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Energy One Of Top Issues For Republicans

With high energy prices squeezing their wallets, U.S. voters are calling for measures to reduce energy costs. One proposal is for more oil and gas exploration and development in offshore areas now off-limits to energy companies. Democrats want to keep the ban on drilling, and favor development of alternative energy. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from the Republican Convention in St Paul, Minnesota, Republicans see energy as an issue that could help their candidate win in November.

Since he clinched his party's nomination for president, Senator John McCain has favored renewed drilling off both the east and west coasts of the United States. High fuel prices alarmed people across the country, and surveys showed close to 70 percent backing expanded drilling in U.S. waters.

McCain's choice for a running mate is also focused on the energy issue. In her acceptance speech before the convention Wednesday, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, whose state is a prime source of oil and gas suppliers within the United States, stressed the need to diversify energy production. Palin told Republican delegates, "The stakes for our nation could not be higher. When a hurricane strikes in the Gulf of Mexico, this country should not be so dependent on imported oil that we are forced to draw from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and families cannot throw more and more of their paychecks on gas and heating oil."

The passage of Hurricane Gustav through the Gulf of Mexico earlier this week gave Republicans an opportunity to emphasize their point that energy supplies should be diversified. Close to 25 percent of U.S. oil production comes from the Gulf, and production is shut down every time a hurricane threatens.

Republican members of Congress attending the convention are calling for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, to bring an energy bill to the floor for a vote.

Republican Congressman David Dreier says polls showing overwhelming support for expanded drilling give his party an opening to win more votes. "I would say that the political tide has turned in favor of it, and we need to capture the imagination of the American people, galvanizing support, and we recognize that that is essential." Dreier adds, "That is why we have, during the month of August, stayed in Washington. I flew back myself and spent a day on the House floor to underscore the importance of doing this. It is what the American people are asking us to do, and we know full well that dramatically increasing energy prices exacerbate the problems people are facing across the board."

Democrats have shifted their position in recent weeks, saying they would accept some new drilling if Republicans will agree to using money from oil and gas royalties to fund alternative energy research and conservation programs. Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen, who represents a district in Maryland, came to the Republican convention site in Minnesota to talk with reporters about the energy issue. "What we have said is, we need a comprehensive proposal and, in some ways, this is going to put the Republicans' claim to the test. The question for them is going to be, are they willing to give up their cozy relationship with the big oil and gas companies and get rid of the subsidies they have been giving them as part of a comprehensive strategy," said Van Hollen.

Energy prices have fallen sharply in recent weeks, but remain much higher than they were even a year ago. Most financial experts believe prices are set to rise more in the long term because of increased world demand. So, the issue is likely to be a hot one all through this election season.