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Marco Rubio’s Consistency on Offshore Drilling May Cost Him at the Polls After Oil Spill

Even as tar balls wash up on Florida Panhandle shores from the April 19 oil spill, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio stands consistently behind offshore drilling.

“The bottom line is that there is going to be drilling off the coast of Florida. There is right now. Other countries are going to be drilling: Cuba, Venezuela, China, Brazil and Russia. The issue is not whether there is going to be offshore drilling, it’s whether America will benefit from it,” he said in an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, broadcast from Pensacola on June 11. “I don’t think any of that is premature conversation,” he added. He repeated those points to CNBC and the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Florida law bans drilling within a 3- to 10-mile radius of the coast, while federal law prohibits deepwater drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, as well as in environmentally sensitive areas like the Florida Keys. Former Gov. Jeb Bush — who is said to have mentored Rubio — strongly opposed shallow-water offshore drilling as governor.

Rubio is slipping in the polls, in no small part because of the oil spill. A poll released Friday showed Rubio trailing Gov. Charlie Crist by nine points — a larger margin than any previous poll since Crist declared his independent candidacy in late April. That same poll showed “education and the oil spill” as the number-two concern of voters, behind “jobs and the economy.” (The poll did not disaggregate the issues.)

Opinion on drilling has shifted radically. An April 19 Quinnipac poll showed that 66 percent of Floridians supported offshore drilling, while 27 percent were opposed. However, on June 6, 42 just percent supported drilling, while 51 percent were opposed — a 48-point swing.

As a political matter, Rubio is banking on consistency, in contrast to his rival, Charlie Crist. “I think Republicans have gotten themselves into a box ever since Michael Steele got up at the 2008 convention and chanted ‘drill, baby, drill,’” said JimDePeso, Policy Director for Republicans for Environmental Protection. Crist once spoke favorably of “at least a study” of drilling, but now opposes it, as do the Democratic candidates, Rep. Kendrick Meek and Jeff Greene.

“He has always been in favor of offshore drilling so long as it can be done safely and recognizing that short and long term energy needs will require America to become more energy independent,” said Rubio campaign spokesman Alex Burgos.

Some of the most pro-drilling Republicans have gotten the message that they need to ease their rhetoric. Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican who aggressively backed offshore drilling in the 2008 election, has softened up somewhat. “I also support the president’s decision to suspend any new exploration until such investigation is completed and any new safety measures are implemented” Stearns told Ocala.com.

Not Rubio. On Laura Ingraham’s radio show Wednesday, he said that changing positions was one of the problems in politics, “they just want to be on 51 percent of every issue. Their positions change as the polls change.” He compared the effort to end offshore drilling to curtailing nuclear power after the Three Mile Island incident. “We cut off our nose and hurt ourselves in that effort.” He closed, “We’re starting to see some of the same things pursued here.”

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