Californians Rate Bush Over Davis on Environment

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - Californians give Republican President George W. Bush the edge on environmental issues over the state's Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, according to a new poll.

Thirty-nine percent of Californians said they approve of the way the president is handling the environment, compared to 35 percent for Davis, according to the survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

More than four months before the November gubernatorial election in California, Davis still beats his GOP challenger, Bill Simon, on the environment. Forty-three percent say Davis would do a better job of handling those issues, compared to 31 percent who favor Simon.

Polls show Californians are still prepared to support Davis over Simon in the November election. An April Field Poll found Davis beating Simon 43 to 29 percent among likely voters, with over a fourth undecided.

However, political analyst Larry Sabato said Thursday that it's too early to assume a Davis victory in November, because Davis's job approval ratings have not improved over time.

Bob Mulholland, a spokesman for the California Democratic Party, acknowledged that rank and file Democrats have been unhappy with Davis's environmental record.

"I think probably 30 to 40 percent of Democrats want the governor to crack down harder on polluters," said Mulholland.

Still, he noted, Davis beats Simon on those issues.

"We wiped out Simon on the issue of the environment, and we welcome the environment to be the issue," Mulholland said. "The governor put out three press releases yesterday on the environment, [and Davis will] have all the endorsements of the environmental leaders, or most of them.

"We'll use this issue well to our political advantage, with those headlines of Simon's friend Bush talking about arsenic and water, cutting back on environmental protections and everything else," he said.

Californians identify air pollution, population growth, and issues concerning water pollution and supply as the top four environmental problems in the state, according to the PPIC survey.

Ron Nehring, chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party, says it's no surprise Californians think Davis has not done a good job on the environment.

"Davis has turned off a large swath of the California electorate with his management," said Nehring. "Most Californians don't think that Davis can handle anything except fundraising very well.

"You've seen the energy crisis out here that was created as a result of government policy, and that was exacerbated by Gray Davis's failure to address the issue [until] it became a crisis," he said.

Currently, the two sides are sparring over offshore oil drilling. Simon has said he opposes it, as do most Californians (59 percent). Yet Davis blasts Simon for not joining the state's lawsuit against the Bush administration to forestall 36 federal offshore oil leases.

Nehring predicts that Davis won't get much mileage out of the issue.

"Bill Simon coming out in opposition to offshore oil drilling is a master stroke that will help take the environment off the table as an issue in the November election and allow [it] to hinge on issues which play to Bill Simon's strengths, which are taxes, budget, economic growth, education, roads, water and power," he said.

Californians told PPIC that they don't have much confidence that the government will do much to improve the environment, anyway.

"Californians today feel profound concern about the environment, but they have little faith that government can resolve serious problems like air pollution," said Mark Baldassare, statewide survey director for the PPIC.

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