updated 7/19/2004 11:05:20 AM ET 2004-07-19T15:05:20

John Kerry can win West Virginia’s five electoral votes by going there and getting coal “dust on his hands and on his face,” the state’s senior senator said Sunday.

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Also, said Sen. Robert Byrd, history’s second longest-serving senator behind the late Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, “Always, always remember that sovereignty rests, John Kerry, sovereignty rests with the people of this country.”

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Byrd was asked whether Kerry can win West Virginia, a state Democrat Al Gore lost to Republican George W. Bush by 6 percentage points in 2000.

“I’m the son of a coal miner. I married a coal miner’s daughter. I know a lot about coal,” said the 86-year-old Byrd, whose Senate career began in 1959, the year before John F. Kennedy’s evocation of the plight of the West Virginia coal miner helped him win the presidency.

“Yes, coal is a dirty energy source, but look what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to clean it up. I’ve appropriated money over the years for coal research to make it cleaner,” Byrd said.

“Yes, he can carry West Virginia. He will carry West Virginia if he continues to stand up for the liberties of the people,” Byrd said.

“I’ve talked with him. I’ve told him he should go to West Virginia. He should shake hands with the people. He should be at their level and get a little coal dust on his hands. Get some of that dirty dust on his hands and on his face and live in spirit with the working people of this country, the coal miners. And always, always remember that sovereignty rests, John Kerry, sovereignty rests with the people of this country.”

The Kerry campaign reaffirmed the candidate’s commitment to the state’s miners and pointed out that he has proposed spending $10 billion to improve clean coal technology.

“John Kerry saw firsthand the work of the miners of West Virginia when he went down in a mine in the spring, and he received the endorsement of Cecil Roberts and the UMW (United Mine Workers). His commitment to these workers is personal,” said campaign spokesman David Wade.

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