Five Senate Democrats looking at tough reelection fights may face a new obstacle: environmental activists livid at their public support for the Keystone XL pipeline.
A spokesman for a major environmental activist group pledged on Thursday to go after Senate Democrats who voiced support for the pipeline if President Barack Obama approves the project.
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Eleven Democrats signed a letter Thursday urging the president to approve the project. "It has already taken much longer than anyone can reasonably justify," they wrote.
Jamie Henn, cofounder and communications director of the anti-fossil fuel group 350.org, said the group would fight against those Democrats’ reelection if the administration signs off on the pipeline.
"Now, we have a target list of who to go after in the midterms if Obama approves it," Henn wrote on Twitter.
The letter’s signatories include a number of vulnerable Democrats facing reelection this year, including Sens. Mark Begich (D., Alaska), John Walsh (D., Mont.), Mary Landrieu (D., La.), Kay Hagan (D., N.C.), and Mark Pryor (D., Neb.).
Green groups’ willingness to go after even Democrats who don’t toe the environmentalist line has infuriated party leaders. With a Senate majority on the line, a 350 campaign against vulnerable Democrats could exacerbate those tensions.
Another prominent environmentalist group, NextGen Climate Action, said in February that it may target Landrieu due to her Keystone support.
Landrieu has been "misled by tar sands lobbyists," said a spokesman for the group, which is financed by billionaire former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer.
"I say over and over, ‘Lord protect me from my friends so I can focus on my enemies,’" Democratic operative Ben Chao told National Journal of NextGen’s campaign against Landrieu. "This is an apparent case of that."
Henn made clear in a follow-up tweet on Thursday that he puts the environmentalist cause ahead of the interests of the Democratic Party.
His Twitter bio says opinions expressed there are his own. He did not respond to an email asking whether his statements reflected 350’s official position.
A 350 campaign against these Senate Democrats would be the latest front in a battle between business-friendly Democrats who emphasize job creation and the party’s environmentalist base, which has made defeating Keystone its top political priority.
Some purple state Democrats facing reelection this year declined to sign on to Thursday’s letter. Sen. Mark Udall (D., Colo.), who attended a fundraiser at Steyer’s home in February, was conspicuously absent from its list of signatories.
Udall’s "natural sentiment would be to be against" the pipeline, Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli told E&E News. He is "fundamentally our most environmental senator."
That could pay dividends for Udall on the fundraising circuit as Steyer and other wealthy environmentalists back candidates with strong environmentalist credentials. But it could also earn Udall some powerful Democratic enemies.
Steyer has pledged to pour $100 million into the midterm elections. But labor unions, many of which support the Keystone pipeline, remain a larger source of Democratic Party campaign cash.
"The six top labor unions working to win KXL approval … have given more than 2 ½ times the environmentalists' amount, or $416,625, to the races that stand to determine Senate control next year," E&E News reported on Friday.
A coalition of big-dollar environmentalist donors recently urged the president to reject the pipeline.
"For many donors, funding will only go to genuine climate champions. KXL will be one of many important factors as donors determine who those champions really are," the organizer of that effort told E&E.
Henn’s statement on Thursday suggests that green groups may do more than just fundraise for friendly candidates: they may actively oppose ones who don’t toe the environmentalist line on major energy issues.