The Environmentalist’s Guide to the Congressional Elections (and more)

Your three-click cheat sheet for Tuesday's most significant choices other than McCain vs. Obama.

By Ben Whitford

With all the attention focused on the race for the White House, one could almost forget that November 4 will also see the election of 470 members of Congress, and countless statewide ballot initiatives. Many of these have the potential for major environmental repercussions. Here are some of the down-ticket races to watch.


U.S. Senate

North Carolina - Elizabeth Dole (R) vs Kay Hagan (D):’s first Senate ad buy of the season was an attack ad blasting Dole, a former Transportation Secretary and wife of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, for being “in the pocket of Big Oil.” It seemed like a long-shot, but with Republicans’ electoral fortunes dwindling along with the American public’s the liberal group has poured millions more into further ads bashing Dole’s pro-oil and anti-conservation voting record. It looks like the investment is paying dividends: Hagan, who as state senator fought for legislation boosting the solar sector and requiring 12.5 percent renewable-energy for North Carolinians, is currently a point or two up in the polls.

Colorado - Mark Udall (D) vs Bob Schaffer (R): Environmental pedigrees don’t come much better than Mark Udall’s: he’s the son of legendary conservationist Morris Udall; a nine-year congressman with a stellar legislative record, most notably on renewable energy; and — to top it all — an accomplished mountain-climber who’s tackled all 54 of his state’s 14,000-foot peaks. His rival, by contrast, is an oil executive whom the League of Conservation Voters dubbed “Big Oil Bob” after taking more than $150,000 in oil-sector donations. Udall’s campaign briefly faltered as gas prices spiked this summer, but he’s still odds-on favorite to turn Colorado from red to green.

New Mexico - Tom Udall (D) vs Steve Pearce (R): The opportunity to replace the retiring Republican, Pete Domenici, with…almost anyone else…is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for conservationists. Even better, in this race we’ve got Tom Udall, Mark’s cousin and a sitting congressman, and his 96 rating from the LCV. That’s a full 95 points better than his rival and fellow representative Steve Pearce; in the House, the pair have fallen on opposite sides of just about every environmental issue, from clean energy and clean air to drilling for oil in New Mexico’s pristine desert wilderness. Fortunately, Udall currently enjoys an 18-point lead in the polls.

Oklahoma - James Inhofe (R) vs Andrew Rice (D): The GOP’s climate-skeptic in chief, James Inhofe, has had an unexpectedly tough reelection campaign; he’s gone from a 41-point lead last December to a 13-point lead in recent polls, and the race is still tightening. If he loses, Democrats would likely be on course for a filibuster-proof supermajority, and greens’ schadenfreude would know no limit. For now, though, keep this one filed under “wishful thinking.”

House of Representatives

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