"If Obama Looks to Sen. Bennet for Winning Strategy, He Needs to Make a Major Issue of Global Warming and Clean Energy"
That’s the big AP story that HuffPost linked to from its screaming banner front-page headline yesterday (see below).
Significantly, the story doesn’t mention how Sen. Bennet (D-CO) used his opponent Ken Buck’s global warming denial to help win the eco-conscious state (see “Did Ken Buck’s global warming denial cost the Tea Party favorite a Senate seat? and below). The story opens:
DENVER — If you want a sense of how President Barack Obama’s team intends to win in the West, look no further than Democrat Michael Bennet’s successful fight to retain his Colorado Senate seat last year.
Bennet, who was appointed in 2009, captured a full term in a tough year for Democrats by turning the campaign into a “choice,” not a referendum, on his brief time in the Senate.
He portrayed his opponent, Republican Ken Buck, as out of step with state voters. He used strong fundraising to blanket the airwaves and build a large campaign organization to turn out Hispanics, young voters and women squeezed by the economic downturn.
Obama’s team has studied that model, and party leaders say the senator’s campaign could serve as a template for Obama in other competitive Western states next year.
One way that Buck was out of step with Colorado voters is that the voters care about global warming and clean energy, whereas Tea Party extremist Buck did not, as The Hill reported at the time:
As I discussed in a November post, Bennet clearly and deftly played the global warming card — which recent public opinion research and electoral analysis suggests is a winning strategy (see Bombshell: Democrats Taking “Green” Positions on Climate Change “Won Much More Often” Than Those Remaining Silent). Here’s some background on what happened in Colorado:
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
Before the election, on October 21st 2010, 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:
“Ken Buck’s extreme stance on climate change is a threat to Colorado’s economy and could prove cataclysmic for our national security,” said Bennet spokesman Trevor Kincaid in a statement. Kincaid noted the Pentagon’s view that climate change is a security issue.
“Michael Bennet believes that climate change is real, and that we need to grow our economy by embracing clean energy alternatives, like solar, wind, and other renewable sources of energy. Michael believes that Colorado is uniquely positioned to lead the world in the new energy economy,” Bennet’s campaign said.
At the same time, Colorado scientists rebuked Buck, and the media covered it (see “Ken Buck would let climate change ruin Colorado and unilaterally disarm its clean energy leadership“). Of course, Colorado is home to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and many clean energy companies.
By election night, Bennet beat the final polls and won by about one percentage point.
I had noted at the time that independent analysis and polling has shown the House climate vote was not a major factor in last November’s tsunami. But it probably played some role in at least one race, Rick Boucher’s loss in Virginia. That said, Stanford public opinion expert Jon Krosnick’s more recent and detailed analysis of the 2010 election found:
“Democrats who took ‘green’ positions on climate change won much more often than did Democrats who remained silent,” Krosnick said. “Republicans who took ‘not-green’ positions won less often than Republicans who remained silent.
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.
For team Obama, that’s probably just a coincidence. But I asked Krosnick by email about the implications of his research for the President who has all but dropped “climate change” from his vocabulary. Krosnick answered:
Our research suggests that it would be wise for the President and for all other elected officials who believe that climate change is a problem and merits government attention to say this publicly and vigorously, because most Americans share these views. Expressing and pursuing green goals on climate change will gain votes on election day and seem likely to increase the President’s and the Congress’s approval ratings.
Finally, here’s the banner headline HuffPost ran for the AP story about Obama’s election strategy:
We’ll see if anyone in the campaign is really going to learn the lesson from Colorado — and public opinion and election analysis — or will they just say they are while continuing to pursue the same strategy of abandoning one of progressive’s best issues.