Tom Steyer is a billionaire with a love for the environment. Hedge fund manager and philanthropist, Steyer is prepared for an all out assault on the Republican Party this election year. He is backing a group, called NextGen Climate, by giving them $100 million to use in their offensive against the “science deniers” in the GOP. Their mapping strategy includes seven states. The billionaire’s face-off with the Republicans promises to be an epic battle.
The pro-environment and progressive NextGen Climate wants to serve as an equalizer to the deep-pocketed gas and oil industries. They are also setting their sights on the Koch brothers who have proven themselves to be pro-business with seemingly endless funds coming from a network of conservative donors.
Launched last year, NextGen Climate is already working in Iowa to help Democrat Bruce Braley, a nominee for the Senate. They are also taking on a fight in Florida between Democrat Charlie Crist and incumbent Rick Scott for Governor. Steyer and his climate warriors also plan on tackling the Senate races in Colorado, Michigan and New Hampshire. The governor’s races in Pennsylvania and Maine are also included on their map.
In a briefing for reporters this week, Steyer’s Democratic consultant, Chris Lehane, and the political strategist for NextGen Climate, Sky Gallegos, laid out their strategy for this year. Lehane said that 2014 is the year to wisely highlight the issue of climate and win some important races.
Though there are other key Senate races that could be called must-wins for Democrats, NextGen Climate is steering clear of those states. That is because in Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina, the Democrats on the ballots have shown support for the coal industry, hydraulic fracturing, offshore drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline.
According to Lehane, they have instead chosen to participate in races where there is a clear battle between a pro-climate candidate and an anti-science one. Not only are these Republicans anti-science, but they are anti-immigration and anti-women. Lehane said, “It’s a tough brand to win elections around.”
Lehane went on to say that the Republicans that NextGen Climate has their sights set on like, Cory Gardner in Colorado, Scott in Florida, Terri Lynn Land of Michigan and Scott Brown in New Hampshire are all cut from the same “Republican troglodyte” cloth.
NextGen Climate believes that when used as a wedge issue, climate can be successful in framing these political races as moral clashes. They think that this tactic could bring Democrats to the polls in November. The group is particularly interested in young African-American and Hispanic voters.
Last year, Steyer spent almost $8 million on the governor’s race in Virginia. Rather than just relying on television spots, he employed a combination of field ops, mail and television to get out his message. This year, their efforts will be expanded to include what they refer to as “nano-targeting.” This tactic will tailor their message to distinct groups of voters.
Lehane explained that another powerful tactic that will be used is focusing on issues that are hyper-local. Flood insurance costs are particularly important to Floridians, while issues brought on by drought raise concerns in Iowa. Not surprisingly, health concerns that are related to pollution such as, clean drinking water and asthma, strike a chord with low-income voters.
When reporters pointed out the significance of some of the states in regards to the presidential election, Lehane admitted that was an integral part of their plan. Florida, Iowa and New Hampshire will all be important states come 2016. Steyer and NextGen Climate are prepared to go all the way.
Steyer feels that he is putting his money where it is needed most. Though some of the Republicans he is facing have called him a hypocrite for earning part of his billions through investing in fossil fuels, he diverted those investments years ago. Whatever can be said of his past, his present is devoted to making good on his promise to invest in the nation’s future.
by Stacy Lamy