Republican donor backs clean energy senators with digital campaign

By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Republican political donor said on Wednesday he would spend "seven figures" on a targeted digital campaign backing two senators who support clean energy policies, which could help tip the balance in their tight November re-election races. Jay Faison, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based executive of an audio-vision equipment company, said he would endorse Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire for re-election. Portman is a co-sponsor of a bipartisan energy efficiency bill, while Ayotte is one of the only Republican supporters of President Barack Obama's plan to cut carbon emissions. Both are running in swing states. Faison wants to defend conservatives who have led on clean energy issues. He will use what he calls a "digital first" approach focused on direct online marketing, social media and data mining to target swing voters who care about climate issues and tailor political messaging, methods he said Republicans have been slow to adopt. "For right or wrong, the Republican Party is branded as non-environmental, which we want to help fix," Faison said in an interview. In February, Faison launched a Super PAC that will spend around $5 million to support congressional Republicans who support clean energy and environmental protection. Faison did not say who else he plans to back. The PAC (political action committee) complements the work of Faison's foundation, ClearPath, which he launched last June with $165 million to shift Republicans' skeptical view of climate change and clean energy. "In these races and a handful of other House and Senate races, we're going to play offense around candidates that take a stand on these issues," Faison said. Faison said support of clean energy could sway blocks of "persuadable" voters who are growing in influence - millennials and non-whites - in tight races. In a survey conducted by ClearPath of Republican voters, Faison said 73 percent said they want a candidate with a clean energy strategy. "These persuadable voters perceive candidates who check the box and take the party line every single time as someone not necessarily watching out for their best interests," Faison said. The digital strategy ClearPath will use will benefit Republican party leaders who have been reluctant to make digital marketing the centerpiece of their campaign spending, Faison said. "We are going to test that theory. The Democrats are way ahead of us here," he said. (Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Richard Balmforth)