It has long seemed like a hopeless dream of environmental activists: Is it possible to make Republicans pay a political price for climate denialism? Is it possible to turn climate change into an electoral issue that candidates must pay attention to?

This year, there are signs that climate change really could have a political impact. The latest news is that billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer is set to spend $100 million pushing climate change in multiple states with tough Senate races:

The independent efforts run by his super PAC, NextGen Climate, will include television ads, on-the-ground field organizing and get-out-the-vote operations that seek to mobilize voters on the local impacts of climate change. The group plans to…spotlight the climate-change skepticism of GOP Senate and gubernatorial candidates, and the campaign donations they have received from the fossil-fuel industry.

So far, the list of targeted Republicans includes Senate hopefuls Cory Gardner in Colorado, Terri Lynn Land in Michigan and Scott Brown in New Hampshire…the group also plans to target the GOP’s Senate nominee in Iowa.

Theoretically, this should mean that the GOP Senate candidates in those states will come under some media pressure to clarify their positions on the scientific consensus that human activity is the cause of global warming.

This is already becoming an issue in Michigan, where Dem Senate candidate Gary Peters is calling on GOP foe Terri Lynn Land to take a stand on climate, in part because of the Great Lakes’ importance to the state. Land has responded with mealy-mouthed climate skepticism. The GOP Senate candidates in Iowa and Colorado, Joni Ernst and Cory Gardner, have also flirted with climate skepticism, though their views aren’t really clear. Perhaps now we’ll hear more from them. One also looks forward to hearing Scott Brown hold forth on the topic.

Climate is also assuming a higher profile because of the enormous spending of the Koch brothers. As Forbes reports, they have “contributed millions to organizations that have studied human-induced global warming with skepticism,” raising questions about “whether their political activities are blatantly self-interested,” because Koch Industries is a “major carbon emitter, vulnerable to tighter emissions controls.”

And right on cue, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity is attacking Steyer’s plans, with a spokesman claiming: “The left knows that the global warming agenda is a loser for them with the American people.” The AFP spokesman also notes that red state Dem Senators are not embracing climate policy.

It’s true red state Dems might be skittish here. Note that Steyer’s group is not targeting Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, or Alaska. Into all this will land Obama’s regulations on existing power plants — an issue with enormous consequences — and as I noted here yesterday, red state Dems might struggle with the issue.

But still, all of this really sharpens the stakes, and gives more significance to the Kochs’ efforts to influence who controls the Senate. Global warming is a “loser,” the Kochs’ political group tells us. Okay, let’s find out if that’s true. Even if the issue is politically worrisome to some Dems, it can only be a good thing if the debate over climate science is pushed to the fore. The mere fact that the issue could assume a higher profile than usual in the context of Senate races is itself a step forward.

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* GRIMES WON’T SAY HOW SHE’D HAVE VOTED ON ACA: The Associated Press, which has pushed Michelle Nunn to say whether she would have voted for the Affordable Care Act, is now reporting that Alison Lundergan Grimes won’t say how she would have voted, either, though she is opposing repeal.

Yes, Dems need a better answer here. But surely it’s also newsworthy that multiple GOP Senate candidates won’t say whether they support the Medicaid expansion that’s moving forward in their states — a major current policy issue — and indeed are evading that question with outright gibberish. Yet that isn’t registering with the national media. Here’s why it should.

* INSIDE GRIMES’ STRATEGY: Ben Terris has a good report explaining how Grimes is aggressively using her gender as key to drawing a sharp contrast with Mitch McConnell:

Often appearing in a brightly colored dress, Grimes repeatedly refers to her wardrobe in her campaign addresses, even talking about her high heels. She calls herself a “strong Kentucky woman” or an “independent Kentucky woman” and…describes her grandmother as “one of the fiercest Kentucky women I know.” In speech after speech, Grimes cites her support for equal pay and says McConnell is “on the wrong side of every women’s issue.”

Also keep an eye on the minimum wage as central to efforts to win over downscale women.

* 2014 ELECTIONS TILTED AGAINST DEMS: E.J. Dionne, reporting from Kentucky, makes a smart point about the fundamental imbalance in the 2014 elections, and why that could hurt Democrats:

McConnell and other Republicans will go hard against Obama. Their Democratic opponents will run bank-shot campaigns, far less in support of the president than in opposition to the obstruction created by relentless Republican partisanship…But you have to ask: Will calls for Washington’s players to get along better have the same mobilizing power as blaming the whole mess on Obama?

In the end, getting out core voters who tend to fall off in midterms may simply come down to old-fashioned get-out-the-vote efforts, upon which Dems are spending at least $60 million.

* THE NEXT BIG OBAMACARE DISASTER: Get ready for an absurd level of pundit hype about this:

A survey by The Hill of state insurance commissioners found that news about ObamaCare premiums will hit nearly every week this summer, providing ample opportunity for Republicans to attack any significant premium hikes. A slew of states will publish proposed prices in June, including Colorado and Louisiana — where the GOP is targeting Democratic Senate incumbents. Others will wait until later in the season, including West Virginia and Arkansas.

As always, Republicans will profess absolute certainty that this guarantees them the Senate, and everyone will politely agree to forget that every previous Big Obamacare Disaster just didn’t move the polling numbers in any meaningful long term sense.

* WOMEN ARE THE DEMS’ FIREWALL IN 2014: McClatchy has an interesting look at just how important women will be to Dem efforts to hold on to the Senate, in terms of both the candidates and the voters:

The primary wins Tuesday by Nunn and Grimes at least allow Democrats to play offense, since both women seek Republican-held seats. They also make it easier for the party and sympathetic interest groups to promote a national, women-oriented message that fires up that important base of support…Senate Democrats [are] pushing votes on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would give employees new tools to fight wage discrimination, and a higher minimum wage, which Democrats argue that women disproportionately need.

And Personhood is a sleeper issue here, too.

* SHINSEKI BLAMED FOR VA SCANDAL: A new CBS News poll finds:

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and the VA (33 percent) receive more blame than either local VA hospitals (28 percent) or President Obama (17 percent).  About a quarter doesn’t have an opinion. Partisan differences emerge:  While 31 percent of Republicans blame Shinseki and the VA for the problems, nearly as many blame Mr. Obama (30 percent). Fewer Democrats and independents say the president is at fault.

ICYMI: Paul Waldman’s piece on why Obama must fix this mess to redeem the liberal vision of government.

* AND SOME PERSPECTIVE ON THE VA SCANDAL: As he so often does, Jonathan Cohn has a balanced, big-picture take on the meaning of the VA scandal in the larger context of the health care system:

It’s worth remembering that some of the problems veterans are having right now have very little to do with the VA and a whole lot to do with American health care…long waits for services are actually pretty common in the U.S. — even for people with serious medical conditions — because the demand for services exceeds the supply of physicians…The difference is that the VA actually set guidelines for waiting times and monitors compliance, however poorly. That doesn’t happen in the private sector. The victims of those waits suffer, too. They just don’t get the same attention. 

What else?

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.