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McCain Targets Independents with 'Green' Effort
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McCain Targets Independents with 'Green' Effort

Election 2008: Issues

McCain Targets Independents with 'Green' Effort

McCain Targets Independents with 'Green' Effort
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Just a week ago, Arizona Sen. John McCain was courting the Republican faithful with a speech in North Carolina promising to follow President Bush in appointing conservative judges to the federal bench. Later this week, he will again court the right when he speaks to the National Rifle Association in Kentucky.

But for the moment, McCain's tone is very different as he tries to reach out to independent and moderate voters at campaigns stops in the Pacific Northwest.

McCain visited a watershed center outside Seattle on Tuesday, where he stressed his commitment to environmental protection. McCain even planned a nature walk around Washington's Cedar River Reservoir, with reporters and photographers in tow, and held a roundtable discussion with a group of Washington state conservation advocates.

Sally Jewell heads the Seattle-based outdoor gear company REI, a cooperative with 3.5 million active members.

"We have members that span from the far right to the far left of the political spectrum," she said. "But I think the one thing they all appreciate is a healthy environment."

By wrapping himself in the fleece vest of environmentalism, McCain hopes to reach out to that constituency. He repeated his pledge to combat greenhouse gases by limiting the amount of these gases that companies can emit and encouraging those who emit less to sell their permits to others. This "cap-and-trade" system is similar to plans proposed by Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton — albeit with less stringent limits on carbon pollution.

McCain's Green Campaign Aimed at Moderate Voters

"McCain simply cannot win in November if he can't consolidate the center and win the swing independents who determine every presidential election," said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political analyst. "His task is tough enough because of President Bush's unpopularity, the unpopularity of the Iraq war and the tanking of the economy. If he gets too identified with the right wing of his own party, he's going to alienate those swing independents, and he'll lose the election."

McCain is closely identified with President Bush in his support for the Iraq war and an economic policy built on tax cuts. But Sabato says so far, that has not been the drag on McCain's campaign that it might be.

"Right now, he has that maverick image, and he's running 20 to 25 points better than the Republican brand," Sabato added. "The Democrats' job is to make sure that doesn't continue. McCain's job is to make sure that it does."

The environment is one area where McCain can put some daylight between his views and President Bush's. Speaking on Monday in Portland, Ore., McCain subtly criticized the president for not doing more to combat global warming.

"I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges," he said.

McCain also went out of his way to praise Oregon's Democratic governor and to promise more bipartisan cooperation if he is elected president.

"We need to draw on the best ideas of both parties and on all the resources a free market can provide," he said.

Skeptical Democrats

Democratic presidential candidates and their allies in Washington hope to pour some cold Seattle rain on McCain's effort to portray himself as a different kind of Republican.

Members of the Washington State Labor Council plan to picket a McCain fundraiser on Tuesday, and council President Rick Bender says his members will be campaigning door to door this weekend, trying to build a link in voters' minds between McCain and President Bush.

"Bush is extremely unpopular here in Washington state," Bender said. "And, as you know, Washington state has been a blue state for some time, and he'll probably be doing everything he can to make sure that he's not tied to Bush. But we'll help him there, because his voting record is pretty much in line with the president about 89 percent of the time. So, that won't be hard for us to detail."

McCain Backs Limits on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

McCain Backs Limits on Greenhouse Gas Emissions
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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks at Vestas Training Facility May 12, 2008, in Portland, Ore. i

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks at Vestas Training Facility May 12, 2008, in Portland, Ore. McCain delivered a speech outlining his plan to fight global warming. Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks at Vestas Training Facility May 12, 2008, in Portland, Ore.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks at Vestas Training Facility May 12, 2008, in Portland, Ore. McCain delivered a speech outlining his plan to fight global warming.

Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images
With mini wind turbines behind him, John McCain speaks about climate change in Portland, Ore. i

With miniature wind turbines behind him, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks about climate change on May 12, 2008, in Portland, Ore. Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images
With mini wind turbines behind him, John McCain speaks about climate change in Portland, Ore.

With miniature wind turbines behind him, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks about climate change on May 12, 2008, in Portland, Ore.

Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate John McCain is touting his plan to combat global warming as he stumps for votes this week in the Pacific Northwest.

McCain travels to Washington state Tuesday for an environmental forum outside Seattle. On Monday, he was in Portland, Ore., where he visited the offices of a windmill company.

McCain hopes his conservative approach to global warming will appeal to moderate Democrats as well as Republicans. It relies on the same market forces that he says helped create the problem.

"For all of the last century, the profit motive basically led in one direction — toward machines, methods and industries that used oil and gas," McCain said. "Enormous good came from that industrial growth, and we are all the beneficiaries of the national prosperity it built. But there were costs we weren't counting."

Those costs, in the form of greenhouse gases, can no longer be ignored, McCain said. He hopes to create a profit motive that works in the opposite direction — encouraging polluters to cut their carbon emissions. As president, McCain would cap overall production of greenhouse gases. Companies that produce more pollution would then have to buy carbon credits from those who find a cleaner way of doing business.

"Instantly, automakers, coal companies, power plants and every other enterprise in America would have an incentive to reduce carbon emissions, because when they go under those limits, they can sell the balance of permitted emissions for cash," McCain said.

The Arizona senator delivered his speech at the U.S. headquarters of Vestas, a Danish wind-energy company. McCain hopes his environmental message will resonate in Oregon, which is becoming a hub for alternative energy firms. Democrat John Kerry won handily in Oregon in 2004, but four years earlier, George Bush came within 7,000 votes of carrying the state.

Criticism from Conservationists

The League of Conservation Voters has been tracking candidates in an effort to raise the profile of climate change as a campaign issue. While McCain has been more outspoken than the other Republicans, the nonprofit group doesn't think he goes far enough.

"We give him credit for understanding the problem is real and for making it a priority. But his particular plan, both on his global warming emissions bill as well as some of the specific energy measures, they're outdated and they fall far short of what we need to do," said Gene Karpinsky, president of the group.

By the year 2050, for example, McCain wants to reduce greenhouse gases by 60 percent, compared with 1990 levels. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have called for reductions of 80 percent.

Some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, have also criticized McCain for his outspoken support of nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuel. He often talks on the campaign trail about the safe track record of nuclear-powered Navy vessels and how France relies on nuclear plants for more than half of its electricity.

McCain acknowledged Monday that nuclear power has "drawbacks," including the challenge of transporting and storing nuclear waste. A cap-and-trade system would make nuclear plants more cost-competitive, he said, since they don't produce greenhouse gases and wouldn't have to buy carbon credits.

"It doesn't take a leap in logic to conclude that if we want to arrest global warming, then nuclear energy is a powerful ally in that cause," McCain said.

'Ready to Help'

McCain said any meaningful international effort to address climate change would have to include China and India. But even if those countries don't sign on, the U.S. has a responsibility to act, he said.

A prepared text of McCain's speech supplied to reporters suggested that western countries might use trade sanctions to push China and India into cutting their carbon output. But in delivering the speech, McCain substituted softer language, saying diplomacy and technical support should be enough to move the two countries.

"Pressing on blindly with uncontrolled carbon emissions is in no one's interest, especially China's. And the rest of the world stands ready to help," he said.

McCain hopes that message helps him with environmentally minded voters, especially in battleground states like Oregon and Washington.

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