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Attention is already building for the 2016 presidential race, with candidates beginning the time-honored ritual of wooing Iowa voters, whose February caucuses are the nation's first primary contest. As White House contenders crisscross the state with their stump speeches, a coalition of nearly 200 Iowa scientists want to put climate change in the spotlight — and keep it there.
In a statement on Monday, the scientists tied human-caused climate change to major floods and a drought that have hit the state since 2008 and urged Iowa voters to pressure primary candidates on the topic.
Jerald Schnoor, co-director of the University of Iowa's Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research and a supporter of the statement, said the goal is to activate Iowa's famously engaged voters.
"It's another reminder that climate change is real and it's already affecting Iowans," he told VICE News, "but it's also a challenge to make sure you ask the candidates what will they do in response to the accepted science of climate change."
"We'd like them to be on record," he added.
Some have already said where they stand. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, has said he does not believe that human activities are causing the atmosphere and oceans to warm. Asked in April about this position, he said the climate is changing "because there's never been a moment when the climate is not changing." Ted Cruz, a Senate Republican from Texas, has compared "global warming alarmists" to those who used to think the Earth was flat.
Republican Jeb Bush is exploring a possible run for the White House. And early indications are he, along with New Jersey GOP governor Chris Christie, might buck the Republican trend of ignoring or downplaying climate change.
During a commencement speech at Liberty University on Friday, the former Florida governor outlined how his Catholic faith calls on humans "to be protectors of Creation, instead of just users." Last month, he told a New Hampshire audience the United States needs to work with other nations to reduce carbon emissions.
Christie was unequivocal earlier this week. "I think global warming is real," he said. "I don't think that's deniable. And I do think human activity contributes to it." Christie has yet to announce if he's running for president.
If candidates remain split on the issue, climate change could emerge as a lively topic of debate during the primaries, said Michael Livermore, a senior adviser at the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University.
"The standard bearers in the last presidential elections have not been that different from each other" on climate, Livermore told VICE News. "It's very possible that's going to change in this election, and whenever there are differences in the standard bearers that's what we're going to focus on."
Both declared Democratic candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, have attributed climate change to human activities.
But while climate change may prove important to Democrats, it's unlikely to gain much traction among Republican voters, said Steffen Schmidt, a political scientist at Iowa State University.
"For the GOP, this issue is not going to be a big discussion," Schmidt told VICE News. "Scientists have not had much traction with the GOP."
Pubic opinion polling bears out Schmidt's view. Despite broad scientific consensus that humans are largely responsible for the rising temperatures observed around the world, only 47 percent of Iowa adults think humans are to blame for global warming, according to data from the Yale Center for Climate Change Communication. Even fewer — 39 percent — believe that most scientists think the globe is warming.
But a majority of Iowans support policies that would help reduce the impacts of climate change, like investing in renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
How Iowa voters respond to the Republican candidates could set a significant precedent for the rest of the presidential campaign, Livermore said.
"If it turns out that Republican voters in Iowa reject candidates that are not willing to acknowledge the risks of climate change, that could have a profound effect," Livermore told VICE News. "That would tell us that even though there are some elites within the Republican Party that feel comfortable with that position, their primary voters do not. That would be a big deal."
Follow Laura Dattaro on Twitter: @ldattaro