Who Wants Some Votes In Michigan?

Marc Ambinder reports that McCain’s advocacy of a cap-and-trade system for carbon is starting to create some reaction in Michigan. He cites a press release calling upon evangelicals to “avoid false prophets” in regard to McCain. It quotes denialist Pat Michaels as saying “Scientists are just getting tired of exaggeration on this issue.” Apparently this quote was not meant ironically.

I think that there is a tactical opening for any one of McCain’s opponents in Michigan on this issue (and it’s not, despite this memo, to stand athwart science yelling “I’m with stupid”).

Here’s what I put forward for a presidential candidate about 6 months ago in National Review:

We also shouldn’t forget that, in national politics, global warming remains a tactical issue. American presidential elections almost always turn on the questions of war and the economy. Unless Al Gore wins the Democratic nomination, in which case an all-out effort to demonstrate the folly of his proposals will presumably be a centerpiece of the campaign, 2008 is unlikely to be an exception. A CBS poll in March asked adults the open-ended question of “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” Not surprisingly, Iraq was named first and the economy second. Global warming did not even break 3 percent.

A key political question is therefore which side could more effectively use its position on carbon taxes to peel off 1 percent of relevant votes from the opposing coalition. In a presidential election the key attributes of these targeted voters are that they are persuadable—that they could conceivably change their votes—and that they are in battleground states. It seems pretty easy to find the names and addresses for lots of people who are potentially persuadable because they have a huge perceived loss and no more than an average benefit from a carbon tax. You could start with every member of the Teamsters and the UAW. Together they represent almost 2 million people, not counting dependents. Now try to find people on the other end. I guess you could look for owners of homes within a mile of the beach, and even that’s not an obvious winner.

The contemporary battleground for U.S. presidential elections is consistently the Midwest. The states with at least ten electoral votes and a 2004 presidential-election margin of less than 5 points are Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Imagine what a competent phone-bank and direct-mail effort could do in these states by contacting employees in carbon-sensitive industries (such as auto manufacturing and truck transport) with some version of this message: “My opponent wants you to pay thousands of dollars per year, and maybe lose your job, to help avoid a problem that might occur in sub-Saharan Africa a hundred years from now. I oppose this policy. I think we should invest in American technology and ingenuity to protect ourselves from any climate risk that might threaten us.”

Tellingly, the most obvious examples of persuadable voters are old-line industrial-union members alienated by an elite policy that imposes huge penalties on them. They used to be called Reagan Democrats.

If one of his opponents has the wit to take a “technology, not taxes” approach to global warming, it could not only help him materially in the Michigan primary, but also be a winning position in November. This is the moment to do it.