Keystone gives GOP campaign fuel

Republicans are stepping up their efforts to use the delay of the Keystone XL pipeline to their advantage, painting Democratic opponents in tough midterm races as anti-energy and unwilling to stand up to President Obama.

Moves this week in the Senate to go over Obama’s head and mandate the project’s approval may have hurt Democrats after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) refused to allow an amendment to an energy efficiency bill that would bypass the president on the pipeline. 

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The GOP’s argument that the administration is stonewalling a solution that would create jobs and improve the country’s energy independence could especially resonate in close races where voters are wary of the president and his energy policies.  

That’s especially true in Louisiana, where Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources, is neck-and-neck with Rep. Bill Cassidy (R).  

Landrieu, a top Republican target, has vigorously pushed for a stand-alone vote once the energy efficiency bill is wrapped up. Though she’s tried to woo her fellow Democrats, she says she only has 58 committed votes, short of the 60 needed to prevent a filibuster.

“As President Obama’s Energy Chair, Sen. Landrieu claimed she is 'indispensable' to Louisiana, but after Harry Reid cancelled the Keystone vote, Sen. Landrieu said all she could do was ‘try,’” John Cummins, a spokesman for Cassidy’s campaign, said in a statement.

“Despite her position on the Energy Committee, Mary Landrieu is powerless,” said Brook Hougesen, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

While oil and natural gas are major pieces of Louisiana’s economy, Republicans are also using Keystone in other top races this cycle, including Montana and North Carolina. Their hook -- it’s another example of the president stonewalling economic growth.  

Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) used this week’s developments as a way to tie newly-appointed Sen. John Walsh (D) to national Democrats. 

“While Steve Daines is fighting to get the Keystone XL pipeline approved, John Walsh has been busy working to put more ‘conditions’ on the construction of this job-creating project,” Daines spokesman Brock Lowrance said.

North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis wasted little time after winning his state's GOP Senate primary Tuesday to use the issue against Sen. Kay Hagan (D). Even though Hagan supports the pipeline, Tillis said her inability to force Obama’s hand on it points to her anti-energy record.

“She has also flip-flopped on off-shore drilling and proven completely ineffective in forcing Harry Reid and President Obama to move forward with the Keystone energy pipeline that would create tens of thousands of American jobs,” Tillis said in a memo. 

Democratic strategist Penny Lee said it’s clear Republicans are squeezing all they can out of Keystone for political purposes as they try to get the six seats they need to take back the Senate. 

“Republicans want the issue alive for the politics of it, versus wanting the issue solved,” she said. “They like having this out there. They don’t want the Democrats to actually take the vote, because then they feel that many Democrats that are supportive of it are going to do well.”

Bernie Pinsonat, a prominent Louisiana pollster, said Keystone’s fate may tie Landrieu and other Democrats to Obama.

“Obama has never shown an inclination to be pro-oil and gas,” Pinsonat said. “That’s just another anchor that’s really holding [Landrieu’s] campaign back.”

Leading the powerful Energy committee should be a boon for a Louisiana politician, as it was for Sen. Bennett Johnson Jr. (D) in the 1980s and 1990s, but since taking charge of the panel earlier this year, Landrieu has done little for the state's energy industry, and Keystone hasn’t been approved, Pinsonat added. 

“Instead of being a big plus for her, it’s turned out to be a huge nightmare for being associated with Obama,” he said.

In fact, a poll from Pinsonat’s firm this week not only showed Landrieu neck-and-neck with Cassidy in the Senate race as her approval ratings have plummeted, but 59 percent said electing someone new was more important than keeping Landrieu even with her seniority and Energy Committee chairmanship,

In Michigan, Republican former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land put out an advertisement this week in the Senate race slamming Rep. Gary Peters (D) for opposing the pipeline. She linked him to Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmentalist who has pledged to support candidates who oppose the pipeline, and who Republicans are increasingly trying to use as their own bogeyman on climate change and the environment.  

“Steyer could make millions by stopping the Keystone pipeline, and Peters stood with Steyer, voted against energy independence, killing jobs, increasing oil and gas prices,” the narrator Land’s ad said.

Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, predicted that the tactic would work for Land.

“It’s something that probably is going to be a net plus, because all the polls taken nationally, and many here in Michigan, show that the vast majority of the public thinks [Keystone] should be approved,” Ballenger said. 

Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) is also using Keystone in his fight to unseat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in his new state of New Hampshire. In a column last month in the New Hampshire Union Leader, he called on Shaheen to support the pipeline.  

“Just as labor and business have come together, I’m hoping Sen. Shaheen and I can bridge the political divide,” he wrote.

--This report was updated at 5:15 p.m.