Voters Punish Supporters of Global Warming Restrictions

Published November 3, 2010

Voters across the nation in November’s midterm elections rewarded candidates who disavowed environmental extremism, and they gave particularly strong support to those opposing global warming restrictions.

With voters rewarding a long list of candidates who stood firm against environmental extremism, several elections in particular illustrated voter sentiment.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D) thrust global warming front and center into the U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin, calling opponent Ron Johnson’s views “bizarre” and “extreme” after the Republican challenger said he believes global warming is due primarily to natural forces, with solar variability the most likely factor.

Feingold, who polls suggested was in a dead heat with Johnson before he made global warming a central issue, saw his poll numbers quickly deteriorate. He lost the election by 5 percentage points.

Blowing Away Cap and Trade
Conversely, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin (D) was trailing Republican John Raese in the final weeks of the campaign until Manchin began airing a television commercial showing him taking a rifle and literally blowing away cap-and-trade legislation. Manchin turned a roughly 5 point deficit into a 10 point election victory after his ad assured voters he would not support global warming restrictions.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Governor Ed Rendell spent the last several weeks before the election pushing for steep new taxes on natural gas production in the state’s Marcellus Shale deposit. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato supported the taxes, while Republican candidate Tom Corbett opposed them as a disincentive to energy production and a jobs killer.

During the final weeks of the campaign the natural gas production tax became a prominent issue, and Corbett pulled away from Onorato, winning the election by 8 percentage points.

In New Mexico, Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez rode her opposition to global warming restrictions to a 7 point victory over Democrat Diane Denish. Denish was punished by state voters as the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (EIB), whose seven members were appointed by sitting governor Bill Richardson (D), prepared to impose unpopular global warming restrictions on the state.

Denish and Martinez both said they opposed the EIB restrictions, but Denish alone voiced support for other actions to force reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. As the Richardson-appointed EIB announced on Election Day that it had voted in favor of the proposed global warming restrictions, Martinez cruised to a 7 point victory in the decidedly purple state.

House Races Turned by GW
In U.S. House elections, several incumbent supporters of global warming restrictions lost big in races that had been considered toss-ups. Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher, a 14 term incumbent who had long been considered unbeatable in Virginia’s Ninth District, lost by a surprisingly wide 5 point margin to Republican Morgan Griffith after Boucher’s vote for cap-and-trade legislation became the central issue in the race.

Virginia voters likewise punished Democrat Tom Perriello for his cap-and-trade vote, sending him to a 4 point defeat by Republican challenger Robert Hurt. Like Griffith, Hurt turned the election into a referendum on cap-and-trade legislation, and Perriello was sent packing.

In New Mexico, Rep. Harry Teague (D) supported President Barack Obama’s energy priorities, voting for cap-and-trade legislation and arguing so-called green energy initiatives would benefit the state’s economy. Republican challenger Steve Pearce called alarmist global warming theory “crap” and put the heat on Teague for his cap-and-trade vote. Pearce turned what was expected to be a coin-flip election into a resounding 10 point victory.

At the state level, Republicans flipped 11 Democratic governors and gained a net of six governors. Combined with state legislatures throughout the nation becoming markedly more Republican, the Republican gubernatorial gains can be expected to put the brakes on a variety of efforts at the state level to impose substantial global warming restrictions.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.