The conventional punditry on McCain's call to end the ban on offshore oil exploration has focused on whether President Bush's suppport for the idea will hurt McCain in the fall. But that could change, and soon, if what's happened in just the past few days develops into a real trend:
- Sen. Jim Webb announced he now supports exploration off the coast of Virginia.
- Ex-Gov. Mark Warner also supports opening up the Virginia coastline to possible drilling.
- Meanwhile, the latest Gallup survey shows Democrats are split on offshore drilling, with 39% in support while 59% still oppose.
Better yet, it's an issue where independents side with the GOP, although the margins are not so wide (80% in favor vs. 56%). Overall, Americans favor opening up U.S. coastal waters by a 57% to 41%.
Now, what does this issue remind you of? How about gun control in the late 1990s?
Arguably the anti-gun movement's greatest victory was the 1994 Scary-Looking Gun Act... er, Assault Weapons Ban. Through the 1990s, crime declined steadily, and it had nothing to do with assault weapons or the ban. State gun laws stayed the same or got better. Americans' support for gun freedom started to tick upward. The 2007 Virginia Tech massacre generated more questions from the left about their own priorities than any actual calls for greater restrictions.
Meanwhile Democrats, who had traditionally taken a dim view of the Second Amendment, started to change their minds. By 2000, many Democrats believed that Gore's opposition to guns cost him in rural areas. When Mark Warner ran successfully for governor in 2001, he gladly counted "Sportsmen for Warner" among his supporters. And after John Kerry lost in 2004, Chris Bowers actually wrote this at MyDD:
There are two liberal issues that I think we should drop ... The first is gun control. Even though I have never owned a gun, and never intend to own a gun, this is an issue that has never resonated with me. Have any of our gun control laws reduced gun-related violence? Are there any further laws we could pass that would be more effective than just enforcing the laws we have? Forgive me if I sound a little NRA, but are guns really a major part of the problem with our violent society?
Small coincidence then that MyDD site founder (and Warner consultant) Jerome Armstrong wrote this yesterday:
The politics have changed, and I don't see the principle that guides Democrats to be unequivocally against offshore drilling for oil at this point. We are stuck on oil for a long time. Congressional Dems should adopt the position, include some safeguards, and alongside billions in funding for finding alternative fuel solutions, make it part of a long-term solution.
So far, support for offshore exploration from Democrats is limited. Will Democrats continue to ignore a significant minority of their party who support it? If they don't, that's good news for John McCain. If they do, it might just be the next gun control.
P.S. To be sure, not all Republicans have joined McCain. Take for instance Gov. Schwarzenegger, who styles himself an environmentalist and, perhaps coincidentally, is also a supporter of gun cuntrol.