First on CNN: Group targets key House race voters on local environmental issues

The League of Conservation Voters, an organization that has spent the last two years fighting President Dona...

Posted: Aug 21, 2018 12:05 PM
Updated: Aug 21, 2018 12:05 PM

The League of Conservation Voters, an organization that has spent the last two years fighting President Donald Trump's environmental agenda, plans to spend over $15 million in helping Democrats' effort to take back the House in 2018, according to a memo from the group's top political operative.

The planned spending through the group's political action committee, reported first by CNN, represents the largest commitment the group has ever made on House races. It will focus on competitive districts seen both as winnable by Democratic leaders and open to a pro-environmental message by the group.

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The spending is different from most outside group involvement in the 2018 midterm elections: While Democrats have been pouring money into competitive House races as a way to deliver a powerful message to Trump in November, group operatives tell CNN their messaging will focus primarily on hyper-local environmental issues that have been exacerbated by the President as a way to show environmental messaging still resonates with a host of voters, including suburbanites, Republican-leaning women and older Latino voters.

"This is both -- the most anti-environmental President in history; it is also the most anti-environmental Congress in history," said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, faulting Republicans for actions on energy regulations, steps taken to cut back on public lands and the easing of rules on pollution.

Initially the group will target a mix of 12 districts, broken up into swing races in California, races where incumbent Republicans are vulnerable and districts Trump won in 2016.

The initial target districts, according to the memo, are California's 25th, 45th, 48th and 49th; Minnesota's 2nd and 3rd; Colorado's 6th; Virginia's 10th; Iowa's 3rd; North Carolina's 9th; New Jersey's 3rd; and Washington state's 8th.

"A bunch of these districts are suburban districts, higher college education -- and a bunch of these suburban women do not want to wake up and find out their water and their air is potentially more polluted," said Pete Maysmith, the group's top political operative at the PAC. "It just cuts against how they fundamentally think about their families and their communities."

The group will also monitor 25 other districts across the country and could spend considerably in each race if it believes an environmental message would swing voters. Those districts are California's 10th, 21st and 39th; Michigan's 6th, 7th, 8th and 11th; Illinois' 6th, 12th and 14th; Texas' 23rd and 32nd; Virginia's 2nd and 7th; Florida's 16th; Iowa's 1st; Maine's 2nd; North Carolina's 13th; Nebraska's 2nd; New Jersey's 11th; New Mexico's 2nd; New York's 22nd; Ohio's 1st; Pennsylvania's 7th; and Washington state's 5th.

"We not going to try and play in 80 races that are somewhat in play," Maysmith added. "We want to pick a couple dozen that are clearly toss-up races, where we also know that if we elevate our issues, they are going to resonate with voters."

While the group does not detail any specific ads in the memo, the operatives said the messaging will focus on hyper-local environmental issues that are being felt in each individual district.

Maysmith said the group would focus on stopping offshore drilling in coastal California districts, protecting the Great Lakes in Michigan and other upper Midwest states, and ending threats to public lands in states like Colorado and Washington.

Initially, the League of Conservation Voters planned to focus on state-level races and the Senate, figuring that holding the Senate was the best chance to protect environmental priorities during the Trump administration. To date the group plans to spend $20 million in state-level races this cycle. It has not yet projected a final total for the Senate, but it has already spent more than $4 million in Arizona, Nevada, Ohio and Montana, all states with significant races this fall.

But that strategy changed when it became clear that the House was at play.

"When we saw anti-environmental members of the House try to wrap themselves in a green flag and pretend they are pro-environmental when they are not, that is a sure tell that they are worried that this issue will hurt them," Maysmith said, pointing to Republican members who have released ads on protecting public lands and those who joined the Climate Solutions Caucus despite, in the eyes of the group, pushing anti-environmental priorities.

"That thinking," Maysmith said, "changed as the extent of Trump's unpopularity and the broad disapproval of the House leadership's agenda -- including their unrelenting environmental attacks -- became clear."

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