Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

RNC 2016: Will energy become a winning issue for Donald Trump?


CLEVELAND -- Four years ago, an issue that featured prominently in the election, particularly on the Republican side, was energy. Newt Gingrich famously ran in the primary on a platform that included getting gas prices down to $2.50 a gallon. Mitt Romney picked up on the issue by calling for "North American energy independence" by 2020.

It turns out, Gingrich at least wasn't ambitious enough. Gas prices plummeted from their 2012 average of $3.60 a gallon to below $2 a gallon, before rebounding to $2.20 . But on other fronts, from the EPA's Clean Power Plan to some states' restrictions or bans on fracking, energy has remained a controversial issue. And we might be hearing more about it between now and November.

"Energy is the number-one issue, I think, this year, and particularly in this race and this campaign, because they (Democrats) don’t have a leg to stand on. It's that simple," longtime energy entrepreneur Harold Hamm, who is scheduled to speak to the full Republican National Convention, said at a panel discussion Tuesday. "Our number-one problem is not global warming, it's Islamic terrorism. And where's it coming from? The Middle East. ...

"(Carbon dioxide) emissions are down over 20 percent, basically to the lowest point since the early '90s, so we’re getting there quickly. Global warming, is that something we need to pay attention to? Absolutely: It's a long-term problem. The short-term problem is Islamic terrorism."

That energy hasn't been more of a winning issue for Republicans is a bit ironic. As Steve Moore, an economist at the Heritage Foundation, pointed out, many of the job gains in President Obama's first term came in the very energy industry his regulators have increasingly tried to clamp down on. If not for those disproportionate job gains helping to drive the economy, he said, "Barack Obama wouldn't have been re-elected in 2012."

Since the last election, the Obama administration has only ratcheted up the pressure on the energy industry. That's the status Clinton inherits in seeking to take the baton from Obama, and her own comments -- including the remark during a March town hall that her policies would "put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business" -- aren't going to help her. There have already been political repercussions for her: After beating Obama in coal-reliant West Virginia in the 2008 primary, she lost that state to Bernie Sanders this time around.

West Virginia has gone Republican in four straight presidential elections . But Adam Brandon, CEO of FreedomWorks, which hosted the panel discussion in a hall built by railroad industrialists who made a fortune in the transportation of raw materials, noted the issue should resonate in a state such as Ohio that has oil and natural-gas resources.

"It remembers a past when we had Standard Oil and the steel mills," Brandon said. "I'm not saying those days are coming back, but what it had in common (with today) is using our resources."


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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.