New rules proposes by the Obama administration and EPA regulating the coal industry and aimed at reducing carbon emissions (aka climate change) will have a massive impact on the 2014 elections. Coal state Democrats, already imperiled due to Obamacare and the administration’s liberal agenda, now find themselves increasingly squeezed trying to court progressive/minority voters while also appealing to energy-friendly, conservative electorates.
These regulations are of course yet to be finalized. The latest rules have to go through the public rules process of comment and modification. States get a year to implement their plans to achieve carbon emission reduction and by 2016 must finalize or at least submit initial plans with the EPA. Some states will have until 2018 to implement their plans. This will have a dramatic impact on the price of energy and carbon emissions through all fifty states. For example, here in Idaho, where a majority of power is generated through hydroelectric the EPA estimates Idaho would need to cut emissions by 33% by 2025. Just imagine how deeply coal heavy energy states such as KY, WV and NC will have to cut carbon emissions to make the EPA happy.
For Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Grimes, the new rules cause major heartache. She is running competitively against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and has pitched herself as a bipartisan reformer. McConnell is weighed down by his weak approval ratings but is buoyed by the fact his turnout machine is top notch. The new rules all but ensure Grimes will lose coal country. Coal country in Kentucky is largely situated in the East of the state and used to be solidly Democratic. But since Bill Clinton the region has changed its voting habits at all but the local level. Indeed, even Democratic Governor Steve Beshear struggled there in his 2011 reelection as he cruised to reelection elsewhere in the state.
In West Virginia the rules imperil two Democrats chances. Congressman Nick Rahall is one of the party’s last true Blue Dog Democrats and hails from a district that voted for Mitt Romney with 67%. He is facing his toughest reelection yet against a former Democrat turned Republican challenger. Rahall is counting on his local roots to overcome the national political environment but West Virginians have increasingly felt DC Democrats do not understand them. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, looking to hold outgoing Senator Jay Rockefeller’s seat, finds her climb even more uphill. Tennant is a savvy candidate that fits the state well but her opponent, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, is the same. More so, Capito boasts family ties in the state and is not connected by partisan ID to the party seeking to regulate carbon emissions.
Another trio of states and candidates are deeply impacted. In Louisiana, Senator Mary Landrieu is running uphill to keep her seat. She has courted the state’s energy sector by arguing she can limit the impact of such rules on her state if she keeps her seat. Due to the state’s quirky electoral system (Jungle Primary), Landrieu could get the most votes in November but fail to garner 50%. If she does she would have to face her challenger one on one in a December run-off which has resulted in low minority turnout in the past. Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina won election in 2008 by winning many traditionally rural and energy heavy counties. North Carolina generates a majority of its power from coal and such rules would likely devastate the industry in her state. In Montana, interim Senator John Walsh is trying to hold a defacto open Senate seat for his party. He already trails Congressman Steve Daines in the race and outside Missoula is losing in virtually every county.
Senator Mark Begich in Alaska could also see his reelection chances hurt. Begich has run on being a strong supporter of the energy sector and is openly in favor of more coal plants and drilling in ANWR. However, he has done little to promote such efforts and moves by the EPA such as this only make it easier for his eventual opponent to highlight his lack of action.
Finally, the move might resonate in two supposedly safe and purple states. Republican candidate Ed Gillespie has struggled to gain traction in the polls in Virginia against Senator Mark Warner. Warner, a former Governor, is deeply respected in the state and appeals to traditionally Republican, rural voters in the state. The Obama administration’s move gives Gillespie just the opening he needs to appeal to rural voters while simultaneously explaining to suburban, middle class voters that the cost of energy would skyrocket if the new rules are allowed to go into effect.
Democrats have had a spate of successes turning Colorado blue. They control the state legislature, Governorship and both the state’s US Senate seats. But Senator Mark Udall is in danger of losing his seat to Republican Congressman Corey Gardner. Udall is under increasing pressure in the state to side with the environmental or business friendly wings of his party. In fact, Democrats are trying to circulate a petition in the state to put on the 2014 ballot an initiative allowing local communities to regulate fracking. Such a move would likely allow many liberal, suburban communities to ban fracking and devastate the industry. Gardner is already hitting Udall on his lack of a position on the issue just as Tom Tancredo, the likely GOP nominee for Governor, is hitting Governor John Hickenlooper (D) over the same issue. These new regulations could turn fiscally conservative suburban voters against Udall while simultaneously maximizing turnout in rural Colorado. This is a lethal combination for any Democrat; even in a state trending blue.
Only time will tell if the new rules damage Democratic chances. But the odds are good they will. Despite the new rules not taking effect until 2016 at the earliest it allows Republican attacks that the administration is over-regulating business to become even more entrenched in voters minds. Progressives may cheer at the President’s bold move but it only angers Independents and drives more Republicans to the polls. That is a recipe for a Democratic disaster in November.