Vulnerable Republicans on both coasts – and a few places in between – must be pulling out their hair after the Trump administration’s latest moves on marijuana and offshore drilling.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced a plan to open up vast tracts of both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines for offshore oil and gas drilling leases on Thursday afternoon, just hours after Attorney General Jeff Sessions unleashed federal prosecutors to crack down in states that have legalized marijuana, throwing eight states’ legal regimes into chaos.
Both moves risk further alienating swing voters in coastal states as well as those states that have legalized marijuana or implemented medical marijuana programs. And while neither may be an election-defining national issue, they carry a one-two punch to GOP lawmakers from Southern California to Washington and Florida to New Jersey to Maine who are hoping to hang onto their House seats and represent college educated, traditionally Republican voters already turned off by Trump and worried about the impact of the GOP tax law.
The moves also could further motivate millennial voters to turn out for Democrats. Polls show that nearly two thirds of voters now support legalized marijuana, a huge spike in recent years — and those numbers are much higher with younger voters.
“Coastal Republicans were already having a tough time dealing with constituents who were pissed off about the tax bill,” former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Political Director Ian Russell told TPM. “It’s like they’re handpicking issues they’re not winning on. It’s bizarre.”
The pair of decisions had Democrats banding together in fury — joined by some swing-state Republicans, a telling sign heading into a rough midterm.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), a longtime Trump ally and possible Senate candidate in a state where the Deepwater Horizon oil spill isn’t so distant a memory, made a rare break with the Trump administration following Zinke’s announcement.
In a statement, Scott said he opposed the decision and demanded a meeting with Zinke to “remove Florida from consideration” for more offshore drilling.
He wasn’t alone — Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), a swing-district Republican from coastal Florida, called Zinke’s proposal “extremely alarming and unacceptable” in a statement.
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) January 4, 2018
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee who represents one of the eight states that has legalized pot sales, was even harsher in his response to Sessions, threatening to hold up all Department of Justice nominees until the policy is reversed.
I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me prior to his confirmation.
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) January 4, 2018
Other GOP senators from states with legal pot also criticized the move. But Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), facing a tough primary as well as reelection challenge, put out an ambivalent statement that could further complicate his 2018 chances — and his Democratic opponent, Rep. Jackie Rosen (D-NV), was quick to pounce.
— Jacky Rosen (@RosenforNevada) January 4, 2018
Offshore drilling could hurt Republicans hoping to hang onto House seats in Washington, California, Florida, Virginia, New Jersey, and even Maine and Texas. And Sessions’ move to crack down on legal pot hurts them in Maine, Colorado and Nevada, states that have legalized marijuana sales and have competitive House races.
But nowhere do those dual blows hit harder for Republicans than in California, a state that’s just days into having legalized marijuana after passing a referendum by a double-digit margin last fall and that has a long history of opposition to oil drilling ever since the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill that helped create the environmental movement.
“California voters have spoken in terms of where they stand on this issue and if you look at public polling the American public is also speaking. This guy has not only mis-prioritized the limited resources of the department, he is frankly out of sync with where the vast majority of Californians are and I would suggest even most Americans are,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) told TPM of Sessions’ move to upend states’ rights on marijuana regulation.
California Republicans are defending more than a half-dozen vulnerable members, many of them in districts on or near the coast in Orange County, and they were already facing tough races given the state’s repulsion to Trump.
“I definitely would not want to be a California Republican House member right now,” Jack Pitney, a former Republican congressional staffer who teaches at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California, told TPM. “If Trump’s approval rating could go any lower in California, it will.”