Republicans and Democrats are divided as to whether Barack Obama’s Tuesday speech supporting new regulations for carbon emissions will hurt Democrats running for office in 2014. GOP members believe that Obama’s speech may have the same effect as his support for cap-and-trade before the 2010 elections, in which they made tremendous gains.
Highly conservative states like Kentucky and West Virginia, where coal can be a central campaign issue, could be turned toward the GOP because of Obama’s actions. West Virginia GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas said, “This issue is going to be at the very forefront, particularly in our federal races. Any Democrat is going to have to have some form of allegiance to the Democratic establishment to receive support. The carbon issue will be the first question anyone is asked here in the Senate race. … This issue is yet another one that backs them into a corner.”
West Virginia Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a GOP Senate candidate, called Obama’s speech “an exclamation point” after his 2008 speech in which he stated that he thought companies building new coal-fired plants should go bankrupt. She said:
He can’t get congressional approval for this agenda so he’s going to forge ahead like he has on a lot of other things, ignoring the will of the people to satisfy his environmental friends … Certainly on a national level any Democrat is going to have this anti-coal, environmental agenda all around their neck because their leader is the president. I don’t think I can overdramatize how difficult this agenda is for states like ours.
Energy-rich states such as Alaska, North Carolina and Louisiana also have Democratic senators at risk. National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring, acknowledging the NRSC’s pursuit of Democratic red-state senators, asserted, “If you have a ‘D’ after your name in 2014, you own this agenda. Simple as that.”
The House seems like a likely place for GOP gains, said, Brad Todd, a GOP media consultant. He offered, “It will work all across the House map. The voters sent them some adult supervision in the form of a Republican House and they have decided that the voters’ instructions do not matter at all.”
He was echoed by GOP pollster Brock McLeary, who said, “Either the President does not remember or does not care about the cap-and-trade body count of 2010. A second term of full-throated ideological politics of this sort will keep congressional Democrats on their heels for a long four years. It fits perfectly with the central rationale for this Republican Congress: Keep Obama inside the guard rails of mainstream politics.”
GOP strategists believe Democratic Reps. Nick Rahall in West Virginia and Collin Peterson in Minnesota could be targeted as they come from conservative and rural districts whose electric bills could be profoundly affected.
Benjamin Cole, spokesman for the American Energy Alliance, speaking specifically about Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell’s highly noticed campaign for reelection, said, “Obama may have just handed Mitch McConnell his best chance at a reelection victory. There is real, animated and palpable fear in coal country that the administration’s all-of-the-above energy policy doesn’t include them.”
Even Kentucky Democratic consultant Jim Cauley, the manager of Democratic Governor Steve Beshear’s successful campaign, said he is “absolutely worried,” about Kentucky, saying, “There’s a perception here that coal’s just taking it on the chin every day. We don’t have the luxury of big large urban centers to change our vote makeup. I think it’d be problematic.”
But other Democrats were sanguine about their prospects in 2014, noting their party’s success in 2012 despite energy-themed attacks from the GOP. West Virginia Democratic Chairman Larry Puccio opined that Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin managed to separate himself from Obama on the coal issue in 2010 and 2012; in 2010 he ran an ad where he used a gun to target the cap-and-trade bill.
Other Democrats also successfully neutralized energy attacks; in Virginia, Tim Kaine ran an ad where he hovered over a coal plant in a helicopter while he spoke about clean coal; in North Dakota, Heidi Heitkamp asserted her backing of the Keystone Pipeline, and in Missouri, Claire McCaskill said she had fought Obama regarding the EPA. One Democratic strategist said, “If President Obama’s coal agenda is on the ballot, we’re gonna lose 70-30 in coal country. But that’s not how this plays out in campaigns. These issues are fought state by state.”