With New Campaign Muscle, Climate Science Enters the Political Race

September 2, 2014

Politicians who in the past may have seen climate change as an issue to avoid or ignore are now changing behavior in response to polling data that indicates rising voter concern with the issue. One indicator is that Florida’s conservative Governor Rick Scott, who has in the past dodged questions about the science of climate, felt pressured to meet with a group of actual climate scientists,  – who educated him on the issue, and expressed their urgent concerns – leaving him with no further room to dodge climate questions. His opponent in this fall’s campaign, Charlie Crist, has made support for environment and renewable energy issues an important part of his effort.

In part, the new climate on climate is due to some serious campaign money being pumped into selected races around the country by billionaire Tom Steyer, through his NextGen political action committee.
Above, a television ad paid for by Nextgen. Below- another ad attacks Scott with a non-climate environmental theme.


When Charlie Crist last governed Florida, his green energy and climate policies made him few friends among the state’s powerful electricity corporations.

Now, as the Republican-turned Democrat bids to return to the governor’s mansion, it may be payback time.

Florida’s three largest utilities have poured money into the re-election campaign of Republican incumbent Governor Rick Scott in an expensive and closely watched political battle for the nation’s largest swing state.

The election spending is notable in a tight race where the issues of energy and climate change have taken center stage in recent weeks, with both candidates asserting their environmental credentials.

As Republican governor between 2007 and 2011, Crist “sent shivers through the entire utility system,” said Colleen Castille, who headed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection under Governor Jeb Bush.
Crist was a darling of clean energy advocates, hosting a climate change summit in 2007 alongside another green Republican, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. His focus on clean energy challenged the Florida utilities who are heavily dependant on natural gas and coal, as well as some nuclear.

In his bid to return to the office he left in 2011 – to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate – he has yet to outline his energy policy, but utilities aren’t taking any chances.

According to current state records, Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest electric utility serving 4.6 million customers, over the last year has given a combined $1.2 million to Scott’s political action committee, Let’s Get to Work, and the Republican Party of Florida. Duke Energy contributed another $1.2 million to Scott and the Republican Party.

In Colorado, Next Gen has targeted Senate candidate Cory Gardner with an ad that seeks to tie climate denial to other social issues where the GOP may be vulnerable in some states, like marriage equality.

Denver Post:

A consultant to NextGen Climate said the organization is planning a multimillion-dollar effort in Colorado this year that will focus on the highly competitive U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Mark Udall and Republican challenger Cory Gardner.

“We are ramping up now,” said Craig Hughes, a consultant for NextGen Climate in Colorado.

The group backs Udall, and its support is expected to include a range of activities, from TV ads to door-to-door canvassing.

“The real push will be later toward September and … a big October,” Hughes said.

Also backing Udall in his Senate race is the League of Conservation Voters. Group officials are marshaling a large get-out-the-vote drive that they said could tip the scales.

“We are going to be putting forth a major effort this fall to ensure that young people, married and single women and Hispanic voters turn out and vote for pro-environment candidates,” said Daniel J. Weiss of the League of Conservation Voters.


Billionaire Tom Steyer is supporting pro-science candidates


But Michigan Democrat Gary Peters is making the climate cause a central message in his neck-and-neck Senate campaign, in a state that for decades built gas-guzzling cars into a foundation of the U.S. economy.

..supporters like Michigan Democratic strategist Jill Alper think Peters is smart to play up climate change — and she says other Democrats should do the same.

“I think in a lot of states, this would be good politics and a good leadership issue,” she said. In Michigan, she added, protecting the Great Lakes is a cause that both Republicans and Democrats support.

As for her own views, (Peter’s opponent Terry Lynn)Land wrote that there “is no denying that the climate is changing and we must take measures to protect the environment.” When asked how much of that change is caused by humans, Land spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email that “Terri believes we need to keep an eye on it; but she doesn’t believe we should put a meter on the business end of a cow, like the EPA does.”

The Nextgen blog has in recent weeks taken the opportunity to tie extreme weather events in Michigan to climate change, and to the campaign of Peter’s opponent, Terry Lynn Land.

Nextgen blog:

If climate change makes extreme weather events like these a more regular occurrence, $1 billion dollars may only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cost of these disasters.

It’s a frightening thought. But our elected officials will be forced to make tough decisions on climate sooner rather than later — decisions that would-be leaders like Michigan Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land, whose campaign has thus far been supported by nearly $7 million from the polluting Koch brothers, aren’t very motivated to make.


Screen shots from Nextgen blog

Data on how well this is working is sparse, but in a sign that the anti-science right wing is stinging from this trend, the reliably  nut-ball website Examiner reported that  Rep. Peter’s climate position was hurting him, in that he is only 6 points ahead of his opponent in recent polling.  The Examiner cited the Heartland Institute as a source on climate science, and suggested that scientists wished to send “climate deniers to re-education camps” – right next to the headline asking if  First Lady Michelle Obama may have been born a man.



11 Responses to “With New Campaign Muscle, Climate Science Enters the Political Race”

  1. […] a Nextgen campaign ad attacking Iowa Senate Candidate Joni Ernst on environmental and clean energy grounds. (see more […]

  2. omnologos Says:

    Nice to see a billionaire’s campaign denounce the Powerful Few.

    Down with the trillionaires!!

    • Yeah, we should be happy it’s just the Koch’s message getting out. It’s not fair to have a powerful, moneyed person on the other side actually pouring money in.

      In truth, Citizen’s United needs to be overturned, and no millionaire or billionaire or trillionaire should be allowed to buy the government, regardless of political stripe.

      • omnologos Says:

        This reminds me of the old failed motto. ..”he’s a bastard but he’s our bastard”

        • Except you forgot to read the second half of my comment. The part where I say rich people should not be able to buy the law.

          I find it interesting that any time the Koch’s are discussed, someone (you this time) lament about Soros instead of addressing the issue of the Kochs.

      • While trying to change the rules, the game is played with the rules we have.

        I like the way the ads slip climate in with the hot button issues. There’s many more ads in the pipe. The Dems know that climate is a net plus in close races.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Uh, Omno? Down with who? There are no trillionaires on the planet at present, and if we ever see one, it won’t be for several decades.

  3. […] Politicians who in the past may have seen climate change as an issue to avoid or ignore are now changing behavior in response to polling data that indicates rising voter concern with the issue. One…  […]

  4. […] reported the other day on how greens in Colorado had started cleverly tying anti-science climate denial with other social issues where some conservative candidates are out of step with majority opinion, […]

  5. […] zeitgeist, and a small sign of the sea change that has been showing up in polling, on the streets, in political ads, and in the increasing discomfort climate deniers have been feeling about their ever more precarious […]

  6. […] Climate and Energy continue to show surprising strength as issues in Senate races across the country – fascinating developments as local politicians find that climate change vastly complicates the […]

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