Keystone XL fight still simmering ahead of midterm elections

The Obama administration last week once again delayed a decision over whether to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that's become a flashpoint between liberals concerned with fossil fuel use and conservatives who say the project will stimulate the economy.

By prolonging the debate -- most likely past November -- the administration lets the issue linger as fodder for politicians on the 2014 ballot, particularly Republicans on the attack against Democrats in conservative states.

The delay prompted Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat most likely to square off against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to finally take a position on the project.

"The administration should rule now and approve the project," Grimes said in a statement Wednesday. "Putting Americans back to work in good-paying jobs that strengthen the middle class is my top priority and it should be the federal government's as well."

A spokesman for McConnell told the Associated Press that Kentucky voters shouldn't be satisfied with Grimes' statement. "If this is the kind of reluctant advocacy Kentucky coal miners can expect, it's pretty clear why left-wing environmental groups are filling her campaign coffers," McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said of Grimes.

The liberal Credo super PAC, which opposes the pipeline's construction, did announce this week that it would spend $500,000 to help defeat McConnell. However, the group is not getting involved in Louisiana, where Sen. Mary Landrieu is one of several vulnerable Democrats up for re-election who backs the Keystone project.

For Landrieu, another delay of the project is more politically advantageous than its approval. In a statement reacting to the news, Landrieu said, "I plan to use my power as chair of the Senate Energy Committee to take decisive action to get this pipeline permit approved."

Landrieu's statement echoed the message of her first campaign ad, which was launched last week. In that ad, the senator highlighted the way she has used her leadership position on the Energy Committee to strengthen the oil and gas industry in her state.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is charging that the delay only serves to illustrate how ineffective Landrieu has been in office. "It turns out that Landrieu isn't influential at all," NRSC digital strategist Bill Murphy wrote on the committee's blog. "Though she does seem quite talented at writing strongly worded letters for Harry Reid and Barack Obama proceed to ignore."

The delay also gives more fuel to conservatives seeking to make a bogeyman out of Tom Steyer, the California billionaire who is helping the super PAC NextGen Climate Action finance a $100 million campaign to promote climate change issues in the midterm elections. On the NRSC blog, Murphy suggested the delay was intended to appease the deep-pocketed liberal. "It's clear that Harry Reid and Democrats tasked with holding the Senate have made the political calculation that Tom Steyer's $100 million is necessary this fall," he wrote.

In the meantime, activists on the left continue protests against the pipeline. A coalition of Native Americans, farmers and ranchers from across the United States have been protesting Keystone in Washington all week, and on Friday they continue their protest with a demonstration in front of Secretary of State John Kerry's Georgetown mansion.

Ad angers families of Aurora shooting victims: The family members of the victims from the July 2012 Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting released a joint statement this week expressing their outrage over a political ad that unexpectedly recalled the tragic event.

The political ad, run by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, attacks Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., for his support of Obamacare. It uses an image of Udall standing next to President Obama. The two politicians have sullen expressions on their faces because the image was taken after they met with victims of the Aurora shooting in the hospital. Americans for Prosperity called it an "unfortunate oversight" and removed the image from their ad (see the updated version below). In their joint statement, the families called it an "utter disgrace."

"To insinuate the somber expressions were for anything other than their compassionate response to our heartbreak is beyond unconscionable," they said.

Marijuana on the ballot: Alaska voters were already planning to vote on a ballot initiative this year on whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana. Now because of a legal technicality, voters will take up the issue in November, on the general election ballot, rather than in August during the primaries. Advocates in favor of marijuana legalization are optimistic that putting the issue on the November ballot will help turn out liberal voters.

Activists in other areas of the nation, like Oregon and Washington, D.C., are also attempting to get marijuana legalization on the ballot this November.

Labor union launches Ohio campaign: To kick off its 2014 campaign, the Ohio AFL-CIO this week released a video supporting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald. It highlights FitzGerald's union-friendly policies, as well as Republican Gov. John Kasich's support for SB 5 -- the controversial measure restricting collective bargaining that has since been overturned.

The AFL-CIO is planning a broad push this year to educate voters on economic issues, whether or not they have union affiliations. Its effort will involve more than 35,000 volunteer shifts to work on voter registration, voter education and turnout.