Green groups are giving Democrats a real boost in their bid to keep the Senate this year—which is kind of ironic, since many high-profile Democratic candidates aren’t that great on environmental issues. In Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes has gone to great lengths to out-coal Mitch McConnell. Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu has built her campaign around her reputation as Big Oil’s best friend. Kay Hagan, Mark Begich, Mark Pryor and pretty much everyone else have touted their support for the Keystone XL pipeline. Colorado’s Mark Udall is a notable exception, but the polls are increasingly grim.
The bright spot for environmentalists is, improbably, in deep-red South Dakota. Though his party gave up on the race early in the year, Democratic nominee Rick Weiland quietly took his brand of prairie populism to every town in the state. With the Republican candidate mired in a corruption scandal, the race is suddenly competitive. The top candidates—Weiland, Republican Mike Rounds and independent Larry Pressler— will debate on Thursday evening. It’s possible that Weiland could be the candidate that saves the Senate for the left.
When it comes to the environment, Weiland is running in the opposite direction from most other Democratic candidates. He doesn’t just oppose Keystone XL: he is loud about it. “There was no way, after I took a good hard look at it, I could do anything other than come out in strong opposition to Keystone, to the pipeline. I have made no bones about it,” Weiland said in an interview on Wednesday. “And, you know, it might have been easier for me to run and hide or duck and cover, but when you know the truth, I think you just have an obligation to stand up and be counted, and that’s what I’ve done.”
The way Weiland sees it, Democrats have allowed the GOP to turn support for the pipeline into a litmus test by failing to challenge the claims made by its supporters. “We haven’t had anybody in opposition with a loud enough megaphone to be able to stand up and say, ‘it’s not jobs. It’s not about energy security,’ ” Weiland explained. Surprisingly, he said he doesn’t hear that much support for the pipeline from South Dakotans.
But when Keystone does come up, Weiland simply explains how misleading the talking points in favor of the pipeline are. He understands why people have an open ear to the argument that Keystone will create jobs, but he’s quick to point out that such claims have been wildly inflated. Only thirty-five people would find permanent jobs because of the pipeline, according to government estimates. “And no one’s been able to tell me if even one of those will be in South Dakota,” he grumbled. As for the temporary jobs created by constructions, Weiland says they are “nothing more than Macy’s hiring people for the holidays. They come and go very quickly.”