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'Climate Voters' Might Decide Tight New Hampshire Senate Race

Incumbent Jeanne Shaheen is locked in a statistical tie with challenger Scott Brown and environmental groups think Scott's views on climate change might drive people to the polls.
Image via AP/Elizabeth Frantz

A recent New Hampshire Public Radio headline asked, "Environmental Groups Pour Money Into N.H., But Can Climate Change Sway Voters?" The answer might mean victory or defeat for incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen as she's locked in a tight race against one-time Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown.

Organizations like the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) Action Fund, NextGen Climate Action, and the Sierra Club are pouring labor and money into the race, hoping that climate-conscious voters might shake off potential apathy and head to the poles in support of Shaheen.


"Shaheen has been a long-term champion of energy efficiency," Heather Taylor-Miesle, Director of the NRDC Action Fund, told VICE News. "She's been a long-term champion of clean water, of clean air, of public lands — all the way across the board."

NRDC Action Fund is the main supporter of the League of Conservation Voter's GiveGreen project and cohosts many events with the group. According to Taylor-Miesle, the GiveGreen project promises to be one of Shaheen's largest fundraisers, contributing nearly $230,000 to date.

"I personally think Scott Brown is pro whatever gets him to be Senator," Taylor-Miesle said. "Whether that's Keystone, or whatever it is. That's where he is on any particular issue."

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Scott supported the Keystone XL pipeline proposal as a Senator and continues to support its development in his energy policy. He also opposes taxing greenhouse gas emissions.

Another issue highlighted by environmental groups is Brown's changing thoughts on the cause of climate change. While running for Massachusetts Senator against Elizabeth Warren in 2012, he said, "I absolutely believe that climate change is real and I believe there's a combination between man-made and natural."

But during the New Hampshire GOP primary in August, he answered "Uh, no" when asked whether climate change was scientifically proven.


The Brown campaign did not respond to a request for comment from VICE News.

But it remains unclear how much climate change matter to voters. A Pew poll from September found that even though the environment ranked 8th out of 11 issues, 69 percent of Democrats are inclined to say it's very important to their voting choice, compared to 36 percent of Republicans. Two surveys — one conducted by the Yale Project for Climate Change Communication and George Mason University and another by Gallup — reached similar conclusions.

"Climate change has never been, and likely never will be, a top-tier concern for voters," Deborah Guber, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Vermont, told VICE News.

"That said, turnout in midterm elections skews the pool of potential voters in the partisan direction, and for some small group of partisans on the left, climate change may be important," added Guber.

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Those voters would likely cast ballots for Shaheen anyway, Guber said, though in a tight race, the money spent by environmental groups could theoretically be worth it — even though other issues will likely matter more

Groups like NextGen Climate Action aim to make climate change a top-tier concern.

NextGen operates six regional offices in New Hampshire with a couple dozen paid employees. The billionaire, environmentalist convert who founded the group, Tom Steyer, has been described as the liberal response to the Koch Brothers' sprawling network of political organizations. Steyer sits atop the Center for Responsive Politics' list of top individual contributors this election cycle.


According to NextGen's State Director in New Hampshire, Pete Kavanaugh, nearly 30,000 of the state's residents have signed climate action voter pledges — around 5 percent of registered voters.

Similar efforts are underway across the country, like in Colorado, where the Environmental Defense Fund has committed to gathering 100,000 signatures of voters who promise to vote for climate action.

"What we've found is that when we've engaged voters, young or otherwise on the issue, it is an issue that is more and more beginning to be at the forefront of voters mind," Kavanaugh said.

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Despite the green push, polls have shown Brown steadily gaining ground. In the summer, he was down double digits in the polls, but now he's in a statistical tie with Shaheen.

Brown has outside spenders going to bat on his behalf, as well. Karl Rove's American Crossroads dropped three million dollars in ads featuring a little girl spelling Shaheen's name O-B-A-M-A. The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and a host of other conservative donors have thrown money into getting Scott elected.

Neither American Crossroads nor AFP responded to VICE News requests for comment.

Even in a midterm that promises to be the most expensive in the nation'shistory, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the payout for environmental groups may come well after November 4th. Kavanaugh's group is working to make climate change a politically decisive issue in the coming years.

"You know this has always been a long-term play," Kavanaugh said. "We're not going to make this a number one issue in a couple months."

Follow Shelby Kinney-Lang on Twitter: @ShelbKL