Sierra Club Launches Patriotic-Themed Ads Targeting Mostly GOP Candidates

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - A national environmental group on Monday announced the imminent launch of a patriotic-themed television ad campaig targeting candidates in hotly contested Senate and congressional races this election year.

The ads, scheduled to run June 26 through July 3, blast seven Republicans -- Sens. Wayne Allard (Co.) and Gordon Smith (Ore.) along with Reps. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Greg Ganske (Iowa), Tom Latham (Iowa), John Sununu (N.H.) and John Thune (S.D.) -- for their voting record on environmental issues.

Only one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), is praised by the Sierra Club for her votes against opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling and against a GOP-lead effort to relax fuel economy regulations on new cars.

Collins has, by contrast, garnered a lifetime voting rating of 58 percent from the American Conservative Union.

Three Democrats, on the other hand, are praised in the Sierra Club ads: Sens. Jean Carnahan (Mo.) and Paul Wellstone (Minn.), both in close races with GOP opponents, along with Rep. Bill Luther (D-Minn.).

The ads feature a patriotic red-white-and-blue theme that shows images of red flowers, white polar bears and blue waters.

None of the ads encourage voters to vote for or against any of the named candidates, but instead urge them to either thank their elected official or else urge them to improve their voting record on environmental issues.

The group's political director, Margaret Conway, said the ads are meant to hold elected officials accountable, highlighting voting records and educating voters-"to show the public who is protecting America the beautiful and who is not."

Conway refused to say how much the Sierra Club was spending on this round of ads other than "several million" and a "slightly smaller" amount than in the 2000 presidential election year.

It will be "significant buys in major media markets," she said.

Conway said this round of ads will be followed up with more ads, direct mail and stepped up get-out-the-vote grassroots efforts as the November election draws closer. The Sierra Club opposed the McCain-Feingold restrictions put on issue advocacy, which go into effect in the next election cycle.

While none of the ads mention President Bush, Conway blamed the Bush administration for spearheading the issues highlighted by the ad campaign.

"In the last 18 months, Americans have grown outraged as the Bush administration has threatened to allow more arsenic in our drinking water and, recently, to allow more asthma-causing smog in our air," she said.

"This administration has sought to open our national parks and monuments to more drilling and exploration," Conway said. "And they let polluters off the hook. These are not the all-American values that we expect of our elected officials."

Environmental issues will be one of the defining issues of this election year, along with Social Security, Medicare prescription drugs and education, says Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, speaking at a Sierra Club news conference.

The president, for example, recently talked about protecting the Everglades and oil drilling in Florida while campaigning for his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), and then coastal drilling in California while stumping for GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, said Mellman.

"The reality is you don't have presidential visits on issues that aren't terribly significant," he said. "And you don't see candidates spend their precious campaign advertisements [on issues] that aren't very meaningful to the voters in their states.

"What we're seeing in this election cycle...[is] environmental issues play an extraordinarily important role already in this election cycle," Mellman said.

Carl Forte, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, disagreed.

"In the end people are going to vote more on issues like homeland security, the economy and education than they are about the environment," said Forte.

In any event, he said, it's "too early in the [election] cycle" to be running such ads. "You're still five months out from election day. The Sierra Club is wasting its money.

"And...a lot of people know that the Sierra Club is a front group for the Democratic Party," Forte added.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Dan Allen criticized the Sierra Club for putting Mellman, a partisan pollster, front and center in announcing the ostensibly nonpartisan ad campaign.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll of adults conducted in January found that 42 percent of Americans said protecting the environment should be a high priority for the president and Congress, while only 17 percent said it should be given the highest priority.

The economy, Social Security, health care, education and national security all scored higher in that poll.

When it comes to protecting the environment, a Bloomberg poll of adults in April found that only 26 percent trusted Bush most, 14 percent favored congressional Republicans, while 45 percent placed most trust in congressional Democrats.

On the specific issue of drilling in the ANWR, a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll of registered voters done in February found that 55 percent favored the idea compared with 35 percent opposed. However, a later Gallup poll of adults (rather than registered voters) produced nearly the opposite results.

See Earlier Stories:

Sierra Club Rallies Capitol Hill Against ANWR (March 05, 2002)
Senate Says No to CAFE Standards (March 13, 2002)

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