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August 04, 2008

Third Rail No More?

As House Republicans head to the floor to continue their protest over a lack of votes on offshore drilling and exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an issue that once looked dangerous for the GOP now shows some promise.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist, like virtually every other Sunshine State politician, opposed offshore oil drilling when he ran in 2006. That made his reversal on the issue, widely seen as a way to bolster his chances to be John McCain's running mate, all the more dramatic. But with gas prices at $3.88 a gallon, according to today's AAA national average, and Republicans using the issue in their campaigns, suddenly offshore drilling isn't the third rail it once was in Florida politics.

A Quinnipiac University poll out last week showed 60% of Florida voters supporting offshore drilling, including 60% of independent voters, while just 36% opposed the new steps. That number is only slightly lower than the 64% of Pennsylvania and Ohio voters who support the same offshore exploration. So far, the poll shows, 10% of voters who once opposed drilling now favor it.

Voters frequently indulge in a Not In My Back Yard response to any number of issues, but in the case of new drilling, it looks like they want their gas to come from closer to home. 53% of Florida voters say they approve of drilling in ANWR, significantly less of the population than want rigs set up offshore.

Despite his dramatic shift on an issue many thought was untouchable for a Floridian, Crist remains popular in his home state, with a 58% approval rating, while just 34% disapprove. As Republicans make high gas prices and oil exploration an issue, a one-time taboo topic could become a political plus, even in Florida.