Campaign 2014

LCV's Karpinski discusses final spending push ahead of midterms

With so many congressional races facing tight finishes leading into next week's midterm elections, how will ramped-up spending by the environmental community impact the outcome of some of the country's most contested races? During today's OnPoint, Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, explains why LCV has spent five times more money on this year's midterms than in 2010 and talks about LCV's postelection plans.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters. Gene, thanks for coming back on the show.

Gene Karpinski: Great to be here again.

Monica Trauzzi: Gene, Greenwire reported last week on some polling indicating that energy and environment issues are unlikely to be a determining factor in the midterms. LCV is spending big dollars, though, in some key states where these issues are playing. Talk about North Carolina and the big money play you have there.

Gene Karpinski: Sure. That's one of our top-priority races. Kay Hagan has been a real champion on many environmental issues. You know, we do a scorecard. She's got an 84 percent lifetime score, which is the best lifetime score of any member from that part of the country, and she's actually, most importantly, stood up with us on defending EPA. She's running against a guy named Thom Tillis, who was the House leader in the state Legislature, who's a climate change denier. Climate change impacts in North Carolina are huge. If you've ever been to the Outer Banks, they won't be there because of climate change in the future, so it's an important issue. It's part of the conversation. We've actually invested -- it's our single largest investment to date, over $4 million invested in that race, most of which is aimed at making sure what we call drop-off voters turn out at the polls on Election Day.

Monica Trauzzi: LV has spent five times more money in these midterms than in 2010. Why is this year so important?

Gene Karpinski: Well, there's a lot at stake. First of all, in the Senate, we need to protect the Senate firewall, and that doesn't mean just Democrats and Republicans because we actually try to find Republicans who support our issues. So we're supporting Susan Collins in Maine because she's actually a champion on climate change, and she's a Republican. We want her to return to the Senate. Having said that, for Mitch McConnell to be running the Senate would be horrible for our issues. He's made it clear he wants to block EPA from doing the most important step the government's ever taken, to cut climate change pollution, so the Senate firewall is critical. So that's a major investment. Plus we're also invested with our state LCVs in a number of governors races around the country, both because those governors will set policies in their states, but they'll also be the ones to implement the EPA's climate change plan. So states like Pennsylvania and Maine and Wisconsin and Michigan are states that we're heavily invested in, and again, those are -- three out of four of those are tossup races as we sit here one week before the election.

Monica Trauzzi: So let's talk about Mitch McConnell. Is the Kentucky Senate race done for Alison Lundergan Grimes, and how big of an issue has EPA's Clean Power Plan been in that state and in the tone of the discussion?

Gene Karpinski: Well, you know, frankly, that's not a race that we've been involved in in Kentucky because, frankly, both candidates have made it clear they're against what EPA's trying to do. So it doesn't make sense for us to invest in a place of that. I only know what you and I see in the public polls, and it's still not over. I just saw that Grimes was endorsed by the two major papers in the state, but it's not a race for the environmental community. We try to pick races where there's a sharp contest between someone who's a champion on climate change and someone who's an opponent, and that's why we're in places like North Carolina and Colorado and New Hampshire and Michigan and other states where there's a sharp contrast by someone who's going to be a climate change champion against someone who's a climate change denier. That's the key test for us.

Monica Trauzzi: The price of oil is low right now. I mean, obviously we can debate the geopolitics of why that's happening, but do you think that Americans will be swayed by the price at the pump when they head to the polls next week?

Gene Karpinski: You know, it's interesting. Perhaps because the price is low, it really hasn't been much of the conversation. There has been a conversation about -- frankly, about climate change in a number of these states because candidates, I can -- you can watch Mark Udall, Gary Peters, Kay Hagan, Jeanne Shaheen and others, just in the last couple months who have criticized their opponents for being climate change deniers. And hats off to the media because you remember back in 2012 in the presidential debates, there wasn't a single question asked about climate change, which frankly was an embarrassment. If you watched the debates in the last month, virtually every debate in these tossup races, the moderator or one of the panelists is asking about climate change. So that's part of the conversation. I don't think the oil-

Monica Trauzzi: Is it resonating with voters?

Gene Karpinski: If you talk to young people -- so one of the biggest challenges is drop-off voters. One of the biggest groups of potentially drop-off voters who historically vote in presidential years but not in off-year elections are young people. Young people care deeply about the issue of climate change, more than any other group of folks. You look at Latino voters, again, another group of folks who don't vote as frequently, and you look at the polling, they care deeply about climate change. So for particular audiences, it's a very important issue, and that's why you see more advertising on these issues than we've ever seen before and ... see more conversations and why you see Senate candidates leaning into this, just as you saw Terry McAuliffe in Virginia back in 2013, he went after his opponent, Cuccinelli, for being a denier. That was part of the story about why Cuccinelli was outside the mainstream. So it's powerful if you use it and lean into it.

Monica Trauzzi: What impact do you believe Tom Steyer and his financial influence have had on the midterms, in particular on energy and environment issues? Has he delivered on the promises that he made regarding climate change?

Gene Karpinski: Well absolutely. You know, it's a -- you know, I've always said we need more environmental money in politics, and as you said, we're spending five times -- more than five times as much as we spent in 2010, by far the most we've ever spent. We're also raising more money for candidates than ever before. We raised over -- raised or contributed over $5.5 million to candidates, but it's great to have Tom in this investment as well. We need more money in politics from the environmental perspective. Tom's contributed over $50 million. He's playing in some of these key races, like in Colorado, in Iowa, in Michigan, in New Hampshire. He's also heavily invested in the Florida governor's race, which is a tossup race where, again, a sharp contrast between Charlie Crist, who's a champion on climate change, and Rick Scott, who's a climate change denier. So Tom's value added is to put a lot more resources on the table and, again, to help sharpen this conversation between climate change champions and climate change deniers.

Monica Trauzzi: If the Senate goes to the GOP next week, how will LCV start to tee things up for 2016? I mean, what are the next steps for you guys?

Gene Karpinski: Well, there's a couple things that we need to look at. First of all, we want to -- you know, we want to make sure in the next week we do everything we can, and it's probably highly likely that it may not be clear who's going to run the Senate on November 4th because you're likely to have a couple run-offs in Louisiana and Georgia. Alaska probably won't be decided on Tuesday night, so it'll -- it may be a while. Having said that, 2016 is an important election, No. 1 because it's a presidential campaign. We need to make sure -- actually nominees ideally in both parties understand it's important to be on the right side of climate change and make it a priority issue, like many of these Senate candidates have done. Also you already start to look at the Senate map in 2016, and there's some climate change deniers like Pat Toomey and Ron Johnson in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin who are already -- and have horrible LCV scores. Those are the kind of races we'll be looking at closely real quickly.

Monica Trauzzi: Final question. Hillary Clinton is slated to speak at LCV's New York dinner in December. Do you buy into the notion that there's political fatigue surrounding her and a 2016 run?

Gene Karpinski: Not at all. You know, my 88-year-old mom and my 18-year-old daughter are both totally excited to go -- to see Hillary run. It's time for a woman to be president, I think many people would say. It's also, we've seen her on climate change begin to talk about this issue. We're thrilled that she's at our dinner. We know she'll be talking about it some more. So she's the kind of person we need to be running and talking about these issues.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there. Thank you so much for coming back on the show.

Gene Karpinski: Great. Good to see you, Monica. Thanks again.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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