Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) emerged triumphant in a mock Iowa caucus held Friday by climate activists.
The group Climate Mobilization organized the event, where proxies representing each Democratic candidate addressed 120 climate activists gathered at Des Moines' Central Campus high school. In the end, Sanders earned 80 votes to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's 15 and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's 13. Twelve voters were undecided.
Jean Ross, the co-president of National Nurses United, rallied voters for Sanders, while former Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin spoke for Clinton, and Bridget Hunter spoke for O'Malley, her brother.
It may have been a symbolic victory, but Sanders leads the polls in Iowa among people most concerned about climate change. A Quinnipiac poll released Monday found Sanders ahead of Clinton 66 percent to 30 percent among Democrats who list climate change as the most important issue driving their vote. And a full 11 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers said that climate was the most important issue for them -- making it the third-ranking issue, after the economy and health care.
Sanders has gained endorsements of environmental groups, like Friends of the Earth Action, as well as the founder of the group 350.org, Bill McKibben. The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund has endorsed Clinton.
Climate activists say that Sanders, who has called climate change a "major crisis," has made the issue more of a priority than Clinton. He has endorsed a carbon tax and was an early opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline. While Clinton also came out against Keystone, many criticized her for waiting too long to do so.
A number of climate activists have gone to work for the Sanders campaign. Claire Sandberg, his national digital organizing director, previously worked on climate at the Rainforest Action Network. Becky Bond, the political director of CREDO, is on leave to work for Sanders. Both Sanders' eastern regional digital organizing director, Jon Warnow, and his southern regional digital organizing director, Daniel Souweine, come from the climate movement.
Sanders' New Hampshire communications director, Karthik Ganapathy, is on leave from 350.org. Ganapathy said Sanders' work on climate is what drove him to join the campaign. That's true for many of his colleagues as well.
"Whether it's helping to lead the fight against Keystone XL from day one, introducing a bill to keep fossil fuels in the ground, or being the only candidate in this race to oppose fracking, Bernie Sanders has been leading on climate issues long before they started polling well," Ganapathy said in an email.
"Climate voters overwhelmingly support Sanders because he treats global warming as the existential threat that it is," said Brad Johnson, executive director of Climate Hawks Vote, a political action group that backs candidates who will make climate a priority. "Iowans know that Sanders' climate leadership stands in stark contrast to Clinton's record of embracing Wall Street's pollution profiteers and fracking financiers. When Bernie goes after the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil, voters know he means it."
It's hard to tell if Sanders' climate positions will matter when Iowans caucus Monday night.
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