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Oil May Become GOP's 2008 Issue

Sen. John McCain climbs atop an oil delivery truck with Donna Buxton during a campaign stop at Buxton Oil Inc. in Epping, N.H.
Sen. John McCain climbs atop an oil delivery truck with Donna Buxton during a campaign stop at Buxton Oil Inc. in Epping, N.H. (Pool Photo By Bob Lapree Via Associated Press)
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"There's a real choice in this election between John McCain's promise to continue the Bush approach of trying to drill our way out of our energy crisis . . . and Barack Obama's plan to provide meaningful short-term relief for our families and to make a historic investment in alternative energy," said Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan.

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Republicans say that is not enough.

More than 100 House Republicans marched onto the Capitol steps this week to introduce the American Energy Act, which includes drilling offshore and in the oil shale of Western mountain regions but also contains increased tax benefits for businesses and families that reduce their energy consumption.

Republicans say their embrace of more domestic drilling and a dramatic increase in funding for the development of renewable fuels puts them squarely in line with voters, who polls show support both policy initiatives, especially when linked to concern about years of gas at $4 a gallon or more.

In a recent CNN poll, 73 percent of those surveyed said they favor increased offshore drilling for oil and natural gas. A Pew Research poll taken at the end of June found 60 percent saying that "developing new sources of energy" should be the priority over the 34 percent who favored "protecting the environment." The Pew poll also found voters split between exploring for new energy and expanding conservation.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) calls it the "all of the above" legislative approach, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) invokes the "drill more, use less" theme.

If nothing else, the cause for domestic drilling has provided a significant amount of unity among congressional Republicans, who had spent most of this year fractured and receiving advice from leaders to look out for themselves politically.

Democrats reject the idea that Republicans and McCain have made any inroads on the energy issue. Saying they feel no pressure to give in on drilling legislation, Democratic leaders said their polling data show that the public views President Bush as responsible for high gas prices and that none of their candidates for the House or Senate have suffered any political damage from the constant GOP attacks.

Democrats point out that voter support for drilling plummets when surveys note that drilling would not produce new, usable gas for years and would not immediately affect gas prices at the pump.

"We think that the public understands that you can't drill your way out of the problem," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told reporters last week. "We think the Republican slogan is 'Big Oil now, Big Oil forever.' "

Instead, Schumer suggested that other than a few smaller legislative items Democrats are trying to push -- which are being blocked by Republicans in search of a comprehensive bill including drilling -- Congress will not move on a large energy plan until after the election.

If Obama is elected and Democrats gain larger majorities in Congress, Schumer said, "You will get, for the first time, a real energy policy."


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