If there’s anyone in Iowa who doesn’t know Mitt Romney’s position on the question of wind-power subsidies, it’s not for a lack of effort by the Obama campaign.
“Governor Romney wants to end the tax credits for wind energy,” Obama said last week at a campaign event in Iowa. “Wind energy creates 7,000 jobs in Iowa — 7,000 jobs. Governor Romney said these new sources of energy are ‘imaginary.’ Congressman Ryan said they’re a ‘fad.’ Those 7,000 jobs aren‘t a fad; they’re our future.”
The Obama campaign clearly views the wind-energy subsidy — a 2.2-cent tax credit, enacted in 1992 and set to expire in December, for each kilowatt-hour of electricity generated — as a winning issue and an essential part of keeping Iowa blue this cycle. In 2008, Obama beat John McCain by nine points in the Hawkeye State, but polls suggest that Romney is close enough to be a threat.
Experts are divided as to how much Romney’s position will hurt him. Timothy Hagle, a political-science professor at the University of Iowa, downplays the importance of the credit. “It’s not like ethanol,” he says. “That’s what some people think, including perhaps the Obama campaign.” Iowa may be second in the nation in wind-energy production, but the industry “doesn’t affect the same large number of Iowans that the ethanol stuff did,” Hagle explains.
However, Iowa Democratic strategist Greg Hauenstein says Romney’s position is “not playing well.” He points to the fact that prominent Iowa Republicans such as Senator Chuck Grassley and Governor Terry Branstad have publicly announced their disagreement with Romney on wind-energy policy. Branstad told Radio Iowa that Romney “needs to be educated on how important this is.” At an early-August town hall, Grassley said, “I’m the author of the wind-energy tax credit of 1992, and there were people from outside the state [who] came into Iowa and issued a press release that the Republican candidate for president was opposed to wind energy, and I felt it was just like a knife in my back, as the author of the bill, without even being consulted about it.”
Tim Albrecht, Branstad’s communications director, acknowledges that the governor and Romney don’t see eye to eye. However, “I don’t think that the wind-energy tax credit is going to be the issue that makes or breaks the election in Iowa,” he says.
David Yepsen, a former Des Moines Register reporter and the current director of the state’s bipartisan Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, thinks that while opposition to the wind subsidy alone might not damage Romney, the issue could feed into a larger narrative about Mitt Romney and rural America. Wind energy, he says, is an issue that can matter to voters “psychologically.”
“There are some issues that convey to voters in rural America that you understand their problems,” Yepsen says, mentioning the farm bill and ethanol subsidies as other examples. “What these convey to people is that you sort of get it, that you understand the problems in rural America, the need for economic growth and diversity.”
Furthermore, in the 2010 gubernatorial election, incumbent Chet Culver focused much of his reelection campaign on support for wind energy. “The centerpiece of his reelection campaign, [with regard] to the economy, was him running as the champion of wind energy,” a well-connected Iowa Republican explains. “Despite being the self-identified champion of wind energy — and of course the industry had grown dramatically under his watch as governor — Iowans still ultimately rendered their judgment based on the historic levels of debt that Chet Culver had taken the state into, and his failed record on Iowa’s economy. I think you can draw a direct parallel to how Iowans will vote in 2012.”
Even in the view of the spokesman for a pro-wind governor, the issue that looms large for Iowa voters is the national debt, not wind energy. “Iowans don’t like debt. We have the lowest per capita credit-card debt in the entire country,” Albrecht remarks. “What it’s going to come down to is who has the best plan to manage the federal budget and who has the best plan for job creation.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.