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McCain Goes Green in California

On a two-day swing through California, Sen. John McCain will unveil a new proposal to reduce America’s energy consumption. He is set to speak in Fresno later this morning. The Arizona senator is planning to offer a $300-million reward to any company who can develop a new, super-efficient automobile battery. From his prepared remarks:

“I further propose we inspire the ingenuity and resolve of the American people by offering a $300-million prize for the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars. This is one dollar for every man, woman and child in the U.S. – a small price to pay for helping to break the back of our oil dependency – and should deliver a power source at 30 percent of the current costs.”

The presumptive GOP nominee is also set to propose new incentives for American automakers to produce vehicles that emit no greenhouse gases: a $5,000-per-vehicle tax credit to individuals who purchase a zero-emissions, as well as tax credits for low-emissions vehicles.

It is no accident these announcements will be made in California, a state known for taking the lead in pushing for tougher environmental regulations. Following his proposal last week to lift the federal moratorium on off-shore drilling in an effort to expand U.S. oil production — an unpopular move among many environmentalists — McCain is making a move to strengthen his credibility as a leader in addressing climate change. He will deliver an environmental briefing tomorrow in Santa Barbara.

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that California has been a major source of campaign contributions for McCain, totaling about $10 million — of $96 million raised overall, according to OpenSecrets.org. McCain will attend a fund-raiser later today in Fresno and another tomorrow in the Republican stronghold of Riverside. Both cities have large Latino populations, whom McCain is aggressively courting. McCain will return to California next month to speak at the national convention of La Raza, the nation’s largest Latino civil-rights organization.

Sen. Barack Obama leads in California by a large margin in recent polls, and Sen. John Kerry won the state by 9 percentage points in 2004. Still, with the state supreme court’s recent reversal of a ban on gay marriage, conservatives see an opening to make the state competitive. The November ballot will contain a proposed amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage, that could help turn out conservative voters.

However, now that Obama has opted out of public financing and will almost certainly enjoy a big fund-raising advantage, it seems unlikely that the McCain campaign will decide it is worth investing the time and money to put the state in play. We’ll see just how much McCain focuses on California between now and November.

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