CAMPAIGN 2006: Voters cool to climate issue in torrid midterm races
Darren Samuelsohn, Greenwire senior reporter
Five Northeastern Republicans facing fierce re-election battles turned just before the latest congressional recess to global warming in hopes the issue would boost their chances in their suburban House districts.
But the lawmakers apparently got little traction from climate change in a campaign dominated by voter concerns about the Iraq war, President Bush’s unpopularity and overall dissatisfaction with Republican leadership.
“It’s been very difficult for any of these incumbents whose problems are bigger than themselves, or whose problems have been themselves,” said Bernadette Budde, a senior vice president for the Business and Industry Political Action Committee. “They have had a hard time changing the subject.”
The five – Reps. Curt Weldon (Pa.), Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Christopher Shays (Conn.), Nancy Johnson (Conn.) and Rob Simmons (Conn.) – cosponsored in September what some consider the most aggressive bill to date aimed at limiting heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions. The bill’s lead sponsor is Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the presumed new chairman of the House Government Reform Committee if his party wins a majority of House seats.
“Doing it before Congress goes off to campaign is telling,” said Howard Reiter, chairman of the political science department at the University of Connecticut. He added that global warming is a nuanced subject that comes with an important caveat: It may require constituents to make sacrifices in their day-to-day lives.
“The problem with global warming is its incremental,” Reiter said. “It’s not as if there’s an immediate crisis people can see.”
Massie Ritsch, spokesman for The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks campaign spending, said the recent media frenzy over climate change – from Hollywood-style documentaries to mainstream press coverage – did little to stir voters this year. “For all of the attention Al Gore’s movie got, it hasn’t stayed a major election issue,” he said.
The lack of voter interest in climate change is not due to a lack of effort from environmental groups ….
Reporter Michael Burnham contributed to this report.