Despite spending $20 million to keep the Senate in Democratic hands, San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer was mostly unsuccessful in holding off Republicans in battleground states.
Steyer, who was the biggest single political donor this election, spent millions opposing Republicans in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire. Democrats were able to hold on to Senate seats in New Hampshire and Michigan, but Republicans took Colorado and Iowa which helped them take the Senate by storm last night.
Steyer and his group NextGen Climate Action spent about $20.7 million in independent expenditures, mostly in opposition to Republican candidates.
In Iowa, Steyer spent nearly $4.7 million opposing Republican candidate Joni Ernst. Though his efforts didn’t seem to swing the balance as Ernst handily beat Democratic opponent Bruce Braley — Steyer spent about $780,000 in Braley’s support.
Steyer’s ads against Ernst likely fell flat as they made questionable claims about the Republican and were often called out by fact-checkers. Politifact declared one ad by NextGen as “false” because it accused Ernst of signing a conservative tax pledge that sent jobs overseas.
In Colorado, Steyer spent $7 million attacking Republican candidate Rep. Cory Gardner who was declared the victor in Tuesday’s election. Steyer also spent about $420,000 supporting now defeated Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.
Colorado was supposed to be the model for Democratic victories across the country. But gaffes from the governor and Udall’s spotty record on energy and Obamacare left Democrats open to attack.
Republican Senate candidate Rep. Cory Gardner attacked Udall over his record on oil and natural gas drilling, coal production and his support for Obamacare. Udall was backed into a corner by Gardner in a Senate debate over his support for a tax on carbon dioxide emissions which could raise energy prices.
Udall admitted he was in favor of taxing carbon dioxide, but he would not say how much people would have to pay for emitting carbon.
Udall made a major focus of his campaign abortion, accusing Gardner of wanting to take away a woman’s ability to have one. But this campaign seems to have backfired against Udall as he was criticized for airing campaign ads talking about abortion during times when families were watching television.
In total, Steyer spent more than $73 million this election cycle. Most of it was funneled to NextGen, which spent about $65 million in 16 states this cycle, according to Steyer’s political strategist Chris Lehane.
But while environmentalist money seems to have little impact this election, Steyer and other green groups argue that they’ve successfully turned the public against Republicans who are skeptical of global warming.
“Our issues have been an important part of this election, and while they may not have been the largest part, polling clearly shows they weren’t the liabilities our opponents hoped they’d be,” the Sierra Club’s political director Melissa Williams told Politico. “That is momentum to build on and a clear signal to candidates in elections to come.”
Steyer’s spending in battleground states, however, did not focus on climate issues. Instead, Steyer’s ads on things like attacking the Koch brothers and the so-called “war on women.” Climate was not something that would hurt Republican reputations this election and bring voters to the polls — Steyer and NextGen seem to have known that despite environmentalist claims that they turned voters against so-called climate skeptics.
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