Newsweek: Anti-Drilling Obama 'More in Touch with Voters' on Energy

     As gas prices continue to rise, more and more Americans are in favor of opening up areas now off-limits for oil exploration and drilling, but a Newsweek magazine editor said on June 23 that Sen. Barack Obama is “more in touch with the voters” on energy despite his anti-drilling stance.

     Newsweek’s senior Washington Correspondent and NBC news analyst Howard Fineman appeared on NBC’s “Today” June 23 to discuss the presidential candidates’ energy plans. NBC’s Ann Curry asked Fineman which candidate is more “in touch” with voters on energy.

     “Well, according to our poll, it’s Obama,” Fineman said. “But the McCain forces think they got a winner here and they’re going to pursue it. In that speech that McCain is going to give today out in Fresno, he’s essentially going to say we can’t beg or sue our way out of our situation with energy which is a direct shot at Obama’s emphasis on going after speculators.”

     Fineman cited a June 20 Newsweek poll that showed Obama got a bounce in support after he became the apparent Democratic nominee. The Newsweek poll also showed Obama with a 14-point lead with voters on energy issues.

     “Obama is trusted more to handle what may prove the biggest issue of the 2008 election – the economy and jobs – by a wide margin (54 percent to 29 percent),” Michael Hirsh wrote on June 20 for “He also has a sizable advantage on energy policy, 48 percent to 34 percent, despite McCain's attempts this week to turn voters his way by supporting some new oil drilling and renewing his call for a gas-tax holiday.”

     But, the poll question didn’t ask respondents specifically about the drilling issue, but about “energy policy.”

“Please tell me which presidential candidate you think would do a better job handling each of the following issues as president. What about energy policy? Do you think Barack Obama or John McCain would do a better job handling this issue?” asked the poll.

     The Newsweek results were a sharp contrast to what other outlets and polling organizations reported on the issue of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the Outer Continental Shelf.

     A recent Gallup Poll showed 57 percent of Americans “would support drilling in offshore or wilderness areas that are currently off-limits to drilling, while 41 percent oppose the idea,” according to the June 23 San Francisco Chronicle.

     A Rasmussen poll found an even higher percentage of Americans – 67 percent – favor drilling off the coasts of California, Florida and other states. Further analysis indicated that “conservative and moderate voters strongly support this approach.”

     But in his “Today” appearance Fineman warned McCain was “taking a risk” with his pro-drilling stance – because President Bush has also taken that position.

     “That’s the risk, because any time McCain lines up with George Bush on policy it’s bad politically because Bush is so unpopular,” Fineman said. “Interestingly though, McCain is taking the risk of talking about this strategy out in California where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is steadfast in opposition to offshore drilling for oil. So this is the McCain strategy, they’re willing to take the risk.”

     McCain recently came out in favor of opening up the Outer Continental Shelf for exploration and drilling, but not ANWR.

      “In the short term, this requires more domestic production, especially in the Outer Continental Shelf,” McCain said in Springfield, Mo. according to the June 18 Boston Globe. “We need to encourage production in ways that are consistent with sensible standards of environmental protection.”

     Obama, by contrast, opposes more drilling, saying it’s “not a problem I think we can drill our way out of,” according to a June 23 Fortune magazine article. “It can be a drag on our economy for a very long time unless we take steps to innovate and invest in the research and development that’s needed to find alternative fuels, to make our transportation system more energy efficient, retool our industry and our buildings.”