In the late 1980s the Democratic Party decided that appealing to its donor base required strict adherence to the notion of abortion on demand. Anyone who was pro-life (like Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, and Harry Reid) either switched sides or was chased out of the party.
Today, there are virtually no pro-life Democrats. And soon, thanks to a major push from Barack Obama to please his Sierra Club and Hollywood donors by saddling the coal industry with strict new regulations, there may be no pro-carbon energy Democrats. In turn, this may create a long-term advantage for Republicans in the Senate similar to their strength in the House of Representatives, which the GOP has held for all but four of the last 20 years.
In the holy Democratic Church of Enlightened Environmentalism, red-state Senate Democrats are becoming Carbon Heretics. They risk excommunication — from a steadily shrinking church. Even if the Democrats are correct in believing that demographics give them a long-term advantage in the presidential sweepstakes, they may find their progressive agenda permanently bottled up in Capitol Hill.
Obama’s proposed new anti-coal EPA regulations and continued dithering on the Keystone Pipeline are costing him support in a large number of states you might call the Energy Belt. Thanks to fracking, traditional fossil fuel-producing states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana have been joined by North Dakota, Colorado and Pennsylvania as major energy producers. “Battle Over Fracking Poses Threat to Colorado Democrats,” read a recent New York Times headline.
Meanwhile, intense support for the Keystone Pipeline and the jobs it would create in Nebraska are making Democratic Senate candidacies there nearly as unlikely as they currently are in Oklahoma and Texas (both of which sent Democrats to the Senate as recently as the 1990s but are now essentially written off by the party).
The potential exists for Democratic Senate candidacies to become increasingly farfetched in ten or more Energy Belt states. Even the most liberal presidents in the future will have difficulty getting anything through Capitol Hill when Democratic energy policy looks increasingly like a writeoff of 20 Senate seats.
Energy Belt Democrats are furiously distancing themselves from their president. “I will fiercely oppose the president’s attack on Kentucky’s coal industry because protecting our jobs will be my number one priority,” declared Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is trying to unseat Mitch McConnell. In West Virginia, where Democrat Natalie Tennant was already an underdog against Republican Shelley Capito in the race held by the retiring liberal Democrat Jay Rockefeller, Tennant sounded a similar note when she said she would “stand up to” the president and “anyone else who wants to undermine our coal jobs.”
If opposing Obama is your priority, though, why on Earth would you vote for a Democrat? Obama’s stance on coal has been an early Christmas present for McConnell, whose support is weakest in the coal-producing counties of the state. Mary Landrieu, who was already one of the Democrats’ most endangered Senate incumbents, has been touring coal plants, defending fracking and saying Obama shouldn’t be setting energy rules.
West Virginia hasn’t had a Republican senator since the 1950s. If Landrieu loses, Lousiana will be represented by two Republican senators for the first time ever.
We forget how strong the Democratic Party is in many states that nearly always vote Republican in the presidential race: Kentucky had a Democrat in the Senate as recently as 1999. Texas and Oklahoma had Senate Democrats in the 1990s too. As recently as 1997, both of Nebraska’s senators were Democrats. Now all of these states are fading for Senate Democrats.
Maybe West Virginia (where Democrat Joe Manchin remains popular) is next. And after that? The fracking map is spreading, with North Dakota now ranking as the country’s second-largest oil producer. The state currently has one Democrat and one Republican in the Senate, though before that it sent two Democrats for more than two decades. How long will before the party’s global-warming paranoia creates problems for Heidi Heitkamp, the freshman Democrat from the fracking-loving state? And though there isn’t much fossil fuel in Montana or South Dakota, the proposed Keystone Pipeline cuts through both. It enjoys 73 percent support in the former and 61 percent in the latter. Recent polls show a double-digit lead for Montana Republican Steve Daines, who is hoping to swing a seat that has been held by Democrats since 1913. The state has sent only one Republican to the Senate since the 1950s.
Senate Democrats were tossed overboard by the failures and lies surrounding ObamaCare, and Obama’s new EPA attack on energy amounted to throwing them an anvil. The Democratic Party of the 1990s built its strategy around playing to the moderate middle. New Democrats have abandoned that model in favor of playing to the base. That base — bicoastal, culturally extremely liberal, urban and economically illiterate — is increasingly out of touch with the realities of the energy marketplace and the jobs that go with it. Oil and gas jobs recently hit a 24-year-high, with 200,000 Americans directly employed in these industries and many others involved in the supply chain. Making carbon heretics of Democrats from energy-producing states is going to cost the Democratic Party the lawmakers it needs to continue pushing its agenda.
(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)