- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Republicans, alarmed that Democrats are gaining traction in their bid to blame President Bush for the California energy crisis, yesterday started a counteroffensive with TV ads that blame Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.
"The GOP is alarmed that the Democrats and Gray Davis specifically have gone out and politicized the issue with their campaign committee running ads against Republican members of Congress to the point where theres a need to do something," said Scott Reed, director of American Taxpayers Alliance (ATA).
The ATAs TV spots — which are slated for Sacramento, San Francisco, Fresno, San Diego and Los Angeles — say "Davis ignored all the warning signals and turned the problem into a crisis."
Mr. Reed, a Republican strategist, said his organization has purchased significant air time for the ads, which he hopes will leave Mr. Davis "bleeding like a stuck pig" after 30 days. He said he wants to shift blame for the energy crisis "away from Washington and back to Sacramento, where it belongs."
But Democratic strategist James Carville said there is already a widespread perception that Mr. Bush is an anti-environmental president who is at least partially culpable in the California energy crunch, which is rapidly spreading to other Western states. Mr. Carville said the perception has been reinforced by the Bush administrations positions on carbon dioxide emissions, arsenic in drinking water and salmonella in beef.
"Theyve set themselves a bad table, so people are willing to believe that they have an anti-environment, one-sided view," said the former campaign adviser to President Clinton. "And if that view delivers higher prices or brownouts, people will get doubly mad.
"Its not just about a shortage of refinery capacity or even generating capacity; its become an environmental thing," he added. "The storys not going very well for the administration and frankly has a chance of getting away from them."
Mr. Carville cited a poll, set for release today, that shows 55 percent of Americans believe Mr. Bush is "a president for the oil companies." Democrats are elated that they have had success in painting Mr. Bush, a former Texas oilman, as siding with his old "buddies" from the energy industry.
Four months ago, few blamed the president for the energy crunch because he had just taken office. Outgoing Energy Secretary Bill Richardson even conceded the Clinton-Gore administration had been "asleep at the switch" when it came to devising an energy policy.
But both Democrats and Republicans said yesterday that while Mr. Davis still takes the brunt of the publics blame, the president is increasingly viewed as unhelpful in solving the energy crisis. Both sides said the tide began to turn when Mr. Bush made his first presidential trip to California last month to meet Mr. Davis.
The governor had just hired Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani, political operatives in former Vice President Al Gores presidential campaign, who urged Mr. Davis to sharply escalate his anti-Bush rhetoric. Mr. Davis framed the meeting as a question of whether the president would endorse price controls on spiraling electricity costs.
Mr. Bush forcefully rejected price controls, calling instead for increased generating capacity. But much of the press portrayed the president as unwilling to grant short-term relief to struggling Californians.
Stung by these arguments, the administration has softened its opposition to price controls in recent days. Yesterday, Mr. Bush endorsed limited government intervention to prevent price spikes. He insisted such intervention by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which approved the measures yesterday, would not amount to "price controls."
"Theyre not talking about firm price controls," Mr. Bush told reporters. "Theyre talking about a mechanism to, as I understand it, a mechanism to mitigate any severe price spike that may occur, which is completely different from price controls."
Still, Republicans are increasingly nervous that Democrats might turn the energy crisis into a political weapon that could cost the Republicans control of the House in next years elections. Such Senate Democrats as Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut have begun holding hearings on skyrocketing prices.
With Mr. Bush and his White House aides loath to "go negative" against Mr. Davis, outside groups have taken that task upon themselves.
The ATA is not the first Republican organization to spring up in the energy wars to defend Mr. Bush and attack Democrats. Another group, the 21st Century Energy Project, has begun running print ads and might soon expand to TV spots.
Ed Gillespie, the groups executive director, said such organizations have become necessary "because Davis put all his time and energy into trying to shift responsibility and President Bush spent all his time and energy trying to accept responsibility."added: "The president is trying to change the tone, but others of us have to point out that the crisis developed on the watch of Governor Davis and President Clinton."

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