Texas Gov. George W. Bush may not be about to sit down and pen a sequel to Al Gore‘s environmental manifesto Earth in the Balance, but he has done something several other GOP presidential candidates appear reluctant to do: acknowledge the existence of global warming.

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On May 12, Bush told a news conference in Austin: “I believe there is global warming.”

So, what brought Bush to this dramatic realization?

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Could it have been his sit-down with Environmental Defense Fund Executive Director Fred Krupp, first reported in National Journal? Perhaps.

But Bush hasn’t ventured far beyond saying he believes the phenomenon exists, and what he has said has not pleased enviros, particularly that he doesn’t think the Kyoto climate change treaty should be implemented.

“He’s against any solution to the problem as far as we can tell,” says Sierra Club Political Director Dan Weiss.

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But, politically speaking, does he need to go much further?

Probably not, says at least one prominent Democratic strategist who asked not to be identified.

In 1992 and especially in 1996, the Clinton-Gore campaign worked electoral magic by neutralizing traditional Republican advantages on a handful of issues such as welfare reform and family values. They used words like “trust” and “responsibility” not typically associated with Democratic campaigns. Did they take those issues away from the GOP? Not really. But they shaved enough off the Republican advantage to assure victory in a handful of key states.

Flash forward to Bush 2000. Words like trust and responsibility are everywhere. But so are words like “compassion.” Okay, that’s not rocket science.

But it gets more subtle, and more impressive, when you take a comment like the one Bush made on global warming. By saying he thinks it exists, he creates an aura of environmental concern without actually committing himself to a policy that might rile or disaffect his conservative base.

And it’s not just the environment. Bush’s first major policy speech on education was a deft Clintonism: stealing an idea from his opponents (regularly testing troubled public schools and taking money away from those that fail to improve) and marrying it to something that will please his base (sending the saved money straight to parents as a kind of back-door voucher).

Look for the pattern to continue as the Bush campaign attempts to chip away at other Democratic issues and constituencies, particularly older Americans whose concerns may be shifting from Medicare and Medicaid to Dow Jones and the NASDAQ.

With Friends Like These …

The top green news of the week from the world of presidential politics was Friends of the Earth‘s decision to endorse Bill Bradley over Gore for the Democratic nomination, citing Bradley’s superior Senate record on the environment and Gore’s repeated disappointments as the administration’s enviro point man.

This took some media types by surprise, but not enviro insiders who expect FoE to push the envelope in search of ideological purity.

Bradley, whose Senate record really isn’t all that different from Gore’s, hasn’t had to cut any corners as a member of an administration attempting to work with a Republican Congress. So naturally Bradley’s tabula rasa is more appealing to some than Gore’s more mixed record.

This is all well and good, but Muckraker’s big question is why in the world didn’t FoE come out for Warren Beatty? Weren’t they swayed by our trenchant analysis of the Beatty enviro record? Apparently not.

“Beatty was my first suggestion, but I couldn’t get the board to stop laughing long enough to listen to me,” said FoE spokesperson Mark Whiteis-Helm, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “We looked at League of Conservation Voters scores for all the candidates and we called the movie studio but they couldn’t provide us with a voting record for Sen. Bulworth.”

No word on whether FoE might reconsider its endorsement should Cybill Shepherd or Heather Locklear get in the race.

Sow Jones

The Sierra Club unveiled a new report on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday with a little help from a female pig from Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Muckraker went to the briefing to learn, first and foremost, about the environmental degradation wreaked by these huge farms as well as the serious economic toll they take on small, family farmers.

Plus we really wanted to see the pig.

Our curiosity was particularly piqued when the first press release issued by the Sierra Club referred to a guest appearance by “Babe the Maryland Pig,” while the second release promised an appearance by “Twinkie the Hog.” We were captivated. Which little piggy would show?

Well, there was definitely a pig there. But it was neither Twinkie nor Babe. We asked the pig’s handler for positive identification on the mystery guest and he treated us, quite rightly, like a citified fool.

Pigs don’t have names and shouldn’t be treated like house pets who do, the burly gentleman from Maryland said as the pig in question sweetly nuzzled his arm.

Fair enough. We were chastened. This pig-formerly-known-as-Babe then went on to squeal uproariously between snout-fulls of feed as Kathryn Hohman, director of Sierra Club’s environmental quality program, valiantly pressed ahead with her presentation.

Mercifully, a steady drizzle forced the press conference indoors where the pig-with-no-name couldn’t follow.

News Digest

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is at it again on corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, this time running radio spots during Rush Limbaugh’s show and other programs urging the Senate to continue the CAFE freeze when it handles the appropriations bill for the Department of Transportation. On the other side, the World Wildlife Fund and Sierra Club both released poll numbers this week showing overwhelming support for an increase in CAFE standards even among conservative voters and SUV owners. … The Union of Concerned Scientists and the Earth Communications Office are getting ready to kick off a global warming public service announcement to run in movie theatres this fall. … The fate of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison‘s (R-Texas) amendment forbidding the Interior Department from changing the government formula for collecting royalties from oil companies still hangs in the balance. Hutchison was unable to get the votes to shut off debate on the amendment this week and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and others are still planning to hold up the Interior approps bill until the Hutchison amendment is dropped. No one has asked Gov. Bush about this issue on the trail yet, but perhaps they (or we) will.