Dem: 'Climate denier' can't win in 2016

Greg Nash

Republicans will lose the White House in 2016 if they nominate a candidate who is a "climate denier," predicts one Senate Democrat.

Speaking on a call set up by Organizing for Action, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) laid down the gauntlet for Democrats' new push this year against climate change skeptics in Congress.

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"Republicans have to produce a presidential candidate and I think if he's a denier, he's finished," Whitehouse said Wednesday. "Which means they will have to trek a little bit towards the middle to cover their presidential candidate."

Whitehouse said Democratic lawmakers plan to make "deniers pay a political price" in the elections of 2014 and 2016. He said the push will include an all-nighter in the Senate for concerned members to speak out about climate change.

"We will be all night on the Senate floor on March 10, to break the pattern of the Senate," Whitehouse said. They "will have at least 20 senators participating in that."

With that pressure, along with the growing chorus of industry groups pushing for action on climate, Whitehouse said Republicans "can't ignore the issue any longer."

"How do you take on Coke and Pepsi if they've got a message organized? How do you take on UPS and Ford and General Motors?" Whitehouse said on the call.

"Put all of those things together and I think we've got a real chance to have a real carbon bill come through Congress this election and for the presidential in 2015 or 2016," he said.

That's a contrast to statements this year from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and others who see no end in sight to the gridlock in Congress when it comes to possibly pushing a carbon tax bill to reign in polluters.

And while Senate Democrats are facing a difficult fight to retain their majority, Whitehouse showed no signs of concern that a focus on climate could backfire on vulnerables such as Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Mark Pryor (Ark.).

Whitehouse said polluters are on the run, and with signs of polling in the typically conservative states of Texas and Louisiana changing to back up action on climate change, he thinks the message will be heard by Republicans is that their political strategy is "not safe any longer."

"There is real energy emerging in the Senate that wasn't there even a year ago," he said.