In the Senate race, Lundergan Grimes will fare better than Obama but McConnell should easily improve on his 2008 performance in coal country. And if Lundergan Grimes doesn’t receive traditional Democratic levels of support in coal country, she’ll have to more than make up the difference in the urban centers of Louisville and Lexington—or hope for depressed conservative turnout from the contentious Republican primary. With McConnell’s weak approval ratings, it’s possible—but it’s becoming increasingly challenging with the administration’s environmental push.
There are five additional competitive Senate races where billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer, who pledged to spend $100 million in legislative races, is avoiding entirely—Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina—an acknowledgment of the political headwinds with this year’s map. And even some of the proposed targets, like Iowa and Colorado, are states that depend on coal for a majority of their electricity needs. (Democrats thought Iowa Senate nominee Joni Ernst blundered badly when she criticized the Clean Water Act in Iowa, without considering the opposition to the regulations from farmers and agricultural interests in a farm-heavy state.) In those states, the GOP rebuttal will be along the lines of James Carville’s “it’s the economy, stupid”—a retort that resonates when the economy contracted in the last quarter.
Like with gun control, environmental advocates frequently tout polls showing overwhelming support for favored measures—positions that are squarely at odds with the actions of their own members who have their political careers on the line.