Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate to target Florida, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio in 2016

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Tom Steyer, a California billionaire who spent nearly $20 million in a failed attempt to block Gov. Rick Scott’s November re-election because of his stance on climate change, plans to target battleground states including Florida during the 2016 presidential race, his political strategists said Monday.

Steyer’s NextGen Climate PAC will feature sea level rise in Miami to target U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and seek to paint the Republican Party as being controlled by industrialists Charles and David Koch, said Chris Lehane, chief strategist with NextGen Climate.

Lehane spoke with reporters during a national conference call to announce the organization’s “Hot Seat” strategy for climate deniers. Asked how much Steyer will contribute in the 2016 election, Lehane said Steyer will do “what it takes” to boost climate change as an issue in target states.

Lehane said he thinks former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is “particularly vulnerable” on the climate change issue because he’s from Florida.

“He claims not to believe in the science,” Lehane said of Bush. “I think it’s particularly interesting he is from a state that will be particularly impacted by it (climate change).”

Lehane said Bush is struggling to gain support for his message that he is the most electable of the possible Republican candidates for president.

“I think it is really hard to run an electability campaign,” Lehane said, “when you’re talking about the fact you need to generate more support from young voters when you are taking a position that is a defining issue for young voters — that is going to be a signifier as to why they shouldn’t support him.”

NextGen Climate will seek to paint the Republican Party as a branch of Koch Industries and its conservative activist leaders. NexGen Climate, Lehane said, will feature in swing states local issues such as pollution of the St. Johns River by a Koch Industries plant, an apparent reference to the Georgia-Pacific Corp. plant in Palatka.

“We are going to take swings at a number of candidates that are throwing us hanging curve balls on a regular basis,” Lehane said, in a reference to the start of the Major League Baseball season this week. A Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman has been asked to comment in response.

With Rubio expected to announce his candidacy next week from Miami, NextGen climate will feature panoramic views of Miami as “a city that will be underwater, just like Charleston, Norfolk and Tampa,” Lehane said.

In recent years Steyer has spent $100 million to $130 million on climate issues in campaigns, Lehane said. Still, he compared Steyer to David facing a Goliath of oil industry support for Republican candidates who don’t want to address climate change.

“Whatever Tom is going to spend, again he has made it clear he will spend what it takes; it still is a drop in the big oil bucket compared to what the other side is spending,” Lehane said.

“We’re up against the most well-resourced special interests I think in the history of democracy. And they will do whatever it takes to try to rig the system to keep in place an approach that generates enormous amounts of money for them regardless of its impact on our economic health, national security, regardless of the impact on our kids.”

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee.