It is well known that President Obama wants to make climate change a signature issue of his 2nd term. But he’s battling a public that has come to believe most of the global warming evidence is more hype than reality and has shown less and less of an inclination to pay for carbon usage given the 10 year pause in warming and the poor predictive performance of the models used by global warming alarmists. Additionally, carbon emissions are at their lowest point since 1994.

But the Virginia governor’s race may change that. Enter Tom Steyer:

Tom Steyer is Virginia’s $8 million man.

The California billionaire spent nearly that much from his personal fortune to make an example of Republican Ken Cuccinelli for his arch-conservative views on the environment. The sum is more than three times the investment that’s been previously reported, and it nearly matched what the Republican Governors Association, the largest GOP outside spender, put into the Virginia governor’s race. It is more money, on a per-vote basis, than the famously prolific conservative donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson spent in the 2012 presidential election.

Steyer is on a crusade to sell the alarmist message to the public and his first concerted effort was in the Virginia governor’s race:

In a memo distributed to potential financial supporters late in the summer, Steyer’s top strategist, former Clinton White House aide Chris Lehane, said NextGen will build on its Virginia campaign by targeting multiple Senate and gubernatorial races in 2014 – and then playing hard in the 2016 presidential primaries.

“We want to establish a real presence in the early states to impact the candidates and make climate a top-tier issue, whereby candidates are forced to put forth comprehensive climate policies and address the issue,” Lehane wrote.

They had three goals:

From the start, Steyer’s campaign had two stated goals: electing Democrat Terry McAuliffe as the governor of Virginia, and creating a case study for making climate change an issue in high-profile elections.

A third, unstated goal has run through all of Steyer’s political activities: turning a hedge fund investor from the Bay Area into a national political figure. Most megadonors prize their privacy. But before Steyer’s team jumped into the Virginia race, it approached POLITICO about providing exclusive access to NextGen’s activities for a feature story after the election. In 2013, the towheaded, all-smiles Democratic financier has participated in major profiles in both The New Yorker and Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

And unlike the Koch brothers or the Adlesons, he wasn’t demonized by the media.  However, one has to wonder if it was really the climate change message that helped McAuliffe win the race, or was it a combination of GOTV and other messages combined with the climate change message that did the job?

To reach the voters Steyer wanted to turn out – Virginians who may have voted in the 2012 presidential election or the 2009 governor’s race but couldn’t be counted on to vote this year – pollster Amy Levin urged the billionaire to put climate in terms that related to the daily lives of Virginians. She suggested talking about the effects of climate on asthma rates and food prices, and eschewing activist buzzwords like “climate denier” in favor of the charge that Cuccinelli “denies basic science.”

Erin Lehane, the field marshal of the NextGen turnout program, put it in these terms: “We’ve got to hit [voters] on a place where they have an emotional response, and their emotional response is to [the message], ‘This guy’s a wild man and we’ve got to do something.’”

When the NextGen digital and mail campaigns ramped up in September and October, that kitchen-sink approach was immediately evident, as the Steyer gang’s message tore at Cuccinelli on multiple issues with climate at the center. “From wasting taxpayer money in a failed lawsuit against UVA because he disagreed with their climate change research to opposing birth control, Ken Cuccinelli is out of touch,” read one mailer that went out in mid-September.

Finally, they ran a GOTV effort near the end of the campaign to turn out  what they termed”apathetic” voters.  However, the question remains, were they turned out by the climate change message or were they turned out by other issues? That isn’t clear.

What is clear, however, is that Steyer plans on being a force in future elections, used this as a model for the 2014 midterms and thinks he has hit upon a way to make climate change a major issue all while helping Democrats win.

~McQ