Some Republicans went into this week‚Äôs elections with a tactic to counter Democrats‚Äô decisive advantage on abortion: hammer climate action.
In New Jersey, GOP candidates escalated attacks against offshore wind. Virginia Republicans argued against the state’s electric vehicle mandates. And Kentucky’s GOP ticket of bowing to ‚Äúradical environmentalists who want to kill coal.‚ÄĚ
None of it worked. Democrats won victory after victory in Tuesday‚Äôs major state elections, continuing the party‚Äôs overperformance since the Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade. Even on friendly terrain, Republicans failed to offset the Dobbs effect by attacking climate policy.
‚ÄúRepublicans and their Big Oil allies tried to change the subject from abortion, in particular. And they thought they could do it in the context of clean energy,‚ÄĚ said Pete Maysmith, senior vice president for campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters.
‚ÄúThey were wrong,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThey were dead, flat wrong.‚ÄĚ
Virginia Democrats, once nervous about protecting their last bastion of power in the state Senate, instead recaptured the lower chamber just two years after losing it. That result ensures Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin‚Äôs efforts to repeal the state‚Äôs climate laws remain dead on arrival.
Kentucky Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won a second term leading his coal state after promoting electric vehicle manufacturing, even as he avoided talking about climate and signed some Republican bills to boost fossil fuels. That playbook made it difficult for the Republican candidate, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, to land attacks on Beshear‚Äôs climate record.
After winning by a larger margin than his first election, Beshear on Tuesday used his victory speech to highlight his work attracting ‚Äúthe two biggest battery plants on planet Earth‚ÄĚ as a ‚Äúhistoric win streak.‚ÄĚ
Republicans did notch a victory in Mississippi, where GOP Gov. Tate Reeves won reelection after attacking his Democratic opponent, longtime utility regulator Brandon Presley, for supporting solar energy and accepting contributions from renewable energy companies. But Republicans were always heavily favored to keep control of the deep-red state.
Perhaps nowhere demonstrated the resilience of Democrats‚Äô climate agenda like New Jersey.
Opposition to offshore wind has mounted in shore communities over the last year amid concerns over aesthetics and their impact on marine wildlife. Even Democrats were preparing for the worst after √ėrsted, a Danish wind developer, abruptly canceled two projects the week before the election.
But Democrats actually picked up state House seats ‚ÄĒ even in southern New Jersey, where offshore wind projects have sparked the most local opposition.
In Monmouth County, Republicans pressed the unsubstantiated claim that sonar used by offshore wind developers was killing whales. Republican Steve Dnistrian made of his campaign for a state Senate seat. And the Republican State Leadership Committee seeking to amplify the issue against Democratic state Sen. Vin Gopal.
Gopal prevailed by 21 percentage points.
Further south, Democrat John Burzichelli defeated Republican state Sen. Ed Durr. His win flipped a seat blue that Republicans had won during the last election in a stunning upset, when Durr unseated then-Senate President Steve Sweeney, a prominent offshore wind supporter.
Abortion figured prominently in Burzichelli‚Äôs winning campaign. But the former Democratic assemblymember also has a long history as a supporter of offshore wind, said Mark Magyar, director of the Sweeney Center for Public Policy at Rowan University. Durr, by contrast, had been an outspoken offshore wind opponent.
‚ÄúI think it all plays into the fact that Burzichelli won,‚ÄĚ Magyar said.
The results don‚Äôt mean offshore wind is entirely out of the political woods in New Jersey. Gopal‚Äôs victory came after he distanced himself from the industry. And polling shows that offshore wind has lost Republican support amid a GOP-led misinformation campaign that spread falsehoods about whale deaths and wind turbines.
Still, the issue didn‚Äôt prove to be the anchor that some Democrats feared. If anything, it has progressives feeling emboldened.
‚ÄúI think offshore wind was a little bit on the ballot yesterday,‚ÄĚ said state Sen. Bob Smith, a Democrat who chairs the New Jersey Senate‚Äôs Environment and Energy Committee.
‚ÄúRepublicans used it as one of their major talking points, and Republicans had a bad day,‚ÄĚ he said, adding that he was ‚Äúamazed‚ÄĚ at how Republican campaigns latched on to offshore wind. ‚ÄúI think they thought they were getting traction.‚ÄĚ
Taken as a whole, progressives see the election results as a double victory: Republican climate attacks weren‚Äôt enough to shift voter attention away from abortion. But even in races where climate policy did break through ‚ÄĒ like in New Jersey ‚ÄĒ Democrats still won convincing victories.
One reason for that is that Democrats have built up a real climate record, said Victoria Higgins, Virginia director at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
‚ÄúThe difference now is that we have a lot to defend,‚ÄĚ she said.
Minho Kim contributed to this report.