Despite their problems, the Republicans still can't be counted out. That became clear when GOP leaders, including Bush and McCain, caught the Democrats off guard with their calls for an end to the 1981 moratorium on U.S. offshore oil development. There has been little sentiment to allow such drilling in recent years, but the soaring price of gasoline may be making the public more receptive. A recent Gallup Poll found that 57 percent of Americans would support drilling in the nation's coastal and wilderness areas that are currently closed to exploration—if it helped reduce gasoline prices and if the drilling were conducted under strict environmental safeguards.
Opening up these new areas to drilling won't reduce prices quickly or even produce much more oil for many years. But in political terms, the GOP may have found a way to identify with millions of motorists who have a hard time affording gasoline that costs more than $4 per gallon and want some action from Washington. Democrats say that reducing America's dependence on foreign oil will take a lot more than additional drilling offshore. It will require conservation, use of alternative fuels, and many other steps that the GOP has not fully embraced.