A couple of commenters here worry that Obama seemed to put energy independence on the “back burner” by suggesting his clean energy plan was the “first thing” he would cut to make room for the $700 billion
bail out rescue deal. Significantly, that isn’t the message heard by at least one group of crucial voters — undecideds.
During the debate, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg ran a dial group of 45 undecided voters in St. Louis, Missouri: “These voters had an unmistakably Republican tilt, voting for President Bush by a 2-to-1 margin in 2004 and self-identifying as 33 percent Republican and 27 percent Democrat.” What did they hear?
On one of the most important issues to these voters — who will do a better job achieving energy independence — Obama … more than doubl[ed] an already impressive 20-point lead on the issue to 44 points. Obama scored some of his highest marks on our dials when talking about the need to make America energy independent. Even those who felt [Obama lost] the debate agreed in our follow-up focus groups that Obama was the more persuasive candidate on energy independence.
How is it that some seasoned clean energy folks listening to the debate came away with one message, whereas undecided voters came away with the exact opposite message? Welcome to the real world of political messaging!
Let’s look at what Obama said on clean energy during the debate. First, he made clear that a revolution in energy policies was one of his top priorities. When asked by moderator Jim Lehrer what priorities he might he have to give up as President because of the $700 billion financial rescue plan, he said:
But there’s no doubt that we’re not going to be able to do everything that I think needs to be done. There are some things that I think have to be done.
We have to have energy independence, so I’ve put forward a plan to make sure that, in 10 years’ time, we have freed ourselves from dependence on Middle Eastern oil by increasing production at home, but most importantly by starting to invest in alternative energy, solar, wind, biodiesel, making sure that we’re developing the fuel-efficient cars of the future right here in the United States, in Ohio and Michigan, instead of Japan and South Korea….
And I also think that we’re going to have to rebuild our infrastructure, which is falling behind, our roads, our bridges, but also broadband lines that reach into rural communities.
Also, making sure that we have a new electricity grid to get the alternative energy to population centers that are using them.
That is a strong, thoughtful, and unequivocal message.
Since Obama didn’t really answer the question directly — nor should he have (see below) — Lehrer asked the question again, and here is where Obama made what I would call a tactical debate mistake: