CAMPAIGN 2012:

Vulnerable Democrats side with GOP on anti-EPA bill

If there was any doubt about which Democratic House members are worrying most about their re-election prospects in 2012, one only had to look at yesterday's roll call vote on the Republican bill to strip U.S. EPA of its ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

Nineteen moderate and conservative Democrats joined 236 Republicans in supporting the bill, which was sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.). Not coincidentally, some had close calls during last year's Republican wave, and most are significant GOP targets in this election cycle.

The Democratic tally in the House is not much different from the showing in the Senate on Wednesday, when four amendments to rein in EPA went down to defeat. Four Democratic senators, including two who are in the GOP's political scope, voted for an amendment that was identical to Upton's bill, while 13 others voted for measures that placed less stringent restrictions on the environmental agency.

But two of the House Democrats who voted for the Upton bill dismissed the suggestion yesterday that 2012 politics was a factor in their consideration.

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the House Agriculture Committee ranking member who co-sponsored the bill, called it "payback" for EPA overreach -- "all this stuff the EPA is doing to ethanol and every other damn thing they are doing."

Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) said he saw the measure as a response to an agency wreaking havoc on his district.

"It is very difficult to comply with the pace of these EPA requirements," Bishop said. "I feel the pain of the farmers, industry and cities who are trying to comply."

Asked if he was looking forward to 2012 with his vote, Bishop replied, "Absolutely not. I'm trying to represent the district that I have; you're talking about next year."

But Bishop had a close call last year, winning a 10th term by 2 percentage points over state Rep. Mike Keown (R). He faces further uncertainty because Republicans will be redrawing the lines of his southwest Georgia district, meaning he could find himself running for re-election in even more conservative territory.

Peterson won an 11th term fairly comfortably last year, but the 55 percent of the vote he received was his lowest percentage since the Republican wave of 1994, and GOP operatives have made it clear he will be a top target in 2012.

Other Democrats who voted for the Upton bill yesterday were:

  • Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire, who won re-election by 2 percentage points in 2010 and will either be targeted through redistricting or with a tough challenger.
  • Georgia Rep. John Barrow, who has to protect his left flank in Democratic primaries and his right flank in general elections. His district could be drastically altered during redistricting.
  • Iowa Rep. Leonard Boswell, who continues to fight off highly touted and well-funded challengers but took 51 percent of the vote last year and could see his district evaporate during the state redraw.
  • Oklahoma Rep. Dan Boren, whom Republicans have vowed to go after in 2012 despite the fact that he won big last year. Boren represents a very conservative district but is protected to a degree by the family name. His father, a former governor and senator, is currently the president of the University of Oklahoma.
  • Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler, who represents coal country, won re-election by a slim 600 votes last cycle and will see his district get more Republican attention next time.
  • California Rep. Jim Costa, who was not declared the winner over cherry farmer Andy Vidak until weeks after Election Day last year.
  • Illinois Rep. Jerry Costello, who represents an industrial area.
  • Pennsylvania Rep. Mark Critz, whose district based in conservative, industrial Johnstown is in grave danger of being eliminated through redistricting.
  • Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, one of the most conservative Democrats in the House.
  • Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly, who won a third term by just 1 percentage point and whose district is likely to be altered drastically in the upcoming remap. Former state Rep. Jackie Walorski (R), who almost beat him last time, is primed for a rematch.
  • Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Holden, whom Republicans have failed to defeat despite the conservative nature of his Harrisburg-based district, but who could also be hurt by redistricting next year.
  • Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, who has won re-election fairly easily but is constantly at risk in the conservative Beehive State.
  • North Carolina Rep. Mike McIntyre, who last November racked up his lowest percentage (54 percent) since his first race in 1996. Republicans have vowed to make his life miserable -- both through the redistricting process and on the campaign trail.
  • West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall, whose antipathy toward EPA is genuine, coming from a coal-rich state. Even in a Republican year, he won by 12 points last time, and with Democrats controlling redistricting, he may wind up with a more favorable district.
  • Arkansas Rep. Mike Ross, who won re-election fairly comfortably last year but saw his state's House delegation go from 3-1 Democrat to 3-1 Republican.
  • Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader, who took 51 percent of the vote last time and will almost certainly be a Republican target again.
  • Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell, a freshman in a relatively safe district.

Every House Republican voted for the Upton bill, including five moderates who in 2009 voted for the cap-and-trade bill that passed the House before stalling in the Senate. They are: Reps. Mary Bono Mack of California, Leonard Lance, Chris Smith and Frank Lobiondo of New Jersey and Dave Reichert of Washington. Some could be hurt by their anti-EPA votes.

"It's a travesty that when given the opportunity to defend vital clean air safeguards, these members chose instead to block the EPA from doing its job to protect the health of American families," said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

Of the quintet, Reichert is a perennial Democratic target in his suburban Seattle district and Bono Mack and Lance could see their districts altered -- to their detriment -- in the upcoming round of redistricting.

In the Senate, four Democrats sided with Republicans on Wednesday on the bill to strip EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions: Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Manchin and Nelson are already top Republican targets next year; GOP operatives are very high on state Attorney General Jon Bruning, one of the candidates bidding for the Nebraska Republican Senate nomination.

The Democratic senators who voted for less stringent restrictions on EPA were: Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, and Jim Webb of Virginia.

Of that group, only McCaskill is in any real electoral peril at the moment, though Brown, Casey and Stabenow could wind up in tough races next year.

Four moderate Republican senators did not co-sponsor the bill to strip EPA of its regulatory powers: Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois. But in the end, only Collins voted against it.

Snowe faces a potentially tough Republican primary challenge from the right next year, and Brown is a top Democratic target in a very liberal state. Kirk voted for cap and trade two years ago when he was serving in the House but renounced the vote as he campaigned for statewide office last year.