When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a surprise campaign stop last week at the shuttered headquarters of solar-panel firm Solyndra, his campaign aimed to use the now-bankrupt company as an example of President Obama’s faulty investments in clean energy.
Most of National Journal’s Energy & Environment Insiders think the strategy is working.
Fifty-five percent of Insiders say that the GOP and Romney campaign strategy to criticize Obama for backing the California solar firm is more effective than the Obama campaign’s response that Romney would cede the clean-energy space to countries like China.
The whole scandal is just the perfect punching bag for the campaign, Insiders said.
“The optics of Solyndra are too ugly for most voters to not buy some level of malfeasance,” said one Insider.
Romney’s visit to the Solyndra headquarters came after his campaign’s weeklong push to depict Obama as clueless about the economy and job creation.
“President Obama was here to tout this building and this business as a symbol of the success of his stimulus,” Romney said outside the Solyndra site. “Well, you can see that it’s a symbol of something very different today.”
Insiders said that the Romney campaign’s message could resonate with voters who are concerned about the economy and want look to Obama’s policies as drivers of economic uncertainty.
“As long as the American public is concerned about the economy, President Obama will not win this argument,” said one Insider.
Still, 40 percent of Insiders say that the Obama campaign’s response to Romney’s attacks could be just as effective.
After the Romney campaign released an ad targeting Obama for backing Solyndra last week, White House press secretary Jay Carney hit back, saying that while others might be willing to surrender clean-energy development to other countries, Obama is not.
“We will not cede the industries of the future to the Chinese or the Europeans or the Brazilians or the Indians or any other nation on earth,” Carney said.
That kind of message will be effective, Insiders said, because voters outside of Washington don’t know or care much about Solyndra, but they are interested in combating America’s diminishing global dominance in many industries.
“Outside of the Beltway, the polling has shown that voters don’t really care that an isolated project went bankrupt. Voters are more concerned about future economic opportunities and jobs being lost to other nations’ more aggressive actions,” said one Insider.
Now that gas prices have been dropping, Insiders were deeply divided about which energy issues will be the most prevalent in campaigns heading into November. Twenty percent of Insiders said that subsidies for oil and gas companies would be a big issue in campaigns, while 15 percent voted for natural-gas drilling and fracking regulations, nearly 13 percent voted for clean energy, and nearly 8 percent said offshore drilling. The rest—45 percent—chose “other,” listing a series of possible campaign issues such as the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, energy independence, an all-of-the-above energy strategy, and many more, including gas prices themselves.
Insiders said that although gas prices are dropping, they are by no means low enough for voters.
"Prices are still the issue. High prices have taken their bite and the wound has not yet healed. America isn't yet configured to think of $3.75 per gallon as cheap," said one Insider.
Overall, Insiders agreed that there won’t just be one energy issue circulating among candidates ahead of the election, bringing together the vast array of local interests from across the United States.
Which message will resonate more with voters in the November general election?
- the GOP and the Romney campaign criticizing President Obama for backing the now-bankrupt solar-panel maker Solyndra 55%
- the Obama campaign response that Romney would be willing to cede clean-energy space to China and others, while Obama is not 40%
- Other 5%
The GOP and the Romney campaign criticizing President Obama for backing the now-bankrupt solar-panel maker Solyndra
“In a deeply anti-Washington political environment colored by never-ending discussions on tax and spending policy, Solyndra will continue to have traction. The public's response to the GSA's antics drive the point.”
“The election will be a referendum on the president's record and the decisions he has made. Solyndra is example A of the president's failed policies.”
“The Obama issue is based on 'facts' while the Romney issue is based on perception”
“With the recession headed towards a double dip, voters want affordable energy and jobs - not expensive renewables that appear to be more bust than boom.”
“Playing the China card rarely translates into votes.”
“What, will Obama argue we didn't give enough money to Solyndra?”
“Solyndra is a powerful symbol of wasteful spending, yawning federal deficits, and ineffective stimulus - the charge that Romney wants to surrender to China does not wash."
The Obama campaign response that Romney would be willing to cede clean-energy space to China and others, while Obama is not
“The public neither understands nor cares about Solyndra. But they do see renewable energy as the future and want America to lead in this area.”
“You can't lose by including China as a boogeyman in any message.”
“Despite the Romney campaign's efforts to make Solyndra another Teapot Dome scandal, that dog won't hunt. By contrast, Americans are concerned about losing out economically to China, so the issue of promoting domestic clean-energy industries will resonate more strongly.”
This article appears in the June 7, 2012 edition of NJ Daily.