Mary Landrieu of Louisiana has one of the lowest lifetime scores from LCV among Senate Democrats. In Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes has positioned herself as a stalwart supporter of coal and a regular critic of the Environmental Protection Agency, even as she's running against one of the green movement's biggest enemies: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In 2011, Arkansas's Mark Pryor was one of only three Senate Democrats to support an amendment offered by McConnell that weakened EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases.
Those realities have forced environmentalists to debate whether they can get behind Democratic senators who have taken tough votes on many of their priorities but will assuredly bolt on several other high-profile issues. Mark Begich of Alaska and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, for example, both voted to uphold EPA's authority to maintain air-pollution standards and backed increased funding for renewable energy. But they're also on board with the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, which environmentalists vigorously oppose.
Meanwhile, red-state Senate Democrats could use financial support from outside groups, but not at the expense of undermining their carefully crafted message that they're pro-energy — and not beholden to the national Democratic agenda.
"We haven't made decisions for 2014," said LCV spokesman Jeff Gohringer. "What we've seen this year is that the momentum from last cycle is real, but our issues are playing well across the country, including some red states."¦ We still see a path to defend the firewall in the Senate."
In a sign of the hard choices facing the environmental movement in 2014, the group didn't go after any Senate Republicans on the ballot next year in its first ad blitz of the year. Instead, it spent more than $2 million in August attacking Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, who's not up for reelection until 2016, along with several vulnerable House Republicans in swing districts. The only Senate candidate it has endorsed is Brian Schatz in Hawaii, who faces no serious GOP opposition.
By far the biggest decision for the LCV is whether to get involved in the Kentucky Senate race against one of its archenemies, McConnell. The problem: The Democratic nominee, Lundergan Grimes, is unlikely to be publicly supportive of any element of the green agenda — a political necessity in an energy-rich, coal-producing state. Getting behind her campaign would violate one of the group's maxims during the 2012 elections: Only get involved for true environmental champions, not just to replace a pro-drilling Republican with a squishier Democrat.
Several Democratic strategists posited that LCV may end up making McConnell one of its top targets, without openly advocating for Grimes. The group followed a similar strategy in 2008, when it opposed Ted Stevens in Alaska without backing Begich, his Democratic opponent. Begich won, and has become a surprising ally on numerous environmental issues.