Chairman Lucas Says Lawmakers Must Ensure ‘There’s Still “Farm” in the Farm Bill’ (via Oklahoma Farm Report)

With a series of field hearings on the new farm bill halfway over, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas says his he has heard recurrent themes from producers all across the country. Crafting a bill embodying those themes won’t be that difficult, he says, but crafting a bill that will pass muster in both houses of Congress is another story.

In an interview with Ron Hays, Chairman Lucas said there are a number of factors working in favor of the authors of the House Bill. Those factors include a near unanimity of producers on the main issues to be addressed by the bill, and the Senate’s failure to pass a budget. The difficulties come, he says, from those who hold differing views on the underlying purpose of a farm bill.

“If we’re going to have a farm bill it has to have two fundamental principles: It has to have ‘farm’ still in the Farm Bill. And with 75-nearly 80 percent of present farm bill spending in the existing farm bill in nutrition programs, you have to be very careful to make sure there’s still farm in the farm bill. The other component, of course, is a farm bill that will work with, work for, will enable people in all commodity groups and across the country to participate in it. Once again, it’s not a farm bill if farmers and ranchers can’t participate in the whole country.”

Lucas says crafting a bill with sufficient flexibility is certainly possible and, judging from what he’s heard during field hearings across the country, what farmers and ranchers want even more is for the federal government to simply just get out of the way.

“One of the constant themes that came through there was their difficulty in dealing with the environmental regulations, the labor regulations, the stuff that the federal government is doing to make it more difficult to be a farmer or rancher. And the reason I find that so fascinating is that’s the exact same comments I get in my town meetings in the 3rd District of Oklahoma. ‘Uncle Sam is making it harder for us to practice our vocation, making it more difficult for us to feed our families and our fellow neighbor.’ “

Lucas says he has been encouraged by the working relationship forged with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Members Roberts and Peterson, but the future of a farm bill will ultimately hinge on finances. The parliamentary relationship between the House and Senate is somewhat complicated due to the Senate’s lack of a budget, but Lucas says that should work in favor of House committee members.

Changing budget targets concern Lucas. The deal he worked out with the Senate ag committee last fall envisioned $23 billion in cuts to the farm bill. He says he is concerned that the budget put forward by Congressman Paul Ryan calls for $32 billion in cuts over ten years, but he does support the budget.

“It’s substantially more, of course, than what Senator Stabenow, Senator Roberts and Congressman Peterson and I had agreed on attempting to do last fall which was $23 billion, but the key here, I think, is that we have the flexibility that we need to be able to move resources around to make the decisions in the ag committee. I’ll vote for Chairman Ryan’s budget resolution when it comes up this week. There will be five or six alternatives that will do all sorts of dramatic and drastic things to ag and other areas, but what we have in this budget resolution will give us the ability to move forward.”

With the final House field hearing not until April 20th, Lucas says his committee will be a little bit behind the Senate in crafting farm legislation and that, too, may work in his favor.

“I look forward to Senate Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts taking up a farm bill in the Senate ag committee and passing it. And with the successful passage of the bill out of committee, that will actually kind of help generate some momentum over on the House side among, perhaps, members who are not on the ag committee who have not focused. So I say to the Senate, ‘Go get ‘em!’ We’re going to be there with you, but we’re running a little behind you in the way the schedules work out.”

Lucas says he expects his committee’s field hearing coming up in Dodge City, Kansas, will have a decidedly “Oklahoma” flavor to it. He says producers in the two states have a lot in common and he thinks the hearing will represent their interests well.

To hear the full interview with Chairman Lucas please visit https://rdlassociates.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php

 

A Budget Proposal for Each Member’s Taste (via Roll Call)

The House floor today will become the Baskin-Robbins of budgets: Every political persuasion has its own flavor.

Members have already said they will double-dip and vote for multiple spending plans, but with seven budgets to consider during floor debate, it is becoming increasingly clear that Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s blueprint is the only one that can pass the chamber.

Even if the Wisconsin Republican’s $1.028 trillion plan wins out, however, it would be a symbolic victory at best. Democratic leadership has pointed out that last summer’s Budget Control Act is the law of the land and they and the Senate will stick to its $1.047 trillion level.

“Everybody knows that Ryan’s budget is not going to be taken up by the Senate and passed. So it will be deemed here, but effectively as a means of balancing the budget it’s dead,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R- Idaho), a member of the Budget Committee who said he will vote for the Ryan’s plan.

As a result, Simpson and other House moderates engaged on Tuesday, hoping, amid, or perhaps because of, the partisan bickering, they can sneak a balanced deficit reduction deal through the House.

Reps. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) are gathering support for a plan modeled on the deficit reduction solutions suggested by a White House-commissioned panel led by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Clinton-era White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.

“Whereas all the other proposals have a snowball’s chance in a microwave of actually becoming something enacted in the Senate, this one’s got a shot,” LaTourette said Tuesday.

Cooper almost offered the same proposal last year, but he said he pulled it after a request from the bipartisan “gang of six” Senators working on deficit reduction. This year, Cooper said, he has their blessing.

Still, Sen. Mark Warner, a member of the gang of six, was not hot on the idea Tuesday.

“I share the intent,” the Virginia Democrat said. “It’d be great to have more time to build the case and lay out the details. But I also understand the frustrations of continuing to wait.”

Still, Mike Simpson said there is some discussion about whether now is the right time.

“You’re trying to put a common-sense, balanced solution to the problem in the middle of the most partisan debate that will occur in Congress,” he said. “In this environment, you’ll have people that would otherwise vote for Simpson-Bowles that would vote against it because they’re going to vote for the Ryan budget or they’re going to vote for the [Democratic] budget on the other side.”

Indeed, one of the Simpson-Bowles plan’s boosters, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), declined to say Tuesday whether he would support the deal.

Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) predicted many Democrats could support the Simpson-Bowles budget, but LaTourette was skeptical, holding that the political allure of bashing the GOP on Medicare would be too great to resist.

“I think some of the higher-ups in the Democratic Party are very much looking forward to beating us like baby seals over the Medicare thing in the Ryan budget and they don’t want to lose that message,” he said.

Though the Ryan budget will likely lose more than a few GOP votes, conservatives who initially spurned it are falling in line.

Even as Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan presented his own budget Tuesday morning, he acknowledged that he and many others in the RSC will back Ryan. “I think the vast majority of folks up here are going to support the Conference budget because that’s the one budget that can get 218 votes and pass,” the Ohio Republican said.

The RSC budget balances the budget sooner than Ryan’s does, and that should attract GOP support, said Budget Vice Chairman Scott Garrett, an RSC member.

“I would suggest that every member of the Republican Conference, who just several months ago … voted for a balanced budget amendment … have to think long and hard when the only budget that comes to the floor this week that will actually fulfill that promise will be the RSC budget,” the New Jersey lawmaker said.

The RSC budget nearly passed last year, when Democrats voted “present,” leaving only Republicans represented in the vote tally. Similar high jinks could occur at Thursday’s floor vote.

Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has presented a Democratic budget and is flanked to his left by alternatives from the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) has sponsored President Barack Obama’s budget as an amendment, essentially daring Democrats to vote for it.

Senate Budget ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said Ryan’s budget will probably be taken up in the Senate, too, as will the Obama budget and one from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Unlike Van Hollen, Sessions said he will likely not present a minority caucus alternative, laying the blame for that on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

DanielNewhauser@rollcall.com | @dnewhauser

RDL & Associates Issue Summary: Renewable Energy and Ethanol Tax Incentives

Overview

Ongoing development of renewable fuels continues to be a core issue for the agriculture sector.  Now more than ever, our grain and livestock producers are interconnected as they strive to meet the food, fiber and fuel needs of a growing world population.

Virtually every source of energy – from coal to hydroelectric, nuclear to wind, solar and geothermal energy – has been subsidized in its early years.  Taxpayer investments in energy sources that drive our economy help our Nation remain competitive and have been a key in encouraging innovation, exploration and productions of all forms of energy – including renewable fuels.

Timely, targeted, and temporary incentives have been have played a critical role in the development and commercialization of new energy sources and have allowed the ethanol sector to compete on a level playing field with established energy sources.

Ethanol Tax Incentives

Over the past four decades there have been tremendous increases in the productivity of U.S. farmers which has led to greater supplies of grain for domestic and international use as food, feed, fuel and fiber.  The Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) which expired December 21, 2011 accrued to biofuels blenders rather than producers and helped in early development of the renewable fuels industry.  This tax credit was helpful in developing the ethanol industry, initiating a biodiesel industry and establishing the United States as the world’s #1 ethanol producer.

There is concern in some corners of the ethanol industry that expiration of the VEETC may have a disproportionate impact on second-and-third generation feed stocks for ethanol production (e.g. cellulosic ethanol production) that have not had the opportunity to establish themselves in the same way that first-generation corn ethanol during the VEETC was in effect.  The question of how to allocate the “VEETC Dividend” will be of key concern to the ethanol industry.  For some, the focus has shifted to infrastructure development and consumer choice – including an enhanced distribution infrastructure for ethanol, financial assistance for blender fuel pumps and loan guarantees for ethanol pipelines.

In addition, commercialization of “drop in” fuels such as isobutanol must also be monitored by the ethanol sector.  This product could possibly serve as an alternative to gasoline to fuel combustion engines and is being produced by Gevo, Inc. – a renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels company headquartered near Denver, CO.

Improved farming practices and advances in seed technology are responsible for dramatic increases in corn yields and have paved the way for opportunities to accelerate the development of ethanol from non-traditional feed stocks, including agricultural residues such as rice straw, corn stover, switch grass, municipal solid waste and waste products from the forest industry.

Renewable Fuel Standard

Over the years a variety of policies have been enacted that directly and indirectly support the production and usage of biofuels.  One such measure was the establishment of a Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which established minimum usage requirements to guarantee a market for biofuels.  The guarantee of biofuels demand over a specified period of time has reduced the risk of investing in renewable biofuels and moved significant investment capital into the marketplace. 

With passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-140), the RFS was greatly expanded, thereby making is likely that it will play a dominant role in the development of the U.S. biofuels sector for years to come and will require close attention by the ethanol sector as the RFS2 faces political and policy challenges.

 

Copyright © 2012 RDL & Associates, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

 

Mitt Romney Agriculture Advisory Committee

Earlier this month Governor Mitt Romney announced his Agriculture Advisory Committee.  The press release from the campaign is below.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

PRESS RELEASE from Romney for President

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 CONTACT: Romney Press Office
 
March 13, 2012

MITT ROMNEY ANNOUNCES AGRICULTURE ADVISORY COMMITTEE

 
Boston, MA – Mitt Romney today announced his Agriculture Advisory Committee.
 
“Our country’s farmers and ranchers provide the most abundant, safest, and affordable food supply of any country in the world,” said Mitt Romney. “Not only do they feed our country, they also are responsible for feeding billions of people across the world. They provide jobs for millions of Americans and are an integral part of our economy. Along with these leaders in agriculture, I will work to ensure that our food supply will remain steady, safe, and affordable for our citizens.”
 
Announcing the formation of the Romney Agriculture Advisory Committee, Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns said, “As a former Secretary of Agriculture, I know the important role of our farmers and ranchers in maintaining both a healthy economy and an affordable food supply. Governor Romney understands that agriculture is a key source of strength and stability for our economy, and he is committed to maintaining our country’s strong farming heritage. The advisory committee looks forward to providing counsel in this area in the coming months and to welcoming a new era of agricultural policy under a new president.”
 
Romney For President Agriculture Advisory Committee:
 
Co-Chair, Senator Mike Johanns- U.S. Senator from Nebraska (2009-present); Secretary of U.S. Department of Agriculture (2005-2007); Governor of Nebraska (1999-2005).
 
Co-Chair, Commissioner Adam Putnam- Commissioner, Florida Department of Agriculture (2011-present); U.S. House of Representatives from Florida (2001-2011).
 
Greg Ibach- Director, Nebraska Department of Agriculture (2005-present); Owner/Operator of GTI Inc., a cow/calf and diversified crop farm in central Nebraska (1984-present).
 
Chuck Conner- President and CEO, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (2009-present); Former Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Indiana Farmer.
 
Bill Even- Co-owner, Even Family Farms; South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture (2007-2010); Director, South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development (2006-2007).
 
Randy Russell- President, The Russell Group, formerly Lesher and Russell (1986-2011); Chief of Staff to Secretary of Agriculture John Block (1985); Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economics, U.S. Department of Agriculture (1984); Vice President for Agriculture and Trade Policy, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (1982-84).
 
AG Kawamura- Founding member, Orange County Produce, LLC; Co-Chair, Solutions From the Land Dialogue; Secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture (2003-2010).
 
Katie Smith- Director, Missouri Department of Agriculture (2007-2008).
 
Al Montna- Chairman U.S. Rice Federation (2006-2008); President, California State Board of Food and Agriculture (2003-2010); Owner, Montna Farms.
 
Chris Policinski- President and CEO, Land O’Lakes; National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (2005-present); National Milk Producers Federation (1999-present); Grocery Manufacturers Association (2005-present).
 
Tom Nassif- President and CEO, Western Growers (2002-present); Reagan Administration:  Deputy Chief of Protocol, U.S. Department of State (1981-1983); Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East and South Asian Affairs (1983-1985); United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco (1985-1988).
 
*Company/business names are provided for identification purposes only.

RDL & Associates Commentary: Federal Crop Insurance

Over the past two decades crop insurance has become an integral part of the risk-management strategy for an increasing number of producers.  Since 1994 the percentage of producers utilizing crop insurance to manage risk has grown from 33% to approximately 80%.  As these producers continue to face higher input costs, risk management tools such as crop insurance continue to be a critical component of their marketing plan.  Crop insurance protects a producer’s yield and price, as well as providing collateral and a repayment source for operating loans, term loans for machinery, livestock, facilities and real estate loans.

Going forward, a vibrant crop insurance program will be at the heart of the farm safety net and it is critically important that our producers have access to strong risk-management tools – including a viable crop insurance program.   As producers have shifted to protecting income rather than yield, the enhanced coverage provided by higher levels of revenue policy coverage has meant significantly greater protection for the producer’s revenue stream.  Since most producers cannot afford not to have some type of protection, it is likely their profit margins would be further reduced if premiums are raised.  Furthermore, absent a viable crop insurance program, many young and beginning producers (who traditionally have less collateral and equity) would face additional challenges in obtaining financing.

It is worth noting that the 2008 Farm Bill included reductions to the crop insurance program of approximately $6 billion over a 10-year period and that the current Standard Reinsurance Agreement included an additional $6 billion in estimated funding reductions the crop insurance program over 10 years.  It is important that policymakers take these spending reductions under consideration as they work to craft a fiscally responsible 2012 Farm Bill that will enhance, rather than limit, risk-management choices for producers.

Copyright © 2012 RDL & Associates, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Is Rick Santorum a Closet Animal Rights Activist? (via Forbes online)

The question posed by this headline is buzzing in blogs in the agricultural industry and sportsmen’s rights groups. The anxiety stems from Rick Santorum’s backing (and, when in the U.S. Senate, sponsoring) bills animal-rights groups are advocating, but that agricultural groups and sportsmen’s organizations oppose.

In one example, in 2001 then Sen. Santorum (R-PA) introduced S. 1478, the Puppy Protection Act of 2001, with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). This act intended to improve conditions for dogs at “puppy mills” by addressing socialization and breeding issues, and by creating a “three strikes and you’re out” system for violators of the Animal Welfare Act.

The full story can be accessed by visiting http://www.forbes.com/sites/frankminiter/2012/03/13/is-rick-santorum-a-closet-animal-rights-activist/

Minnesota Election Preview (via Roll Call)

Although both parties have  yet to bestow their endorsements for the United States Senate and House of Representatives – and the general election is just under eight months away – RDL & Associates wanted to share this snapshot of the Minnesota elections that was recently released by Roll Call:

Minnesota

Gov. Mark Dayton (D)

2012 Electoral Votes: 10

2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 54%/McCain 44%

Senate

Incumbent: Amy Klobuchar (D)

1st term (58 percent) | Outlook: Safe Democratic

Klobuchar’s first race in 2006 was one to watch. This time around, that is not the case. At this point in the cycle, all signs point to her winning a second term with relative ease.

Marquee North Star Republicans such as former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Sen. Norm Coleman are staying away from the race. Republicans launched a draft campaign for Afghanistan veteran Pete Hegseth, and he jumped into the race in early March. Democrats are brushing off his candidacy. The 31-year-old has a following, and establishment Republican operatives are backing his run. Whether he is a formidable candidate will become more clear after he files his first fundraising report.

House

1st district | Incumbent: Tim Walz (D)

3rd term (49 percent) | Outlook: Likely Democratic

Walz’s district slightly improved for him in redistricting. He had a major scare in 2010, even after outspending his opponent by more than 2-to-1. National Democrats describe him as “battle-tested,” and he has built a reputation as a “good-government” Congressman. Walz has been preparing for this race, having raised more than $200,000 in the fourth quarter, and he had more than $600,000 in cash on hand at the end of the year.

Republicans say the mechanics for a win are there for them but admit recruitment has been lackluster. The most prominent challenger is state Sen. Mike Parry. But he has lagged in fundraising. Watch for other Republicans to jump into the race.

2nd district | Incumbent: John Kline (R)

11th term (63 percent) Outlook: Likely Republican

Kline is one of the biggest losers in Minnesota redistricting. Democrats are more than a little thrilled at the chance to pick up his once-safe seat. No major challengers have thrown their hats into the ring, but national Democrats say to watch for the field to grow.

But the lack of an obvious candidate is why Republicans say Kline should fare well in November. They do have some concerns, but they tout Kline’s “huge war chest” and say he is taking nothing for granted.

7th district | Incumbent: Collin Peterson (D)

11 term (55 percent) | Outlook: Likely Democratic

Despite Peterson’s 18-point win in 2010, Republicans insist this seat is in play.

Peterson has won relatively easily here in the past despite the fact that the district votes Republican at the presidential level.

National Republicans say the difference this year is in their recruiting. They are touting state Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, calling her “the best challenger we’ve had to date.”

But Peterson is prepared, and it is hard to see how he could fare worse than he did in a dreadful Democratic year such as 2010.

8th district | Incumbent: Chip Cravaack (R)

1st term (48 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Cravaack’s 2010 win was a political stunner, and because he got no relief in redistricting, this is the most competitive seat in the North Star State.

That 2010 race was a squeaker, but it was enough to defeat longtime Rep. James Oberstar (D).

Democrats say Cravaack is too conservative for the district and are making hay over the fact that his family moved to New Hampshire because of his wife’s employment.

Republicans are concerned about holding the seat. Still, they say the Democratic primary between former state Sen. Tarryl Clark, former Rep. Rick Nolan and Duluth City Councilor Jeff Anderson could be bruising. Clark recently irked the state party establishment when she announced that she would bypass the DFL Party endorsement process and press on to the August primary.

Clark previously ran against Rep. Michele Bachmann and moved to Duluth to challenge Cravaack before the new map was complete. Should Nolan get the nomination, Republicans are eager to mine his voting record and paint him as a Washington, D.C., insider.

 

 

 

Senate Overview: Danger – Primaries Ahead (via Roll Call)

Kyle Trygstad

Roll Call Staff

March 16, 2012, 12:21 p.m.

College basketball and the dawn of spring are hardly the only highlights of March. Congressional primaries are now in full swing, and the outcomes of key races could decide control of the Senate in November.

From now until Labor Day, the election calendar is sprinkled with competitive Senate primaries. The question is: How much will those contests ultimately affect each party’s majority prospects?

Democrats are fighting to hold their majority as Republicans angle to net the four seats necessary to regain the majority. The numbers are certainly there for the GOP — Democrats are defending 23 seats to just 10 for the GOP, and Democrats have more than their fair share of competitive open seats. But Democrats say their vulnerabilities will be mitigated by potentially destructive GOP fights.

“A number of divisive primaries on the Republican side are likely to positively improve our position in the general, particularly in states like Missouri, Wisconsin and Arizona,” said Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

All three states hold their primaries in August, leaving less than three months to focus on the general. Another top GOP primary in Nebraska takes place in May, leaving a solid six months for the nominee to raise money and joust with former Sen. Bob Kerrey, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Democrats have fewer competitive primaries in battleground states. Connecticut, New Mexico and Hawaii top the list, with the latter two more competitive than the Nutmeg State’s open seat. Hawaii and Connecticut also are August primaries.

The party’s ability to clear the field for its desired candidate in several states and its relatively large number of incumbents has kept its primaries to a minimum. But Republicans believe their chances have improved since the start of the cycle based on Democrats’ consensus candidates in a handful of key states.

That includes Reps. Shelley Berkley (Nev.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Harvard University professor Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).

“In Nevada and Wisconsin, they’ve nominated the most liberal person they could get, as well as, obviously, in Massachusetts,” said Rob Jesmer, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “So consequently it is going to be very detrimental to them in the general trying to get independent votes.”

Last cycle featured a string of surprising GOP primary results in Alaska, Nevada, Colorado and Delaware, leading to losses in the latter three states, which at one time looked like promising pickup opportunities. Democrats hope for a rerun, but Republicans say that’s just not in the cards this time.

“We have very good candidates running, and there really isn’t a case where I can think of where, if someone gets nominated, the seat’s off the table,” Jesmer said. “The flip side is true — we’re competitive in Wisconsin because they’re going to nominate the most liberal person [who] comes from the worst part of the state for a Democrat.”

Several Republicans are running in that swing state, including former Gov. Tommy Thompson, former Rep. Mark Neumann, former state Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and a new entrant, venture capitalist Eric Hovde. In a presidential battleground, the question is whether the more moderate Thompson makes the race more competitive in November than the others.

Democrats argue that the field of Republicans in Missouri is so weak that Sen. Claire McCaskill, one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country, will have an easier re-election. While none of the Republicans have turned in earth-shattering fundraising quarters, money likely won’t be an issue for businessman John Brunner, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, Rep. Todd Akin or whoever else might emerge from the  Aug. 7 primary.

“As someone who has a little knowledge in what we’re going to spend here,” Jesmer said, “I can assure people nobody is going to be outspent when they’re the nominee in Missouri.”

While Republicans were lining up to run in several states this cycle, including Florida and Michigan, some competitive primaries never materialized. Former Sen. George Allen is still expected to easily win the nomination in Virginia, the field quickly cleared in Montana for Rep. Denny Rehberg, and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel easily won the recent primary there. All, especially Virginia and Montana, are top pickup opportunities for the GOP.

Despite the disparity in the number of seats they are defending, Democrats also believe there is still time to expand the playing field. Party operatives see offensive opportunities to be had as a result of primary challenges for Republican seats.

Those include Indiana, where state Treasurer Richard Mourdock is challenging Sen. Dick Lugar, and Arizona, where Rep. Jeff Flake is the frontrunner to replace retiring Sen. Jon Kyl but is facing businessman Wil Cardon in the primary.

“In Arizona, which is probably the biggest race that is not quite on people’s radar yet, a self-funder is pledging to spend millions attacking Flake all the way until the end of August,” Cecil said.

The Indiana primary is different in a couple of ways. Mourdock has a better chance of winning than Cardon, but the state is less competitive for Democrats than Arizona, which President Barack Obama’s campaign is targeting.

Democrats have sought to label Mourdock a “tea party candidate” based on the fact that he is challenging Lugar from the right and is backed by conservative outside groups such as FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth. Mourdock’s main argument is that Lugar has simply been in office too long.

Democrats say Rep. Joe Donnelly would start out as the favorite against Mourdock. Regardless of whether that’s true, the race would certainly be more competitive and national Republicans would be more likely to have to spend there if Lugar is defeated.

The DSCC is backing Rep. Mazie Hirono over former Rep. Ed Case in Hawaii, where either candidate will have a strong opponent in former Gov. Linda Lingle (R) in Obama’s home state. The DSCC thinks Rep. Martin Heinrich, the favorite in the New Mexico primary over state Auditor Hector Balderas, will be strong against former Rep. Heather Wilson (R), whose primary troubles failed to materialize.

Perhaps the biggest question mark on the Senate landscape is in Maine, where former Gov. Angus King’s decision to run as an Independent — and to not make it clear which party he would caucus with in the Senate — ultimately resulted in a lackluster Democratic field and mostly silence from national party leaders.

At the onset of primary season, it should be noted that at this time in 2010, the drama that would unfold was barely on the political radar.

“In 2010, the U.S. Senate races were at the top of the ticket and they were really a byproduct of what had happened earlier in the cycle,” GOP strategist Chris LaCivita said. “It’s an entirely different cycle.”

KyleTrygstad@rollcall.com | @KyleTrygstad

Book Review: LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps (via Communications Connections)

About a month ago, I noticed a local PR colleague, Kelly Groehler, tweeting about a book she was writing (along with Dave Ladd, Greg Swanholm, and Bass Zanjani) about social media and political campaigns. I was instantly interested. For one, any time a friend writes a book (a huge undertaking) I’m curious and want to support. And second, social media and politics is a topic I haven’t written about much, but one I’m increasingly interested in (especially given this year’s elections).

So, I reached out to Kelly to see if I could get a copy of the book to review. She did me one better: She sent me an advance e-copy of the new book, Like: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign. Of course, then I sat on it for a few weeks–you know, client work and all  But, I recently got around to reading the book.

The book’s a fairly fast read. Easy to scan and only 47 pages in total. So, I’d have no problem recommending it to political clients (not that I have any right now) who are most likely short on time.

As I read the book, I kept coming back to the seven rules Kelly, Dave, Greg and Bass laid out for political consultants, campaign managers and candidate themselves. While the rules weren’t exactly ground-breaking for those of us who have been working in this world for a few years now, I thought they represented key basics for politicos (especially those new to social) to keep in mind as they develop and execute campaigns in the years ahead.

The full review can be accessed by visiting http://www.arikhanson.com/2012/03/15/book-review-like-seven-rules-and-10-simple-steps-for-social-media-in-your-campaign/

Minnesota made, but not sold here (via Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Minnesota’s newest biofuel wants a place at the pump.

It’s called isobutanol, and like ethanol it is made from corn and can be mixed with gasoline as a motor fuel.

But the state’s fuel-blending law was written years ago with ethanol in mind — and new biofuels don’t qualify to be part of the mandated 10 percent mix.

Now, as the nation’s first commercial-scale corn-to-isobutanol plant nears completion in Luverne, Minn., plant owner Gevo Inc. says it can’t legally offer the fuel at Minnesota pumps.

“What we want to see is a level playing field,” said Chris Ryan, president and chief operating officer of Gevo, based in Englewood, Colo., who testified about the problem before a House committee Thursday.

Ryan said in an interview that the state’s blending restriction, a relic of the era when ethanol was the only biofuel on the market, could affect Gevo’s further expansion in the state. He said Minnesota and Florida appear to be the only states where isobutanol faces such legal barriers.

Isobutanol, also called butanol or bio-butanol, is an alcohol, a cousin to ethanol. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cleared the fuel for blending with gasoline in November. Minnesota’s ethanol law dates to the early 1990s. “It made sense when it was written,” Ryan said. “Ethanol really was the only product we could make from a bio-source to blend into gasoline.”

Part of the state ethanol law is up for renewal by the Legislature because it has a sunset provision. A new bill would extend the law, but not broaden it to other biofuels.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said he was unaware that butanol faced a problem until Gevo and others appeared before the House Agriculture Committee Thursday.

Anderson, a corn farmer, said he supports expansion of biofuels in the state, but that it may be too late in the session to make a major change in the law.

That’s also the view of the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association, a trade group. “Our approach is, let’s work on it when the Legislature is not in session,” said Brian Kletscher, CEO of Highwater Ethanol in Lamberton and president of the trade group. “Let’s do it the right way and come out and endorse advanced biofuels.”

Highwater is considering a shift to butanol production, but not immediately. The company is in discussions with a potential partner, Butamax Advanced Biofuels, a Wilmington, Del., firm that is a competitor to Gevo. Butamax and Gevo are in a patent dispute over bio-butanol technology.

Ryan said Gevo has tried to work with the industry, but made little progress until the legislative hearing. He said the company would prefer action soon, and he’s gotten support from Rep. Joe Schomacher, a Republican whose district includes the Luverne plant. “They want to make sure they have a market,” said Schomacher, who hopes legislators can act before the session ends.

Gevo, which owns the Luverne plant, is converting it to annually produce 18 million gallons of the new biofuel. About 250 construction workers are on site; the work should be finished by June, Ryan said.

A 2007 federal renewable fuels law opens the door for selling butanol in other states. But shipping it out of Minnesota boosts the cost, Ryan said.

Gevo sees a key market for butanol in the chemical industry, and also is seeking approval to sell it for jet fuel. It plans to convert other ethanol plants to butanol in joint ventures. The only deal announced is in South Dakota, but Gevo said others are in the works.