LIANE HANSEN, Host:
NPR's Don Gonyea has more.
DON GONYEA: Here's George W. Bush in 1999.
GEORGE W: I support ethanol and I support ethanol strongly. And I would support ethanol whether I was here in Iowa or not.
GONYEA: That same year, Al Gore boasted of a tie-breaking vote he cast while presiding over the U.S. Senate as vice president.
AL GORE: And I voted, and we saved ethanol...
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)
GORE: ...and Iowa won.
GONYEA: And when someone has spoken out in opposition, it's gotten a lot of attention. Here's Senator John McCain.
JOHN MCCAIN: Ethanol is not worth it. It does not help the consumer. Those ethanol subsidies should be phased out. And everybody here on this stage, if it wasn't for the fact that Iowa is the first caucus state, would share my view that we don't need ethanol subsidies.
GONYEA: Which brings us to this year, when former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, this past week, used a speech in Iowa to officially announce his candidacy - in the process, he uttered the following.
TIM PAWLENTY: The free market, not freebies from politicians, should decide a company's success. So, as part of a larger reform, we need to phase out all subsidies across all sources of energy and all industries, including ethanol. We simply can't afford them anymore.
GONYEA: Des Moines Register political columnist Kathie Obradovich says he may be right.
KATHIE OBRADOVICH: It's a different time. Tim Pawlenty is coming in at a time when ethanol industry is mature, and some people think it's even oversaturated.
GONYEA: Combine that with rising gas prices, which make ethanol more competitive, and there's a growing belief - even in Iowa - that the industry can probably handle a gradual phase out, or at least a reduction of subsidies. They key for Iowans, Obradovich says, is that ethanol not be singled out.
OBRADOVICH: If he had come in and said we're going to cut subsidies for ethanol but, you know, we think big oil should still get their share - that would not have gone over well here.
GONYEA: Republican strategist John Stineman is a veteran of Iowa political battles. He says there is risk for Pawlenty and that he'll need to explain himself.
JOHN STINEMAN: Iowa has a very sophisticated electorate. They're not going to just go on a soundbite. They're going to look at what the nuances of the position are. And, frankly, I think that there's going to be a pretty robust discussion about that during this caucus cycle.
GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News.
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