Is McCain More of the Same?
It has been pretty obvious for some time now that the Democratic strategy for defeating John McCain this fall will be to paint his election as a third term for President Bush. So, McCain is looking for ways to put a little distance between his campaign and an unpopular Republican president. As evidence of this, much has been made of McCain’s significant differences with the Bush Administration on the issue of climate change. While policy ideas like a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions have never been popular with conservatives, the strategic thinking here is that McCain’s support for such a cap might win him some independent voters, for whom the issue typically has greater resonance.
How far will McCain’s proposals on climate change go in combating the image of the McCain presidency as a third term for President Bush? I took a look at the most recent Pew Research Center data on issue salience among independent voters, and the results underscore the long-standing conventional wisdom that while the environment is of concern to many voters, it does not drive the vote choice in the way that other issues do. When asked which issue you’d most like the candidates to address in the 2008 general election, independent voters ranked the economy first (41%), followed by Iraq (25%) and healthcare (13%). Even if you combine energy and gas (6%) and the environment (4%), you still end up no higher than fourth on the issue list, with a combined 10% of independent voters for whom energy and the environment are driving their vote choice.
I am not suggesting that McCain’s position on climate change is of no importance to these coveted independent voters, but if McCain truly wants to beat back the notion that his presidency would be a continuation of the Bush Administration, he needs to draw sharper distinctions on issues beyond climate change. As important as that issue is, it is not likely to tip the balance for McCain among independents. Only some fresh thinking on the big three issues of concern to voters – the economy, Iraq, and healthcare – can accomplish that goal.

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