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Oil Will Seep Into the 2010 Elections

Guess what looks bad if you're running for office in the midst of the worst environmental catastrophe in American history: contributions from oil and gas companies.

And guess who received contributions from oil and gas companies and their employees: 8 in 10 members of Congress, in this election cycle alone, $3.2 million to Democratic candidates, $6.4 million to Republicans, a total of $7.5 million donated to incumbents by the industry.

Given how many campaign contributions the oil industry doles out, and how much criticism the Obama administration has faced for its response, BP's oil spill in the Gulf is going to play a role in the coming midterm elections, supplying campaign fodder to anyone who wants to criticize the administration, or, more pointedly, to any candidates challenging incumbents who took money from the oil & gas industry.

The drama of the oil spill is timed, incidentally, to reach its next climax around the time when campaign season heats up: August. Relief wells currently being drilled will not be completed until that month at least, thanks to hurricane season. At that time, after oil has washed ashore into U.S. wetlands for months and public dismay has continued to fester, we'll discover whether the parallel relief wells can succeed in locating BP's original well and in stopping the flow of oil into the Gulf.

At the same time, lawmakers will be returning to their home states for Congress's August recess--the time when campaigns really start to roll, as lawmakers meet with constituents, hold rallies and town-hall meetings, and start to campaign more ferociously for reelection.

Today, we got our first taste of oil-spill campaigning in the competitive Missouri Senate race, as Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan posted a slideshow to her campaign website detailing the contributions her opponent, Republican Congressman Roy Blunt, received from the oil & gas industry. (Blunt got over $500,000 from oil & gas companies and employees this election cycle).

It's a safe bet that we'll see more of that in races across the country as November approaches.