Breaking from party orthodoxy, a majority of Republican voters now accept climate change, sparking a drive inside the GOP to find a middle ground to help candidates finesse the issue without sounding out of touch or in the tank for President Obama and Al Gore.
“There is a middle way where we can talk about this,” said GOP pollster Alex Lundry of TargetPoint Consulting. "Republicans are a lot more open to this than you might think."
He recently completed a poll on energy issues for Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions that found 51 percent of Republicans believe climate change is happening, will happen shortly or will occur in their lifetime. Just 24 percent deny it. The shift is particularly pronounced among younger party members.
A number of lawmakers are testing out climate change themes acceptable to both GOP voters and independents who are even more sensitive to environmental issues.
For example, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte has authored legislation to increase energy efficiency in commercial buildings by letting tenants voluntarily take efficiency measures. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is an advocate of renewables. And others are looking to piggyback off the military's new focus on climate change.
Lundry suggested seven themes that at least 66 percent of Republican voters favored, including pushing to leave a clean air legacy, promoting health through reduced air pollution, boosting the economy with renewable energy sources and “being responsible stewards of God’s creation.” The military's acceptance of global warming also provides some cover for Republicans.
A spokesman for the renewable fuels industry agreed that one way to promote pro-climate change efforts is by couching them as pocket book issues. “They save people money and help our economy,” said the industry source.
While both sides tend to demagogue the issue, Lundry said that Republican voters now believe that “you can be pro-limited government and pro-environment at the same time. They do not see that as a contradiction in terms.”
But, he told Secrets, “Look, you are threading a needle. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do but it can be done.”Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.