Grassroots environmentalists unleashed a wave of criticism on the D.C.-based League of Conservation Voters on Monday and Tuesday, after the group announced its endorsement for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Hundreds of people — many of whom said they support Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who has made climate change a central part of his presidential campaign — posted comments on LCV’s Facebook page and depleted its ranking from more than 4 stars to 2.2, while grassroots groups speculated privately on why the group would offer its earliest-ever endorsement.
“I don’t know why they did it. From my point of view, we are having a terrific primary,” RL Miller, founder of ClimateHawksVote, told ThinkProgress. “They are very much a D.C. insider group. And Climate Hawks is very much an outsider group. So I can’t tell you what is going on in their minds.”
Miller said she thinks the Sanders’ and Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley’s campaigns have helped push Clinton further on climate issues. Clinton only came out in opposition to Keystone XL in September, but released a clean energy plan earlier this summer.
“There are many people in the climate community that understand Hillary is only moving slowly on climate, and only when pushed,” Miller said.
— Stephen Lacey (@Stphn_Lacey) November 10, 2015
.@LCVoters As an LCV supporter I STRONGLY urge you reconsider backing Hillary. Not only have you lost my confidence, you've lost my support.
— Bonne Amie & Family (@BonneAmie1955) November 10, 2015
But the endorsement and subsequent social media frenzy might speak to two competing issues — especially for voters who care about climate change: Distrust versus electability.
In an election cycle that has so far been characterized by questions over who is an “outsider,” Clinton is, of course, a long-time Washington insider. In fact, when the American Teachers’ Federation endorsed her in July and a similar backlash took place, Slate noted that the head of the New York-based AFT worked with Clinton when she was a senator from that state and now sits on a pro-Clinton SuperPAC. Political connections — which are practically unavoidable when talking about a high-profile Democrat such as Clinton — have also been made to LCV.
That raises concerns among voters who are looking to see who is the best candidate — not the best candidate everyone knows.
Joan Raphael, an LCV member and Sanders supporter, told ThinkProgress she was canceling her membership over the endorsement, which she chalked up to D.C.’s political game. “My opinion is that that either they feel Hillary is a safe person to endorse, and more likely to win; or they owe either her or Bill some favors,” Raphael, a librarian from San Diego, wrote in an email.
She said the group’s action was a betrayal of its members. “This is exactly like the major unions. The heads of these unions are supporting Clinton but the rank and file have made it clear they are supporting Bernie.”
But, as Raphael mentioned, electability might also be behind LCV’s endorsement.
For instance, in a since-deleted Tweet, Dan Weiss, LCV’s political director (and former senior fellow at the Center for American Progress), wrote that Sanders’ fossil fuel bill “is an important symbol but that’s all. Most important: win WH. Avoid symbols w/o middle support.” People on both side of the aisle want to make sure their candidate can go the distance, not just gin up some online support.
Clinton is currently polling ahead of Sanders in several state races, while early polling for the general election shows the former Secretary of State winning over all the leading Republican candidates. Sanders is shown winning against all but Ben Carson.
The endorsement is seen as particularly ironic because under LCV’s own rubric for legislators, its annual scorecard, Sanders is ranked higher than Clinton. An LCV spokesperson pointed out that the group counts missed votes as negatives, and Clinton missed a number of votes during her 2008 presidential run.
The scorecards from prior to that campaign do show Sanders (95 percent) with a small lead over Clinton (90 percent).
“I was surprised they decided to endorse this early, because there’s still a lot more we want and need to know about all the candidates’ positions,” Anthony Rogers-Wright, the policy and organizing director at Environmental Action, told ThinkProgress.
“This endorsement also highlights the schism between Big Green groups… and the underfunded, under-resourced frontline organizations, mainly people of color and low wealth folks, that are literally fighting for their lives,” Rogers-Wright said, speculating that LCV thought, “We have to get behind the establishment candidate so we have more visibility and more access to them.”
An LCV spokesperson, Tiernan Sittenfeld, a senior vice president for government affairs, said the endorsement — made by decision of the full board — is not about access and is not about the scorecard. It’s about getting the right person into the White House.
“This is about the best candidate to be president in 2017,” Sittenfeld told ThinkProgress. “We look forward to her running a strong campaign on climate change and having a huge impact on these issues.”
Even by Tuesday afternoon, there was some backlash to the backlash. LCV’s Facebook score had bounced back up a few decimal points, and pro-Clinton comments were being peppered in amongst the backlash.
“It’s not surprising that people feel strongly about the candidates they support, but some of the comments have been pretty extreme and over the top,” Sittenfeld noted.