The GOP better be on its toes. President Barack Obama, criticizing oversight of BP Plc’s deepwater oil drilling, is using the Gulf of Mexico spill to help Democrats make an election-year case for tougher government regulation of business. Obama, seeking to persuade voters that his administration is moving effectively to contain the spill and help victims, is attacking Republicans for allowing oil companies to damage the environment and Wall Street banks to hurt the economy.
The spill and the congressional debate over financial regulations give Democrats a chance to paint Republicans as too cozy with big oil and bankers. Democrats want to channel voter anger over the spill and the economic crunch to stem Republican gains in the November elections. Republicans reject the notion that Democrats can score political points from the spill.
Polls since the spill show environmental protection overtaking economic growth as a priority for voters. A May 24-25 Gallup poll found environmental protection favored over economic development by 50-43 percent. That’s a shift since March, when economic development was favored 53-28 percent. In a June 1-3 CBS/New York Times survey, 51 percent of voters said offshore drilling is too risky, compared to 40 percent who favored it. Last August, 62 percent of voters favored offshore drilling to 28 percent.
Not all Democrats say the strategy will work. “Republicans are trying to use it to show Democratic incompetence” and “Democrats clearly see this as an example that big business has been trumping environmental policy and fiscal policy for too long,” said New York Democrat Anthony Weiner. “You can see either one of us overplaying our hand.”