That energy and environmental aren’t playing a central role in the midterm election does not mean those issues are absent or that they aren’t divisive, however. On October 22, The Portland Press Herald in Maine covered a “tense” exchange between the Democratic and Independent candidates for governor, which revolved around the former accusing the latter of being a lobbyist for big oil companies. A day later, The Columbus Dispatch noted that Democratic and Republican candidates for Ohio’s eighteenth district got “testy” about a number of issues, including climate change, during a debate. Unfortunately, the article was typical in that it pointed out the divergence of opinion without going into any detail about the candidates’ positions. This is especially unfortunate given that Politifact.com has taken issue with some a number of attack ads’ characterization of Democrat Zack Space’s vote for the 2009 cap-and-trade bill.

Those types of climate-related clashes, which make for good news pegs, have been rare, though. Reporters such as the St. Petersburg Times’s Craig Pittman deserve credit for making due without them. On Sunday, Pittman published a detailed account of the ways in which the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor of Florida diverge on various environmental issues without the assistance of a polarizing debate or contentious ad campaign.

Elsewhere, there have been a few good stories about candidates that are trying to outdo one another in their support for, or opposition to, environmental measures. On Tuesday, Greenwire ran an interesting piece about “anomalous” agreement between the Democratic and Republican candidates in Indiana’s eighth congressional district. “With coal and ethanol remaining central drivers of the state economy, and both candidates vying to blast broad climate change legislation more loudly, energy-minded Hoosiers could see little difference between a likely Sen. [Dan] Coats [the incumbent Republican] and a long-shot Sen. [Brad] Ellsworth,” the article reported, and then moved on to show how the candidates do, in fact, differ.

Likewise, The Santa Fe New Mexican carried an article on October 7 pointing out that:

Neither of New Mexico’s gubernatorial candidates — Democrat Diane Denish and Republican Susana Martinez — are likely to put environmental issues quite as high on their agenda as Gov. Bill Richardson.

They’ve already indicated they might overturn or weaken some environmental rules Richardson’s administration has put in place, such as the pit rule for wastes from oil and gas production and the greenhouse gas emissions cap.

Like the Greenwire piece, however, the New Mexican article also moved on to highlight the fact that while both candidates oppose a state plan to cap and trade greenhouse gases, they do so for different reasons:

Denish believes climate change is occurring, but that any effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be global and national, not state-by-state.

Martinez adheres to the climate change naysayer line, saying an emissions cap is anti-business, would increase taxes and isn’t based on sound science.

And while it is more common for two candidates to share an antipathy toward environmental legislation and regulation, there are places where it swings the other way, as well. As noted above, the state of Washington is one example. Another is Maryland, where The Capital in Annapolis recently reported that both candidates for governor have been “touting” their environmental records.

“Gov. Martin O’Malley [a Democrat] and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. [a Republican] have each spent four years in the Governor’s Mansion and tout their accomplishments in reducing pollution, boosting fisheries and promoting clean energy,” the article noted before going on to explain that, “Beyond their similar declared passion for the [Chesapeake] bay, the two men have divergent strategies for helping the bay.” [Update: The Baltimore Sun’s Tim Wheeler also has a nice, long story about Ehrlich and O’Malley’s positions on environmental issues.]

Indeed, earlier this month, The Capital made it clear that environmentalists have been “blasting” Ehrlich and “praising” O’Malley. Still, the situation is Maryland is similar to the one in Washington, and the paper made sure to stress high in its more recent story that:

It’s not clear, however, whether the environment will influence many voters on Election Day.

While most candidates and Marylanders profess an interest in the environment, it can be dwarfed by issues such as the economy and unemployment.

What is clear, on the other hand, is that (contrary to the Los Angeles Times claim about recent polls) reporters cannot leave it to candidates and voters to broach conversations about energy and environmental issues on the campaign trail. Journalists that have been proactive in this regard, pushing through stories without a clear news peg, should be commended.

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Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.