Campaign '08: Red, Blue and Very Green

Let's face it. When it comes to politics, green has become the new blue. And the new red.

Once a major agenda item only for left-leaning Democrats, climate change is fast becoming a hot issue on the political radar of mainstream American voters -- and presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle have taken note.

"As this becomes of increasing concern to Americans, you are seeing the leading candidates on both the Democratic and Republican side addressing this issue," said Chris Miller of Greenpeace.

Public concern about global warming has risen dramatically, according to an ABC News/Washington Post/Stanford University poll released Friday. Significantly, the poll found that seven in 10 people want the federal government to do something about global warming.

Environmental advocates said people are listening to scientific reports and are alarmed by natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina.

"We're already experiencing the effects of global warming, and people see the actual photos of the polar ice cap and the difference in it's size and hear about polar bears drowning," said Julia Bovey of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The issue has made former Vice-President Al Gore a media darling; he attended the Oscars to accept the Academy Award for his documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," and gives expert testimony about the perils of global warming on Capitol Hill.

For politicians in this climate, going green is like money in the bank.

Democratic presidential rivals Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina,. campaigned separately in Iowa Sunday, urging Iowans to make environmental protection a top campaign issue.

Clinton and Edwards have also pledged "carbon-neutral" campaigns.

Last week, Edwards attended an environmental "Step It Up" event in Fort Meyers, Fla., calling for an 80 percent reduction by 2050 -- the gold standard of climate change policy options, according to Greenpeace.

In Iowa City Sunday, Obama told nearly 5,000 people at a noisy rally not to wait for their political leaders to tackle giant issues like climate change. "It's not going to happen just because of some presidential candidate or because some bills are introduced in Congress," said Obama. "It's going to happen because the American people mobilize around the issue."

Even some Republicans appear to be warming up to the subject of climate change.

Monday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a 2008 GOP presidential candidate, touted his long-standing position on climate change, calling for caps on carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.

"The world is already feeling the powerful effects of global warming, and far more dire consequences are predicted if we let the growing deluge of greenhouse gas emissions continue," said McCain in a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. -- one of three environmental policy addresses before he formally announces his candidacy Wednesday in New Hampshire.

California's Republican governor, once famous for drivng a gas-guzzling Hummer, is also riding the green bandwagon.

Posing for the covers of Newsweek and Outside magazines, Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger has toured the nation, scolding Detroit automakers for challenging California's strict car-emissions standards and telling Washington lawmakers they should enact tougher controls on carbon emissions to slow global warming.

During campaign stops in California in February, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., met with Schwarzenegger to talk about California's landmark legislation to cut 80 percent of 1990 carbon levels by 2050.

In Silicon Valley, Giuliani held a press conference and told reporters, "I do believe there's global warming" and cited the "overwhelming number of scientists" that believe human beings are to blame.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, R-N.Y., who does little to squash rumors of a potential White House bid in 2008, announced Sunday an ambitious plan to make New York a "greener" city as he unveiled an extended list of environmentally friendly projects, including charging New Yorkers money to enter the city with a car.

It's all a sign that standing up for climate change is politically in vogue as candidates go into the 2008 president election.

"We are hearing more and more self-identified Republicans in the general public now saying they are very concerned about the issue and they want federal action," said David Sandretti, a spokesman for "The Heat Is On" campaign by the League of Conservation Voters.

For years, the chairman of the Senate's Environmental and Public Works Committee was Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who famously declared "global warming is a hoax." He was replaced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in the 2006 midterm Democratic sweep.

Republicans may also be drawn to arguments that paint climate change as a national security threat.

Last week, a panel of retired military leaders issued a 63-page report that described climate change as a "threat multiplier" that could lead to food shortages, natural disasters, territorial disputes, and could draw U.S. forces into humanitarian missions in unstable areas.

"We will pay for this one way or another," said retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq.

Targeting the Climate Change Issue in Key Primary Voting States

The grass roots environmental group has launched a campaign to spark debate on climate change in early primary voting states, targeting New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada.

Beginning Sunday, a cable television ad about climate change will air in South Carolina, sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters

The seven-day ad blitz features a commercial with actor and environmentalist Robert Redford, who said, "We need to challenge all of the presidential candidates to make solving global warming a top priority."

"We're getting anecdotal evidence in South Carolina where Republicans in that state are beginning to say 'we need to do something about global warming,'" said Sandretti, of the League of Conservation Voters.

The project also targeted the key primary voting state of New Hampshire, where 150 towns voted affirmatively on a resolution to create a national program to cut greenhouse gas emissions and develop sustainable energy technologies.

"A large number of these towns were placed which had voted for George Bush in the last two presidential elections, by sizable margins," said Sandretti, arguing this is further proof of a change in the electorate.

"More and more Republicans are beginning to speak out," he said, though he noted that some candidates have a long way to come on the issue.

"But from our organization's perspective, they can't be any worse on the issue than the current president is."

Christian Evangelicals Moving Green

Even a new breed of Christian evangelicals are turning green.

Long an important primary voting bloc for the Republican Party, the National Association of Evangelicals -- a broad coalition that represents 30 million Christians across the U.S. -- is pushing to expand the traditional movement's agenda on sexual morality to include such issues as climate change and human rights.

Last year more than 100 prominent pastors, theologians and college presidents signed an Evangelical Climate Initiative calling for action on the issue.

However, not all Christian evangelicals are convinced they should be focusing on climate change.

Last month, a coalition of Christian leaders including James C. Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family; Gary L. Bauer, president of Coalitions for America and once a GOP presidential candidate; Tony Perkins, president of the family Research Council; and Paul Weyrich, chairman of American Values sent a letter to the National Association of Evangelicals urging it's policy director in Washington, D.C., to stop speaking out on global warming.

2006 Midterm Election Changed Political Climate

After years of languishing in a political no-man's land on Capitol Hill, environmentalists said climate change is beginning to be taken seriously by politicians.

The House of Representatives voted last month to create a new congressional committee, devoted solely to addressing the issue of global warming.

Forty-four of the votes came from House Republicans, who signed on to the creation of the new Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

"Global warming may be the greatest challenge of our time," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement released to media following the vote.

Environmentalists see it as a sign that in the last year, the controversial debate over whether global warming is happening is over.

"The debate has shifted to what exactly we're going to do to tackle it," said David Willett of the Sierra Club.

Environmental groups said 2006 midterm exit polling found that global warming could begin to be an issue that voters take to the voting booth.

Half of Americans who voted in the midterm elections said concern about global warming made a difference in who they voted for on Election Day 2006, according to a postelection exit poll by Zogby International.

"Some of the most anti-environment members of Congress were sent packing and were replaced by some very forward-thinking environmentally-friendly candidates," said Julia Bovey of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"It was a wake-up call to politicians that this is something the American public feels strongly about," said Bovey.

Other environmental groups expect more and more politicians will go greener in order to appeal to mainstream voters.

"The trend is the same. They're seeing the same poll numbers and they all have to get reelected," said Willett.