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Politics & Government

Back In Washington, Louisiana's Senate Campaigns Continue

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

One Senate race is not yet decided. That's in Louisiana, where Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu is in an uphill battle to win a runoff next month against her Republican opponent, Congressman Bill Cassidy. That campaign for the seat is now unfolding here in Washington, where both candidates are pushing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. The House votes tomorrow, the Senate next week. Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The Keystone pipeline does not go through or end in Louisiana. But it is the focal point of the state's still undecided Senate race nonetheless. The oil and gas industry is a big part of the state's economy, and Landrieu is running for a fourth Senate term on her ability to deliver for her constituents. So since the opening moments of the lame-duck congressional session yesterday, she's been pushing to get a Senate vote on Keystone. And she has not been subtle about her motivation.

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SENATOR MARY LANDRIEU: And I'm going to do everything in my power here and at home, on the campaign trail, where I'm still in a runoff, as you know, to get this project moving forward.

NAYLOR: Just to review, the Keystone XL pipeline would run from Western Canada across the plains and connect to an existing pipeline in Nebraska. Because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border, the State Department has been conducting a review of the project. And it's up to the president to sign off on it. The proposed legislation would essentially override that process. Most Republicans, many moderate Democrats along with business and labor groups support the project. They argue it would create as many as 20,000 construction jobs. Environmentalists are staunchly opposed. They argue extracting the oil from Canada's tar sands would release large amounts of greenhouse gases, and spills would pollute a major aquifer. Ben Schreiber of the Friends of the Earth says a vote in favor of the pipeline is not likely to help Landrieu or any other Democrat politically.

BEN SCHREIBER: Well, I don't think it helps Democrats at all. I mean, if you look at the wave of Democratic senators that lost office, most of them actually were playing footsie with Keystone or trying to support the oil and gas industry. The truth is that the oil and gas industry wanted Senator McConnell. And they spend lots of money to do it. And they're trying to buy this pipeline. And to capitulate now is a terrible strategy.

NAYLOR: The House has already voted several times in favor of Keystone and will take another vote tomorrow on a bill that has GOP candidate Cassidy's name on it. Tuesday's planned vote in the Senate would be that chamber's first. Bill Miller, vice president of the Business Roundtable, says no matter who gets the upper hand politically, Landrieu or Cassidy, a vote in Congress is a win for the pipeline's backers.

BILL MILLER: Regardless of what the motivations, politically or otherwise, the fact that we're on the precipice of moving this, not just in the House but in the Senate, and hopefully for signature by the president, is something that I think we should all be happy about.

NAYLOR: It's unclear if enough Democrats will back Keystone to reach the 60 votes it takes to move most major legislation in the Senate. Landrieu believes there are. And it's uncertain what President Obama would do if the measure gets to his desk. Also unclear is whether a Keystone vote now will help Landrieu, who won just 42 percent of the vote last week with three Republican opponents. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.