Democrats Use Climate Change As Wedge Issue On Republicans

When President Obama stood before students in Southern California a week ago ridiculing those who deny climate science, he wasn't just road testing a new political strategy to a friendly audience. He was trying to drive a wedge between younger voters and the Republican Party.

Democrats are convinced that climate change is the new same-sex marriage, an issue that is moving irreversibly in their favor, especially among young people, women and independents, the voters who hold the keys to the White House in 2016.

Wedge issues are those in which one side believes strongly that it has the moral high ground. Just as Republicans held the upper hand on same-sex marriage in 2004, Democrats now see climate change as a way to drive their base voters to the polls while branding Republicans as antiscience and beholden to special interests.

Polls show large majorities of Americans favoring action on climate change, even if it causes electricity prices to rise. That's one reason Obama has moved ahead forcefully on a rule proposed this month by the Environmental Protection Agency to limit carbon dioxide pollution from the nation's power plants, the biggest step against climate change yet taken by any administration.

It would seem to be a risky bet in a midterm election year in which Democrats' control of the Senate rests on races in a handful of fossil-fuel-dependent states such as Louisiana, Alaska and West Virginia. Republicans clearly think so.

"Much of the Republicans' ability to capture the Senate goes through energy-producing states," said Republican analyst Ford O'Connell. He believes Obama is less worried about Senate Democrats than he is about burnishing his legacy.

After the rule was announced, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of Senate Republicans, ran robocalls in four states dependent on coal-fired electricity, saying the rule would raise energy costs.

Read more from Carolyn Lochhead at The San Francisco Chronicle

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Analysis & Political Strategy