For Manchin, support for coal is personal, business and political commonsense.
In the early morning of Nov. 20, 1968, an explosion at the Mountaineer Coal Co. mine in Farmington, W.Va., killed 78 miners. Among the dead were Manchin's uncle, John Gouzd, and high school friends.
In the years since, Manchin owes some of his wealth to Enersystems Inc., a coal brokerage firm he once helped operate. Manchin's financial disclosure forms in 2009 and 2010 showed operating income of more than $1.7 million.
West Virginia is the second-largest coal producing state behind Wyoming and its mines and plants add up to more than 21,000 underground and surface jobs, according to the Energy Department. Coal mined in Appalachia generates electricity, is shipped overseas and is used in metal production.
Manchin has repeatedly challenged the Obama administration over coal. In 2010, as West Virginia governor, he sued the EPA over its crackdown on mountaintop mining.
"Enough is enough," Manchin said this past June. "The people of West Virginia are tired of the EPA's overreach, and I will do everything in my power to rein in the EPA — and any agency that oversteps its authority."
The Democrat has consistently voted with Republicans for legislation to roll back EPA rules.
Yet, in the one and only Senate campaign debate earlier this month, Manchin repeatedly had to defend himself against criticism from Republican rival and businessman John Raese, who tied the Democrat to Obama.
"Who controls the environmental rules, that's the executive branch and that's handled by his quarterback, Barack Obama," said Raese, delivering his rhetorical stabs with the smooth voice of a late-night deejay on one of his radio stations. "Joe's heart ... is in the right place. I'm not saying it's not. I'm just saying the team that he's on has no interest at all in helping West Virginia. The only interest they have is getting us out of the fossil fuel business."