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Presidential Election Offers Opportunity for Republicans to Lead on Climate | Commentary

By James Dozier Republican primary voters have their work cut out for them vetting a burgeoning field of presidential prospects eyeing their party’s nomination. The crop is certainly not lacking for experience with five senators, nine governors, a fortune 500 CEO and a neurosurgeon. With so many potential nominees crisscrossing the early primary states it’s increasingly clear that candidates will likely end up declaring victory in early nominating contests by barely acquiring double-digit support among voters.  

The size of the field, the smaller vote shares needed for victory and the glut of Super PACs are compounding the need for candidates to set themselves apart from the rest of the field. Traditionally, this has required candidates to follow a predictable playbook: spend hard dollars bloodying fellow Republicans earlier and earlier, moving as far to the right as possible. That commitment of time, money, resources and ideological purity has proven costly in recent campaign cycles. Thus, the ultimate sacrifice becomes our party’s viability in the general election.  

This year carries the potential to be different on a variety of issues. Specifically, a division is emerging within the Republican field on environmental issues and public policy, the margin of victory in early states may rest with conservation-minded conservatives.  

The fact is that in the early primary states there is a sizable cohort of the GOP primary electorate that is tired of ceding the issue of environmental sustainability to liberals. This coalition of persuadable voters — notably comprised of suburban woman, Republican-leaning independents and millennials — wants to hear the GOP field offer conservative solutions that seize upon the free market to create jobs, protect our tax dollars and preserve our climate.  

Earlier this year, Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions commissioned a field survey, conducted by TargetPoint Consulting, of Republican primary voters in New Hampshire and South Carolina on energy and the environment. 53 percent of New Hampshire voters and 48 percent of South Carolina voters support placing greater emphasis on diversifying our energy sources to include wind, solar and hydropower. Fifty-nine percent of New Hampshire millennials and 61 percent of their counterparts in South Carolina believe there should be greater emphasis on renewable energy. Nearly half of South Carolina voters and 57 percent of New Hampshire voters favor the federal government taking steps to reduce emissions that cause global climate change. And 67 percent of New Hampshire millennials support actions by the federal government to limit carbon emissions; in South Carolina, that number is 57 percent.  

Further, overwhelming majorities in both states said that strengthening national security with energy independence, being responsible stewards of God’s creation, and leaving a legacy of clean air for future generations are the important reasons for taking action to preserve the climate.  

It is not just in polling where we see increased support from Republicans on energy and the environment. In January, 15 GOP senators voted in support of an amendment to the Keystone XL pipeline bill that acknowledged climate change was real and humans are impacting it. Of those 15 senators, two are now formally announced candidates for the presidency – Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., — and six others face competitive races for reelection – Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., John McCain, R-Ariz., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa.  

In the past, Republicans had been reticent to even discuss such federal action on climate change in GOP primaries. But they should know that half of the Republican primary voters surveyed in New Hampshire and South Carolina support these recent votes cast by Graham and Ayotte on the significant impact humans are having on climate change.  

This spring at the New Hampshire GOP Leadership Summit I met with hundreds of Republican activists who believe now is the time for Republicans to lead on environmental issues. They are ready for a nominee who will make the case for renewed Republican leadership on our economic, national and climate security. It is the mission of CRES to remind voters that economic prosperity and environmental security are not “either/or” propositions, and that protecting God’s creation should be part of any serious conservative issue agenda in 2016. It’s not just the right thing to do — it’s increasingly the smart political thing to do.  

James Dozier is the executive director of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions.

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