Hillary Clinton was confronted last week by a 39-year-old unemployed father of three in Williamson, West Virginia.
Sitting across from the Democratic presidential front-runner, Bo Copley pushed a photo of his three children across the table as he emotionally explained to Clinton that his job is gone and that he -- like many in the coal industry whose livelihoods have been threatened by layoffs — worries about the future of his family.
“I just want to know how you can say you’re going to put a lot of coal miners out of jobs and then come in here and tell us how you’re going to be our friend,” Copley asked. “Because those people out there don’t see you as a friend.”
Clinton said, “I know that, Bo. And I don’t know how to explain it other than what I said was totally out of context from what I meant. Because I have been talking about helping coal country for a very long time and I did put out a plan last summer.”
It was a raw and vulnerable conversation between a voter and candidate during a campaign season largely driven by sound bites and insults.
Copley’s May 2 confrontation with Clinton put a spotlight on the challenges her campaign faces in winning over economically distressed Rust Belt and Appalachian residents who have come to distrust politicians from Washington.
“It was an emotional moment for me to be able to show her my kids and put a face to people who are really affected by things that politicians don’t actually see and are actually affected by what they say and do,” Copley told ABC News Tuesday evening after his state’s primary.
At his voting precinct in Dingess, West Virginia, (population: 1,000) Copley said, his hometown friends volunteering at the polling station teased him about his newfound star status
“They called me a celebrity for getting to be on T.V. all week,” said Copley, who was a maintenance planner and fill-in foreman at Coal Mac Inc. “It’s weird going from one week where no one wants to hear you, to the next week everyone is asking you what you think.”
Copley, a registered Republican who voted on the party’s primary ballot, declined to say for whom he voted, but did say he would not vote for Clinton or Bernie Sanders in November.
He attended the Trump rally in Charleston, West Virginia, two days after his meeting with Clinton, but said the Manhattan billionaire, who has courted votes in coal country since the beginning of his campaign, still needs to provide policy specifics.
“I would really like to hear exactly how he plans on bringing coal back, Copley said. “What he says is all very general.”
And despite Clinton’s $30 billion plan to revitalize the region’s economy, Copley said, he ultimately wasn’t sold.
“Coal is not the only priority,” he explained. “Her stance on abortion and other things are things I can’t get behind either.”
But Copley was proud of the voice he was able to provide for West Virginia during its week in the national political spotlight.
“Most people look at our state as a poverty-stricken state, and we’re a bunch of people who are on welfare and government assisted programs and we do have our fair share of people in our state. For the most part, West Virginians aren’t looking for a hand out. We’re proud people and we work hard and we just want the opportunity to work.”