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Ted Cruz: Can a climate change skeptic win in 2016? (+video)

Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz has the conservative credentials to excite grassroots Republicans – but could he win in 2016? His views on climate change, energy, and environmental policy may complicate matters.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas announced his bid for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination Monday in a speech at Liberty University, an evangelical college in Virginia, with a campaign touting policies that will endear him to conservatives and rankle environmentalists.

But even if the Tea Party firebrand manages to capture the GOP nomination – which many say is a long shot – his skepticism on climate change could complicate his presidential hopes.

Staking a position on climate change is a dilemma facing many GOP presidential hopefuls. The party lacks a coherent message on the issue, which is increasingly important to the US electorate. While Republicans have been clear and aggressive in pursuing energy policies that foster domestic oil and gas production, the party has been less uniform about how – or even if – emissions from those sources should be curtailed. The majority of voters – and, critically for Cruz, most Republicans – back government action to curb global warming, according to a January New York Times poll.

“I think there will be a political problem for the Republican Party going into 2016 if we don’t define what we are for on the environment,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina, who has worked on climate legislation with Democrats, told Roll Call in November. “I don’t know what the environmental policy of the Republican Party is.”

Though he voted for an amendment in January stating climate change is real, Mr. Cruz has repeatedly questioned the role humans play in it. Cruz has said global warming is not supported by data, despite scientific consensus to the contrary. And though questioning climate science polls poorly with the general electorate – only 27 percent were more likely to vote for a candidate staking such a position – the New York Times poll found 49 percent of Tea Party voters were more likely to pick a candidate who avoids taking a stand on climate change.

In other words: “It recruits more Tea Partyers than it repels,” Jon Krosnick, a professor of political science at Stanford University and author of the survey, told the New York Times.

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Enter Cruz, whose path to the White House will require a groundswell of Tea Party support.  

"I just came back from New Hampshire, where there's snow and ice everywhere,” Cruz told Seth Meyers on “Late Night” last week, responding to a question about climate change. “My view on this is simple: Debates on this should follow science and should follow data, and many of the alarmists on global warming, they have a problem because the science doesn't back them up.”

Democrats have slammed Cruz for his skepticism, saying his doubts undermine his entire candidacy.

“That man betokens such a level of ignorance and a direct falsification of the existing scientific data,” Gov. Jerry Brown (D) of California said on "Meet the Press" Sunday, the day before Cruz formally announced his candidacy. “It’s shocking and I think that man has rendered himself absolutely unfit to be running for office.”

Beyond climate change, energy and environmental issues are central to Cruz’s efforts to distinguish himself from the GOP establishment and excite libertarian and Tea Party voters. Cruz highlights two key job- and opportunity-creating policies on his 2016 website to do just that: Killing the US Export-Import Bank, which he says subsidizes “corporate fat cats,” and repealing the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a subsidy supporting Ethanol.

The only cause he lists before those is repealing the Affordable Care Act, which he memorably tried to defund in 2013 with a 21-hour speech that included a dramatic reading of Green Eggs and Ham. ("They did not like Obamacare in a box, with a fox, in a house, with a mouse," Cruz said, voicing many Americans’ opposition to Obama’s signature healthcare law.)

Though obscure, both the Export-Import Bank and the RFS resonate with anti-big government strands within the GOP, and will help Cruz invigorate grassroots Tea Party activists. But those positions could also pose problems for Cruz – especially in ethanol-producing Iowa, a critical early caucus state for those seeking their party’s presidential nomination.

Cruz also boasts the usual array of GOP energy priorities. He opposes President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to slash US power plant emissions 30 percent by 2030, has proposed lifting wholesale the decades-old ban on US oil exports, and backs the Keystone XL pipeline.

"Imagine America finally becoming energy self-sufficient as millions and millions of high-paying jobs are created," Cruz said in his speech Monday, according to a transcript.

Cruz will need to cobble together a coalition of conservatives, evangelical Christians, and defense hawks to capture the GOP nomination over more establishment-friendly candidates like former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) of Florida.

Though he’s a longshot in the primaries, even if he fails to rise in the polls his policies could pull other candidates to the right on energy and the environment.

“The political shift that has given Cruz a name and notoriety in Washington could give him that same influence on the campaign trail,” The Monitor’s Mark Sappenfield writes. “Not every candidate for president can be a favorite. Some are there to stir things up. On that score, few could doubt Cruz's credentials.”

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