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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

The Politics of Coal in the Virginia Senate Race

Air Date: Week of October 5, 2012

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Tim Kaine (Photo: Jeff Caplan)

Jobs and the economy are dominating the political discussions this election season, but environmental issues have become prominent in the swing state of Virginia. Mark Rozell, professor of public policy at George Mason University, joins us to discuss why it's happening in the crucial senate race between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen.

Transcript

CURWOOD: In the state of Virginia, both candidates seeking to replace the retiring Democratic US Senator James Webb are playing up their friendliness to coal. Republican George Allen, a former governor who narrowly lost the Senate seat to Webb in 2006, has consulted for mining giants Peabody Coal and Alpha Natural Resources since he left office.

His Democratic opponent, Tim Kaine, also a former governor, has a much harder record to defend when it comes to selling his support for the coal industry. That history has become a key issue of the campaign. Here's Mark Rozell - he's a political scientist at George Mason University in Virginia.

ROZELL: One of the political challenges for Kaine coming into this campaign was that he was so closely tied to the policies of the Obama Administration at the federal level. Kaine was the head of the Democratic National Committee, and therefore he was the leading voice for many of the policies coming out of the Democratic Administration, in Washington, some of which were very unpopular in Virginia. The formula for victory for Democratic candidates running statewide in Virginia in the modern era has been to run to the right of the national party wherever possible.

CURWOOD: Like the presidential election, professor, many people assume that economic issues would decide this contest in Virginia. When did the environment become such an important factor in the race?

ROZELL: Well, the environment has been an issue in the race all along, but it’s been mostly muted. There hasn’t been as much discussion about environmental concerns as there has been about jobs and the economy. But Democratic candidate Tim Kaine has been running some television ads, extolling his support for coal mining and the fact that his family has connections to the coal mining country in Virginia and that he’s supportive of the industry. And of course, this is a position that’s counter to positions taken by pro-environmental groups and the Democratic Party constituencies.

CURWOOD: We’re going to play that ad now. Let me point out that that ad has Tim Kaine looking down from a helicopter.

[AD: This state of the art coal plant in West Virginia, where my wife is from, created 2,500 new jobs. As governor, I supported its construction, I also support offshore energy, conservation, and innovative investments in wind and solar, which together employ more than 66,000 Virginians. That’s what I call unleashing our energy potential! I’m Tim Kaine and I approve this message because innovation creates jobs, energy independence and a cleaner tomorrow.]

CURWOOD: What do you think Tim Kaine was trying to accomplish with this ad?

ROZELL: First of all, Tim Kaine wants to position himself as a pro-economic growth candidate. And since jobs and the economy are the leading issues in this campaign, he wants to emphasize in economically distressed areas of Virginia that he supports various industries that are important to creating economic opportunity.

CURWOOD: How has George Allen’s campaign responded?


George Allen (Wikimedia Creative Commons)

ROZELL: The Allen campaign has argued that Tim Kaine is not authentic in presenting himself as a pro-industry type candidate. That he has taken positions that are more in-tune with the policies of the Obama Administration in environmental issues. Allen has tried to tie Kaine to opposition to the pipeline that the Obama Administration had successfully stopped, and in general Allen has portrayed himself as the more pro-jobs, pro-growth, pro-industry type candidate than Tim Kaine. Essentially he’s arguing that he’s a faker on this.

CURWOOD: I’m going to play an ad that George Allen just recently made for his own campaign:

[AD: America is at a crossroads. Will we continue to decline or begin to ascend again? I envision a greater future, where job creators are able to invest and grow free of excessive regulations and taxes. Where we use America’s energy resources to improve our quality of life.”]

CURWOOD: And then, let’s listen to some folks who, well, have their gloves a little bit more off. The Chamber of Commerce has run a counter ad agaist Kaine:

[AD: What exactly is Tim Kaine’s position on American energy exploration? Yes, if… Yes, but…? Yes, when.. and that means… no. Kaine claims he’s for American energy exploration, but wants to delay. Tim Kaine says he’s for the Keystone XL pipeline, but, just not now.We do know Kaine supported cap-and-trade which would have raised energy costs. Tim Kaine on energy… the more you know, the more it sounds like: NO. Vote no on Tim Kaine. The US Chamber is responsible for the content of this advertising.]

ROZELL: The Chamber here is trying to say this guy is not only inconsistent, but you really can’t trust what he says he’s going to do as a candidate in this campaign. Look at his record in the past and that will give you some more true insight into his actual beliefs about these issues.

CURWOOD: Now, the League of Conservation Voters has jumped into this with a lot of money for them - they’re spending almost a million dollars to send out pieces of mail to half a million households. Why do you think that the League of Conservation Voters is pouring money into the Kaine campaign despite the ambivalence they must feel?

ROZELL: I think the League of Conservation Voters feels that it’s especially important to pour extra money into this campaign, given the emphasis now on environmental issues. And even though Tim Kaine has taken a position that goes against pro-environmental groups, the League of Conservation Voters believe that Tim Kaine is far better than anything that would come from George Allen if George Allen were to go back to the Senate.

These groups understand the importance of being pragmatic and being sensible. You can’t find candidates who are 100 percent with you 100 percent of the time on all issues. You have to keep your eyes on the big picture. One Senate race can make the difference, ultimately, as to whether it’s the Democrats or the Republicans who control the Senate after this election year is over.

CURWOOD: What do polls show at this point?

ROZELL: The latest polls show that Tim Kaine has opened up a significant lead over George Allen. The Washington Post poll, I believe, has it at 8 percentage points. One thing that has been pretty consistent throughout this election is that the polls in the Virginia Senate race have tracked very closely with the top of the ticket. So that, when Barak Obama and Mitt Romney were running statistically tied, so were Tim Kaine and George Allen.

And ever since Barack Obama has opened up something of a real lead over Mitt Romney, Tim Kaine also has opened up a real lead over George Allen. So something is happening, right now in Virginia at least, that is favoring both of the Democratic candidates for both the presidential and senatorial levels.

CURWOOD: Mark Rozell is Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University in Virginia, thank you so much Professor!

ROZELL: OK - thank you!

 

Links

For more information about Virginia US Senate candidate Democrat Tim Kaine

For more information about Virginia US Senate candidate George Allen

 

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