MEMO: Key House and Senate Climate Races to Watch

TO:          Interested Parties
FROM:  John Podesta and Lori Lodes, Climate Power 2020
DATE:    November 2, 2020
RE:         Key House and Senate Climate Races to Watch

The U.S. has endured a year of climate disasters that have upended daily life across the country — from tropical storm Arthur to Hurricane Zeta to supercharged climate fires and other extreme weather events. The climate crisis is real, it’s here, and it’s front and center of this election.

Every single presidential and vice-presidential debate featured questions about climate change. Campaigns and outside groups have run hundreds of different ads, spending tens of millions of dollars, on climate, clean energy, and conservation in the presidential race, across the Senate battleground, and in key House races. Candidates are framing their closing arguments to voters on the need for bold climate action — tying the crisis to health, security, and economic prosperity. And in the final week of the campaign, Vice President Joe Biden has run two new ads focused exclusively on climate change and said the climate crisis is the “number one issue facing humanity. And it’s the number one issue for me.”

In other words, climate is on the ballot.

As the election draws to a close, climate voters, inspired by the plans for bold action put forward by pro-climate action candidates, are heading to the polls in droves. These young people, Latinos, and suburban women will decide who wins the White House, control of the Senate, and the size of the pro-climate majority in the U.S. House. And if climate candidates are successful come Tuesday due to the turnout of these climate voters, it will guarantee the next administration and Congress begin in January with a mandate for climate action.

Here are ten of the key climate races we’ll be watching on Tuesday. They range from races in blue states like Colorado to conservative states like Iowa, red states trending blue like Arizona, red districts in red states like South Carolina, and a variety of purple-state races in between. What they all have in common is one candidate is running on climate, clean energy, and conservation, and the other has no plan to address the most pressing issue of our time, the climate crisis.

NOTE: All data included for ad spending is based on totals provided by Advertising Analytics.


Arizona: Mark Kelly (D) v. Sen. Martha McSally (R)

Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is taking on Sen. Martha McSally, who lost the 2018 election to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema but was later appointed to the Senate.

Kelly featured climate change in his first national interview on The View and has continued to campaign on climate throughout the campaign. Kelly’s campaign launch ad referenced climate change increasing the drought in Arizona and the dangerous retreat from science, data, and facts in politics.

For her part, McSally has joined in with the national GOP’s fear-mongering campaign around the Green New Deal. She has repeatedly stood in the way of action on climate change, choosing to side with fossil fuel special interestsover the thousands of clean energy workers in Arizona.

Key Quotes:

  • Mark Kelly: “We need to take action to stop climate change, and we can’t afford to let partisan politics get in the way of stopping it before it’s too late. We’ve got to follow the science, data and facts to fight it. Now I’ve been in space 4 times – and if space taught me anything, it’s taught me there is no planet B, we have to protect this one.”
  • Martha McSally: “The Green New Deal is a pipe dream that would bankrupt hardworking Arizona families.”

Total ad spending on climate, energy, and conservation issues from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1: $1,016,021.

Climate Consequences: Arizonans experienced their hottest summer on record this year with Phoenix breaking every heat record including, most consecutive days over 110 (53) and 115 (14) degrees.

Why This Race Matters: Mark Kelly has seen the impact of the climate crisis from space and has promised to champion bold and urgent action while Martha McSally tows the Trump line on climate and voted to put a climate denier on the Supreme Court for life.

Cook Political Report Rating: Lean Democratic

Colorado: John Hickenlooper (D) v. Sen. Cory Gardner (R) 

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is taking on the Senate’s most endangered Republican, Sen. Cory Gardner.

In his advertising, in debates, and on the campaign trail, Hickenlooper has been an outspoken proponent of bold action on climate. Hickenlooper, who is a former energy geologist, has proposed a shift to 100% renewable energy by 2050 and has supported making fracking obsolete. Hickenlooper supports rejoining the Paris Agreement and also ran an ad highlighting his record on climate change and renewables while governor.

Gardner has been greenwashing his anti-environment record. He voted 5 times to block the Clean Power Plan, which would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions while investing in 5,700 clean energy jobs in Colorado. He voted 7 times to protect subsidies and tax breaks for Big Oil and was caught on tape spouting a conspiracy theory about people using climate change to control the economy. He also voted to elevate a climate denier onto the Supreme Court.

Total ad spending on climate, energy, and conservation issues from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1: $8,987,253.

Key Quotes:

  • John Hickenlooper: “Climate change is, without a question, the greatest threat to Colorado’s environment, our economy, to our way of life. We have an opportunity and the obligation to reorient our economy around clean energy. I think what we have accomplished in Colorado, should be the national model for the rest of the country. And then we have to do more. We led the nation and passed the gold standard for methane. We closed down two coal-fired electrical plants in Pueblo and are replacing them with wind, solar, and battery power. But we created thousands of good-paying renewable energy jobs at the same time. We can and we must do the same in Washington.”
  • Cory Gardner: “There are people who want to control the economy as a result of their belief about the environment.”

Climate Consequences: Colorado’s ‘unprecedented’ and deadly fire season this year has destroyed hundreds of homes, forced thousands to evacuate, and closed Rocky Mountain National Park. The three largest fires in the state’s history happened this year with the two biggest – Cameron Peak and East Troublesome – still raging.

Why This Race Matters: John Hicklenhooper will be an outspoken advocate for transitioning from fossil fuels to 100% clean energy.

Cook Political Report Rating: Lean Democratic

Iowa: Theresa Greenfield (D) v. Sen. Joni Ernst (R) 

Sen. Joni Ernst, who was swept into office in the 2014 Republican wave, has been caught off guard by the formidable challenge from climate champion Theresa Greenfield.

Greenfield, “a scrappy farm kid”, supports bold action to address the climate crisis, which she knows is a major challenge for Iowa. Greenfield campaigns on the need for “urgent climate action” and criticizes Ernst for denying science and for voting for a “fossil fuel lobbyist to head the EPA” which frequently waives the renewable fuel standard in favor of the oil industry.

Koch-backed Ernst denies the science of climate change, despite the state facing record-breaking droughts, flooding, and heatwaves. The Senate Leadership Fund is spending significant money running ads such as, “Lining Up” and “Socking It,” to falsely attack Greenfield for support of the Green New Deal. The NRSC is also focused on climate with an ad titled “Ron Heck” running statewide in Iowa, which also falsely attacks Greenfield for support of “radical environmental regulations.”

Total ad spending on climate, energy, and conservation issues from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1: $5,280,558.

Key Quotes:

  • Theresa Greenfield: “The science is clear about this – we have a man-made climate crisis on our hands, and we have to take urgent action. […] Iowans now know what climate change looks like – it looks like the flooding in southeast Iowa, the flooding in southwest Iowa, the 3-inch rains that come on a regular basis, the high temperatures, the high humidity that affects our agricultural communities.”
  • Joni Ernst: “I don’t know the science behind climate change. I can’t say one way or another what is the direct impact from, whether it’s man-made or not.”

Climate Consequences: Iowa has been devastated by droughts, heat waves, floods, and other extreme weather events, including a derecho that flattened cities and crops across huge portions of the state. Farmers lost more than over 850,000 acres of crops to the disaster with more than over 20% of all farmland affected by the extreme storm. So far, damages from the derecho are estimated at $7.5 billion.

Why This Race Matters: The Hawkeye State knows firsthand what’s at stake if we fail to address the climate crisis and Theresa Greenfield knows that Iowa can be part of the solution.

Cook Political Report Rating: Toss Up

Michigan: Sen. Gary Peters (D) v. John James (R) 

First-term incumbent Sen. Gary Peters is facing off against John James, who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) in 2018.

Peters has called out the “cost of climate inaction,” and sat down with Now This News for an extended discussion on the climate crisis, environmental justice, and the Great Lakes. Peters’ fight to clean up PFAS contamination sites has been championed on the airwaves. In the last month of the campaign, Peters has run ads across the state touting his effort to clean up the Great Lakes and protect the lakes from catastrophic oil spills.

James is a climate skeptic who has questioned the science of man-made climate change. In 2018, James believes the jury is “still out” on the human impact or the “natural phenomenon” of global warming, and claimed the long-proven impact of climate change was still being figured out and should be taken on a “case by case” basis. James will be a reliable vote against climate action, which is why Big Oil and the Koch Brothers network have spent $834,000 to replace Peters with James.

Total ad spending on climate, energy, and conservation issues from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1: $12,335,987.

Key Quotes:

  • Gary Peters: “As the driving force behind increasingly severe weather events, climate change is a key contributor to extreme flooding, wind damage and other destruction that is wreaking havoc on our communities and costing us billions of dollars in damage. […] Unless we quickly take bold steps to address climate change, we will not be able to turn back the clock on the damage done to our planet, and American taxpayers will be on the hook for billions of dollars in cleanup costs in the years and decades to come.”
  • John James: “I believe that as a natural phenomenon the globe is warming, however, the jury is still out on exactly the impact that man is having on it and with the effort that we’re putting in, the ability to curb all of the effects.”

Climate Consequences: Cycles of drought and flooding have turned the Great Lakes into the “erratic high seas of the Midwest.” Last year, Michigan was heavily affected by the climate-driven flooding that caused $10.8 billion in damages across the Midwest.

Why This Race Matters: Peters is an outspoken defender of Michigan’s Great Lakes and has fought for action to combat both the climate crisis and environmental racism.

Cook Political Report Rating: Lean Democratic

North Carolina: Cal Cunningham (D) v. Sen. Thom Tillis (R) 

Former state senator and attorney Cal Cunningham is mounting a strong bid against Sen. Thom Tillis, who has spent the last six years accruing an extremely pro-Trump, anti-climate record in what is a toss-up seat in a state on the frontlines of the crisis.

Cunningham opposes opening up the North Carolina coast to offshore drilling and supports making the U.S. carbon neutral by 2050. Cunningham has also called for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Agreement and has called for training workers for green jobs and investing in clean energy research and development.

Tillis was one of the leading voices in the Senate calling for Trump to pull out of the Paris Agreement and voted repeatedly against action to reduce carbon emissions. Like several other vulnerable Republicans, Tillis has been attempting to greenwash his pro-offshore drilling, anti-climate record, which includes elevating a climate denier onto the Supreme Court. The Senate Leadership Fund ran an ad falsely attacking Cal Cunningham (D-NC) support for climate action.

Key Quotes:

  • Cal Cunningham: “Climate change is one of the most urgent issues we face. We need to invest in a clean energy economy that will create good-paying jobs, reduce carbon pollution, and make North Carolina a leader. I support efforts to move to 100% renewable energy by 2050, rejoin the Paris Agreement, and retrain workers for green energy jobs. North Carolina can be a leader. Solar energy is spreading, providing good-paying jobs and economic investment in rural areas.”
  • Thom Tillis: “No.” (When asked in 2014 if climate change is a fact.)

Climate Consequences: In 2019, FEMA spent $30.6 million in disaster relief in North Carolina following Hurricane Dorian, which caused record floodingon the state’s Outer Banks. North Carolina has seen eight hurricanes in the past decade that caused a total of $336.2 billion in damages and 551 deaths.

Why This Race Matters: Tillis has consistently voted against clean energy and climate action while Cunningham has a deep understanding of environmental issues and from the very beginning of the race, has spoken out about the impact of the climate crisis on Tarheel families.

Cook Political Report Rating: Toss Up


Arizona – 6th District: Hiral Tipirneni (D) v. Rep. David Schweikert (R) 

Dr. Hiral Tipirneni is challenging Rep. David Schweikert. The 6th is one of the urban Phoenix-area districts and comprises the northeastern suburbs, including Paradise Valley and parts of Scottsdale.

Tipirneni, a medical doctor who says we need to follow science, is touting the tremendous economic potential of clean energy for Arizona. Climate change is one of Tipirneni’s top issues, and she has supported urgent action to tackle the climate crisis.

Schweikert is one of the most ardent climate skeptics in the House Republican Caucus. Schweikert in 2014 called climate change “folklore.”  The Club for Growth has run two ads attacking Tipirneni for supporting climate action and the Paris Agreement.

Total ad spending on climate, energy, and conservation issues from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1: $736,972.

Key Quotes:

  • Dr. Hiral Tipirneni: “The climate crisis demands urgent action, and the Green New Deal has put a spotlight on that urgency. The actions of the Trump Administration have also forced us to have a very strong conversation about what to do. Arizona can be the leader in a robust renewable energy economy. We need to take the work we have already done in Arizona and take it to the next level on water conservation and solar energy and be a role model for the nation.”
  • David Schweikert: “I don’t see the data. Now you know I think I have a reasonably good statistics background and I have not sat there with pages and pages of data, but when you think about the complexity of a worldwide system and the amount of data you’d have to capture, and then how do you adjust for a sunspot? How do you adjust for hurricane this and that, I think it’s incredibly arrogant you know for the Al Gore’s of the world to stand up and say the world’s coming to an end.”

Climate Consequences: Arizonans experienced their hottest summer on record this year with Phoenix breaking every heat record including, most consecutive days over 110 (53) and 115 (14).

Why This Race Matters: Schweikert is a notorious climate denier; Tipirneni is a medical professional who understands both climate and COVID denial are deadly.

Cook Political Report Rating: Republican Toss Up, R+9

California – 25th District: Christy Smith (D) v. Rep. Mike Garcia (R) 

Prior to 2018, this was the last Republican district anchored in Los Angeles County. Christy Smith fell short in the special election following Rep. Katie Hill’s resignation from her seat and is now back for a rematch with Rep. Mike Garcia.

With wildfires raging across California, climate change has become a defining issue in the battle for California’s 25th Congressional District. Smith is campaigning on  “Taking on Corporate Polluters and the Climate Crisis”. Smith has also advertised on the link between the wildfires in California and climate change.

An October debate between the two candidates showed a stark contrast between the two candidates on climate change. Garcia claimed forest management is responsible for this year’s record-setting wildfires and that Smith had her “head in the sand” for linking the fires — as experts do — to climate change. 

Total ad spending on climate, energy, and conservation issues from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1: $713,043.

Key Quotes:

  • Christy Smith: “What we are experiencing here in California, everything from sea level rise to the significant wildfires … has a real economic impact. And we are at a huge loss if we don’t begin to address the root causes.”
  • Mike Garcia: “Christy is burying her head in the sand, attributing it to climate change. The one-degree increase in the planet’s warming over the last 50 years – and I’m not going to argue the globe the planet is warming – but that doesn’t change the physics of the fire triangle. What we’re experiencing here is the end result of Sacramento and, frankly, the federal government, not getting rid of the dead brush and the leaves that have been accumulating over the last 40 years.”

Climate Consequence: Science does know that climate change is causing an increase in deadly climate fires across the West, especially in California where the Bobcat fire burned more than 115,000 acres along the southern edge of the 25th Congressional district.

Why This Race Matters: After a summer and fall of devastating climate fires, Angelenos, residents of the Antelope Valley, and others in the district are demanding action to combat the climate crisis that has become a feature of daily life in Southern California.

Cook Political Report Rating: Republican Toss Up, EVEN

Nebraska – 2nd District: Kara Eastman (D) v. Don Bacon (R)

This Omaha-area race is a rematch from 2018 when progressive climate champion Kara Eastman fell just 2% short in her bid to unseat then-freshman GOP Rep. Don Bacon. This district is also in the news because Biden is favored to win its Electoral College vote under Nebraska’s system of apportioning its Electoral College votes by congressional district.

Eastman is an outspoken proponent for bold action on climate and has called climate change the “No.1 moral issue facing our kids right now.” Throughout her campaign, Eastman has attacked her opponent’s environmental record on social media and during candidate debates in both 2018 and this year. “I am running against a climate change denier. The choice in this election is clear,” Eastman said.

During his time in office, Bacon has racked up a series of votes against climate action. He ran a Facebook ad attacking the Green New Deal, and the NRCC has spent over $350,000 in the final days of the campaign attacking Eastman for supporting climate action.

Total ad spending on climate, energy, and conservation issues from Sept. 30 to Oct. 29: $763,080.

Key Quotes:

  • Kara Eastman: “I believe we need to invest in a robust green infrastructure in this country. Half the country is on fire. Half the country is underwater. We don’t have time to wait for politicians like you to come around on this.”
  • Don Bacon: “In regards to climate change, there is no doubt temperatures are changing. We need to further study how much humans are responsible as opposed to natural causes, and from there take measures to protect our earth for future generations.”

Climate Consequences: Devastating floods in 2019 resulted in close to $1 billion in agricultural losses in Nebraska. The summer 2020 derecho that caused severe damage in Iowa began west of Omaha.

Why This Race Matters: Bacon is a climate denier who tries to greenwash his record but has no plan to address the climate crisis. Eastman supports bold action on climate as a moral imperative and to protect our health and the economy, including Nebraska’s agricultural sector.

Cook Political Report Rating: Republican Toss Up, R+4

South Carolina – 1st District: Rep. Joe Cunningham (D) v. Nancy Mace (R) 

The 1st district, long a GOP stronghold, comprises areas of Charleston and coastal areas including Hilton Head Island. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the district by 14 points. Climate and energy issues, especially offshore drilling, have played a prominent role in both the 2018 and 2020 campaigns.

As the Post-Courier headlined, “Climate change views could be a decider in the Mace- Cunningham SC congressional race”. First-term incumbent Rep. Joe Cunningham is a former ocean engineer who is “hell-bent on protecting our shorelines from offshore drilling.” Cunningham is an outspoken advocate for science and climate action and has made climate a centerpiece of his campaign. Cunningham closing ad, The Right Way, features his 2-year-old son and a commitment to protect South Carolina coastlines. He’s also advertised about banning off-shore drilling.

Nancy Mace is a climate skeptic who denies that the science on climate change is settled. The House Majority PAC ran an ad titled in Charleston SC and Savannah, which attacked Mace for supporting offshore drilling. Additionally, LCV Victory Fund and the Environmental Defense Action Fund ran ads attacking Mace for her position on off-shore drilling and taking money from corporate polluters.

Total ad spending on climate, energy, and conservation issues from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1:  $2,480,348.

Key Quotes:

  • Joe Cunningham: “Climate change is one of the greatest nonmilitary threats facing our nation. Here in the Lowcountry, we see the effects of climate change every time our streets flood, our fishermen find it harder to make a living and our community is hit with harsher storms. There is no “both sides” when it comes to science on this issue, as Rep. Mace insists, and we cannot allow facts to take a backseat to fringe rhetoric.”
  • Nancy Mace: “I still have questions of how much it is man-made and how much of it is natural.”

Climate Consequences: From sea-level rise to sunny day flooding in Charleston to supercharged hurricanes, South Carolina’s coastal resources are at risk from the ravages of the climate crisis.

Why This Race Matters: South Carolina’s Low Country understands how real the climate crisis is because they’re living with its impacts. Even though South Carolina is a deep red state, its first-hand experience with climate change sent Joe Cunningham, a climate change champion, to Congress and is set to do it again.

Cook Political Report Rating: Lean Democratic, R+10

Texas – 24th District: Candace Valenzuela (D) v. Beth Van Duyne (R) 

This is an open seat race located in a district in the northern suburbs of Dallas-Fort Worth that is currently represented by longtime GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant, a staunch defender of Big Oil and opponent of climate action.

Candace Valenzuela is campaigning on climate action and “Protecting the Environment”. Valenzuela recorded a video of her personal experience with climate change for Climate Power, in which she discusses the air pollution living in North Texas and her kids needing breathing treatments. Valenzuela clearly lays out the stakes and states, “My climate story is not unique. We have to adapt.” She would be the first-ever Afro-Latina elected to Congress.

Beth Van Duyne, Valenzuela’s opponent, ran an ad titled “Energy Jobs” in Dallas, which attacks Valenzuela for supporting climate action. While Van Duyne asserts climate change is “undeniable”, she questions whether it is man-made. League of Conservation Voters is running an ad showcasing Van Duyne’s support for Trump and their reliance on polluter donations.

Total ad spending on climate, energy, and conservation issues from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1: $4,640,163.

Key Quotes:

  • Candace Valenzuela: “We need to do everything we can to combat climate change while we still have the chance. We need to focus on investing in renewable energy options, such as solar, wind, and geothermal, while massively reducing our dependence on coal, gas, and oil. Yes, even in Texas.”
  • Beth Van Duyne: “The fact that our climate is changing is undeniable. Indeed it has been changing since the end of the last Ice Age and on a warming trend since the end of the little ice age hundreds of years ago.”

Climate Consequences:Refinery row” and the Houston ship channel are examples of where oil refineries are located next to predominantly Black and Latino communities. Trump has made toxic exposure worse for these frontline communities having waived environmental safeguards and giving refineries and industrial facilities an “open license to pollute.” In Houston’s most heavily industrialized areas, air pollutants surged as much as 62% after Trump’s rollback, according to a Texas A&M analysis of air monitoring stations.

Why This Race Matters: Valenzuela’s personal experience with the consequences of environmental racism and how it impacts Black and Brown communities would add a missing perspective in the urgency for climate action.

Cook Political Report Rating: Republican Toss Up, R+9