Read about key swing states here.
Is Barack Obama sufficiently dirty to win re-election? Not according to presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who says the president is too spic and span.
Calculating that clean energy is passé among Americans more concerned about jobs and their own pocketbooks, Romney is gambling that he can tip swing voters his way by embracing dirtier air and water if the tradeoff is more employment and economic growth.
Romney's gamble is essentially a bet on the demonstrated disruptive potency of shale gas and shale oil, which over the last year or so have shaken up geopolitics from Russia to the Middle East and China. Now, Romney and the GOP leadership hope they will have the same impact on U.S. domestic politics, and sweep the former Massachusetts governor into the White House with a strong Republican majority in Congress.
A flood of new oil and natural gas production in states such as North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas is changing the national and global economies. U.S. oil production is projected to reach 6.3 million barrels a day this year, the highest volume since 1997, the Energy Information Agency reported Tuesday. In a decade or so, U.S. oil supplies could help to shrink OPEC's influence as a global economic force. Meanwhile, a glut of cheap U.S. shale gas has challenged Russia's economic power in Europe and is contributing to a revolution in how the world powers itself.
But Romney and the GOP assert that Obama is slowing the larger potential of the deluge, and is not up to the task of turning it into what they say ought to be a gigantic jobs machine. The president's critics say an unfettered fossil fuels industry could produce 1.4 million new jobs by 2030. They believe that American voters won't be too impressed with Obama's argument that he is leading a balanced energy-and-jobs approach that includes renewable fuels and electric cars.
The GOP's oil-and-jobs campaign -- in April alone, 81 percent of U.S. political ads attacking Obama were on the subject of energy, according to Kantar Media, a firm that tracks political advertising -- is a risk that could backfire. Americans could decide that they prefer clean energy after all. Or, as half a dozen election analysts and political science professors told me, energy -- even if it seems crucial at this moment in time -- may not be a central election issue by November.
Yet if the election is as close as the polls suggest, the energy ads could prove a pivotal factor. "Advertising is generally not decisive. Advertising matters at the margins. ... But ask Al Gore if the margin matters," said Ken Goldstein, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group at Kantar Media. "This is looking like an election where the margin may matter."
Romney is hardly the first major U.S. presidential candidate to embrace Big Oil. The politics of clean go back to Lady Bird Johnson's war on litter and Richard Nixon's embrace of environmentalism. But both presidents Bush came from the oil industry, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the last GOP vice presidential nominee, gleefully led chants of "Drill, baby, drill" in 2008. Yet President George W. Bush also famously declared that "America is addicted to oil" in his 2006 State of the Union address, and initiated most of the energy programs for which Obama is currently under fire. And Palin's drumbeat in the end seemed to fall flat.
The Republican efforts appear to go beyond any modern campaign in their brash embrace of what is dirty, and their scorn of what is not. And the times seem to favor them. In 2009, the GOP, backed by heavy industry lobbying, knocked back environmentalists on their heels by crushing global warming legislation. Other previously central issues -- Afghanistan, Iraq, health care -- are still debated in the campaign, but not as centrally nor as viscerally as energy, said Frank Maisano, an energy and political analyst at Bracewell & Giuliani, a Houston-based law firm.