Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Another race where energy issues have been top fare this year is the North Carolina race, where Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole is defending her seat against Democratic challenger Kay Hagan. It’s a race where both candidates have accused the other of being in the pocket of Big Oil, and the crude has been flying for months.

Kay Hagan

Kay Hagan.

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Hagan, a five-term state senator, has run an ad accusing Dole of giving billions to Big Oil and has repeatedly tied the incumbent to oil interests. On the campaign trail, Hagan has highlighted Dole’s votes in favor of tax cuts for oil companies, money the Doles have invested in oil and gas interests, and the $124,527 in campaign contributions she’s received from the oil and gas industry this year. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also jumped in with an ad targeting Dole on oil.

Dole, who is finishing out her first term in the Senate, is also on the attack, with one ad criticizing Hagan for not taking a stand on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and another calling for more drilling to bring down gas prices. The strongest ad from Dole, however, accuses Hagan of not only being for Big Oil, but actually being Big Oil, because Hagan and her husband, Chip, have invested in several oil companies. The same ad also targets Hagan for opposing offshore drilling.

The Hagans have invested somewhere between $90,000 and $300,000 in five companies that operate oil and gas wells in Kansas, Oklahoma, Indiana, West Virginia, and Ohio. Hagan’s spokeswoman says that the investments are Chip’s, and even if they do benefit candidate Hagan, the local paper’s fact-checkers ruled that “they hardly qualify her for membership in OPEC.” According to Politico, Chip Hagan also owns between $11,000 and $150,999.99 in oil stocks.

Elizabeth Dole

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Elizabeth Dole.

But Dole’s husband, former Senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole, also owns a stake of at least $1 million in “an offshore hedge fund that speculates on crude and heating oil, gasoline, and natural gas prices,” Politico also found. Elizabeth Dole’s Senate financial disclosure also notes that her husband earned between $51,000 and $100,000 on investments from a fund that invests in gas, oil, and other commodities.

In short, each campaign has accused the other of wanting gas prices to rise so they can make a buck and touted their respective plans as better-suited to addressing energy woes.

Both Dole and Hagan once supported the federal moratorium barring oil exploration off North Carolina’s coast, but flipped their positions this summer. Dole changed positions in June, which Hagan criticized at the time: “We cannot drill ourselves enough oil to solve this problem,” said Hagan. Later in the summer, though, Hagan came out in favor of the proposed bipartisan compromise energy bill in the Senate that included drilling.

At the same time, Hagan has been running ads in the state promoting a green economy and independence from foreign oil, and has released an energy plan that focuses on renewables and calls for better public transit and more fuel-efficient vehicles. She also notes that she “supported the state law that required 12.5 percent of North Carolina’s energy to come from renewable energy sources by 2021,” and would have supported the renewable electricity standard that the Senate stripped from last year’s energy bill. She also calls for a 60 to 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

When the issue of drilling in ANWR came up during the Democratic primary debate, Hagan noted that renewables, not drilling, should be the priority: “First,we’ve got to do away with the incentives for the Big Oil and gas companies. There’s no reason for them to be getting that especially when their prices are at an all-time high. We’ve also got to be looking at other forms of energy.”

Meanwhile, Dole has released a video of herself talking about energy and the economy in which she declares “war on high gas prices” — but only mentions increased domestic production of oil as a solution. The energy plan on her website also doesn’t mention anything beyond gaining access to more oil.

Dole also touts her work on environmental issues, including her co-sponsorship of this year’s failed Climate Security Act and introducing a bill on trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination in drinking water. Dole scored a 55 on the 2008 League of Conservation Voters scorecard, but her lifetime score is a 12.

In April, Hagan was a relative unknown statewide, and trailed far behind Dole in the polls. But the most recent polls in the state show Hagan with a slight lead, up 5 percent as of Oct. 8. It’s likely to be a photo-finish in the state, tied closely to the presidential race, which is currently neck-and-neck after decades of Republican dominance.