Billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer's super PAC is hitting the airwaves with its first Senate campaign ad of 2014.
Notably, the TV commercial is not about climate or environmental issues. At least, not directly.
The NextGen Climate Action ad targets state Sen. Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Iowa, for signing Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge to oppose "any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses."
The ad shows two men in a smoke-filled room discussing Ernst signing the pledge. They appear to have been talking about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) a moment earlier.
"The tax breaks that thing protects are gold," says one. "Green light: more outsourcing — China Mexico, all the way."
The other man, whose face isn't shown, responds, "She doesn't worry about Iowa jobs?"
The first man replies: "Never mind that. Joni Ernst is with us."
Ernst faces Rep. Bruce Braley (D) in a key contest in the battle for the Senate majority. Polls show a close race.
The commercial is part of a five-week, $2.6 million ad buy, a NextGen official said. The campaign will also seek to tie Ernst to oil companies and the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers.
The apparent intent of the first ad is to set the table for a broader argument against Ernst on environmental matters.
When asked in an e-mail why the commercial is not directly focused on environmental and climate issues, NextGen spokesman Bobby Whithorne responded: "We're highlighting the fact that Ernst is in the pocket of big oil and special interests — the same crowd that's fighting good paying renewable jobs and doesn't believe we need to take action on climate change."
Ernst spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel responded in an e-mail: "This ad proves Bruce Braley and his allies are desperate."
Steyer plans to spend as much as $100 million on the midterm elections, half from his own pockets and half from donors. So far, his list of Republican targets includes Senate hopefuls Cory Gardner in Colorado, Terri Lynn Land in Michigan, Scott Brown in New Hampshire and Ernst in Iowa, in addition to Govs. Rick Scott (Fla.), Paul LePage (Maine) and Tom Corbett (Pa.).
NextGen has already targeted Corbett with an ad.
If Steyer is going to marshal $50 million from donors, he's going to have to pick up his fundraising pace. His super PAC only raised $1.2 million through June. National media outlets reported on the group's slow pace.