Muckraker: Grist on Politics

John McCain’s call this week for an end to the moratorium on offshore drilling isn’t faring well with environmentalists across the country. In one key state, however, it might really come back to bite him come November. Florida — yes, land of dangling chads and nearly-won elections — may well prove to be the place where McCain’s call for drilling cost him in the general election.

“I think that he has made a serious miscalculation,” Holly Binns, field director for Environment Florida, told Grist. Citing long-time bipartisan opposition to offshore drilling in the state, she also noted that Gov. Charlie Crist, a McCain ally and possible VP pick who has in the past been quite friendly to environmental concerns, “has really tarnished his environmental record by flip-flopping on this issue.”

McCain and Crist both opposed offshore drilling until this week. Binns said Environment Florida sent an email to their 20,000 members last night alerting them to this issue, and in less than 24 hours over 1,000 had already sent an email to the governor — twice their usual response rate, she added.

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Binns said she thought the issue would be an important one come November. “Conserving our natural resources, one of the main reasons folks come to Florida, plays a much bigger role here than perhaps it does in other states,” she said.

Even Republican House Speaker Marco Rubio said yesterday that any claim that drilling would lower gas prices is “disingenuous,” though he nonetheless supports the call for drilling. Republican lawmakers in other coastal states, like New Jersey, have come out against his plan.

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CNN noted this afternoon that the fact that Bush soon followed with his own call for drilling seems to tie the current and would-be presidents together in the public eye, which could be political poison for McCain.

Crist himself doesn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about it either, and many in the state assume his flip was more a political move to appease McCain then a shift in his actual beliefs. “It’s the last thing in the world I’d like to do, but I also understand what people are paying at the pump, and I understand the drag it is on our economy,” Crist told the St. Petersburg Times this week. “Something has to be done in a responsible, pragmatic way.”

“I think the problem is flowing directly from president. It’s disappointing that McCain has bought into it,” said Charles Lee, Director of Advocacy for Audubon of Florida. “It’s not going to help Sen. McCain in Florida.”

“The public is doubtless stirred up over $4 a gallon gas prices and wishes those prices were lower, but one would hope their political leaders would target the sources of those problems,” Lee added.

Most political insiders have assumed that McCain would have an advantage in Florida due to demographics, but that already seems up in the air. A new Quinnipiac poll out this week shows McCain four points behind Obama in Florida. Just a few weeks ago McCain also took heat there over funding for Everglades restoration. It will be interesting to see what role environmental concerns play in this critical swing state.