“It’s going to be really hard for the Democrats to mount an effective pro-environment stance when it’s very easy to make the case that environmental regulations damage the economy,” said Michelle Pautz, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton.
A recent Gallup poll found that voters favor economic growth over protecting the environment, 49 percent to 41 percent. That’s a smaller margin than last year, according to Gallup, when the economy trumped environmental protection by 18 points. But it’s a reversal from polls before the economic downturn: One 2007 survey found that voters prioritized the environment over the economy 55 percent to 37 percent.
Still, the LCV’s bid to raise its profile has caught the attention of Democratic leaders. The group spent upward of $300,000 on ads favorable to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who has faced a barrage of broadcast attacks by GOP-friendly groups. The LCV is focusing principally on Senate races in Montana, New Mexico and Virginia and has bundled more than $400,000 for candidates in this cycle, another record.
The activity includes promoting issues and policies in the hope of growing the group’s grass-roots membership, which recently topped 500,000. The LCV also leverages its environmental scorecard and its affiliation with almost three dozen state leagues.
Not all Democrats are cheering, though. Last week the LCV trumpeted its role in helping oust incumbent Blue Dog Democrat Tim Holden (Pa.), who lost his primary to lawyer Matt Cartwright. The LCV wasn’t the only outside group active in the race, but its $230,000 ad campaign aimed at Holden was the biggest of any other outside player.
The LCV’s role toppling Holden ruffled some feathers among Democratic leaders. However, Karpinski noted it was not the first time his group intervened to help an upstart candidate.
In 2004, the LCV spent $400,000 to help a little-known Democrat win a Senate primary in Illinois — a candidate who now happens to occupy the White House. Said Karpinski with some satisfaction: “He remembers to this day.”
Correction: May 1
An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect time frame during which the League of Conservation Voters spent $4 million. The LCV spent that amount so far in this election cycle.