The move could also be more symbolic in nature. Coal is to West Virginia what lobster is to Maine -- a stereotype almost universally recognized in the United States.
Bankruptcies, shuttered operations and layoffs would spell difficulty for other industries, like railroads, as well.
There are only two Class I railroads that serve West Virginia (
(CSX - Get Report)
(NSC - Get Report)
about 98% of the state's rail traffic is for coal
West Virginia has the second-largest recoverable coal reserves in the United States, and those reserves provide CSX and Norfolk Southern huge chunks of revenue there.
Tomblin and Manchin could have defended the health of other industries that profit from coal production (the two did say Obama's policies would hurt West Virginia's "energy industry" on the whole), but they stuck with coal.
Which returns us to the Republican National Committee's email to highlight two West Virginia Democrats who don't know if they will vote for Obama in November.
It's true that they haven't committed to him, but not all Democrats are the same. It would be politically advantageous for Democrats in Texas and Louisiana -- states that produce the most natural gas -- to endorse Obama and his energy policies as continued nat gas production would ensure economic growth and more jobs in those areas.
But it would be unwise to endorse Obama as West Virginians grapple with a new reality, where coal companies struggle and locals lose jobs that their families have held for generations.
"It's pretty grim, I would say," said Tian.
-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.