Gulf Oil Spill Politics Spreads Across Country

As BP promises progress on the oil spill, the political maneuvering set off by the catastrophe continues to flow through to campaigns around the nation.

In states directly affected by the spill, many incumbent politicians have seized on the opportunity created by this crisis.

"They've used it to political advantage while doing their jobs, frankly," said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for the Cook Political Report. "It's a great and unfortunate but unique opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills."

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate, has been thrust into the national media spotlight as a result of the spill's effect on Florida's Gulf Coast. Crist has called a special session of the state legislature to consider amending the state constitution to ban offshore oil drilling.

Critics have questioned the need for such an amendment, as Florida law already bans offshore drilling.

Marco Rubio, who defeated Crist in the Republican primary, has called the session "a blatant political move meant more to protect the governor's political career than our beaches."

Rubio's campaign, lacking the publicity platform given by Crist's office, released a Web video this week using local news clips to argue that the session is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

But Crist argued that further constitutional protection is necessary to make it more difficult for future legislatures to overturn the ban.

Louisiana's U.S. Senate race also has been touched by the oil spill. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Louisiana, who broke down during a Congressional hearing on the spill in May, has sparred with incumbent Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, over appropriate legal responses.

In early June, Vitter accused Melancon of supporting the federal moratorium on deepwater drilling imposed by the Obama administration, a charge that Melancon strongly denied. The Democrat has been vocal in opposing the moratorium in the weeks since, saying in an editorial in a Louisiana newspaper that the moratorium "is a predictable Washington-style knee-jerk reaction," that "could result in thousands of workers being laid off and cripple our state's economy."

Vitter and Melancon also have disagreed over the question of liability caps for future incidents. Vitter has co-sponsored a bill that would replace the current $75 million cap on companies' liability for economic damages from an accident with either the company's profit over the last four quarters or $150 million, whichever is greater.

Melancon has attacked the proposal as a bailout for BP and oil companies, although the bill would not affect BP's liability in the current spill. Senate Democrats have proposed eliminating the liability cap altogether.

Offshore drilling has been raised in races far beyond the Gulf, as well.

"It's a good issue to localize in a lot of states," said Duffy. "What you're really telling voters is what happened in the Gulf could happen to us. This is not an issue which is as removed geographically as it appears."

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, has called for a permanent ban on offshore drilling on the West Coast, leading her campaign website with a petition on the issue.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, has co-sponsored a bill with Murray and several other senators to enact such a ban.

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