Key races upend conventional wisdom, reveal climate action is a winning issue

Strong advocates for clean energy defeat Republican opponents across the country.

Rep. Jared Polis (D) addresses supporters in Denver after being elected Colorado governor November 6, 2018. CREDIT: JASON CONNOLLY/AFP/Getty Images.
Rep. Jared Polis (D) addresses supporters in Denver after being elected Colorado governor November 6, 2018. CREDIT: JASON CONNOLLY/AFP/Getty Images.

With midterm election results still coming in late Tuesday night, several decisive victories pointed to a clear trend: candidates who embraced policies to fight climate change and expand clean energy won the favor of voters.

In 2016, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), a climate science denier, won reelection by nearly 20 points. Election Night 2018 was a different story, however. Roskam was easily defeated by Democrat Sean Casten — a clean energy entrepreneur who made climate action and clean energy his signature issue. Casten earned 53 percent of the votes, compared to Roskam’s 47 percent.

Casten told voters that global warming is “the single biggest existential threat we face as a species,” and he ran a campaign ad criticizing Donald Trump for calling climate change “a hoax.”

In the Colorado governor’s race, Democrat Jared Polis campaigned on a commitment to transition the state to 100 percent clean energy by 2040 “for our climate, for our national security, for our health, and for our economic growth.” It would be the most ambitious state target in the country, but the state is uniquely rich in both wind and solar power, as well as being home to the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory.


Polis easily defeated Walker Stapleton, George W. Bush’s second cousin and a strong proponent of developing fossil fuels in the state.

In the New Mexico governor’s race, Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham advocated for the state’s grid to be half renewable energy by 2030 — a sharp contrast to term-limited Gov. Susana Martinez (R) who repeatedly vetoed pro-solar energy bills passed by the state legislature.

Tuesday night, Grisham easily defeated GOP Rep. Steve Pearce, who ran an oilfield services company before becoming a congressman — and whose single biggest source of campaign cash over his career has been the oil and gas industry.

“I want to move us to a renewable portfolio that gets us to a 50 percent renewable standard by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040,” Grisham told the NM Political Report in April. “I want to have New Mexico join the Paris Climate Accord.”

On one level, these results should not be surprising. Polling has long shown that climate action and clean energy are winning issues. One recent survey found that 71 percent of independents were more likely to support a candidate who favored taking action on climate change.


But on another level, these results defy the conventional wisdom of the media and countless political pundits that climate change is not a winning issue.

Governorships are especially important in the Trump era, since they can advance clean energy and climate action at the state level even as the President undermines both at the federal level.

Hopefully, the results of the 2018 election will send a powerful signal to politicians of all parties that the voters want to see progress on climate action and clean energy.