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Tom Steyer: Environmentalists ‘Are The Biggest Drop-Off Voters’

Greg Campbell
Contributor

Tom Steyer, the billionaire backing environmentalist candidates and causes, is no longer focused on convincing swing voters to care about climate change, but in making sure those who already support his agenda make it to the polls.

Steyer, who has committed to matching up to $50 million in donations to see green candidates elected, outlined his latest strategy in Aspen this week during the American Renewable Energy Day Summit. He is backing Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s fight for reelection.

His NexGen political action committee is focusing less on winning hearts and minds, he said, and more old-fashioned tactic — getting out the vote.

“It’s much more important about who goes to the polls than trying to persuade them how to vote,” he said during a panel discussion. “The fact of the matter is, if you get your people to the polls … the information technology is now so good in politics that you can have a very high probability of understanding who [voters are] going to vote for.”

“A lot of people who most support energy and climate candidates like Mark Udall are the biggest drop-off voters,” he continued. “[So] we are focused not so much on TV ads but on the things that will be kind of old-fashioned, 18th-century American politics, of trying to get local people to talk to local voters and citizens about what’s important and why it’s important enough for them to get off the couch and go down to the polling place in the second Tuesday in November and show up.”

Steyer said there are a “variety of reasons” Udall’s supporters are less likely to vote “by a fair bit” than those who support his challenger, Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, including that they tend to be younger.

“What actually counts is how many votes get cast,” Steyer said. “People love to look at polls, they love to look at TV ads. The actual question is, who will leave their couch and go down to the polling place and vote?”

He also said part of the strategy will be to tailor the discussion about climate change for individual states and regions. Talking to Floridians about the fate of polar bears doesn’t produce much political passion, so the discussion there, he said, should be about global warming’s potential impact on the strength of hurricanes.

Although Steyer hopes to raise $50 million from outside donors that he will match with his own money to spend on targeted races, Denver’s Fox 31 reported that the former California hedge fund manager has so far only raised $7 million. He’s been called the Democrats answer to the Koch Brothers.

Steyer has been battered recently by news that much of his hedge fund’s fortune came from investing in coal mines, which he has since distanced himself from.

Polls conducted in July show a mixed result in the Colorado Senate race, with Udall up by as much as 7 points in one poll, to Gardner leading by 4 points in another. The race is generally considered too close to call.

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