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Conventional political wisdom says you don’t talk about climate change on the campaign trail.
That’s mostly because it’s a deeply polarizing issue. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 72 percent of registered voters supporting Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections said climate change was a “very big” problem, compared with 11 percent of Republican voters.
That divide has led many candidates and the groups that support them, even those who favor addressing planet-warming emissions, to struggle with discussing the issue during election campaigns.
But that’s starting to change. Across the country, there’s been a small explosion of political ads about global warming.
In Nevada, the Democratic candidate for governor, Steve Sisolak, pledged in an ad to uphold the Paris Agreement. In Illinois, a Democratic candidate for the House, Sean Casten, assailed President Trump for calling climate change a “hoax.” And more than two dozen other candidates in tight races have released ads highlighting their views on climate change.
Environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters also are spending millions of dollars on ads backing candidates who favor policies to address rising emissions.
“At the national level, it’s very clear it’s not going to be the issue that brings people to the polls,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. But, he said, “It is an issue that is at least being talked about in some races, and that is new.”
For the most part, political analysts say, climate ads in this campaign involve one candidate attacking the global warming stance of another, or, by proxy, attacking the climate position of President Trump.
Case in point: this League of Conservation Voters ad assailing Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, as “radically opposed” to fighting climate change. The ad superimposes the wildfires that raged through California this year with Mr. Rohrabacher declaration that “global warming is a fraud.”
Some candidates prefer to talk about the potential economic benefits of addressing climate change, even if they don’t always use the phrase. The incumbent governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, for example, describes the state’s offshore wind farm and plans for solar development as part of a drive for “lower energy costs” and a “cleaner environment.”
And in this ad, Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, a Democrat running for governor of her state, climbs a wind turbine to demonstrate her commitment to clean energy jobs.
And in a few places, there’s bipartisan appeal. It’s a small category, for now.
Representative Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican whose district is already seeing the effects of sea level rise, is one of the rare G.O.P. candidates who mention climate change.
But after disasters like California’s wildfires and Hurricane Michael, which battered the Florida Panhandle, analysts say climate change is becoming more relevant to supporters of main both parties.
Activists say they hope to see that reflected in political ads.
Paul Bledsoe, a White House climate adviser under President Bill Clinton, said that would mean changing the way climate change is discussed, from a distant threat to a here-and-now pocketbook issue. He noted that in 2017, Congress appropriated $130 billion for disaster relief across the country, about a quarter of the nondefense discretionary budget.
“Instead of simply pointing the climate denier finger, I think candidates need to talk about the actual economic and public safety costs,” Mr. Bledsoe said. “It’s about basic kitchen table issues.”
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