WASHINGTON -- Environmentalists are poised to become the second-biggest contributor to the effort to elect Democrat Terry McAuliffe as the next governor of Virginia, trailing only the Democratic Governors Association in spending on his campaign.
The Virginia League of Conservation Voters has spent nearly a million dollars on the race between McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican attorney general, according to campaign records from the Virginia Public Access Project. Jeff Gohringer, press secretary for the national League of Conservation Voters, said that the group has contributed $1.9 million to the state league in both cash and in-kind contributions this election cycle across all races. The Sierra Club launched its own anti-Cuccinelli efforts as well.
Polling heading into Tuesday's election shows McAuliffe with a 6-point lead over Cuccinelli.
Cuccinelli has been a particularly popular target for environmental groups, given his outspoken denial of climate change. In his role as attorney general, Cuccinelli attempted to subpoena the records and emailed correspondence of a former University of Virginia climate scientist, accusing him of fraud in his climate research. That climate scientist, Michael Mann, has been campaigning against Cuccinelli in the state.
"We got involved in this race because of climate change," said LCV's Gohringer.
"[Cuccinelli] is one of the most vocal climate deniers in the country. To defeat him would send a signal to other climate change deniers, and also highlight the growing environmental movement."
The McAuliffe campaign has also criticized Cuccinelli's climate change denial in television ads that accuse the Republican of being too extreme for Virginia.
The Virginia League of Conservation Voters' political action committee is also running a field program that it characterized as the largest effort by an outside group this year -- with volunteers making an estimated 300,000 canvassing visits over the course of the campaign -- one-third of them in the final five days of the race, according to Gohringer.
McAuliffe has been accused of waffling on coal and greenhouse gas emissions over the years. He did not come out in support of the EPA's new rules for coal-fired power plants until early last month. His opponent quickly seized on the statement as part of a "war on coal."
"I think we've seen Terry McAuliffe unafraid to really lean into these issues throughout the campaign, talking about climate change, supporting the EPA," said Gohringer. "He's been a champion throughout the campaign. It's been a dividing line between the candidates."
The League of Conservation Voters was a significant spender in the Virginia Senate race last year, as well, contributing $2 million to help Democrat Tim Kaine defeat Republican George Allen. The group and its affiliates spent a record $14 million on the 2012 election.