RNC - Energy Is Top Economic Issue for Voters

Conservation Steps Increase, Poll Finds; Support for Drilling

By Stephen Power, Sara Murray and Siobhan Hughes

Wall Street Journal

July25, 2008; Page A3


WASHINGTON-- Congress will likely break for the summer without passing legislation to curb high gasoline prices. But Americans are fashioning their own energy policy, founded on conservation and support for more production.


A new Wall Street Journal/NBC news poll finds that energy -- including gasoline and utility costs -- ranks as the economic issue that voters say affects them the most personally.


New data indicate Americans are conserving energy with fervor.


The Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday that gasoline stocks posted a 2.8 million-barrel build in the week ended July 18, exceeding the200,000-barrel increase forecast by analysts. In the past two weeks, the price of crude oil has fallen 14% from its New York Mercantile Exchange record close of $145.29 reached July 3, in part due to weakening demand. Thursday on the Nymex, crude oil for September delivery rose $1.05 per barrel, or 0.8%, to settle at $125.49.


The prolonged stalemate over energy policy raises the stakes for both parties heading into the fall election. Republicans, emboldened by polls indicating rising support among Americans for increased domestic drilling for oil and natural gas, are trying to cast Congress's Democratic leaders and the party's presidential candidate, Barack Obama, as obstructionists responsible for the country's energy crisis.


Polls indicate voters trust Democrats over Republicans, by substantial margins, to do a better job on energy. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 42% of respondents preferred Democrats for dealing with energy policy, versus 22%favoring Republicans.


The poll indicated that Democrats' edge on the issue may be slipping; the July pollgave Democrats a 20-point advantage on the issue, versus a 28-point lead in aJanuary poll by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News.

Polls of likely voters in four battleground states, conducted this month by Quinnipiac University in partnership with The Wall Street Journal and Washingtonpost.com, show voters in each state say energy policy is more important to them than the war in Iraq.


By margins of 22 to 31 percentage points, voters in each of the states -- Michigan, Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin-- said they support offshore oil drilling, according to the polls, which were released Thursday.

Both candidates face political trade-offs in addressing offshore drilling. Exploring off the coasts is more politically popular in industrial Midwest states, where voters worry mostly about high gasoline costs. But in key coastal states, voters worry more about the environmental risks. The shift in voter sentiment in the Midwest toward favoring offshore drilling could give a boost to Sen. McCain, as it is one of the primary issues that sets his energy plan apart from Sen. Obama's.


"These numbers point to an opening for Sen. McCain to redefine the economic issue as being about energy," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.


In recent days, Sen. McCain's campaign has sought to highlight Sen. Obama's opposition to overturning a federal ban on offshore drilling, with a TV ad that shows a picture of a smiling Sen. Obama on the screen next to a gas pump while a voice blames "some in Washington" for "still saying 'no' to drilling in America."


The Obama campaign has fired back by pointing out Sen. McCain's far longer record of serving in Washington. Environmental groups also note that a 2007 analysis by the EIA concluded that opening drilling in the areas covered by the federal moratorium "would not have a significant impact on domestic crude-oil and natural-gas production or prices before 2030."


Prospects look dim for major changes in U.S. energy policy before Election Day.


Congress remained stuck Thursday in a partisan stalemate over whether to open more of the U.S. to drilling, as the Bush administration and many congressional Republicans favor, or to tap the emergency's petroleum stockpile and limit speculative oil trading, as Democrats prefer.


Thursday, House Republicans thwarted a Democratic measure that would have increased supply by releasing 70 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a network of salt caverns along the Gulf Coast where the government has been stockpiling oil in the decades since the 1973-74Arab oil embargo.


Separate measures to curb speculative oil-futures trading appear unlikely to clear the Senate, where Republicans have vowed to block any energy legislation that lacks provisions to expand domestic drilling.


Push for drilling benefits McCain

By Valerie Richardson

Washington Times

Friday, July 25, 2008



DENVER| Sen. John McCain's efforts to tap voter discontent over soaring energy prices have helped produce his first poll lead in Colorado, a near dead-heat in Michigan and improving numbers in two other states.


The Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed Mr. McCain topping Democratic presidential opponent Sen. Barack Obama 46 percent to 44 percent in Colorado, after trailing by five percentage points a month ago. The results surprised politicos in the state, many of whom were predicting that Mr. Obama would win Colorado as part of the Democratic Party's recent successes here.


"We'd gotten into this mind-set that 2008 would be a good year for the Democrats," said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli. "What this shows is that issues still matter."


The fortunes are changing as Mr. McCain and Republicans on Capitol Hill make a concerted effort to overcome Democratic hurdles to expand U.S. areas open to drilling and as Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama focuses on foreign relations in a trip overseas.


"The results show increased support for additional drilling, which McCain supports and Obama opposes," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Conn., which conducted the survey with the Wall Street Journal and Washingtonpost.com.


"Roughly one in 10 voters say they have changed their minds and now favor drilling because of the jump in energy prices," he said. "They support Obama, but with voters saying that the energy issue is now more important to their presidential vote than is the war in Iraq, this group represents an opportunity for the Republican."


In Colorado, Republicans have had to hand Democrats control of both legislative houses, the governor's office and a U.S. Senate seat since 2004. Still, Republicans consider it essential for Mr. McCain to win a state that supported President Bush in 2004.


Campaign ads here tout Mr. McCain's support for a portfolio of energy strategies, including wind and solar power, as well as expanded drilling offshore. The Republican candidate continues to oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.


"John McCain has presented a plan for more domestic oil drilling, a gas tax suspension, more nuclear power, and Barack Obama has been stubbornly opposed. Voters know that if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem," campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said.


Mr. Obama has called for energy alternatives, conservation and restrictions on speculation.


"The energy issue was working for the Democrats until April, when gas prices hit $4[per gallon], and then people began looking at traditional sources like oil, which Republicans dominate," said Mr. Ciruli. "When you're paying $4and looking at $5, you start to get very realistic about your energy sources."


The energy issue also is creating a divide in Washington.


House Republicans on Thursday blocked a Democratic proposal to sell 10 percent of the nation's emergency petroleum reserve, or about 70 million barrels, on the open market in the next six months. Proceeds from the sales would have been used to buy heavy crude, which is cheaper, to replace the reserve.


It was the third time in recent weeks that Democratic leaders have refused to allow amendments on energy-related measures, a move they say is necessary to expedite bills of national importance. Republicans accuse Democrats of employing the tactic solely to avoid a vote on a Republican proposal to lift a ban on offshore drilling.


The Quinnipiac Poll focused on four states considered critical to winning the White House in November.


Mr. Obama continued to lead in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, but his margin of victory slipped in all three states. In Minnesota, Mr. Obama's edge over Mr. McCain dropped from 54 percent to 37 percent last month to 46 percent to 44 percent in the latest poll.


In Michigan, Mr. Obama topped Mr. McCain by 46 percent to 42 percent, compared with 48 percent to 42percent last month. In Wisconsin, Mr. Obama stumbled slightly, leading 50 percent to 39 percent compared with 52percent to 39 percent last month.


"Senator Barack Obama's post-primary bubble hasn't burst, but it is leaking a bit, "Mr. Brown said.


A Pew Hispanic Center poll showed Mr. Obama winning 66 percent to Mr. McCain's 23 percent among Hispanics registered to vote.


Mr. Bush won 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, and Mr. McCain has made Hispanic outreach a hallmark of his congressional career and of his presidential campaign. The poll found that Mr. McCain is paying the cost of the Republican Party's loss of Hispanic voters overall.


The poll also found Mr. Obama's race is a net positive among Hispanic voters.


A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll found Mr. Obama leading Mr. McCain 40 percent to 37percent nationwide, but that the Democrat's lead increased to 48 percent to 39percent if Mr. Obama selects Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York as his running mate and Mr. McCain chooses former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as his.


That suggests a significant number of Mrs. Clinton's supporters are awaiting Mr. Obama's decision on a vice-presidential nominee.