Did Ken Buck’s global warming denial cost the Tea Party favorite a Senate seat?


In only two Senate races did a candidate’s position on global warming become a major issue.  In those two Senate races, the candidate that stood with the Senate’s top global warming denier and embraced denial of basic scientific reality lost.

The first was Carly Fiorina (see After Inhofe’s endorsement, Carly Fiorina challenges climate science “” unlike the company she once ran! and Politico on CA Senate debate: “Fiorina’s major stumble came on the issue of Proposition 23”).  She was crushed by climate hawk Barbara Boxer

Just this afternoon, the Denver Post and AP called the Colorado Senate race for Bennet.  On October 21st, Ken Buck embraced Inhofe: “Global warming is the greatest hoax” — and, as the clip above makes clear, Bennet attacked immediately.

Bennet had always been trailing in the polls, which began slowly tightening in early October, but Buck was still up by 2 points on October 21, according to Nate Silver’s polling analysis model.

When Buck embraced Inhofe and denial, Bennet pounced, Colorado scientists rebuked him, and the media covered it (see “Ken Buck would let climate change ruin Colorado and unilaterally disarm its clean energy leadership“).  By election night, Bennet beat the final polls and appears to have won by almost one percentage point.

I had noted that independent analysis and polling has shown the House climate vote was not a major factor in last night’s tsunami.  But it probably played some role in at least one race, Rick Boucher’s loss in Virginia.

The flip side is that one can make a good case that climate and clean energy may well have played some role in Colorado — and it certainly played a big role in the California trifecta, the huge 10-point wins by Boxer and Brown, and the stunning 20-point defeat of Prop 23.

California and Colorado share some key features in common:

  • A strong environmental ethic
  • Leadership in the clean energy economy, with leading research institutions and many clean energy companies
  • World-class expertise on climate science
  • Many widely publicized studies on the great danger that unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases pose to the state

Now both states have governors who are climate hawks.

With serious federal action on climate and clean energy all but dead for the foreseeable future, we will need to focus on a state-based strategy moving forward.

40 Responses to Did Ken Buck’s global warming denial cost the Tea Party favorite a Senate seat?

  1. Rick Covert says:


    How does the passage of Prop 26 effect the 2011 enforcement of AB32 in California?

    [JR: I’ll post on this Thursday.]

  2. Daniel Ives says:

    I am proud to be a Coloradan today!

    Joe, I agree that this played a role. On the western slope (tends to be conservative) there is evidence of climate change staring you in the face in the form of the pine beetle infestation and also it stands as a threat to the ski industry. Could Buck’s anti-science have cost him here? I don’t know, but at least he won’t be in the senate to embarass my state.

    Thank you for covering Buck’s views and spreading the word, Joe.

  3. Prokaryotes says:

    “With serious federal action on climate and clean energy all but dead for the foreseeable future, we will need to focus on a state-based strategy moving forward.”

    What about the Lame Duck session?

  4. Mike says:

    It is fair to debate just how serious AGW is or whether we should act now or wait for the economy to rebound a bit more. (I think a good case can be made on econmic grounds fr starting now.) But, we need to stigmatize the hoaxers and deniers as being as nutty as birthers and 9/11-truthers.

  5. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    Daniel, I’m NOT proud to be a Coloradoan, and here’s why: Buck was about as close a contender as you can get. What are my fellow Coloradoans drinking that someone with such idiotic right-wing ideas could even be on the ballot? Fortunately, Bennet won, but I’m ashamed of my state that Buck even had a chance. Buck should have ben laughed off the ballot.

  6. catman306 says:

    If you care about the preservation of the environment, safe working conditions, good education or proper human care for citizens, DON’T move to Georgia. That’s what the results of last night’s election say to me. Georgia voters have spoken and they care for none of these. The TP/GOP election winners will finish up what Sherman started.

  7. Richard Brenne says:

    Maybe Buck can call gravity a hoax next time: “I fear that, when I jump on a trampoline, I might not come back down.”

  8. Daniel Ives says:

    @ Ominous # 5,
    You have a good point there, and I admit that I would have been ashamed if Buck had squeaked out a victory. But I remain proud not only because of Bennet, but because we elected Hickenlooper and defeated some terrible ballot initiatives. We were one of the few states that didn’t completely drop the ball this election. I am not proud of my county for these results, but I am trying to stay positive, and what Colorado did was indeed positive. Also, remember that Buck was a contender partly in thanks to a record out-of-state spending influence and the tea party as well. In my mind, to overcome such a spending spree and elect the best candidate is something to be proud of.


  9. cyclonebuster says:

    What do those “Pinheads” know about climate anyways?

  10. James says:

    I wouldn’t say I’m ashamed to be a Georgian today, but I’m certainly not proud. I’m also not surprised.

    On the flip side, The Walking Dead gave us a nice preview of my Atlanta neighborhood will look like by the end of the century.

  11. BillD says:

    Rational politicians as well as scientists need to call out the science deniers in clear and simple language. In my view even many conservatives will be uncomfortable with the “hoax” characterization. I think that this will put pressure on many Republicans who can’t really believe that they can be confident in going against such a strong majority of scientists. At worst, the strategy of speaking the truth and calling out the deniers would seem to have a small downside risk. It’s hard to imagine that a large part of the moderates and independent voters would be science deniers.

    That’s great if Buck’s climate position actually was a factor in his demise.

  12. Colorado Bob says:

    Downtown L.A. registers another record high temperature
    November 3, 2010 | 6:01 pm

    Downtown Los Angeles hit a record high of 97 degrees Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service said.

    Yes, on Nov. 3.

  13. Colorado Bob says:

    ScienceDaily (Nov. 3, 2010) — Melt water flowing through ice sheets via crevasses, fractures and large drains called moulins can carry warmth into ice sheet interiors, greatly accelerating the thermal response of an ice sheet to climate change, according to a new study involving the University of Colorado at Boulder.

  14. Ron Broberg says:

    Romm: “Now both states have governors who are climate hawks

    Hickenlooper: “I don’t think the scientific community has decided with certainty that climate change is as catastrophic as so many people think.

    A nuanced statement with which I can basically agree, but not one likely to indicate a “climate hawk” unless a hawk is anyone that doesn’t deny that AGW exists.

    Don’t expect much from CO *explicitly* dealing with climate change. Just like in the national arena, there may be some movement on ‘clean energy’ policy. But budgets and deficits are first on the agenda.

    Also of interest, the Greens got about 2% of the US Senate vote. Not just in ‘liberal’ counties, but more-or-less evenly across the state.

    [JR: I heard him speak in Aspen. I stand by my characterization.]

  15. Leif says:

    Seattle records new high temperature at 73 F, beating old record by 3 degrees. “Very unusual for November.”

  16. Leif says:

    Of course we all know that any one record does not prove Global warming. However given that over the last ten years warm records have been beating cold records 2 :: 1, perhaps one of these records should go over into the “Proof” column.

  17. Anu says:

    @Colorado Bob says: November 3, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Environmental policy didn’t shift when the Democrats won the House AND Senate in 2006.

    What goes around, comes around.

  18. Deborah Stark says:

    …..With serious federal action on climate and clean energy all but dead for the foreseeable future, we will need to focus on a state-based strategy moving forward…..

    Bullseye. I could not be more in agreement. And I think there should be a great deal more confidence in this approach than is currently apparent because I DO think it is possible to make concrete progress here such that a “tipping point” will be achieved in the momentum department, perhaps sooner than one might at the moment dare to hope.

    I also think a state-based approach would seem more real (more tangible) to people and would undoubtedly elicit a more direct engagement and support from those who are justifiably frustrated and demoralized by the inexcusable lack of progress at the federal level.

    Frankly, I think it’s our best option.

  19. riverat says:

    Salem, OR set a new all time high for the month of November of 73F today. The old record was 72F set on Nov. 2, 1970.

  20. Peter Frazier says:

    Joe – I’ve been reading this blog and archives for the last month and find it to be a stellar source. Thanks for the work you are doing.

    After last night’s election, however, I suggest the name Climate Progress is no longer apt, California notwithstanding.

  21. Stuart says:

    Serious question: what can just the House do to stop an EPA order from the Supreme Court to regulate carbon emissions? I think this is the only way this dysfunctional government will ever get anything done. Joe, I would appreciate a post giving us the lowdown on strategy from here – I think EPA regulation is the only way to go.

  22. Michael T says:

    Did Americans reject clean energy by voting Republican?

    “US environmentalists, assessing the Republican tsunami that washed over the country, chose Wednesday to tout a key Election Day victory in beating back California’s Proposition 23, a ballot initiative that would have reversed clean-energy requirements statewide – and led quite possibly to similar initiatives in other states.”

  23. dhogaza says:

    Serious question: what can just the House do to stop an EPA order from the Supreme Court to regulate carbon emissions?

    Refuse to fund it, just as has been done for 30? 40? just how old are Nixon and I anyway? laws regulating non-point-source water pollution (fancy words for “farms and ranches and pig and chicken factories).

    EPA has tried to work end-around strategies to actually implement the law for all those years (decades), but without explicit funding, little can be done.

  24. caerbannog says:


    Downtown L.A. registers another record high temperature
    November 3, 2010 | 6:01 pm

    Downtown Los Angeles hit a record high of 97 degrees Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service said.

    Yes, on Nov. 3. lanow/ 2010/ 11/ record-high-weather-forecast.html

    I’ll see your 97 degrees (downtown LA) and raise you 102 (Anaheim):

    BTW, I was in Colorado about a month ago — downright toasty up in Vail (felt like 80) in early October! Lots of very deal lodgepoles, too.

  25. caerbannog says:

    Lots of very deal lodgepoles, too.

    Lots of very *dead* lodgepoles, that is…

  26. Colorado Bob says:

    Vietnam has killed 16 people, bringing the death toll over the past month to 159.

    The national floods and storms control committee says up to 39 inches (100 centimeters) of rain has pounded the region over the past week, forcing the evacuation of more than 40,000 people.

  27. sailrick says:

    I agree with Mike @ 4 and BillD @12

    The bull needs to be taken by the horns. The denial PR deceit has to be exposed and the science deniers called out as Bill said. This, and a relentless effort at better educating the public must be carried out until 2012. Climate change denial is the GOP’s biggest vulnerbility, while they think it’s a strength. Kudos to Senator Bennet for realizing this and using it.

  28. Esop says:

    The GOP better pray that a high pressure system like the one seen over Russia this summer won’t settle over the Midwest in 2011 and/or 2012. If that happens, lots of voters will wake up to reality and change their minds, just like the Russian people did. However, the Democrats and scientists must consider toning down the old “no specific weather event..” bailout.
    It looks like we are on track to a warm 2011. The UAH channel 5 temps are annihilating the all time records now. This is accompanied with sea surface temps that are headed straight up as well. This in the middle of a super strong La Nina, so that is an interesting development.
    Looks like old Gaia is not pleased with the results of the midterm elections.

  29. Tim L. says:

    Joe, to your point about CA’s and CO’s “leadership in the clean energy economy, with leading research institutions and many clean energy companies:” perhaps their voters have seen how investing in clean energy and energy efficiency creates jobs and enhances their economic competitiveness. That might explain why more voters there said they were “dissatisfied but not angry” with Washington and why they elected/re-elected Dems rather than stupid Teabaggers. Just a thought . . .

  30. catman306 says:

    Of course we all know that any one record extreme weather event or climate catastrophe does not prove Gaia is not pleased with human activity. You have to watch the trends.

    Fear Corporate Greed.

  31. Keith says:

    Quote Karl Rove: “Climate is over.”
    To the 92% of young voters who had better things to do than vote on Tuesday: “Well done.”

  32. Keith says:

    re/ #26
    Wasn’t some recent comment here referencing a poor rice crop in Cali due to a cold summer. Looks like the Cali growing season has shifted into the fall. Plant accordingly.

  33. Esop says:

    #33 Keith:
    Quote Neville Chamberlain (1938): “Piece in our time.”

    In a few years, Roves’ quote will come back to haunt him (and the rest of the science deniers)

  34. Esop says:

    My comment # 35 above
    I see now that the “peace in our time” was a much repeated misquote.
    What Chamberlain said was “Peace for our time”.

    Roves’ statement will sound equally silly in a few years time

  35. Steve H says:

    This is what needs to be said: “The voters sent a message this week. They thought they were voting for liberty; they thought they were voting against an oppressive government. In fact, the election of so many republicans to the house of representatives will likely increase bad government. Why? A bad, oppressive government is one that puts politics above results; power above people; and profit above liberty for all. We spend millions of dollars on research every year. Research that focuses on better ways to solve social problems, identifies threats to our health and our general safety and security, and provides us with tools to solve our economic crisis. We ignore these are own peril. But worse, China, India, and other countries are using this same research that we pay for to better their own situations. Other countries see the value of our scientific system; it is truly one of our greatest natural resources remaining. And unless things turn around quickly, it will become one our most threatened resources. Science is truly the thing separates power from tyranny.”

  36. People like Buck need to be threatened with criminal complaints for crimes against humanity.

  37. Barry says:

    The GOP certainly “Bucked up” by so tightly tying their brand to “climate change is a hoax” meme.

    Many were even stupid enough to sign their names to a pledge to do nothing about it. I’m sure their kids and grandkids will frame that pledge with pride over the mantle in years to come.

    Now the GOP has to hope their fossil lobbyists can bribe the universe to flip-flop on its notoriously “anti-business”, “anti-American” radiation absorption and emission laws. The laws of physics aren’t going to even know what hit them when that media-military campaign hits high gear.

    And e better not be showing its face anywhere close to m or those pinko c twins for a good long while. If they know what is good for them, all four should hold a press conference and apologize ASAP. The bible doesn’t even mention any of them once. Clearly not relevant to America’s tea partying future.

  38. WeatherDem says:

    Colorado already has a climate hawk governor: Bill Ritter. Working with a Democratic legislature, Gov. Ritter’s New Energy Economy put Colorado on a strong path toward energy self-reliance. When Ritter ran in 2006, his forward-looking views on energy and climate were the main reason I volunteered for his campaign.

    I’m not ready to call Gov.-elect Hickenlooper a climate hawk yet. During 2010, he showed a tendency to tell different groups different things without ever getting into the details like candidate Ritter did on the campaign trail. Hickenlooper can easily pick up where Ritter is leaving off and work to make Colorado more climate secure in the next 4 years. His actions will provide the determination of how much of a climate hawk he is.