Obama vs Romney: Vying for Swing Votes at Expense of the Issues in States like Alaska

No one was surprised when U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski and Representative Don Young of Alaska spoke out with enthusiastic support for the Romney/Ryan ticket last week. Standing before the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce in Anchorage, Murkowski told the crowd in no uncertain terms that she looked forward to a Romney presidency, while Young took the opportunity to air his excitement over the inclusion of Paul Ryan as the vice presidential nominee.

Alaska is, of course, as solidly red as states come. For Alaskan Democrats supporting President Obama, it is (humorously) a source of relief that the state has a mere three votes in the Electoral College. But while the Republican members of the Alaskan delegation were steadfast in their support for Romney, this wasn’t just a case of one-sided party politics in "The Last Frontier.”

 As the Anchorage Daily News reported, when asked who he was supporting for president during the same meeting, U.S. Senator Mark Begich — the sole Democrat in Alaska’s cadre of top political leaders — stopped short of endorsing President Obama’s bid for the White House. Instead, Begich voiced his disappointment with the Obama administration’s lackluster energy initiatives over the last three years.

This highlights an important set of issues for the 49th state — the significance of oil and national resource development to Alaskans cannot be overstated. To be sure, Alaska’s short history as a state is deeply connected with its role as a natural resource hotbed for the U.S., particularly since the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline was completed in 1977 amidst a national energy crisis. In a state where notions of national identity are sometimes complicated by the sheer force of extreme physical separation from the “Lower 48,” the pipeline notably stands as an important symbol of the interconnectedness between Alaskans and the rest of the Union.

For Alaskans, then, political discourse on oil drilling and energy development continues to be a source of frustration. Many see the state’s richness in natural resources as a key component to achieving American energy independence in the future. The relative silence surrounding oil independence is particularly deafening during this election given the extreme unrest in the Middle East and the continuing rise of gasoline prices. It appears that natural resource development is just another issue that has fallen to the wayside during the October Silly Season.

Even as a Democrat, I have to admit my disappointment with the fact that a comprehensive energy policy hasn’t been developed in the United States. I can’t help but to at least sympathize with critics who point out the Obama administration’s often-ambiguous stance on oil drilling and development. From the administration's initial support for offshore drilling back in 2010, to the more recent Keystone XL Pipeline and Alaskan National Petroleum Reserve controversies, the Obama administration's stance on things hasn't always been exactly clear. (I admit that Solyndra has probably made discussing the administration's Green investments close to impossible). 

Senator Begich thus struck just the right chord the other day, making it clear he was supporting the president (look at his voting record) while making it clearer that Alaska, not the Democratic Party, was his primary responsibility. (It's worth pointing out that Mitt Romney doesn’t have much to offer here, despite vague allusions to  a plan that supposedly aims at achieve American energy independence by 2020.)

Although the presidential election still appears to be a toss-up in the polls, I have no doubt that Alaska will go to Romney on November 4. I’m not convinced, however, that a comprehensive energy policy that stresses American energy independence will be developed in the near future, regardless of who wins next month. My hope is, however, that resource development will figure more prominently in Tuesday's debate than it has in the rest of this election.

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