Kirk Siegler and Sarah McCammon
In Colorado and Iowa, two states considered up for grabs in the presidential race, a battle over alternative energy policy is playing a growing role in the debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney.
Both states have important wind-energy sectors, and Obama's campaign is rolling out new radio ads this week highlighting the president's support for — and Romney's opposition to — extending a tax credit on wind-energy production.
A 60-second radio ad playing in Colorado highlights the president's calls to extend the tax credit that is set to expire at year's end.
In Iowa, which ranks near the top of the nation for wind-power production and jobs, the Obama campaign is sending a similar message. A new radio ad there pits the president's energy policies against the budget proposal authored by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, and passed by the Republican-controlled House.
Romney has largely avoided the wind issue while campaigning in Iowa, focusing instead on broader energy proposals. He favors a variety of energy options, including traditional sources like coal and natural gas, along with wind and solar.
Shawn McCoy, Romney's communications director in Iowa, has said Romney wants to "create a level playing field" that would allow wind energy to succeed where it is "economically competitive" in the private sector — without a boost from tax credits.
The new Obama Iowa ad, "Watching," mentions wind, but emphasizes rural issues in general. When Romney picked Ryan, it says, "Washington pundits scrambled to learn what it meant for Romney's campaign. But here in rural Iowa, families have a different question: What would Paul Ryan's budget mean for us?"
The answer — according to the Obama campaign — is that Romney would cut taxes for the wealthy, while slashing programs that are important to rural Iowans, including wind-energy tax credits.
The Romney campaign calls the ads "misleading," saying they distract voters from what they say is the president's failure to create jobs across a much broader segment of the economy. Romney doesn't currently have any ads running in Colorado targeting energy, but the Republican did call for an "all of the above" strategy recently while campaigning in the oil fields of northeast Colorado.
Obama has also repeated his pitch to Coloradans while campaigning along the state's Front Range lately, where numerous clean-energy manufacturing companies have relocated in recent years largely because of the expansion of Danish wind blade manufacturer Vestas into the state.
Vestas employs about 1,700 people in Colorado, and last week the company announced it was beginning layoffs at its Pueblo plant due to the uncertainty over the wind tax credit's extension. The company warned more could be coming at its northern Colorado facilities, and The Denver Post reported a second wave of layoffs on Tuesday, in Brighton.
The Pueblo announcement coincided with Ryan's first campaign visit to Colorado last week. Ryan has been a vocal opponent of extending the tax credits, in fact, calling for the end of most tax subsidies for all energy sectors.
But at the Republican's only public event in the state, Ryan didn't mention the issue, focusing his remarks instead on hydraulic fracturing — a process for extracting underground natural gas — and how he said states like Colorado, not the federal government, should regulate it.
The Iowa ad was released the same day that Clipper Windpower announced plans to cuts scores of jobs in locations including Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Industry leaders, and Iowa politicians on both sides of aisle, say uncertainty about the wind-energy tax credit is a major reason for the layoffs.
The American Wind Energy Association called the uncertainty a nationwide concern, indicating that more job cuts are expected.
The Romney campaign is not currently running radio ads in Iowa. Last month, the campaign released a TV ad, "Where Did All the Money Go?" which criticized stimulus funding for "windmills from China" — a characterization that drew the ire of even some Iowa Republicans. The link to that ad on Romney's campaign website no longer works.