DSCC predicts green issues will tilt key Senate races

Source: George Cahlink, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2016

PHILADELPHIA — Environmental issues could prove pivotal in at least three Senate races in battleground states this fall, according to Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee officials and other party operatives.

At a DSCC forum here earlier today, Christie Roberts, DSCC political director, said green issues could prove decisive in bids to unseat Republican incumbents in Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. She said the environmental issues raised in those states would vary based on the incumbent’s record.

For example, groups including the League of Conservation Voters are helping to pay for ads painting Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) as a businessmen who has denied climate science. His opponent, former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), has been endorsed by the LCV and enjoys an 89 percent lifetime rating from the group.

In Florida, Democrats will use the time Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) spent running for president to make the case that he has ignored local issues. His Democratic opponent will be decided in a primary next month.

Specifically, they’ll argue that Rubio has done little to address an algae bloom that’s emerging as an environmental crisis in the state. And in a state grappling with rising sea levels, Democrats are likely to attack him for being dismissive on whether climate change is man-made. They’ll also highlight money he has raised from sugar cane manufacturers that have been criticized for polluting the Florida Everglades.

In Pennsylvania, Katie McGinty, who served as the state’s secretary of environmental protection and as a top adviser in the Clinton administration, is expected to tout her long track record on green issues. She’s facing Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) in one of the nation’s most competitive races.

Beyond those battlegrounds, Democratic political operatives said they are eager to run against GOP senators who largely are backing Republican nominee Donald Trump. They said GOP candidates’ attempts to separate themselves from the controversial businessman, who has called climate change a hoax, will fall flat.

“Is Trump a factor? Absolutely. Is Trump the only thing we are running on? No way,” Roberts said.

Matt Canter, a former senior DSCC operative who now works for the Global Strategy Group, said GOP candidates will be “boxed in” by extreme positions taken by Trump.

Canter also said Democrats will continue to try to point out GOP donations coming from the Koch brothers and paint the oil billionaires as polluters.

DSCC officials said they will coordinate with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for campaign appearances this fall. They also are working with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose presidential run was seen as energizing the left, to have him go out on the trail for Democrats. The officials also said they would welcome Michelle Obama on the stump.

“Yes, tomorrow, if she is free,” joked Martha McKenna, a former DSCC official who now runs the McKenna Pihlaja communications firm, noting the first lady’s strong speech last night at the convention.