E&E's Kaplun discusses impact of primaries on climate, energy debate

What impact will this week's primary election outcomes have on the climate and energy debate? During today's OnPoint, E&E political reporter Alex Kaplun explains how the primaries will shape the political discussion for the remainder of the year. He discusses the role the politics of oil and cap and trade will play in House and Senate races, and gives his analysis of the California, Nevada and Arkansas Senate races.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is E&E reporter Alex Kaplun. Alex, thanks for being here.

Alex Kaplun: Sure.

Monica Trauzzi: Alex, coming off of this week's primary elections the GOP has demonstrated their growing strength at the polls. Will the primaries have an impact on the congressional climate and energy debate that we're going to be seeing over the next couple of months?

Alex Kaplun: Yeah, I don't know about the primaries themselves. You can't point to too many races and say that this race was decided because of climate change or cap and trade, but I think as we get into the general election, which is what's going to start happening now, and you get these very competing philosophies, you might see some of that. It's going to be interesting to see how swing voters, moderate voters react to climate change. You have two very different opinions. The environmental groups believe that, especially in the wake of the oil spill, that climate change legislation or, as they frame it, sort of comprehensive energy legislation is going to resonate very positively and that if you're not for it, watch out. You know, conservatives still argue that it's going to be a potential killer for Democrats, that voters are just not going to support anything that can be pushed as a tax increase. You know, those things are a little hard to gauge how voters react until you get into a general election and we're moving into that and some very high-profile races in Arkansas and Nevada obviously, California now and that's kind of going to be a test.

Monica Trauzzi: And how did the politics of the oil spill play into these primaries? I mean it's something that's very present in the mind of voters.

Alex Kaplun: Yeah, I mean the Blanche Lincoln Arkansas race was the only one, at least this week, where we really saw it on display. There were a lot of ads that went against her, that sort of portrayed her as being closely allied with big oil. The League of Conservation Voters went on the air with an ad that very closely tied her to BP. The ad basically said that Lincoln did things that essentially allowed the oil spill to happen. It doesn't seem like it had that much effect. She won. I mean she did win it very close, so I think some of the spin is going to be, well, look, we put a powerful incumbent on notice with this kind of message. And I think you will see it going forward sort of Democrats attacking Republicans who have taken a large number of oil contributions. You know, the flip side of that is that the Obama administration is getting very, very poor ratings in its handling of the oil spill. It hasn't hurt the president's approval rating overall, but you're seeing sort of the RNC and some other conservative groups saying, look, you can't trust the Democrats to govern. Even in an emergency they can't sort of handle the situation. I think both sides are going to try to get the upper hand in that issue in very different ways.

Monica Trauzzi: And, at the same time, does the Lincoln race demonstrate that senators who are even in support of big oil can still be safe, they're not necessarily at risk?

Alex Kaplun: Yeah, I mean a lot of that depends on the kind of race obviously and who they're going up against. I was at a briefing this week with LCV and some other folks and they have polling that shows that voters are really, really averse to politicians they see as being big recipients of big oil money. There was a lot of that kind of messaging in the Arkansas primary. Ultimately Lincoln won, so it sort of depends on who you listen to. You know, the Lincoln campaign is going to say we're independent, we showed our independence. You can just sort of tar some contributions. I think some of the environmentalists will point to the fact that, look, we took a candidate who wasn't that well-known, almost beat an incumbent, so it is a message that's going to resonate. You know, the whole oil donations message has been on display for a long time. Environmentalists certainly like it. I think they're going to keep using it in races where they can.

Monica Trauzzi: Another big race, California, you mentioned it before. It's going to pit Senator Boxer against Carly Fiorina, formerly of HP. Senator Boxer is known for her position on environmental issues, in particular cap and trade. How big of a factor do you think that that's going to be heading into this race?

Alex Kaplun: You know, I think California is going to be really fascinating to watch as far as how voters react to cap and trade. I mean clearly Barbara Boxer has a very locked in position. She's sort of maybe the Senate leader in climate change legislation. But it's been fascinating to watch Fiorina who went from being kind of noncommittal on cap and trade and saying, well, I don't like the bill, but I think it's good idea, to some of her comments last week where she almost ridiculed Barbara Boxer for saying that energy security isn't national security, that we have more important things to worry about. And she kind of went to the right. I think it will be interesting to see, as we get into the general election, if Fiorina steers back towards the middle or if she's sort of decides that I can be very conservative on cap and trade and energy legislation and that's going to get me through. You know, if that's the approach she takes and it works in California of all places, I mean that could certainly be a powerful message. We always think of California as the place where people embrace clean energy legislation.

Monica Trauzzi: In Nevada Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he has money on his side, but what do you think the election results there mean for his chances? How will he fare against Sharron Angle?

Alex Kaplun: Yeah, I think the Reid campaign Democrats got the best possible outcome that they hoped for in terms of Sharron Angle. She's very conservative. She's closely allied with the tea party. You could argue that she's sort of not quite as refined of a candidate as some of the others. The flipside of that is, I think, Republicans are making it very clear that this race isn't going to be about Sharron Angle. They're going to do everything they can to make it about Harry Reid and on election day voters are basically going to choose whether they want to put Harry Reid back in office or not. That can work. It has worked in past political campaigns. It works all the time, but part of that is how does Sharron Angle sort of react? You know, if she doesn't make a lot of waves, if she's good as a candidate they can pull it off. But we've seen where some of these people we don't know a lot about, once they get in a highly competitive general election, you know, they sort of have some speed bumps and against someone like Harry Reid I don't know how many speed bumps you can have.

Monica Trauzzi: Were this week's primaries reflective of the country's views on the president and how he's doing, how he's handling perhaps the oil spill, the economy, and other situations?

Alex Kaplun: You know, I think the message out of these primaries was maybe that the anti-incumbent wave isn't quite as strong as we saw. I mean certainly voters aren't happy with the way things are going in Washington. There's certainly a great deal of that, but I mean Blanche Lincoln survived. For every sort of Arlen Specter you've had dozens and dozens of incumbents sail through. You know, I think what it does to the Obama administration is it's kind of what we saw with the last primaries. It's not clear how much impact they're having. Blanche Lincoln certainly ran on the Obama endorsement, kind of pointed to him, but she also campaigned very vigorously against a lot of his Democratic agenda. She was out there saying, you know, I was hesitant on health care, I'm not for cap and trade and that didn't hurt her in any way, so it's just not clear that sort of Obama's presence is doing much in these elections one way or another.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it there. Thanks for coming on the show.

Alex Kaplun: Sure.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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