Environmental group will spend big to turn out Colorado millennials

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The front page of a new website launched Tuesday by the Environmental Defense Fund with the goal of mobilizing 100,000 young voters to cast ballots this fall in order to prompt action on climate change.

DENVER — Environmental Defense Fund launched a $2 million campaign Tuesday to turn out Colorado millennials this fall by asking them to pledge to vote in order to propel action on climate change.

EDF’s “Defend Our Future” effort will target students at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado State in an effort to get 100,000 young people to make that pledge and to share via social networks.

The goal: increasing turnout among young people, who generally don’t turn out to vote in off-year elections — potentially impacting one of the country’s most important and competitive U.S. Senate battles this year — and providing a tactical blueprint that can be followed in 2016.

“Our goal is demonstrate that these young voters can be mobilized to turn up in a midterm election, even when there’s not an exciting presidential race on the ballot,” said EDF’s Alicia Prevost Tuesday.

“We know that young voters care about climate change but they don’t vote in large numbers, especially in midterm elections. This 2014 midterm is an opportunity to test the tools that were honed in 2012 to get these young voters out.”

Mirroring the micro-targeting approach pioneered by the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012, EDF’s campaign will target millennials using direct mail, web ads and face-to-face contact with activists working Colorado’s two largest college campuses — all with the goal of getting them to pledge to vote this November because they care about climate change and encouraging them to share their pledge with friends in person and via social media networks.

“With this group, you can’t reach them through traditional means. So we’re going to have a very strong digital and social effort,” said Mitch Stewart a consultant to EDF who served as Battleground States Director on President Obama’s 2012 campaign.

“We know if someone makes a commitment and signs their name on a pledge line, it’ll increase their likelihood of voting; and that’s especially true with millennials or drop-off voters.”

None of the battleground states saw as big of a drop-off in millennials voting in the last mid-term election as Colorado; after 51 percent of young people voted in 2008, only 24 percent of them turned out in 2010.

According to Stewart, mobilizing those young drop-off voters was a high priority for Obama’s 2012 campaign, which helped boost turnout among Colorado millennials again to 45 percent, helping Obama win the state by five points.

While EDF stressed that the campaign is non-partisan, simply an effort to demonstrate that young people care about climate change and can be mobilized on the issue, its success is likely to benefit Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a strong conservationist in a tough fight to win reelection.

His opponent, Congressman Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, has stated that he doesn’t believe human actions contribute to climate change.

In fact, another group attempting to spark action on climate change, Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate, is spending $50 million this fall on behalf of Udall and six other candidates; NextGen is currently running a TV ad in Colorado attacking Gardner for denying that climate change is occurring.

Another group, Generation Opportunity, launched earlier this summer in an effort to engage younger voters on a message of economic freedom — something that could help Republican candidates this fall.

That group, which is running a television ad highlighting the country’s debt, is taking a more traditional approach to targeting millennials, spending $710,000 on TV ads and $190,000 on digital media efforts.

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