The organization will spotlight local issues, such as drought in Iowa, and take aim at climate-change deniers as well as the campaign contributions they've received from fossil-fuel companies, like those of the right-wing billionaire Koch brothers. The effort to bring climate change to the foreground includes blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, something about which Steyer has had face-to-face conversations with President Obama at his San Francisco home.
But, even though NextGen's spending this year may total $100 million in advertising, on-the-ground organizing and get-out-the-vote efforts—making it a competitor in scale with the Kochs—Steyer and his advisers plan for it to be just a prelude to 2016.
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So far, the list of targeted Republicans includes Senate hopefuls Cory Gardner in Colorado, Terri Lynn Land in Michigan and Scott Brown in New Hampshire, as well as governors Rick Scott of Florida, Paul LePage of Maine and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania. The group also plans to target the GOP’s Senate nominee in Iowa. [...]Steyer already invested at least $11 million in last year's successful gubernatorial campaign of Terry McAuliffe in Virginia and the special Senate election in Massachusetts. He has also contributed $5 million to the Senate Majority PAC, which makes him that organization's largest single contributor this year.
With the promise of ample resources, the group plans to spend money not only on television ads, but on data-driven voter outreach and opposition research, “every aspect of a modern-day campaign,” said Chris Lehane, Steyer’s lead political strategist.
“Tom has made clear that NextGen is not a drive-by” super PAC, Lehane told reporters at a briefing in Washington.
But Lehane has also said Steyer will not take it easy on Democrats whose climate change-related votes are out of alignment with NextGen's, such as Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu.
While McAuliffe had no special credentials as a Democrat interested in aggressive action around climate change, his opponent, Republican Ken Cuccinelli, was so far off the wacko charts on nearly every subject, including climate change, that supporting his campaign became, in the words of Lehane, a "beta test."
Coral Davenport at The New York Times reports that the path ahead is likely to be bumpy:
Climate policies have traditionally been a tough campaign issue for candidates. A mounting stack of scientific evidence has concluded that human activities—particularly burning coal and oil for electricity and transportation—are trapping heat in the atmosphere and leading to dangerous food and water shortages, increasing droughts and deluges, and potentially devastating sea-level rises. But Many American voters remain unconvinced that the science is real. [...]As Gold writes, Steyer and his advisers at NextGen are still in the testing stages despite the amount of money being poured into the campaigns they've selected. One point of reference are social changes of the past. “Change occurred once those issues were defined in moral terms, as right versus wrong, and then used within our political system as a wedge issue,” Lehane said.
“The left knows that the global warming agenda is a loser for them with the American people,” Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, said in an interview. Mr. Phillips said that none of the four most vulnerable Democratic senators—Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas—had embraced climate change policy. All four support construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which Mr. Steyer opposes.
As activists are well aware, past reforms required a lot of what might be called "street politics," everything from marches to civil disobedience and other defiance against the powers-that-be. Indeed, the outcome of elections changed over time in many instances solely because of reform movement action. But it was a circle of success, because getting the reforms enacted ultimately depended on what happened at the ballot box.
That being the case, NextGen's moves immediately after the results are in for the 2014 elections ought to focus on recruiting like-minded primary candidates for the next election cycle instead of merely waiting to see who shows up. Given the number of Democrats who—while not deniers—have never shown any eagerness to take aggressive action on climate change, NextGen could help create some opportunities for far better outcomes in 2016 in the Senate and House.