DENVER — NextGen Climate Colorado, the group founded and funded by San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, has opened five offices in the state and a team of 68 staffers and volunteers in an effort to help Democratic Sen. Mark Udall survive a challenge from Republican Congressman Cory Gardner.
In addition to spending $700,000 on a TV ad that uses Gardner’s denial of climate change as one of three proof points that he’s “too extreme” for the state, NextGen is targeting about 90,000 voters in the Denver and Boulder areas who they believe can be motivated to cast ballots this fall by the issue of climate change.
Chris Lehane, NextGen’s chief strategist, told reporters Wednesday that its research shows that many of the voters who believe climate change is a critical issue are also low-propensity voters who often sit out midterm elections.
He also said the strategy against Gardner is to define the two-term congressman as a “troglodyte” — that’s a fancy word for a caveman.
“In Colorado, the climate denier argument coupled with Gardner’s position on personhood proves that ‘troglodyte’ argument,” Lehane said. “Among Latinos who see this, 75 percent say they’re more likely to vote against him as a result.”
Last month, Steyer told a renewable energy conference in Aspen that the focus isn’t persuading voters to care about climate change, but to make sure those who already do cast ballots in November.
The group will use mail, in-person and digital voter contact programs to turn out and register Hispanic voters in the Denver Metro area, discussing climate change and the public health impact.
“We’re making this a wedge issue, not just for political gain but to drive the change we need in a timely manner, which is critical because time is of the essence,” Lehane said.
Specifically, NextGen is targeting Hispanic voters in Denver’s Globeville neighborhood who have been affected by poor air quality.
“Working with these voters on this issue could be the difference in what we expect to be a very close election,” said NextGen political director Sky Gallegos, a native Coloradan.
The group, which is canvassing on the campuses of the University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, recently opened an office in Basalt and is set to open another in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood.
According to Lehane, NextGen’s research shows that amongst all voters, 65 percent said they believe in the science of climate change; and of that 65 percent, 75 percent of them — mostly Democrats — believe it’s an urgent issue.
“Amongst Democratic voters, 40 percent of those who believe this is a critical issue that needs to be addressed are low-propensity voters,” Lehane noted.
Lehane also said when Gardner’s positions are linked to his attendance of a Koch Brothers conference earlier this summer where he told conservative donors he needs their money to win, 89 percent of Colorado voters polled said it was a convincing reason to vote against him.
The group has released a video detailing Gardner’s remarks to conference attendees, which was leaked to Huffington Post.
Lehane also noted that Gardner’s recent ad touting his support for Colorado’s wind energy is evidence that the group is succeeding in making climate change a top issue in the midterm elections.
Nationally, NextGen, which now has 700 staffers working in seven states, is looking to mobilize some 200,000 climate action voters — defined as “super-shifters”, that narrow band of persuadable voters, this fall.
“We are working to make sure we have a multi-layered program,” Gallegos said. “Voters will hear from us at the door, in the mail, online, on TV — we’ll contact them in a number of different ways.”