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In Battleground States, Republicans Run at Odds with Their Voters on Climate Change

Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), at a Feb. 19 Phoenix rally with Pres. Trump, is one of several battleground-state Republicans out of sync with their party's voters on climate change.


(Image: Photo by Caitlin O'Hara / Getty Images.)

Many Republican candidates in battleground races for the US Senate and House seem to be ignoring national polls that indicate the majority of Americans, including the majority of Republicans, believe climate change is real and should be addressed.

TYT Investigates examined six representative contests: Three U.S. Senate races and three House races. All are considered battleground races, meaning they are close and could impact the balance of power in Congress. But first the polls.


On July 16, the Global Strategy Group released the results of its national online poll. This was not a traditional telephone or even cell phone poll. Pollsters asked: Do you support the U.S. government taking bold action to combat climate change? Seventy-one percent chose support and 19 percent chose oppose.

The online poll also asked: Who would you vote for, a Democrat supporting bold action to combat climate change or a Republican opposing bold action to combat climate change? Fifty-eight percent chose Democrat, 34 percent chose Republican.

In June, a more traditional poll conducted by the Pew Institute came to similar conclusions. It found the majority of Americans, 65 percent, felt the Federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change. Seventy-nine percent felt the US should prioritize developing alternative energy sources. A surprising statistic from this Pew Institute poll was that, of Americans who identify as Republican or leaning Republican, 65 percent said the more important priority for U.S. energy supply should be developing alternative energy, versus 35 percent who chose expanding fossil fuel.


In North Carolina, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis faces Democrat Cal Cunningham. In Arizona, Republican Sen. Martha McSally is running against Democrat Mark Kelly. In Colorado, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner faces Democrat John Hickenlooper.

In swing state North Carolina, the League of Conservation Voters gives Tillis an approval rating of 21 percent for his 2019 votes and a lifetime rating of just nine percent. The league has endorsed his opponent, Iraq War veteran and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, as has the Sierra Club.

Senator Tillis has supported tax credits for the solar industry. Cunningham, on his campaign website, endorses a wide range of efforts to combat climate change; from supporting clean energy, like the state’s solar industry; to reducing carbon levels; and defending natural resources. In the most recent quarter, Cunningham raised more money than Tillis did, even though the Democrat is not accepting any corporate PAC money.

Arizona has been a traditional Republican stronghold. But incumbent Senator McSally already lost once to a Democrat for the state’s other U.S. Senate seat. She was appointed to her office after the death of Senator John McCain. Her opponent, Democrat Mark Kelly, was an astronaut who described seeing visible signs of climate change from outer space. He is married to Gabby Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot in the head while at a public function.

Although McSally has shown some support for renewable energy, Kelly talks about the need to address climate change having seen a literal big picture of Earth from space.

At first glance, Colorado seems to be the exception. Incumbent Senator Cory Gardner co-introduced the Great American Outdoors Act, which the House is expected to vote on this week. It would fund desperately needed repairs of America’s national parks. The president has tweeted that he will sign the bill. This bill, though, would use royalties from oil and gas leases for funding, which means we could still have oil and gas drilling on public lands like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Chaco Canyon National Historic Park.

Gardner’s Democratic opponent is former Governor John Hickenlooper, who was once a petroleum engineer. Hickenlooper would not ban fracking or existing drilling on public land. He does support returning to the Paris Climate Accord and stronger regulations on auto emissions. The League of Conservation Voters and the political arm of the Environmental Defense Fund both criticized Gardner’s record on climate issues other than his national parks bill.


In Ohio, incumbent Republican Steve Chabot faces Democrat Kate Schroder. In New York‘s 24th district, incumbent Republican John Katko is up against Dana Balter. And in Texas’ District 21, incumbent Chip Roy faces Democrat Wendy Davis.

In District 1 of swing state Ohio, which includes most of Cincinnati, pro-fossil fuel and longtime incumbent Steve Chabot faces pro-renewable energy Kate Schroder. Schroder, a healthcare professional, lists fighting climate change as a priority and calls for carbon reduction and a nuanced “less dependent on fossil fuel.” Chabot calls for using all energy sources, including fossil fuels, without slowing down production with “needless regulation.”

In central New York‘s 24th district, Republican Representative John Katko again faces university professor Dana Balter in what was once a Democratic district. Katko’s website shows an oil derrick under his energy section and suggests contacting his office to learn about his position on energy. He has said in the past he supported the Keystone XL pipeline, but also would regulate greenhouse gases as long as consumers had energy choices. Katko supports Donald Trump for president. Dana Balter supports renewable energy sources, rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, and a carbon tax.

And in Texas, former oil and gas lawyer Chip Roy faces pro-sustainable energy Democrat Wendy Davis. The League of Conservation Voters gave Roy a zero percent rating for 2019 and a zero percent lifetime rating. Davis, a former state senator, backs fighting climate change; including restoring EPA protections; supporting wind, solar, and geothermal jobs; and a return to the Paris Climate Accord. She is endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters and has raised more money than Roy.


Do Republicans read the same polls the rest of us do? Polls show that most Republican voters, if not Republican office holders, have joined the rest of the country in shifting attitudes toward the environment and global warming.

So why do so many Republican senators support the fossil fuel industry? Why did 185 Republican members of the House, including all of those mentioned above, vote against the Moving Forward Act, the $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill? It is the only major green bill brought to a vote in the House in four years. The bill included $300 billion to fix crumbling roads and bridges, along with $100 billion for zero-emission buses and $29 billion for Amtrak. And why does the Republican controlled Senate refuse to even discuss the Moving Forward Act?


The Republican Party opposed efforts to fight climate change long before Trump joined their ranks. But President Trump has made aiding and abetting big business at the expense of the environment a cornerstone of his policies. A hundred EPA regulations rescinded, oil and gas leases to fossil fuel companies on federal lands and waters. And now Trump is targeting the first and most basic law favoring mother nature: the National Environmental Policy Act, a 50-year-old law that required all federal projects be reviewed before inception for possible environmental impacts.

And President Trump’s popularity among his followers is such that a Trump endorsement gets you elected and a Trump denouncement often means your political career hits retirement.


Federal Election Commission records reveal another possible reason why so many Republican politicians support fossil fuel companies. In 2019 to March of 2020 the Republican Take Back the House PAC raised more than $50 million. One of the biggest contributors to that fund was Kelsy L. Warren of Texas, the CEO and chairman of Energy Transfer, owner of Sunoco and the stopped Dakota XL pipeline. He personally donated $500,000 to Take Back the House. That fund gave Congressman Roy $125,852.61 in 2019 and 2020. If you were Congressman Roy would you listen to the concerns of the second biggest donor to a fund that gave you $125,852.61 who is also from your home state? Roy also got $10,500 from Valero Energy, Chevron and American Airlines.

If you were Congressman Steve Chabot from Ohio and you got $137,008.37 from Take Back the House would you listen to fossil fuel concerns, knowing some of the largest individual contributors were fossil fuel magnates?

And if you were Congressman Katko from New York and you got $160,514.66 from Take Back the House, would you carefully talk about energy concerns, knowing some of the biggest single contributors to that PAC were fossil fuel CEOs? Would you ignore green polls as long as you got the money?

We asked all the politicians mentioned in this story why they took their positions, given the polls indicating most Americans want our government to tackle climate change. None responded.

TYT Investigative Reporter Ti-Hua Chang is an award-winning journalist who has worked for CBS News and other outlets. You can find him on Twitter @TiHuaChang.

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