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Policy update 10/26/10: One more week


Policy update 10/26/10: One more week

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Next Tuesday's midterm election has major implications for federal climate and energy policy. Many key races will be decide by narrow margins. Polling suggests that the Republicans will pick up seats in both houses, but that only the House of Representatives is likely to change hands. Election Day is next Tuesday, November 2nd.

Climate in the Elections

A number of tightly contested races involve incumbents who support climate legislation and challengers who are emphatically opposed to climate action, or publicly cast doubt on climate science:

  • Climate champion Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) is defending his clean energy record in a district that historically favors conservative candidates. Perriello urges voters to look past short-term payoffs to the big picture of economic growth;
  • Arizona long-shot House candidate Jon Hulburd (D) is leading with a clean energy jobs message and catching up in the polls in the conservative 3rd district just north of Phoenix;
  • Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias has been criticizing Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) for flip-flopping on his climate vote. Kirk supported the climate bill in the House, but then signed a pledge promising to oppose future climate legislation in order to win over an endorsement from Sarah Palin;
  • Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO) is using Ken Buck's (R) statements about the uncertainty of climate science to illustrate how far from the mainstream his opposition is.

In every Senate race but one, Republican challengers are self-identified climate science deniers (all except Rep. Kirk in IL). Brad Johnson at the Wonk Room has compiled a list of key climate House and Senate races to watch.

An Eye on Dirty Money

Overall, 2010 elections are seeing an unprecedented amount of outside spending for a midterm race, with a far greater increase in funds from conservative-leaning outside groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics:

  • Conservative: $169.2 million, up from $19.6 million in the last midterm (increased by a factor of 8.5)
  • Liberal: $80 million, up from $39 million in the last midterm (increased by a factor of 2)
  • Total outside spending: $249 million up from $59 million (increased by a factor of 4)

Analysis from Center for American Progress notes that over $68 million of outside political spending is coming from dirty energy industries like Big Oil and coal-heavy electric utilities.

In an effort to lampoon the unprecedented corporate spending, MoveOn has teamed up with AgitPop to create a satirical organization called RepubliCorp, a media campaign folded into on-the-ground theatrics in key states.

Getting out the Vote

Early voting statistics suggest that the so-called "enthusiasm gap" is not affecting early voter turnout for progressives as much as earlier polling was suggesting. TPM's Josh Marshall credits voter turnout infrastructure built up in the last two election cycles.

Our friends at Energy Action Coalition are taking on dirty energy head on and getting out the youth clean energy vote in the crucial days before the election:

In 2008 the turnout was 61.7%, the highest it had been in 40 years. In the last midterm elections (2006), turnout was a mere 36.8%.

Beyond Election Day

Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight model projects the following election day outcomes based on recent polling:

  • An 81% chance that the Senate will remain in Democratic control. Polls suggest the most likely outcome is a 7-seat swing, resulting in a 52-48 Democratic Senate;
  • An 80% chance that the House will flip toward Republican control. Polls suggest the most likely outcome is a 50-seat swing (need 38 to change hands) resulting in a 230-205 Republican House (the House is currently 255-178). 58.6%, versus 47%.

1994 is often elicited as a reference case for the 2010 election, with swing numbers similar to what Silver's polls predict: 54 seats in the House, and 8 in the Senate.

Ezra Klein points out that despite the prospect of party flips in a number of districts, potential Republican victories don't carry the kind of mandate that they did in 1994, where the Republicans were positioned as a popularly-favored alternative, rather than merely a foil to the incumbent party.

Historically, major swings in Congress have been fairly regular occurrences in midterm elections, with one party losing over 45 House seats on 6 occasions (and 8 Senate seats on 5 occasions) since 1942.

Politico and others have noted that many of the seats potentially changing hands are seats that "should have" been picked up by the opposing party in previous cycles given where the districts tend to fall on national politics. For example, President Obama won the 2008 presidential election with 53% of the popular vote; however, 59% of House seats (and 59% of Senate seats) were held by Democrats, including representatives from 48 congressional districts won by Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Seats currently held by these "McCain Democrats" are many of the most vulnerable in this election. Twenty-nine of the 48 McCain Democrats opposed climate legislation in the House.

Legislative Priorities

Climate champions like Chairman Waxman (D-CA), Chairman Markey (D-MA), and Senator John Kerry (D-MA) are all committed to pushing for climate-related legislation next year. Waxman: "I think the issue is becoming more and more serious and people are realizing it, which I hope will increase the pressure on the Congress to take the actions we need to.”

Under Republican leadership in either house of Congress, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will likely be a target for anti-climate rhetoric. Powerful committee chairs have the power to summon administration officials to Capitol Hill to defend policies unpopular with the majority party. A former staffer on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said “I think she’ll be very much in demand on the Hill, at times not of her choosing. It will diminish her free time, shall we say.” Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) plan to use committee chairmanships as platforms to scrutinize climate science and police strong administrative rulemaking from executive agencies within the Obama Administration, like the EPA, DOE, and DOT:

State and Regional Implications

Recent polling consistently shows an 11-point spread against California's Proposition 23, the Texas oil company-backed ballot measure that would block California's climate laws. This is a major step forward from September, when the energy interests supporting Prop 23 held a one-point lead and much more cash to spend.

Out of 8 Northeast states with contested governor's races, only Vermont has a race where both candidates affirm climate science. Anti-climate candidates in these key states could roll back the RGGI regional climate policy, or state renewable energy standards.

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert will be filming in D.C. all week in preparation for their big rally on the National Mall this Saturday, October 30th. On Wednesday night, President Obama will be on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Satellite rallies are planned in 957 cities in over 47 states and 12 countries, many organized via Facebook and, and aggregated by the site The Washington Post and others consider it a bold move to organize a major event in D.C. just three days before the election. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune shares creative t-shirt ideas for the rally.

Lame Duck Legislative Outlook

The "lame duck" congressional session in the months following the elections could be impacted by a few key races. Four Senate elections will result in immediate replacements. All four of the seats in question are currently held by Democrats, two of which are highly competitive races (chance of flip from Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight model):

  • IL: 65.6% chance of a flip (Kirk (R) up by 1.7%)
  • WV: 33.7% chance of flip (Manchin (D) up by 1.8%)
  • NY: Safe Democratic seat
  • DE: Safe Democratic seat

Colorado and Florida also have special elections, but those seats will not be filled until the next Congress convenes in January. In both the House and Senate, the process to determine new leadership for each party will likely begin immediately. Politico has an in-depth look at potential turnover. If the House flips, sitting Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) would likely become Speaker, and sitting Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) would likely become the next Majority Leader.

In the House, Politico suggests that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) could be replaced soon after the election regardless of whether or not the House flips. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is the leading candidate to become the next Speaker or Minority Leader. Many key committee chairs could turn over as well.

If Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wins his tight race against Sharron Angle (R) in Nevada, he will likely retain his position as Senate Majority (or Minority) Leader. If Reid loses, the mantle of Senate Majority (or Minority) Leader would be hotly contested between Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL).

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is very likely to be named as Majority Leader if the Republicans win.
Though there are many items on the wish list of both parties for what should be addressed in the lame duck, three items continuously surface as issues that can't be avoided:

  • Appropriations for the year, perhaps punted to January 2011 via a "continuing resolution," or CR.
  • The New START Treaty with Russia which would result in modest nuclear disarmament
  • The Bush tax cuts for those making over $200,000, set to expire at the end of the year.

Reuters analysis suggests that if Republicans make substantial gains in the election, political gridlock will freeze action on most potential legislation in the lame duck.

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