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Until circumstances change, U.S. elections are a binary choice. For many people, this
means that they have to hold their nose while casting their vote for what they perceive to be the lesser of two evils. The 2012 presidential election will be no different, with votes cast for President Obama or his Republican challenger, who at this point is likely to be either an out and out climate denier or a least a climate skeptic.
But beyond votes there are other metrics that politicians need to worry about when election time comes--levels of enthusiasm, campaign contributions, and hours volunteered, to name a few. An interesting piece in the Sunday New York Times highlights the predicament that the president now finds himself in after he's repeatedly let down his base of supporters who care deeply about environmental action. While the Republicans, to a person, seem intent on shuttering the EPA and dismantling public health standards, progressives have looked to Obama to protect our air, water and climate.
The president's recent caves on ground level ozone standards and coal plant regulation have disappointed many. His decision on the Keystone XL pipeline later this year will be another test of his commitment to his promises to "end the tyranny of oil."
Yet, of course, as the president oscillates between environmental hero and villain, he looks like John Muir next to the anti-regulation Republicans who dominate the opposition party.
On Friday, House Republicans voted for the TRAIN Act, a dangerous bill that would give special deference to polluters, and, of course, Rick Perry is performing well in the polls despite his insistence that climate change isn't real.
Doug Schoen, who was a strategist for President Bill Clinton, told Bloomberg last month that:
"Obama won the election because the left, young people who are disproportionately environmentalists, came out in huge numbers. If he doesn't have the kind of support he had from the left, from young people, from environmentalists, he is not going to be re- elected. It's as simple as that."
Today's Times' piece says that the small dollar donors that the president depended on 2008 may keep their money in their wallets this time:
About a quarter of Mr. Obama's record haul during the 2008 cycle came from donors giving $200 or less, supporters who could be tapped again and again without hitting federal contribution limits. Many of those same people were also volunteers in his campaign, knocking on doors, calling friends and neighbors and helping turn out the voters that fall.
The election season is just getting here (the leaves collecting outside in my yard tell me this is true). It remains to be seen how much leverage greens have on the president in the places that matter--Ohio, North Carolina, and other swing states. At this time next year we'll have an answer.