A major reason why left-wing activists have failed to achieve the political clout of the Tea Party is their inability (or unwillingness, perhaps) to challenge Democratic incumbents they don’t entirely agree with.
A liberal billionaire may be about to change that. Tom Steyer, a California hedge-fund manager and major Democratic donor who was reportedly in the running to be Obama’s next energy secretary, has started a number of super PACs in support of candidates who favor an aggressive agenda to combat climate change.
One of those super PACs, NextGen Climate Action, is taking aim at lawmakers who support construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The group ran minute-long ads before and after the president’s State of the Union address, calling the pipeline “a sucker’s deal for America.”
The group is currently asking supporters to choose the target of its next ad. Four of the five potential targets are Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, but the other is Senator Mary Landrieu (D., La.), a vulnerable incumbent who is typically more supportive of the oil industry than most of her Democratic colleagues. She is also next in line for the chairmanship of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Last year, Landrieu was one of 17 Democrats who cast a symbolic vote in favor of building the Keystone pipeline. At a press conference earlier this week, she said the time to build the pipeline “is now.”
“These are just a few of the elected officials and candidates who’ve been sold on the idea that the Keystone XL pipeline is a good deal for America,” the super PAC’s website states. “But when China has invested $30B in tar sands to secure oil for their own economy, it’s time for these politicians to ask the hard questions — we can’t let Americans get taken for a bunch of suckers.”
It remains to be seen whether Steyer’s PAC will actually spend any money against Landrieu. If it does, it would mark a considerable shift for Steyer, who has largely supported Democratic candidates while attacking Republicans. He spent almost $8 million, for example, backing Terry McAuliffe’s successful bid for governor of Virginia.
Landrieu may need all the help she can get to keep her seat. A Rasmussen poll conducted last month showed her trailing GOP opponent Bill Cassidy by four points. And unlike most Democrats running for reelection in red states, Landrieu has been unapologetic in her continued support for Obamacare, even saying that she would vote for it again. President Obama’s approval rating in Louisiana is just 40 percent, according to Gallup.
Some Republicans, however, are not convinced that Landrieu deserves her reputation as a pro-oil candidate. “Mr. Steyer’s targeting of Senator Landrieu is actually pretty peculiar. While she claims she is a pro-drilling Democrat — if there is such a thing — her super PAC gave $380,000 to anti-energy Democrats across the U.S., from Senator Barbara Boxer to Senator Dick Durbin,” says a Louisiana Republican strategist. “Senator Landrieu has demonstrated that she’s more concerned with maintaining a far-left Democrat majority in the Senate than fighting for good-paying jobs for the people of Louisiana.”
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.