One of the Senate's top sponsors of climate change legislation is being attacked for prioritizing "the weather" over terrorism, part of Republican attempts to use anti-global warming themes in several primary races ending with elections today.
Carly Fiorina, who appears poised to win California's Senate Republican primary race, is already turning her sights on Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer, releasing a television ad last Thursday that mocks the three-term senator for saying climate change is "very important" to national security.
"Terrorism kills, and Barbara Boxer's worried about the weather," Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co., says in the ad. "We've had enough of her politics. I'll work to keep you safe."
The move comes as conservative candidates seek to exploit Democratic initiatives like cap and trade, agitating concerns about rising energy and gasoline prices and pointing to expanding government programs as a symptom of President Obama and his congressional allies.
The theme is surfacing in other primary races, where tea party favorites are gaining the support of invigorated conservative electorates.
In Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will find out today if his fall challenger will be Republican Sharron Angle, a strong contender in the GOP primary who doesn't believe in man-made warming. Reid could see additional climate attacks if he lets carbon-pricing legislation move to the floor this summer, Angle warned in an interview recently.
Angle faces Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian in today's primary.
Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a conservative Democrat who is locked in a tight primary, distanced herself from global warming legislation. Moreover, she's supporting a Republican effort to strip U.S. EPA of its power to regulate the release of greenhouse gases. Lincoln's future will be decided today, when she meets Democratic Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in a runoff for the party's nomination.
Whoever emerges could face climate criticism if his or her party pursues carbon-cutting legislation this summer, said Arkansas Rep. John Boozman, the Republican candidate in the Senate race.
"There's a lot of things that the people of Arkansas don't understand in regard to legislation. But they do understand if you're trying to double their utilities and add a dollar to their price of gasoline," he said. "And they're very much opposed to the cap-and-trade tax legislation."
'Examine the science'
That angle of attack might resonate in states with vibrant conservative streaks and economies built around fossil fuels. But California?
The state is pioneering initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases from automobiles and industry, led by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. That might be why Fiorina has chosen a careful path through the climate issue, with the recent ad marking perhaps her boldest assertion on the issue.
She doesn't mention global warming on her website. And although she is wooing tea party activists, Fiorina stops short of the outright denial by the group's favorite candidates, who attack the "warming myth" and call for the disbanding of the U.S. Department of Energy. Instead, Fiorina tells supporters that "we need to have to the courage to examine the science," according to an aide in the campaign.
"The ad is not about climate change. It's about Boxer's misplaced priorities," the aide said on the condition of anonymity. "While we can all agree that terrorism is a threat to our country, there is widespread disagreement over the role climate change can play in national security."
Boxer's campaign has struck back, pointing to increasing assertions within the military that expanding hunger, aggression around resources and the potential for large population movements pose strategic concerns. Also, the military for the first time included climate concerns this year in its overarching strategic document, the Quadrennial Defense Review.
"While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world," warns the report, which was required by Congress to assess climate change.
Steve Maviglio, a long-time Democratic consultant in California, said he expects to see Boxer respond more strongly after today's primary, perhaps appearing with veterans and five-star generals to talk about climate and national security.
Security can 'trump all the issues'
Boxer's pushback could signal that her campaign is taking the attack seriously. A senior adviser in the campaign said Fiorina's ad marks the beginning of the general election race, even though Fiorina will face former California Rep. Tom Campbell and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore in the Republican primary today.
Maviglio agrees. "The bitter hatred of Barbara Boxer runs strong and deep among conservative Republicans, and I think the ad is designed to fire them up and shore up the base post-primary," he said. "It's also designed to set up the general election matchup, where jobs have overtaken climate change in the polls, and she's trying to capitalize on that."
Boxer's campaign manager, Rose Kapolczynski, raised the idea of the ad having negative repercussions for Fiorina in a state generally accepting of efforts to mitigate climate change.
"It's a surprising move to promote a position that's so out of touch with most California voters," she said.
Climate change, one way or another, will be front and center in California's November election, thanks to a ballot initiative proposing to suspend A.B. 32 until unemployment falls below 5.5 percent. A.B. 32, the state's sprawling, and controversial, climate law, seeks to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
Nearly all attacks this year on climate legislation seek to raise pocketbook concerns. Fiorina is testing another potent issue: people's security fears.
"People's concerns about terrorism and national security can in certain circumstances trump a lot of issues," said Ethan Rarick, director of the Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service at the University of California, Berkeley. "They can trump all the issues."
But he's curious about the timing.
"A month after 9/11, had you said, 'We're going to stop all efforts to fight climate change because we want to fight terrorism,' that would have probably been cheered," Rarick said. "Now it's ... almost nine years later."