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Inside Dems' climate sales pitch

Illustration of a bullhorn resting on top of a stack of one hundred dollar bills.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Democrats think they've done so much climate policy under President Biden that it's difficult to tell voters about their accomplishments.

Why it matters: The IRA and infrastructure law are linchpins of Biden's reelection campaign — but it's proving tough to get people excited about climate spending when so many are unaware of both measures.

Driving the news: Former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer acknowledged that Democrats' achievements from the last Congress aren't "showing up in the polls" because "people continue to be fixated, as any family would be, on gasoline prices [and] on grocery prices."

  • "Part of our challenge is we did so much and the inclination is to tell people how broad it is, but they, I'm sure, get overwhelmed by this," Hoyer told Axios.
  • Rep. Lori Trahan added: "You could argue the president was almost too successful in getting his priorities across the finish line."

Context: A WaPo-led poll conducted in July found that only 3 in 10 Americans had heard of the Inflation Reduction Act.

  • The next month, a WSJ poll of registered voters found more than half believed Biden did not have a "strong record of accomplishments."
  • Republicans say the IRA isn't popular because it's riddled with flaws.
  • Democrats "sold hard-working Americans a bill of goods," said Steven Law, the Senate Leadership Fund's CEO, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. "They promised an economic panacea; what we got is looming job losses and higher prices."

Threat level: IRA awareness isn't just an electoral issue. It's necessary for the law to succeed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Key IRA programs, including efficiency rebates and the EV consumer tax credit, rely heavily on consumer awareness.
  • Unlike the Affordable Care Act, the IRA didn't fund any system to engage with Americans to help them understand how they can benefit from the law, said Ari Matusiak, CEO of Rewiring America, a nonprofit that promotes home electrification.
  • Groups like Rewiring are picking up the slack through offerings like a household electrification savings calculator.
  • "There's a big difference between reaching people and them ultimately taking an action," he said, "but a big piece of this is just educating people about what's available to them."

What they're saying: Asked about the message to market these laws, Democrats pointed to individual projects in their districts.

  • "The only way to sell it is to show people the on-the-ground effect of all of this," Rep. Dan Kildee told Axios.

Zoom in: Hoyer is running an operation to try to sell those achievements — the Regional Leadership Council. Its cadre of members, including Trahan, meets regularly with administration officials and other lawmakers to coordinate data sharing and sales tactics.

  • Some of the RLC's work has included preparing info sheets that map out individual infrastructure and manufacturing investments by congressional district.
  • The RLC is trying to make sure the Biden administration and lawmakers who could benefit from IRA projects in their districts are amplifying the benefits cohesively, said Rep. Jared Huffman.
  • "We've got to look for those examples and really lift them up, but then talk about the bigger thing that's happening economywide — the industrial policy shift that is going to bring even more and more of that good news our way," said Huffman, an RLC member.

The big picture: In 2024, the IRA might be about motivating the base rather than convincing swing voters.

  • "The scale of this election is going to be the same as it was last time," said Nick Abraham, senior state communications director at LCV. "Protecting the most we've ever done on climate is incredibly important."
  • An example of that messaging: LCV put up ads targeting GOP lawmakers in New York and California who voted for H.R. 1, the House Republican energy bill.

Of note: Biden's creation of the American Climate Corps might be a bigger selling point for younger progressives than the IRA, said Michele Weindling, electoral director for the Sunrise Movement.

  • "Biden has our generation's attention now because of some of the bold choices he's made, like the ACC," she said.
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