John McCain made his latest bid for the hearts and minds of voters burdened by fuel costs yesterday, reversing his support for a 26-year-old moratorium on offshore drilling. Barack Obama, meanwhile, maintains his opposition to the process, which detractors contend isn’t worth the damage to the environment and beach-based tourism. With gas prices rising, it’s unclear what the winning position will be. But as usual, the political ramifications of all this might have more to do with how the issue reflects on each candidate’s character. Or in other words, can McCain dodge being labeled a flip-flopper — and his latest connection to George W. Bush, who also just decided to back offshore drilling?
• John Dickerson places McCain’s reversal in the context of his general difficulty getting his message across. His “unartful” drilling proposal was pounced on by Democrats as simply the latest of many flip-flops. If “Barack Obama can make his opponent’s drilling proposal look like a business-as-usual sop to oil companies,” voters may not even “stick around long enough to hear McCain’s energy-plan.” [Slate]
• Charles Mahtesian and David Mark think McCain is taking a big risk wagering that high gas prices have finally trumped public opposition to drilling. If he’s wrong, he could seriously hurt his chances in Florida, California, and Virginia, and “undermine some of his closest political allies” in Virginia and North Carolina. National numbers support offshore drilling, but polls may underestimate the “fierce resistance to offshore oil drilling in the states that stand to be affected.” [Politico]
• Wes Allison and Steve Bousquet note that no candidate for president or even statewide office in “modern times” has won Florida “without promising to keep oil and gas rigs away from its coasts.” Of course, this is the first time gas has been this high, and offshore drilling may not be “the political loser it once was.” [St. Petersburg Times]
• The Wall Street Journal editorial board welcomes McCain’s “progress,” and contends that his “reversal sets him up for a useful debate with Barack Obama,” whose energy policies are straight out of the seventies. [WSJ]
• Dana Milbank says McCain’s call is typical of the pull “between the need to appeal to independent voters and the need to placate the still-suspicious Republican base” on many issues. But McCain faces “the most complex two-step of all” on energy policy. [WP]
• Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes McCain’s shift “infuriated environmentalists who have long viewed him as an ally.” Meanwhile, President Bush’s similar reversal this morning “will also expose Mr. McCain to accusations from Democrats that a McCain presidency would be akin to a Bush third term.” [NYT]
• Chuck Todd and friends concur, noting how unhelpful it is for McCain that as he’s trying to distance himself from the president on the environment, Bush is echoing McCain’s energy policy. In fact, it’s “striking that in the three months since locking up the GOP nomination, McCain hasn’t moved to the center, but to the right on numerous issues.” While he must “shore up his support among conservatives,” it’ll cost him damage to his “maverick” image. [First Read/MSNBC]
• Loren Steffy contends that Obama’s so-called “bold move” was “more of a baby step” as “McCain is essentially passing the buck to states.” [Houston Chronicle] —Dan Amira
Related: Cindy McCain Lies to Us Again
For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.