Still keen on debating how to go green

Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's vision of convening a global-warming forum among presidential candidates before next month's primary apparently has fallen apart, Sen. John McCain and others said Saturday.

The concept gained attention after McCain, a Republican contender, revealed at a campaign stop last month in California that Schwarzenegger had invited him to participate. A proponent of taking steps to reverse climate change, the Arizona senator was quick to accept. He has sought to differentiate himself on the issue from other Republican contenders.

But McCain said the event, once tentatively set for this month, evidently won't happen, at least not by New Hampshire's Jan. 8 primary.

"I still want to do it and I hear that it has been canceled," McCain said shortly before a town hall gathering here where he was asked his views on climate change. "They tell me none of the other candidates would take part."

Schwarzenegger spokesman Adam Mendelsohn said the California governor would continue to work on the effort and held out hope there could be a forum, if not before the New Hampshire vote, then sometime later in the primary season.

"This was always something that was in the planning stages," Mendelsohn said. "It continues to be something we are planning. As you can imagine, at this time of year, it requires a lot of work to figure out how to get all the right candidates together."

Mendelsohn added that although McCain's involvement would be important, Schwarzenegger believed that "to have a worthwhile debate about energy policy, all of the significant candidates should be there." The goal, Mendelsohn said, is to "see where candidates -- both Democratic and Republican -- come down on energy and climate change."

"We are still trying to determine how to make this happen," he said.

Among the Republican candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney probably would not attend because of previous commitments, said his communications director, Matt Rhoads. A spokesman for former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson said no decision had been made about his participation; aides to former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani did not respond to inquiries.

Schwarzenegger has seized on the environment as a central issue to his administration, advocating steps to reverse global warming and signing legislation intended to combat climate change.

Though the governor cannot run for president because he was not born in the United States, his effort to influence the campaign by convening the forum has garnered significant attention in the Granite State and elsewhere.

"It would have been a big event, and he would have been the perfect guy to host it," Steve Duprey, a McCain backer and former New Hampshire GOP chairman, said of Schwarzenegger.

California's Republican governor had envisioned co-hosting the event with former Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat. It was not clear whether all GOP candidates, vying to win votes among conservatives in Iowa, South Carolina and elsewhere, would relish the idea of sharing a stage with Gore or Schwarzenegger, a moderate, on a topic more closely associated with Democrats.

But McCain, who lags in the Iowa polls, is focused on New Hampshire and convinced the environment is a top-tier issue here. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another Republican, has also endeared himself to some environmentalists with comments that the federal government should take steps to reverse climate change.

At the town hall gathering on Saturday, McCain, responding to a college student's question about global warming -- and anticipating what the answer would be -- asked the student what the biggest issue was among his friends. The Harvard student answered that global warming was No. 1 or No. 2.

"We've got to go green; we've got to go back to nuclear power," McCain said, noting that nuclear reactors emit virtually no greenhouse gases. He also called for greater emphasis on electric vehicles and ethanol made from all types of sources.

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