Just in case Floridians needed reminding, 16 years ago Al Gore lost the presidency by just 537 votes in the state — in part because more than 97,000 people voted for third-party candidate Ralph Nader.
Hillary Clinton wants no Floridian to forget: She’s bringing Gore to Miami with her Tuesday as a not-so-gentle hint that in a tight election, protest votes can have grave consequences.
The state purpose for his appearance is to emphasize the climate-change threat to young voters. His 2006 documentary on the subject, “An Inconvenient Truth,” won an Oscar.
Clinton plans to share the stage with the former vice president for the first time Tuesday, on the next-to-last day to register to vote in Florida. They’re scheduled to appear at 3 p.m. at Miami Dade College’s Kendall Campus.
“Gore will discuss the urgent threat posed by climate change and lay out the high stakes of November’s election,” Clinton’s team said in a statement.
But if seeing Gore happens to remind a few of those young voters about what can happen if they cast their ballots for third-party candidates — well, that’s a little bonus.
“Gore is also a reminder of the stakes, of how close the 2000 election was,” said Fernand Amandi, a Democratic pollster not working for Clinton who has polled about climate change in Miami-Dade County. “‘Don’t pull a Ralph Nader.’”
In 2000, Nader was the Green Party candidate who played spoiler. George W. Bush ultimately won Florida — and the presidency — defeating Gore by only 537 votes after a nightmarish recount.
This year, Florida polls show Clinton edging Donald Trump by 2.4 percentage points in a four-way race that includes Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, according to a Real Clear Politics average. Factor out Johnson and Stein, and Clinton’s advantage inches up to 2.9 points. The polls were taken before the race was upended Friday by the release of a 2005 tape in which Trump made vulgar comments about groping women.
Since Stein and Johnson are on the Florida ballot, Clinton has to worry about how they’re peeling off some of her support. The Democratic nominee has struggled throughout the campaign to motivate up young voters like her 2008 and 2016 primary opponents, President Barack Obama or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, did.
Younger voters are more likely than older ones to list climate change as one of their top policy issues, said Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president for government affairs of the League of Conservation Voters, which backs Clinton.
“This is their future that we’re talking about,” she said.
“I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change,” Trump told the Miami Herald in August, despite extensive scientific evidence pointing to human responsibility. “There could be some impact, but I don’t believe it’s a devastating impact.”
A Pew Research Center study on climate politics released last week found that, among the people most concerned about climate change, the issue cuts across all ages. However, the “most concerned” Americans are more likely to be women, and more likely to be Hispanic — both key Clinton demographics.
Gore has experience sounding the alarm on global warming, but he might still be little known to younger millennials. After learning last week that Clinton planned to trot out Gore, conservative radio host and commentator Hugh Hewitt quipped on Twitter that more young people might know the former VP as a character mocked on Comedy Central’s “South Park.”
Clinton’s betting that bringing up climate change — especially in hurricane-hit Florida — can win over some of the remaining undecided and independent voters. Florida pollsters, however, say climate change rarely ranks high enough among voters’ top issues for it to be decisive.
“Sea-level rise is still controversial, in the sense that not necessarily everybody believes it — though an overwhelming majority does,” said Miami pollster Dario Moreno, a Republican. He compared it to a far more popular Florida environmental issue. “Everglades restoration: That’s an apple-pie, motherhood-type issue.”
Moreno cited a poll of independent voters he recently conducted for an outside group in Florida’s competitive 26th congressional district. He asked “push” questions to test which political message would make respondents more inclined to vote for Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo. Moreno found higher support — 68 percent — for a message about supporting Everglades restoration than one about fighting sea-level rise, 55 percent.
Still, that’s a positive number, and Curbelo and third-party organizations backing him have spent money on TV ads trumpeting Curbelo’s sea-level rise position. So has Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — which suggests even Republicans expect at least a marginal benefit among moderate general-election voters for bringing up the issue.