Midterm campaigning gets in the way of energy policy

Former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., announces his formation of an exploratory committee to run for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire in Nashua, N.H. on March 14, 2014. WBZ

After months of behind-the-scenes work, a bipartisan group of senators managed to produce an energy efficiency bill with strong bipartisan support. The legislation by no means represented an all-encompassing energy policy, but it showed that Democrats and Republicans could still work together to get things done. Then on Monday, the bill was killed -- by a filibuster reportedly spurred on by a Republican not even in office.

Even though the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., had seven GOP co-sponsors including Portman, all but three Republicans voted to filibuster it. The Huffington Post reports that Scott Brown, the former Republican Massachusetts senator now seeking to unseat Shaheen in New Hampshire, urged his party to sink the bill in order to deny Shaheen that legislative accomplishment.

Publicly, Republicans have said they opposed moving forward with the legislation because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to let the GOP offer a series of energy-related amendments to the bill on the Senate floor, including an amendment to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. While Reid rejected that plan, he did promise Republicans a standalone vote on Keystone after the Senate finished voting on the Shaheen-Portman bill.

Spokesmen for Brown and GOP leadership neither denied nor confirmed the report that Brown -- who touts his reputation as a reasonable moderate -- interfered with the bill.

"Scott Brown was concerned that Senator Shaheen was refusing to allow a vote on the Keystone pipeline, a commonsense and bipartisan project that would immediately create thousands of jobs and lessen our dependence on foreign oil," Elizabeth Guyton, Brown's communications director, told Politico.

In a statement to CBS News, she added, "It's typical of Washington politicians to blame anyone but themselves for their own failures. The reason Senator Shaheen's bill went down to defeat is because of her stubborn refusal to allow a vote on the Keystone pipeline, not because of Scott Brown."

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of Brown, "Sounds like he was saying the same thing everyone else was: Americans should be allowed the opportunity for the Senate to vote on Keystone and other job creation measures."

Reid on Thursday referred to GOP complaints over amendments a "phony issue," charging that Brown didn't want to let Shaheen take credit for the nearly 200,000 jobs the bill's proponents say it would create.

There's a chance the legislation could be revived. When the Senate voted on to proceed with the bill on Monday, Reid ultimately switched his vote from yes to no -- a technical move that leaves the door open for Reid to call the bill to the floor again. Sources from both sides of the aisle tell CBS News Capitol Hill producer John Nolen that lawmakers are trying to work out a resolution, but some say it may not come up again until after the midterm elections.

"We have the complete triumph right now of the permanent campaign," Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, lamented to CBS News. "It really began to take over in the '80s. There used to be a real separation of campaigning and governing -- the campaigns are zero-sum processes, the governing is an additive process."

Now, however, the parties are farther apart ideologically. And this year, there is the very real possibility that Republicans could retake the majority from Democrats. Consequently, lawmakers avoid "anything you might do to give a little traction to somebody on the other side of the aisle," Ornstein said.

But now that the cat is out of the bag, Ornstein said the interference is likely to backfire on Brown.

"If I'm Shaheen and I'm the Democrats, I pound away on the idea that Scott Brown kept an important policy vehicle from moving forward for his own naked political ambition," he said. "It sure seems to me that it hurts Scott Brown more than it hurts Shaheen."

Indeed, the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee emailed reporters this week to make sure they saw the headlines about Brown.

Ornstein said the best opportunity to blunt the "permanent campaign" may have come before Reid decided to use the so-called "nuclear option" to change Senate rules. Had Republicans agreed to stop using filibusters as a "weapon of mass obstruction" and made a good-faith effort to restore some normalcy to the Senate, they would now have more leverage when it comes to offering amendments on the floor.

Some lawmakers, including President Obama, have suggested that the filibuster rules have to change even more if the Senate is going to function properly. "We've got to make sure our political system works better. And, yes, there are all kinds of reforms that we need to do, from campaign finance to how a filibuster works," Mr. Obama said at a recent fundraiser without going into further detail.

Ornstein, however, contends that "there is no great structural remedy" for the current level of dysfunction. Reforms like open primaries and preference voting (ranking candidates by order of preference) could counter the hyper-partisan atmosphere, but he said, "As long as we've got the polarized environment and the strong prospect that the majority could change, it'd be very hard to turn this around."

McConnell's primary fight fizzles

Typically, incumbency is an advantage in campaigns, but in Kentucky, conservatives had held a grudge against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's longtime Washington experience. Just 41 percent of registered voters in the state approve of McConnell's performance, according to an NBC/Marist poll released this week, while 46 percent disapprove.

Yet the same poll shows McConnell easily defeating his primary opponent, tea party-aligned businessman Matt Bevin. If he defeats Bevin on Tuesday, McConnell will move onto a potentially stronger challenge from Kentucky's Democratic secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes, the frontrunner for the Democratic Senate nomination. The NBC/ Marist poll shows McConnell with just a one-point lead over Grimes.

A runoff in Georgia?

The Georgia Senate race should be one of this year's most competitive, in part because a crowded field of Republicans in the running to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. If none of the seven GOP candidates garners at least 50 percent of the GOP vote in Tuesday's primary, there will be a runoff between the top two candidates in July.

Polls have shown former Reebok CEO David Perdue in the lead, but his advantage has spurred his fellow Republicans to attack his commitment to the party and his business record.

While Republicans bicker amongst each other, Democrats have lined up behind candidate Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn.

Pryor makes a comeback in Arkansas

The Senate race in Arkansas has been pegged as one of the GOP's best opportunities to pick up a seat this year. In Tuesday's primary, Rep. Tom Cotton -- the only Republican running -- will officially take up the challenge to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor.

On paper, Cotton seems like an ideal candidate. He's managed to win the support of establishment organizations as well as the support of ultra-conservative groups like the Club for Growth. In a state where President Obama has only a 33 percent approval rating, according to the latest Marist poll, those conservative credentials should be an asset.

However, that Marist poll shows Pryor beating Cotton 51 percent to 40 percent and is just the latest of a spate of polls giving Pryor a lead. RealClearPolitics' Caitlin Huey-Burns reports that Pryor is winning over the elderly by focusing on issues like Medicare and Social Security. Pryor has also highlighted his support for the expansion of Medicaid in his state.

GOP aims to recruit more women

Democrats this year are openly pursuing a political and legislative agenda designed to appeal to women, with votes on pocketbook issues like the minimum wage and the Paycheck Fairness Act. Republicans, however, aren't going to readily cede half of the electorate.

The Republican National Committee this week launched its "14 in '14" initiative, which aims to recruit and train women under 40 to volunteer for the GOP. The RNC will train these volunteers -- in 25 key counties with high numbers of independent female voters -- to support get-out-the-vote efforts and engage with other women.

"Between women losing their doctors due to ObamaCare and feeling the anemic Obama economy every day, it's important the Republican Party has female messengers across the country heading into November," RNC Co-Chairman Sharon Day said in a statement.

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