As the caucusing and voting begins in the Democratic presidential primary, we will finally see the candidates travel outside of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. This means that their talking points may change, as other Americans have different interests and priorities. In relation to issues of energy and the environment, we can only guess whether the candidates will maintain their hardline policies or might tone down their hostility towards fossil fuels as they campaign in states that have prospered with fossil fuel resources.
The New York Times wrote about anxiety among Pennsylvania Democrats who worry that the presidential candidates are hurting the party by advocating for an end to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. All Americans have access to the statements and policies of candidates, no matter the states in which they are campaigning. However, as the Democratic presidential candidates make their way into fossil fuel states, we should look to see if they will waver on their environmentalism.
It is bad strategy for a politician to advocate policies against the voters’ interests—especially to their faces. After all, in 2017, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that her biggest mistake in the 2016 campaign was her claim in Columbus, Ohio that she would, “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” Oops. Ohio, the birthplace of John D. Rockefeller’s oil business in 1870, still has a coal industry and a growing fracking industry. In the general election, Clinton lost every major fossil fuel producing state except for Colorado. If winning was her priority, maybe that was her biggest mistake.
On this issue Vice President Joe Biden might have an advantage. He is on the record as saying he would stop drilling on federal lands, which means no new wells on federal land. However, there is very little federal land in Pennsylvania and Ohio, which are swing states that also have robust fracking industries. Senator Amy Klobuchar has said she will “review” all current fracking permits if elected, but other candidates like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want to end fracking entirely. In fact, Senator Sanders has said he would support criminal prosecution for oil and gas executives.
The first group of fossil fuel states to vote will be during Super Tuesday on March 3. Oklahoma and Texas vote that day, but the Democrats pretty much know they will lose in those states during the general election, so they might have no problem sticking to their hardline stances there. Similarly, other deep-red states with fossil fuels include North Dakota (votes on March 10) and Alaska and Wyoming (April 4).
Super Tuesday is also the primary date for Colorado, and Democrat candidates might hope that its strong liberal and environmentalist communities would help them there just as they helped Clinton win there in 2016. But it gets interesting on March 17. That is the date of the Ohio primary. Ohio is a crucial state for the general election. Will Democrats campaigning there be foolish or stubborn enough to repeat Clinton’s mistake? Pennsylvania votes April 28. West Virginia votes May 12. Kentucky votes May 19.
By March, the first week in March, candidates will be campaigning in swing states with significant fossil fuel industries. Then we will see if these candidates stand by the hardline policies they touted in the early days of the campaign. Or will they falter when face-to-face with a coal miner or a fracker at a town hall meeting?