POLITICS: PennAve

White House digs into climate push as midterm elections near

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White House,Barack Obama,Senate,Climate Change,2014 Elections,PennAve,Energy and Environment,Zack Colman

President Obama is renewing his focus on climate change, a move that, depending on the viewpoint, either buoys or imperils a clutch of red-state Senate Democrats facing re-election in the November midterm elections.

On the one hand, conservative groups and Republicans say they will be able to more easily tie those Democrats to policies they say are out of step with their constituents. On the other, Democrats and their supporters say the emphasis on climate could draw more of the base to the polls.

The flashpoint is the National Climate Assessment the White House released earlier this week. At 841 pages, it's perhaps the most thorough, detailed review of how climate change affects every region and economic sector of the country. The report underscores how Obama is increasingly viewing climate change as a legacy issue, advisers say.

"We're focused on what we can do to expand opportunities for every American. We believe good policy is ultimately good politics," Matt Lehrich, a White House spokesman, said in a press call in response to a question about whether the president considered how a climate push might affect Senate races.

But the push also might give red meat to Republicans looking to unseat Senate Democrats, putting the party's control of the upper chamber in jeopardy.

Energy and climate issues have become a favored talking point for the National Republican Senatorial Committee to use against a handful of those Democrats, such as Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Udall of Colorado, John Walsh of Montana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, and Mark Warner of Virginia.

Some of those Democrats said they're pleased the administration is addressing the issue of climate change, but they kept their comments brief.

"Looking forward to hearing what he's got to say," Warner told the Washington Examiner in reference to a speech Obama will make on energy efficiency, renewable energy and climate change Friday in California. When pressed again, he responded, "I think I've answered your question."

Hagan, who's facing one of the tougher re-election contests in the Senate, didn't elaborate about how the climate change push might affect her prospects.

"I think the climate change issue is real," Hagan said. "I think the president certainly has the wherewithal to dictate his schedule and announcements on issues that are certainly important to our entire country."

Begich, who already has netted some endorsements from environmental groups, said he was supportive of the attention being paid to climate change.

"My first speech on the floor of the Senate was about the issue of climate change because Alaska, of course, is affected. I'm a big supporter, as you know, of oil and gas, but it's a balanced approach and we have some big issues when it comes to climate change," he told reporters.

The National Climate Assessment was welcome news for much of Obama's Democratic base in Congress, along with environmental, public health and left-leaning organizations off Capitol Hill.

That could serve as a boost at the polls come November, said Mark Longabaugh, a Democratic strategist and partner at Devine Mulvey Longabaugh.

"The biggest danger Democrats face in 2014 is the traditional non-presidential year drop off, especially among younger voters. One way to fight that trend is with issues like climate change which mobilize younger and more progressive voters," he said in an email.

Outside groups and Republican Senate candidates, however, are looking to connect the dots between climate policies and the economy.

The Heartland Institute, for example, is trying to tie Democrats to the Obama administration's climate policies, such as the carbon emissions regulations for new and existing power plants.

Dan Holler, a spokesman for the conservative Heritage Action for America, said the president is making a climate push having already made the calculation that it could endanger some Democrats.

"What Obama and those around him seem to understand is that while partisan waves come and go, policy changes have enduring impacts. They are content to sacrifice a few politicians if it means advancing their agenda to change America," he told the Examiner in an email.

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