Gary Peters, Terri Lynn Land — May 14, 2014 at 9:13 am

Michigan’s U.S. Senate race is now one of the most important elections in the country


A willingness to confront reality is on the ballot


Rep. Gary Peters has become the first U.S. candidate in a close race to call out his Republican opponent’s stand on global warming.

“This is something elected officials should be talking about — we have to be concerned about it,” Peters told The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent. “Certainly the voters would like to know where she is. It’s a major issue. I think the science shows overwhelmingly that human activities have contributed a great deal towards climate change.”

In a statement to Sargent, likely Republican nominee Terri Lynn Land called for a “healthy and educated debate on the impact of human activity on our environment,” which the Daily Kos‘ Jed Lewison points out is the “polite” way to deny science without saying the actual words.

Sargent notes that Michigan is unique in its dependence on the Great Lakes, which are showing disturbing effects of climate change. But it’s also a crucial swing state.

If a Democrat can win by challenging his opponent’s science know-nothingness in an off-year, it means the GOP’s hopes of making the state competitive in a presidential year with their current views on climate change are dead. Republicans may be forced to recalibrate their anti-science views back to 2007, when the science was less alarming and conservatives weren’t afraid to accept some climate reality.

Or in the least, gobbledygook climate change denials like we’re hearing from Land and Marco Rubio will become a serious liability for Republican candidates.

Peters taking a strong stand on the environment connects not only connects to his record, it also gives voters a narrative to help understand why the Republican Party’s biggest backers are out to destroy his candidacy.

At Michigan’s Jefferson Jackson dinner in April, Peters explained his first confrontation with the Koch brothers over the giant cloud of petcoke dust that Koch Industries generously donated to the skies over Detroit.

Since he became the likely Democratic nominee to replace retiring U.S. Senator Carl Levin, Peters has gotten payback from the brothers in the form of millions of dollars in Obamacare attack ads from the Koch-backed “social welfare non-profit” Americans for Prosperity.

The ads seemed to be working — for a while. Land briefly took the lead in the polls, even though she has avoided any public appearances that would force her to illuminate her hazy views. For instance, Land told Sargent in February that she supports Michigan’s Medicaid expansion but has in no way clarified how that aligns with her “full repeal” posture.

As Obamacare’s enrollment numbers exceeded expectations and the Senate Majority PAC connected Land’s agenda to the Koch brothers, Peters has regained a lead in the polls.

Last week Land tried to reshape the race with ads attacking Peters opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline polls well, even though it only creates a handful of permanent jobs while possibly raising gas prices in the Midwest and threatening the kind of disastrous spills we saw in Kalamazoo.

This sudden pivot to an issue that does not directly effect Michiganders provided Peters the chance to stand by his vote last year to oppose the pipeline and to connect the issue to the broader climate crisis, which actually affects this state.

Terri Lynn Land hoped to make this election about attacking Democrats for trying to get people health insurance. As that issue faded and hundreds of thousands of residents have gained Medicaid expansion, she spun the dial for another issue and ended up on Keystone.

By taking up Land’s challenge, Peters has made this election about more than preserving Carl Levin’s legacy. Now it’s about whether a nation can remain divided over overwhelming scientific evidence.