In a year when the country experienced its worst oil spill ever, the environment has nonetheless been largely a non-issue in this fall’s hard-fought congressional elections. Until yesterday, perhaps.
Two of New Jersey’s longtime Democratic congressmen facing tough re-election fights won endorsements from some of the state’s most prominent environmental organizations. The timing suggests the candidates hope the backing will swing women and independents, who typically decide closely contested races in the state.
Indeed, one of the groups, the New Jersey Sierra Club, had originally endorsed both Rep. Rush Holt (12th District) and Rep. Frank Pallone (6th District) in February, according to executive director Jeff Tittel. But the club held off holding a public event with either candidate until yesterday, when it endorsed Holt over challenger Scott Sipprelle.
It was joined at the Statehouse press conference by the New Jersey Environmental Federation, which also will back Pallone on Thursday at an event in Long Branch. Pallone, first elected in 1988, is opposed by Anna Little, a Republican from Highlands who is running with Tea Party backing.
A Monmouth County poll released yesterday found Pallone ahead of the challenger by 52 to 47 among likely voters, a loss from a previous poll that showed the incumbent with a 12-point lead. Tittel said the late endorsement matters less than pointing out differences between the challengers and the incumbents.
“These Tea Party candidates and many Republicans don’t believe in climate change and support offshore oil drilling,” Tittel said. “The idea is to show how out of the mainstream these candidates are.”
Siprelle, a former executive in the financial services industry, said global climate change is not one of his top priorities and favors offshore drilling. An effort to get a response from Sipprelle’s campaign was not answered.
Little’s website says she opposes legislation to control greenhouse gas emissions because it is essentially a “power and money grab based on the false premise of man-made global climate change.”
David Pringle, campaign director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, said his organization is realistic enough to recognize that the environment is not going to be the top issue for voters year in and year out, even given the tremendous news coverage given the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Still, he was not surprised both Pallone and Holt decided to raise the issue in the final week of the campaign.
“The fact that both candidates want to talk about the environment a week before the election is a good thing for the environment and a good thing politically,’’ he said.
In addition to the Sierra Club and the Environmental Federation, Environment New Jersey also announced endorsements yesterday, backing both Pallone and Holt, and Rep. John Adler (3rd District), a first-term Democrat who is locked in a close race with Jon Runyan, a former Philadelphia Eagle’s player.
Dena Mottola Jabroska, the group’s executive director, said it is not surprising most of the debate in the congressional elections has focused around jobs and the economy, given the state’s economic condition.
“It doesn’t change the fact, however, that all three of these candidates have great environment records,’’ she said. “Our congressmen took a stand against big oil and supported climate change. If other congressmen from other areas had taken a similar stance, we’d have a climate change bill today.”