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Is It Easy Being Green?

Gore's reputation as the 'Ozone Man' may help him in 2000

By Bruce Morton/CNN


WASHINGTON (April 22) -- Volunteers were collecting trash today along the banks of Washington, D.C.'s Anacostia River with Vice President Al Gore on hand to help out. After all, it's Earth Day.

It's not quite like the first Earth Day, 27 years ago when demonstrations were everywhere.

On that day, at a large rally at Philadelphia's Independence Hall, the man who would go on to be the Green Party's 1996 presidential candidate, consumer activist Ralph Nader, railed against the system.

"The existing pollution control laws in this country are shams -- they are deception incarnate," Nader declared.

The environment has improved since then. It has been a hot issue in some places like the Pacific Northwest, where loggers are squaring off against the spotted owl and those who want to preserve first growth timber.

It was an issue in the 1992 campaign, when then-President George Bush attacked Gore as the "Ozone Man," meaning an environmental extremist. In a campaign speech Bush said, "I think we oughta think about the workin' man and the workin' women and have good environment without going to extremes like the Ozone Man wants."

Automobiles are cleaner than they once were; so are air and water. The environment is important to voters, but CNN pollster Keating Holland says, "It has dropped as people have become more and more concerned about basic issues, issues even more basic than the environment. Crime, education, for example, always rank higher in people's priorities."


Pollsters say it's a good issue against a candidate with a bad record, not otherwise.

The Sierra Club's Daniel Weiss said, "Where both candidates are good on the environment, it's not so much an issue because voters know the environment's getting cleaner."

And for Campaign 2000? Al Gore is the candidate who's always emphasized it. Does that help?

"It's certainly going to be an important part of his base," Weiss said. "One of the first states that has a primary, New Hampshire, is a very strong pro-environment state. And as we found in 1996, the environment can appeal to Republican and moderate voters who might not otherwise consider a Democratic candidate," Weiss said.

So having been the Ozone Man may help Gore. American voters have decided the environment matters -- that they want to see a sunset shimmer through clean air.

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