By Emily Stephenson and Amanda Becker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Hillary Clinton, turning her attention to the November U.S. election and an increasingly likely match-up against Republican Donald Trump, sought on Monday to shore up union support by visiting coal and steel workers in the economically struggling Appalachian region.
While the Republican presidential candidates focus on Tuesday's primary contest in Indiana, Clinton will meet the head of a local steel workers' union and retired mine workers in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio.
Trump's pro-coal, anti-trade message has resonated with voters frustrated over job losses. Clinton has pledged more than $30 billion to help regions that depend on coal, but her promise was overshadowed when she said in March that the country would "put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business."
Parts of Appalachia, a region that spans multiple states across the eastern United States, have struggled with poverty and losses of jobs. West Virginia's unemployment rate of 6.5 percent in March was well above the national rate of 5 percent, according to Labor Department data. Ohio's unemployment rate was 5.1 percent, while the figure in Kentucky was 5.6 percent.
Clinton has a large lead over U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination, and she is making early moves like this week's trip to try to siphon support from Trump, who says his outsider campaign will succeed with struggling voters.
It will be an uphill struggle for Clinton in Appalachia.
Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, campaigned on Sunday in West Virginia, encountering protests from Trump supporters.
West Virginia last voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 1996, when Bill Clinton was running for his second four-year term. He is the only Democrat who has won Kentucky
TRUMP IN INDIANA
Trump will take a leap toward winning the Republican nomination if he comes out ahead in Tuesday's Indiana primary. His success in the race for the White House may well ride on the support of Republican evangelicals.
On Monday, the New York billionaire criticized a trade deal signed by Bill Clinton, and threatened tariffs on goods from companies that move out of the United States in search of cheaper labor.
"People look for a job and they have to quit after four, five months," Trump said on CNN. "I think that a lot of these people are going to join my campaign. I think a lot of the Bernie Sanders young people are going to join my campaign."
Republicans plan to tie Clinton to what they say is an anemic economy under President Barack Obama. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Monday cited data released last week that showed economic growth slipped in the first quarter to its slowest pace in two years.
"Struggling Americans will never get ahead under Hillary Clinton. They are going to keep getting taken to the cleaners," Priebus said in an opinion piece for RealClearPolitics.
Clinton’s first stop, at a restaurant in Ashland, Kentucky, will be a discussion with the leader of a local steel workers union and several of some 600 workers who were laid off when AK Steel Holding Corp announced in October that it would idle one of its furnaces amid a supply glut and lower steel prices.
She will continue to Williamson, West Virginia, a once-thriving town in the heart of the coal-producing region. Its main streets had been dotted with empty store fronts as coal mining employment has been cut in half over the past four years. The town is now trying to reshape its economy.
(Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Writing by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Caren Bohan and Alistair Bell)