Could Tom Steyer’s Anti-Keystone Campaign Help Mary Landrieu? She Thinks So.

Senator Mary Landrieu (C), D-LA, speaks during a a press conference on the Keystone XL pipeline in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on February 4, 2014 in Washington, DC. Looking on are (from left): Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, and Canada's Ambassador to the US Gary Doer. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Amy Harder
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Amy Harder
Feb. 17, 2014, 3:05 p.m.

Polit­ics are turn­ing up­side down in the Louisi­ana Sen­ate race, where Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bent Mary Landrieu finds her­self un­der at­tack from a deep-pock­eted and well-con­nec­ted en­vir­on­ment­al­ist.

Tom Stey­er, a bil­lion­aire hedge-fund in­vestor turned en­vir­on­ment­al act­iv­ist, may launch an ad­vert­ising cam­paign pan­ning Landrieu for sup­port­ing the Key­stone XL pipeline. The three-term sen­at­or seek­ing reelec­tion in a state much red­der than it was six years ago says Stey­er’s cri­ti­cism could ac­tu­ally help her win.

“It would prob­ably help me in my state if he would run his ads,” Landrieu said in an in­ter­view shortly after tak­ing the gavel to the Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee last week. Her think­ing is that voters who live in a state de­pend­ent on oil and nat­ur­al gas like Louisi­ana would like a can­did­ate more if she’s fa­cing cri­ti­cism from the en­vir­on­ment­al Left for sup­port­ing a pro­ject that would foster more pet­ro­leum-re­lated en­ergy pro­duc­tion, which the 1,700-mile cross-bor­der pipeline would do.

Re­pub­lic­ans, who see win­ning Louisi­ana as a key step in their quest to re­gain con­trol of the Sen­ate, are spin­ning it the oth­er way. Rob Collins, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee, says that Stey­er could ac­tu­ally end up help­ing Landrieu’s main GOP chal­lenger, Rep. Bill Cas­sidy, win the race.

“Hav­ing a couple mil­lion dol­lars say­ing you’re do­ing the wrong thing on the en­vir­on­ment are dog-whistle ads,” Collins said in an in­ter­view. “People who care about the en­vir­on­ment will hear it, and those who don’t will miss it.” That means, Collins con­cluded, en­vir­on­ment-minded voters may stay at home, in­stead of vot­ing for Landrieu, whom they’re “pre­dis­posed” to vote for ini­tially. “It may not show up in the pro-Cas­sidy vote, but it could have the ef­fect of vote-com­press­ing” on Landrieu’s side, Collins said.

As for Landrieu’s line of think­ing — that Stey­er could ac­tu­ally help her win — Collins said: “I could see the lo­gic. I don’t think it ac­tu­ally bears out.”

Bri­an Wil­lis, a spokes­man rep­res­ent­ing Stey­er’s su­per PAC, Nex­t­Gen Cli­mate, de­clined to com­ment for this story. He also wouldn’t con­firm when Stey­er will de­cide wheth­er to tar­get Landrieu.

Tout­ing a web­site earli­er this month, Stey­er’s group is call­ing on In­ter­net users to help choose a can­did­ate for the group to tar­get in its next TV ad. Oth­ers on the list to choose from in­clude three Sen­ate hope­fuls: Rep. Shel­ley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; former Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Mike Rounds of South Dakota; and Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga. An­oth­er po­ten­tial tar­get is Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., who is up for reelec­tion in 2016.

Stey­er’s pre­vi­ous ef­forts in­clude cam­paigns cri­ti­ciz­ing the op­pon­ents of now-Sen. Ed­ward Mar­key, D-Mass., and Demo­crat­ic now-Gov. Terry McAul­life of Vir­gin­ia.

As the first and so far only Demo­crat in Stey­er’s line of fire this year, Landrieu is the most in­ter­est­ing — and ris­ki­est — po­ten­tial tar­get he’s con­sidered yet. Stey­er isn’t the only bil­lion­aire tar­get­ing Louisi­ana’s seni­or sen­at­or though.

Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity, a con­ser­vat­ive or­gan­iz­a­tion fun­ded by the bil­lion­aire Koch broth­ers, has already spent $2.6 mil­lion against her, fo­cus­ing mostly on her sup­port for Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law.

“I have bil­lion­aires on both sides, and I’m ex­actly where I should be, which is right in the middle,” Landrieu said. “I don’t think people are even­tu­ally go­ing to pay a lot of at­ten­tion to these bil­lion­aires on both sides.”

The Key­stone XL pipeline would send more than 700,000 bar­rels of oil a day from Canada’s tar sands to Gulf Coast re­finer­ies. The south­ern part of the pro­ject is already op­er­at­ing, but the top half needs ap­prov­al from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to cross the Canada-U.S. bor­der. It’s been pending at the State De­part­ment for more than five years. A fi­nal de­cision could come as soon as this spring or sum­mer.

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