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Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces Canada will send observers to Ukraine to monitor election.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, TransCanada President Russ Girling and Canada's fulminating commentariat all irked by President Barack Obama's latest decision to delay deciding about the Keystone XL pipeline might usefully pay some attention to Carly Simon.

"You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you," to borrow the sentiment from the savvy American singer-songwriter.

In fact, the Keystone XL delay isn't about Canada. It isn't even about climate change or whether Mr. Obama wants a room in his still-to-be-built presidential library to extol his legacy on tackling global warming. It isn't a smack down of Mr. Harper for his ill-advised suggestion that approving the pipeline was a "no brainer" nor of Foreign Minister John Baird's version of a diplomatic hissy fit in demanding a decision – any decision – right now, not later.

And it certainly isn't about whether or not a frustrated Mr. Girling will lose another summer without planting any pipe.

After all, just about the time Ms. Simon was topping the charts in Canada and elsewhere with her ballad about self-absorbed studs, the oil boys proposed a massive pipeline down the Mackenzie Valley. More than 40 years later, digging still hasn't begun, so Canadians can hardly cavil about the pipeline delays.

No, Mr. Obama's Keystone XL delay is all about the Senate and whether the President's party can hold it in November.

Never mind that all of the most endangered Democratic senators –the five most likely to lose their seats in the mid-term elections – all signed a letter begging the president to approve the Keystone XL pipeline earlier this month.

Most of them – running for their political lives in states won by Republican presidential loser Mitt Romney two years ago – are also distancing themselves from the president on Obamacare.

Unlike the lock-step, all-voices-echo-the-leader, of parliamentary politics that Canadians are familiar with; it is inherent in the U.S. system that sharp and often public disagreements separate leading members of the same party.

It's not that surprising that the loudest and sharpest denunciations of Mr. Obama's decision to delay come from Democratic senators like Louisiana's Mary Landrieu, Alaska's Mark Begich and Arkansas' Mark Pryor.

The "decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable," fumed Senator Landrieu.

"There's no excuse for another delay," added Senator Pryor. " The President needs to approve this project now."

"I'm frankly appalled at the continued foot-dragging by this administration on the Keystone," said Senator Begich.

All three have been busy for months putting distance between themselves and a president with sagging approval ratings in Romney-won states. It's hardly just Keystone XL.

And senators Begich and Landrieu, along with several other vulnerable Democratic senators, recently unveiled a slew of 'fixes" to the president's signature healthcare plan, intended at least in part to defuse its political downside in their reddish states.

Consider what Mr. Begich thinks of the President when asked if he would like Mr. Obama to join him on the stump in Alaska. "I don't need him campaigning for me, I need him to change some of his policies."

Republicans need to win six more seats to control the Senate in November. If that happens – and current polling suggests it's a better-than-even bet – the President will face Republican control of both houses of Congress for his last two years in the Oval Office.

But if Democratic losses can be held to four or five, then the President's party will retain its Senate majority and thus avert the nightmare scenario of a lame duck president repeatedly wielding his veto to save Obamacare and otherwise failing to get anything done.

Where does delaying on Keystone XL fit in that stop-loss strategy? In several ways. It allows red-state senators like Ms. Landrieu to put useful distance between her and the President. And by keeping the contentious Keystone XL a live issue, the president can hope to keep key groups in his activist coalition – including the young and environmentally motivated – stay engaged in turning out the vote. Lower turnout, common in mid-terms, hurts Democratic candidates more than Republicans.

Finally, there's what Ben White, Politico's chief economic correspondent calls the "100 million reasons why the president has held up the decision."

That's how much billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer – whose driving issue is thwarting Keystone XL and thus crippling oil sands expansion pledged to spend – have vowed to spend helping Washington's most endangered species: Senate Democratic incumbents in red states..

"The decision to punt is largely, though not entirely, about Democrats desire to use Steyer's money to counter the hundreds of millions of dollars that the billionaire Koch brothers and other conservatives are likely to spend to help Republicans pick up the six seats they need to take the Senate," Mr. White wrote.

Or as Ms. Simon sang: "You had me several years ago when I was still quite naïve."

Paul Koring is a reporter in The Globe's Washington bureau.

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