Obama's lead narrows amid energy worries

Congress headed home Friday for a five-week recess without passing legislation to deal with high energy prices that are at the top of voters’ concerns.

Both parties in Congress played a role in blocking action on energy. Senate Republicans prevented action on a measure to curb speculation in oil futures. House Democratic leaders employed voting procedures that effectively blocked Republicans from forcing a vote on opening new areas to oil exploration, a step with widespread Congressional support.

The stalemate has been driven, in part, by each party’s desire to keep the other from seizing the political high ground on an issue of paramount importance to voters as the November elections draw closer.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed that energy and the gasoline crisis have “emerged as the dominant economic issue,” said Clay Richards, assistant director of Quinnipiac’s Polling Institute. Mr. Richards spoke at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters on Thursday morning.

The new Quinnipiac poll examined voter attitudes in three key battleground states – Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. “We gave people a list of retirement values, real estate, gasoline prices and food prices and said which one of them is the most important and more than one third picked gasoline prices,” Richards said. “The campaign seems to be focusing on energy.”

Voters say they are more concerned about energy than the war in Iraq, according to Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, who also spoke at the Monitor breakfast.

The new poll found that while Senator Obama leads Senator McCain in all three states, Obama’s lead has narrowed in the past month. Florida and Ohio are now too close to call. “It appears that Senator Obama’s trip to Europe and the Middle East did not help him,” in terms of poll numbers, Mr. Brown said.

Energy has played a key role in Senator McCain’s improved position in the battleground state polls, Richards said. McCain favors increased offshore drilling for oil, something Obama opposes.

“Senator McCain has narrowed Sen. Barrack Obama’s lead in Pennsylvania by five points, probably because his energy policy is more in line in Pennsylvania  – the Three Mile Island state where a surprising six in 10 voters now favor building new nuclear power plants, “ Richards said.

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