The Electoral Equivalent of an Oil Spill

By Al Giordano

I was trying to nap with the TV on this afternoon but the following story came on CNN's Situation Room about Senator John McCain's latest flip-flop, in which he now seeks to lift the federal ban on offshore drilling for oil...

And I thought, that's not only bad policy, but it's pretty damn stupid in terms of getting elected president. In a word: Florida, where 27 electoral votes will be determined.

More amazing was seeing, in that CNN clip, Florida politicians like US Senator Mel Martinez and Governor Charlie Crist suddenly flipping over, who, like McCain, had previously opposed offshore drilling.

As the Environmental Defense Fund notes:

If you live in Florida, you live near the ocean — no point in the state is more than 80 miles away from either the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. More than three quarters of the state's population — over 13 million people — live in coastal counties...

Coastal communities have grown by nearly 6.3 percent since 1999 and nearly 32 percent since 1990, one of the highest rates of growth in the country...

So many Floridians love the beach, the ocean, and the 8,426 total miles of shoreline where so many have moved to be near and look out upon the open seas. And there are economic interests, too, that don't want to see oil slicks and other environmental damage there from offshore drilling in the Atlantic or the Gulf:

Beach tourism brought in $41.6 billion in 2000 and supported 442,000 jobs... For example, the coral reefs of the Keys generate over $1 billion in tourism dollars each year...

Recent presidential elections in Florida have been close. McCain has just handed Senator Obama and his newly trained band of Organizing Fellows a golden issue with which to recruit and convince a lot of otherwise conservative Floridians to defend their self interest by stopping a McCain presidency.

Watch how this plays out in the Sunshine State. This may be the stupidest move yet on the part of the presumptive Republican nominee and his surrogates.

Judging from the ways in which the Obama organization pounced on errors by his chief primary rival and then organized around them at the precinct level, my guess is that they'll pound away on this policy difference up and down the Florida coastline. Remember these words when Florida's results roll in come November.

Update: Comments on The Field are now sequential (no longer "nested") as we return to the format that built this community. That way you can revisit a story and read what all the Field Hands wrote in chronological order.

Update II: As Longroad suggested in the comments section, this new position has the fingerprints of an orchestrated attempt to make offshore drilling a big electoral issue nationwide. President George Bush, AP reports, will call on Congress tomorrow to lift the moratorium.

Update III: Mathesian and Mark, over on Politico, think McCain is "playing with fire" on this one:

By calling for an end to the federal ban on offshore oil drilling,John McCain is placing a risky bet. He is wagering that skyrocketing gas prices have finally reached a tipping point, a threshold moment that has led voters to rethink their strong and long-held opinions against coastal oil exploration.

The stakes couldn’t be higher: If he is wrong, McCain will have seriously damaged his chances in two key states with thousands of miles of coastline — California and Florida — and where opposition to offshore oil drilling has been unwavering. And he will have undermined some of his closest political allies in those states and others, including potential fall battlegrounds such as Virginia and North Carolina.

“Before $4.25-per-gallon gas, this would have been like pulling a pin on a grenade and rolling it into the state,” said David Johnson, the former executive director of the Florida Republican Party. “It would have been a fool’s errand to recommend it. It was never, ever a thing that a smart politician would have done in Florida.”

Update IV: Senator McCain's new position was also of the cash-and-carry variety as, on the same day he announced it, picked up at least two million dollars from Oil Town fat cats, according to the Houston Chronicle:

Larry Nichols, CEO of Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy, which is second only to Chevron Corp. in holding the most Gulf of Mexico leases, called McCain's proposals a "truly honest assessment of what our energy policies have been and need to be."

Update V: This is interesting. The NY Times reminds that it was President George H.W. Bush that first put the offshore drilling moratorium in place:

Mr. Bush’s father, the first President Bush, signed an executive order in 1990 banning coastal oil exploration, and Mr. Bush’s brother Jeb was an outspoken opponent of offshore drilling when he was governor of Florida.

And since the moratorium is in fact an executive order (which presumably can be repealed with the stroke of a pen by the current occupant of the White House), and Bush II hasn't so far said he's doing that, the only point of "going to Congress" with this is for publicity and grandstanding. Interesting.

Update VI: President Bush will do a live statement and/or press conference at 10:35 a.m. ET on the matter. Fox News is plugging it, typically, as "urgent" and "breaking." Cable networks likely to give it roadblock coverage. Maybe he'll just begin drilling right there in the White House Rose Garden.

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About Al Giordano

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Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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