WASHINGTON—In Gene Karpinski’s eyes, Nancy Pelosi is the most pro-environment speaker of the House ever. And as the president of the League of Conservation Voters, Karpinski doesn’t want to rock that green boat.
Here’s why the arithmetic leading up to the Nov. 2 midterm election makes him nervous: Republicans need to take over just 39 seats in the House to supplant Pelosi, a California Democrat. And political handicappers are predicting a GOP net gain of at least 40 during these tumultuous, tea partying and anti-establishment times.
While Karpinski knows some House Republicans will back strong environmental legislative measures, he suspects speaker-in-waiting, Ohio’s John Boehner, is not among them.
So, with barely two weeks to go until ballots are counted, LCV and other environmental organizations are touting how they have steadily directed money and resources to House candidates with clear, green campaign messages. As well, the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund is highlighting polls to remind candidates that clean energy legislation resonates with voters.
“We are going to lose some of our friends this election,” Karpinski told SolveClimate News in an interview about the effects of the upcoming election on the House. “But there are too many races to keep up with. We’re keeping up with the ones we can.”
“Our members are angry and frustrated because Congress has failed to do all of the comprehensive energy legislation that’s possible,” he explained. “But that doesn’t mean they are sitting on the sidelines. They are active and involved. People understand what’s at stake, and the stakes are far too high to sit on the sidelines.”
Where LCV is Focusing Its House Efforts
On the House side, the League of Conservation Voters has given between $22,955 and $51,941 from its Action Fund to seven Democrats involved in tight toss-up races in seven states.
Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia is on the high end of that contribution range. The other six on the list are Reps. Betsy Markey of Colorado, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Dina Titus of Nevada, Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire, Mark Schauer of Michigan and John Boccieri of Ohio.
All of them voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the cap-and-trade bill co-authored by Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts that passed the House in June 2009.
In addition, LCV is making more than 500,000 phone calls on behalf of 20 Democratic representatives across 11 states who voted for the Waxman-Markey bill. As well, the advocacy organization has activated door-to-door canvassers in Colorado, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
LCV has also launched at least three recent political ads centered around House races in Michigan, Nevada and Virginia. A radio ad that is a joint effort with the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund targets former Rep. Tim Walberg for his allegiance to the fossil fuel industry. The Republican is challenging first-term incumbent Mark Schauer for the seat in Michigan’s 7th Congressional District.
The Nevada television ad goes after GOP House candidate Joe Heck, who is challenging first-term incumbent Rep. Dina Titus for the 3rd Congressional District seat in Nevada. Another television ad, a joint release of LCV and the Sierra Club, highlights Robert Hurt and his father’s ties to the uranium industry. Hurt, a Republican state senator from Virginia, is vying to beat first-term incumbent Perriello in the 5th Congressional District.
Some Overlapping Sierra Club Support
Earlier this month, the Sierra Club announced that it would be mobilizing staff members and volunteers to aid Democrats involved in 20 competitive House races.
The club’s reinforcements are seeing action in California, Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington.
Though green organizations are trying to spread their limited wealth—they are judicious because they are aware they can never outspend corporate interests—several groups are overlapping efforts on certain contests because they see them as linchpin votes for clean energy.
“In many of these races, there is a clear choice between a candidate with a strong environmental record and a candidate who sides with polluters rather than with the public,” Ken Brame, chairman of the Sierra Club political committee, said via news release. “Sierra Club’s thousands of volunteers will be pounding the pavement, working the phone lines and talking with friends and neighbors to help get environmental champions elected.”
NRDC Poll Bucks Conventional Wisdom
Some House incumbents have been reluctant to discuss their vote for Waxman-Markey because their GOP challengers have successfully renamed “cap and trade” as the overtly negative “cap and tax” on the campaign trail.
However, maybe they should be thinking twice about that duck-and-cover strategy.
October surveys by Public Policy Polling for the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund indicate that voters are more likely to support candidates willing to stand up for an energy bill that slices heat-trapping gases. Polls conducted in 23 competitive Congressional districts where candidates supported the American Clean Energy and Security Act show that on average, about 52 percent of voters favor a clean energy plan that includes investments in wind and solar power.
“No, we didn’t test the words cap and trade,” Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the NRDC Action Fund said in an interview. “With this poll, we wanted to understand where voters were. And we found out the candidates could have done better if they’d embraced clean energy.”
Pollsters posed a series of 14 questions to hundreds of registered voters in each district between Oct. 7 and 15. NRDC Action Fund selected the 23 races based on ratings from independent analysts indicating they were very tight and that outcomes could determine which party has a majority in the House. The number of queried voters varied in each district, depending on its size.
The surveys covered the following candidates and districts: Jerry McNerney (CA-11); Betsy Markey (CO-4); Allen Boyd (FL-2); Suzanne Kosmas (FL-24); Alan Grayson (FL-8); Leonard Boswell (IA-3); Debbie Halvorsen (IL-11); Phil Hare (IL-17); Frank Kratovil (MD-1); Mark Schauer (MI-7); Carol Shea-Porter (NH-1); Harry Teague (NM-2); Dina Titus (NV-3); John Hall (NY-19); Steve Driehaus (OH-1); Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15); John Boccieri (OH-16); Zack Space (OH-18); Paul Kanjorski (PA-11); Patrick Murphy (PA-8); Jack Spratt (SC-5); Tom Perriello (VA-5); and Steve Kagen (WI-8).
Voters supported clean energy legislation by a clear majority in 21 of the 23 races. That support rang in as a statistical tie in two contests—the 2nd Congressional District of New Mexico and the18th Congressional District of Ohio. By a 20-point margin, those same voters also said they supported candidates who backed a climate change bill.
“Again and again, the public has called for action to move America forward on a clean energy path,” said NRDC Action Fund director of programs Wesley Warren, who led the polling project. “They will be the ones to decide why candidates deserve their support, not the pundits.”
Results show that voters understand that a clean energy bill can create millions of jobs, reduce reliance on foreign oil, reduce greenhouse gases and hold corporate polluters accountable, Taylor-Miesle said.
“For each individual race, the survey means different things,” she pointed out. “In some places it means ‘Get a backbone,’ and in other places it means ‘It’s time to get in synch with your voters.’”
Taylor-Miesle singled out rookies Boccieri of Ohio and Perriello of Virginia for being vociferous in making the connection between jobs and a clean energy bill as their nail-biter races inch down to the wire. She is amazed, she said, that they might again eke out victories in their conservative districts.
“They are real leaders,” she concluded, adding that they have connected with voters by explaining their votes for Waxman-Markey and spelling out the connection between clean energy and jobs. “Tom Perriello should be down by 20 points. He must have no fingernails left because he has clawed his way to competitiveness.”