Interest in Climate Change Heats Up in 2008 Race Environmental issues have rarely played a starring role in presidential politics. But some hope this campaign will be different. Already, the issue is moving to the front burner among would-be leaders in the U.S presidential race.

Interest in Climate Change Heats Up in 2008 Race

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

On a Friday morning, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

World leaders at the G-8 Summit have been talking about the challenge of global warming. The issue is also moving to the front burner among would-be leaders in the U.S. presidential race. Environmental issues have never played a starring role in presidential politics. But some hope this campaign will be different.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: A week ago, Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut debuted a TV ad for viewers in Iowa and New Hampshire, touting his plan to promote alternative energy and curb greenhouse gases.

(Soundbite of Dodd Campaign Ad)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) We got the whole world in our hands. We got the whole world…

Unidentified Man: All the earth's creatures are threatened by global warming. One candidate for president is doing something to stop it, Chris Dodd. He's the only…

HORSLEY: The League of Conservation voters hailed Dodd's commercial as the first-ever by a presidential candidate to focus on global warming. It wasn't the last, though. Democratic Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico unveiled his own ad a few days later.

(Soundbite of Bill Richardson Campaign Ad)

Unidentified Man: New Mexico - no other state has done as much to promote renewable energy and fight global warming.

Governor BILL RICHARDSON (Democrat, New Mexico): As president, I'll make us a clean energy nation.

Mr. GENE KARPINSKI (President, League of Conservation Voters): Those ads on global warming reflect the fact that the candidates who are out talking to the public all the time understand that this is an issue that the public wants to hear about.

HORSLEY: That's Gene Karpinski of the League of Conservation Voters. His group has created a special Web site, heatison.org, to keep track of the candidates' views on global warming and to keep the heat on the issue through November of next year.

Mr. KARPINSKI: We want to create a competition so that candidates in both parties are competing for who's got the best plan.

HORSLEY: Karpinski said the Web site has been updated a half-dozen times in the last month alone, as candidates' positions have evolved. All of the Democrats have endorsed a cap on greenhouse gases, and many have gone on record in support of higher fuel-economy standards. Senator Dodd wants cars to get 50 miles to the gallon within 10 years. He has also proposed a tax on companies that spew carbon, telling Fox News that would encourage alternative fuels.

Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): I think it's very little to ask here to put a tax on polluting emissions that would allow these alternative ideas to be competitive with them economically. Let's get away from that Middle Eastern dependency on oil.

HORSLEY: Concern over imported oil form the Middle East has indirectly drawn more voters to the global warming campaign at a time when the Iraq war dominates the news. Historically, environmental issues have taken a back seat in national elections, but that may be changing. California's eco-voters have newfound muscle, thanks to their state's early primary next year. And already in New Hampshire, voters have called for action on climate change in more than 160 town meetings.

Pollster John Zogby says there's a growing consensus that global warming must be addressed, not only among liberals and young voters, but increasingly, among evangelicals and mainstream Wal-Mart shoppers.

Mr. JOHN ZOGBY (Pollster): This time, the issue is for real. The question mark only becomes: Does one party select a candidate who doesn't buy the issue? So far, that doesn't look to be likely.

HORSLEY: Zogby says in last year's midterm elections, even the existence of global warming was a wedge that divided Democrats and Republicans. Not anymore. President Bush acknowledged the problem in this year's State of the Union speech. And former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani did the same in Wednesday's New Hampshire debate.

Mr. RUDOLPH GIULIANI (Former Mayor, New York City): I think we have to accept the view that scientists have that there is global warming, and that human operation, human condition contributes to that.

HORSLEY: Few Republicans have outlined plans to address the problem, though, except for John McCain. The Arizona senator, who was a lead author of a bill to cut greenhouse gases, and he's highlighted the issue on his campaign Web site.

(Soundbite of John McCain Campaign Ad)

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): The overwhelming evidence is that greenhouse gases are contributing to the warming of our Earth. And we have an obligation to take action to fix it.

HORSLEY: The profile of the issue could get even higher if Al Gore enters the race. But even without the "Inconvenient Truth" candidate, it appears the political climate has already begun to change.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And read what the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have said on climate change at npr.org.

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