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In some states, energy trumps the economy in election 2012 (+video)

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If economics will be the deciding factor in Tuesday's presidential election, then how do you explain North Dakota and West Virginia?

North Dakota saw the biggest increase in jobs among the states over the past year: 5.6 percent. West Virginia saw the biggest decrease (along with New Mexico): -1.3 percent. Yet, both are solidly in the Romney camp.

The reason is energy. Both states are big energy producers – oil and gas in North Dakota; coal in West Virginia. And both fear more regulation from a second-term Obama administration.

Coal companies and workers in West Virginia already complain loudly that rules from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are destroying jobs in the mines. Of course, the surge of gas production from shale also plays a role in undercutting coal.

Meanwhile, that surge of shale-based energy is fueling North Dakota's boom. THe boom's continuation depends in part on whether or not the federal government cracks down on the controversial and expensive "fracking" methods energy companies use to extract the oil and gas.

So voters in North Dakota seem more comfortable with the hands-off approach espoused by Mr. Romney than the "green" energy policy of Mr. Obama.

Other energy-producing states – such as Pennsylvania and Ohio – have a counterbalancing force: large bases of consumers whose primary concern is fuel prices, especially for gasoline. There, the advantage of late seems to be swinging to Obama.

The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline has fallen nearly 21 cents a gallon in the past two weeks – the biggest drop in four years, according to the Lundberg Survey. While some conspiracy theorists see a connection, it's likely world oil markets, rather than the president, are responsible for that decline.

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Energy – and the environment – might have played another intriguing election role had hurricane Sandy struck elsewhere. As it was, it only grazed battleground states New Hampshire and Virginia and left hotly contested Florida untouched.

The strongest link between hurricanes and global warming is rising sea levels. By slamming into New York and New Jersey with its huge surge, the superstorm was a powerful reminder of the destructive power of those rising oceans.

But those states are already solidly in the Obama camp. So Sandy's political impact may be limited to keeping voters from the ballot box rather than changing their minds about global warming.

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