Tom Steyer and environmentalist groups backed by millions of dollars in his personal fortune were dealt a significant blow on Tuesday in races including Colorado’s Senate contest, where Republican Rep. Cory Gardner unseated incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.
Steyer personally poured more than $73 million into outside political groups this cycle, making him by far the largest donor to such organizations, with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and his $20 million in contributions coming a distant second.
Steyer’s record on the night was three wins and four losses, but the details of the races paint a grim picture for the billionaire environmentalist.
Colorado was a prime battleground for Steyer’s Super PAC and other environmentalist groups, but Gardner bested Udall by a 4.2 percent margin on Tuesday.
Udall was one of the few vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents who refused to publicly back the Keystone XL pipeline, opposition to which was Steyer’s litmus test for his sizable financial support.
Udall voted against efforts to expedite the pipeline’s approval in the face of delays from the Obama administration.
He faced criticism from Republicans for that vote, criticism that intensified in April after he refused to join 11 of his Democratic colleagues in calling on the administration to approve the project.
For his opposition to the project, Steyer’s Super PAC poured money into the Colorado Senate race, the bulk of which was used to attack Gardner.
NextGen Climate Action, one of the election cycle’s most active and well-funded Super PACs, spent more than $5.5 million in the race, nearly 15 percent of all outside spending on Udall’s behalf.
The group had 68 staffers working in the state.
Environmentalists, and Steyer in particular, stated their intention early in the 2014 election cycle to make climate change a "wedge issue" that could win tight contests for Democrats in purple states.
"It is very difficult to find an issue that voters place lower on the list than climate change," according to Republican pollster Whit Ayres.
"It vies with gay marriage and campaign finance reform as the least important issue. Most voters care about jobs, economic growth, health care, and immigration," Ayres told the New York Times.
NextGen, Steyer’s primarily political apparatus, was active in seven Senate and gubernatorial contests. Three of the billionaire environmentalist’s preferred candidates won. Four of them lost.
In addition to the Colorado Senate race, it suffered defeats in gubernatorial races in Florida and Maine, and the U.S. Senate race in Iowa, where Republican Joni Ernst beat Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley to take the seat left vacant by the retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D.).
Steyer prevailed in the U.S. Senate races in Michigan and New Hampshire, and in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial contest.
However, none of the Republican candidates that he helped defeat had led in the polls since NextGen got involved in the races in May, casting doubt on whether it was Steyer’s involvement that tipped the balance.
In fact, the Washington Post notes, polls moved in Republicans’ direction in all but one of the seven contests in which NextGen spent Steyer’s campaign cash.