Tom Steyer spent $8 million to make Virginia voters care about the environment

How the billionaire environmentalist took over a gubernatorial race

Topics: tom steyer, Ken Cuccinelli, Terry McAuliffe, Virginia, Climate Change, Environmentalism, ,

It is possible to get voters to turn out for climate change — it just takes about $8 million to do so.

That, and aggressive campaigning. Politico has the inside story on how California billionaire Tom Steyer spent his own money to call out Republican Ken Cuccinelli for his anti-environmental tendencies. According to his team’s calculations, Steyer and his political committee,  NextGen Climate Action, spared no expense in helping Democratic Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe win the gubernatorial race:

Steyer paid for $3.1 million in TV advertising, $1.2 million in digital ads, 12 different pieces of campaign mail, a field program that hit 62,000 households on get-out-the-vote weekend and even a Cuccinelli impersonator who showed up at public events carrying a briefcase of mock cash to attack the Republican’s ethics…Steyer’s PR consultants said he also spent $150,000 building a climate voter model and $400,000 on earned-media stunts — he paid for a plane to spend 110 hours in the air flying anti-Cuccinelli banners — as well as half a million dollars in donations to Virginia partner groups.

Steyer’s aim, aside from winning the race, was “creating a case study for making climate change an issue in high-profile elections.” And many see the election’s outcome as proof positive that such a thing is possible:



McAuliffe campaign manager Robby Mook praised NextGen for having helped “turn the tables” on an issue where Democrats have more often been on the defensive. “They kept Cuccinelli on defense — and defined him — over the gas royalties scandal and his witch hunt against climate change science,” Mook said. “They made climate change denial and favoring out-of-state energy companies a powerful character statement and political liability.”

It helped, of course, that Cuccinelli isn’t just extreme in his climate denialism: Steyer exploited the fact that he’s also supported plans to get rid of birth control” and to ”let criminals, even those convicted of sexually abusing children, buy guns at gun shows.” How effectively he managed to make the environment itself a deciding issue may be up for debate — but it’s hard to deny that Steyer got what he paid for.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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