- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Three environmental groups yesterday announced a campaign to oust President Bush from office, but nationwide surveys show voters don’t much care about the topic this election year.

The League of Conservation Voters, Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund and Friends of the Earth Action are targeting swing voters in parts of Florida, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin via door-knocking, phone calls, mailings and TV advertising.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry is “going to stand up to special interests and polluters and keep our air, water and lands clean,” said Mark Longabaugh, political director for the League of Conservation Voters, the project’s chief funder.

But pollsters say Mr. Kerry of Massachusetts likely won’t get much traction from the issue because this year voters have two main concerns: the economy and national security amid the war on terrorism.

“Going back and looking at presidential races, I could not find a presidential race that fell into the category of two dominant issues,” Republican pollster Ed Goeas said.

In 1992, there was just one main issue, the economy. But in 2000, there were “four or five issues, with both sides campaigning on all five issues out there.”

His conclusion is borne out by a Gallup poll that found the environment near the bottom of Americans’ concerns. The percentage of respondents who said the environment was more important than the economy was 49 percent, a 21 percent decline since 2000’s 70 percent figure.

A “record-low proportion of Americans have chosen environmental protection over economic growth,” the March 8 through 11 poll said. On the list of what Americans worry a “great deal” about, the quality of the environment tied for eighth place with 35 percent, ahead of race relations at 19 percent.

Health care, crime and violence, illegal drugs, future terrorist attacks in the United States, the economy, illegal immigration and unemployment all ranked higher than the environment. Homelessness and the availability and affordability of energy tied with environmental quality in importance in the survey.

Education, which routinely ranks in the top three concerns for voters, was not an issue offered to those surveyed in the Gallup poll.

Nevertheless, the issue of the environment will come up today as Mr. Bush travels to Wells, Maine, to commemorate the 34th annual Earth Day. At the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, the president will participate in a water-quality testing drill and make comments about the nation’s environmental advances and his administration’s efforts.

Mr. Kerry is in the middle of a three-day celebration of Earth Day, which has prompted the candidate to offer initiatives for everything from national conservation to “healthy oceans.”

Yesterday, Mr. Kerry accused the president of “playing dirty” on the environment, saying Mr. Bush “has put the brakes on 30 years of environmental progress.”

“He thinks that empty slogans like the ‘Clear Skies’ initiative and the ‘Healthy Forest’ initiative … that those names will make people forget what is really happening in our country,” he said on a campaign swing in Louisiana.

An official with close ties to the White House said the environment is not a primary concern for swing voters, who will decide a close election. “This year, it’s not make-or-break. The true greens will vote for [independent Ralph] Nader, but there’s too many issues people care more about.”

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