- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007


The presidential candidates this year are trying to get good mileage out of getting good mileage.

The candidates, who do a lot of talking about the need for greater energy efficiency, are not just asking who walks the walk but also who drives the hybrid?

Democratic candidate John Edwards makes a point of telling people that after years of driving a regular sport utility vehicle, he and his wife bought a hybrid model to shuttle their children, strollers, toys, luggage and other belongings between Washington, D.C., and North Carolina.

This month, the former senator from North Carolina announced that his campaign would be “carbon-neutral,” meaning it will do what it can to limit energy consumption and then buy “carbon offsets” to counterbalance the emissions produced by the energy it does use.

Mr. Edwards is not the only White House hopeful trying to make his own energy use part of the political equation this year.

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, says he usually drives a flex-fuel vehicle, which can run on gasoline or a cleaner-burning blend of ethanol and gasoline. But he acknowledges that sometimes it is not practical to fill up with the ethanol blend, known as E85.

“My campaign leases a flex-fuel vehicle,” he said in January, “but I’ll be honest with you, a lot of times you’re … 30 miles from the closest E85 pump. It’s going to cost you more to drive there and fill up than just filling up with regular gasoline.”

Republican Mitt Romney, the son of a former Detroit auto executive, announced his candidacy while standing in front of a hybrid Ford Escape, which averages 36 miles per gallon in the city, and an old Rambler from American Motors Corp. (AMC).

The former Massachusetts governor said his father, George, who once headed AMC, championed the small, practical Rambler as “the first American car designed and marketed for economy and mileage. He dubbed it a compact car that would slay the gas-guzzling dinosaurs.”

Mr. Romney drives a 2005 Ford Mustang and his wife, a Cadillac SRX SUV. The Mustang gets 17 mpg to 19 mpg in city driving, an SRX about 16.

Plenty of transforming remains to be done, both nationally and by the politicians.

Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani gave an energy policy speech in New York last summer that included a pitch for greater use of hybrid cars. Idling outside for him was a Cadillac Escalade. The former New York mayor opted to walk to his next destination rather than ride in the SUV, which averages 13 mpg, according to the government’s fuel economy guide. His campaign refused to say what he is driving now.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, drives a Cadillac CTS, which gets city mileage in the 15 mpg to 17 mpg range, the guide says.

Democratic candidate Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor and former U.S. energy secretary, made a big show in 2005 of giving up his gas-guzzling Lincoln Navigator for a hybrid Escape, proclaiming, “I believe I should lead by example.”

A few months later, the 6-foot-2-inch governor ditched the hybrid for a flex-fuel Chevy Tahoe LTZ after deciding the Escape was too small for him and his entourage.

“I can’t fit in it,” Mr. Richardson joked. The Tahoe averages 11 mpg in the city when using the E85 blend, and 15 mpg when running on gasoline.

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, as a former first lady, rides in vehicles owned and operated by the Secret Service. At the Clintons’ request, the fleet includes a Ford hybrid, said campaign spokesman Phil Singer.

Regardless of the candidates’ personal vehicles, the whole adventure of running for president traditionally has been one colossal exercise in energy consumption.

The NRDC Action Fund, an affiliate of the Natural Resources Defense Council, estimates the leading candidates in the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns each flew 1 million miles.

The fund sent letters to 20 declared or potential candidates in February, urging them to make this the first “carbon-neutral presidential campaign.”

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