- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2014

Republicans say that red-state Democrats who have come out in support of the Keystone XL pipeline project ahead of the 2014 election not only shows they have been right on the issue all along, but it also underscores how powerless those Democrats are to persuade President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is running to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, this week became the latest Democrat to call on the White House to green light the project.

Scott Lasley, political science professor at Western Kentucky University, said that the move could prove to be smart politics in a state where fossil-fuel mining is a major industry and the Obama administration and its green allies are perceived as hostile to coal, oil and natural-gas extraction.

“I think that one reasonable explanation of the Grimes position is that she needs to look for strategic opportunities to separate herself from President Obama,” Mr. Lasley said.

“Energy policy presents one of the better and safer opportunities to do that. She will certainly need to run much better than Obama did in counties that used to be reliably Democrat but have voted Republican in recent federal races. Many of those areas will be places that are very critical of Obama’s energy policy,” he said.

But Scott Jennings, who served as Deputy White House Political Director under President George W. Bush and advises a pro-McConnell political action committee, said Ms. Grimes’s move smacks of desperation and exposes why voters should award Mr. McConnell with another term.

“At the end of the day, it puts you in this odd box of saying, ‘I don’t like this about the Democrats, I don’t like that about Democrats, but don’t worry I will vote for Harry Reid who is in lockstep with President Obama and opposed to the pipeline,’” Mr. Jennings said. “How do you make the case that ‘I am opposing Obama on Keystone, but I want to go to the Senate and make Harry Reid majority leader?’ It is nonsensical.”

Ms. Grimes follows in the footsteps of Georgia Senate candidate Michelle Nunn and six incumbent Senate Democrats facing re-election who have urged Mr. Obama to approve the project.

Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, John Walsh of Montana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Warner of Virginia were among the 11 Senate Democrats who sent a letter to Mr. Obama this month urging him to move on the project before the end of May.

Some of those same lawmakers have been advocating for Keystone’s approval for more than a year.

Mike McKenna, a GOP strategist who works on energy issues, said that Mr. Obama’s reluctance to get on board is putting vulnerable Democrats in a bind.

“It is pretty damaging,” Mr. McKenna said. “Americans’ attention span is about 47 seconds, but when you ask about energy issues, this one keeps coming up. People have paid attention to it and care about it. It is not the end of the natural world, but it is pretty bad.”

Last week, the State Department announced that it was putting the pipeline on hold indefinitely, delaying the controversial project until after a Nebraska court case is concluded.

The announcement sparked a backlash from some Democrats, including Mrs. Landrieu, who called it “irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable.”

On Wednesday, Mrs. Grimes said that environmental concerns about the pipeline have been addressed and said “the administration should rule now and approve the project.”

“Putting Americans back to work in good-paying jobs that strengthen the middle class is my top priority and it should be the federal government’s as well,” Mrs. Grimes said.

The Louisville Courier Journal reported that her comments came not long after the San Francisco-based Credo SuperPAC, which opposes to the pipeline, announced said it was funneling $500,000 into field offices in Kentucky in hopes of knocking off Mr. McConnell.

The McConnell camp, meanwhile, said that Mrs. Grimes “took nine months and endless political pressure to accept a project that is being blocked purely by environmental extremism.”

“If this is the kind of reluctant advocacy Kentucky coal miners can expect, it’s pretty clear why left-wing environmental groups are filling her campaign coffers,” said Allison Moore, a McConnell campaign spokesperson.

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