Energy & Environment

Climate change makes waves in Florida races


Climate change is turning into a critical election issue for many Florida candidates — and not just Democrats.

Democrats have long used the issue to hit Republicans in the coastal state, but now some GOP candidates are also touting their work on climate issues.

And in one of the state’s hottest congressional races, incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo is trying to convince voters he’s serious about climate change.

{mosads}Florida is expected to bear the brunt of climate change more than other states. Its long coastline means that, as sea levels rise, it will see more flooding, often due simply to high tides, a phenomenon cities like Miami are already experiencing. Scientists also warn about warmer seas and stronger hurricanes.

Campaigns on both sides of the political divide are taking notice.

During an event in the state on Tuesday, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore both spoke about the issue.

Clinton said Hurricane Matthew, which hugged Florida’s Atlantic coast this earlier month, was stronger because of climate change.

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D), who is running for Senate, regularly highlights his support for climate action and efforts on other environmental issues, and he’s knocked incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio (R) for questioning the science behind it.

During his GOP presidential bid, Rubio said “the climate has always been changing” and voiced opposition to Obama administration rules to counter climate change. 

At the Miami rally with Clinton and Gore, Murphy said Rubio’s position on climate change is effectively “silence.”

“Senator, you don’t need to be a scientist” to understand climate change, Murphy said. “Look out the window.”

But observers say climate change hasn’t become a make-or-break issue in the Senate race, where Murphy’s ads are targeting Rubio’s voting record and his Senate absence during his presidential run.

And while the issue is getting more attention, many on both sides of the aisle are generally skeptical environmental issues will swing voters in November.

“The issues in Florida are so crowded,” said Kevin Cate, a Florida-based Democratic political consultant. “There’s so much ‘Florida’ in Florida, it’s hard to isolate one particular issue like climate change.”

Presidential politics are also coloring all the issues in the campaign, said Alex Patton, a Republican political consultant in Florida, citing the contentious race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

“Nothing has really broken through the presidential race,” he said. “Everything is looked at through the lens of the presidential race. I think Patrick Murphy is having a difficult time breaking through.”

But candidates are still hammering away at the issue.

The environment is also taking a key place in Curbelo’s fight to hold his South Florida seat.

Curbelo, a freshman Republican, has made a name for himself by breaking with his party on climate. Along with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), he formed a bipartisan climate change caucus and signed on to a Republican-led resolution calling man-made climate change an issue worth addressing. 

Curbelo was the first Republican this cycle to win the backing of the Environmental Defense Fund’s advocacy arm, EDF Action. The group has poured $450,000 into advertising on the race to highlight his work on the Everglades and other issues.

Other groups — both Democratic and Republican — have followed the EDF into the district. 

Greens counter that Curbelo’s voting record on environmental issues is spotty: He has the sixth highest score among Republicans in the League of Conservation Voters’ scorecard, but it’s still only a 23 percent rating. 

And that record has been picked apart in television ads this cycle. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — which has spent $2.2 million against Curbelo, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — put out an ad in September accusing him of siding with Trump on environmental issues, saying he supports offshore drilling and opposes federal climate change efforts.

ClearPath Action Fund, a Republican clean energy group, this week hit back with a $500,000 campaign praising Curbelo for “[putting] South Florida and the environment first.” 

Jack Pratt, EDF Action’s campaign director, said climate change has more political juice in Florida than elsewhere in the country, given the forecast for the state and how much it’s already an issue there.

“This is not some sort of fantasy problem of the future, it’s happening right now,” he said. “For better or worse, that certainly makes it a salient political issue.”

Many operatives, though, concede it won’t tilt any races — for now.

“It’s an issue that energizes a portion of the Democratic electorate, but none who rightfully acknowledges or cares about climate change is going to vote for a Republican anyway,” Cate said, noting Democrats’ edge in Florida absentee voting and voter registration. 

“They may be more excited about voting, but they were voting anyway.” 

Patton, the GOP consultant, said he hopes Republicans can eventually write a winning agenda on climate change. But he acknowledged that’s not going to happen in an election year as ugly as this one. 

“It’s a topic more important to Florida than in a landlocked state like Idaho,” Patton said.

“If adults were having an election, we would be talking about what’s happening in Miami Beach. We would be talking about the number and strength of storms affecting Florida. I think we would be talk about it more, just not in this climate.”

Tags Al Gore Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Marco Rubio

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