Mitt Romney insists completing the Keystone XL pipeline will be one of his first priorities if he becomes president – even "if I have to build it myself."
Big Oil is not taking any chances.
The American Petroleum Institute is an official "host committee sponsor" at the Republican convention and the lobby group is actively talking up Keystone and other oil industry projects in seminars and private receptions. It is holding a closing night party here on Thursday, following Mr. Romney's speech, for a thousand invited guests. The Zac Brown Band will provide the entertainment.
"We're looking for every opportunity we can to raise the visibility of the issues we think are most important for the energy policy of this nation," the group's executive vice-president, Marty Durbin, said in an interview in Tampa. "And Keystone is one of the critical infrastructure projects we're going to need to move us closer to the goals of energy security and self-sufficiency."
The pipeline, which would move 700,000 barrels a day of oil sands crude to refineries on the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast, got top billing when Mr. Romney unveiled his energy platform last week. The Republican nominee has embraced the concept of "North American energy independence" to eliminate U.S. reliance on offshore oil by 2020.
Republicans have nearly unequivocally backed TransCanada's Keystone project. The GOP platform adopted on Tuesday includes a commitment to the pipeline and streamlining the process for the approval of future oil and gas projects.
Indeed, it might be hard to find a delegate or elected official here who actually opposes Keystone. The party and the American Petroleum Institute seem to be so in sync that the group's president, Jack Gerard, is even being touted as a possible energy secretary in a Romney cabinet.
But the organization and its members – oil sands player Chevron is also sponsoring the convention and its $55-million (U.S.) budget – are competing with scores of other lobby and trade groups pushing their agendas in Tampa. For the API, the convention is a chance to shower legislators championing the pipeline in Congress with some TLC. And to make sure that Keystone and other API priorities remind top of mind.
"Yes, the Republican platform is closer to us than the Democratic platform," Mr. Durbin conceded. "I don't disagree that there is a polarization between the parties on energy issues. We see our role as trying to bring some rationality to the discussion."
President Barack Obama has put off approving the project until after the election. When Democrats gather for their convention next week, Mr. Durbin will be there to make the case for Keystone and more domestic oil production among a less friendly audience. While dozens of Democrats in Congress support the pipeline, the party's base has been largely hostile to Keystone.
The Democratic host committee was banned by the party from having corporate sponsors at its convention in Charlotte, N.C. But that will not stop dozens of lobby groups from hosting private lunches and parties for delegates and legislators.
"We're going to have the same types of events and conversations in Charlotte to move the debate forward," Mr. Durbin said. "We don't think energy is a partisan issue."