPA that cost him 40 points in the most Democratic county in the country and is in turn costing Alison Grimes this race in 2014.