So much for podunk politics

Yucca is so yesterday.

So are other localized issues once indulged in the presidential campaign. Ethanol has gone up in (politically correct) smoke. Billions for Detroit? A distant echo.

The presidential candidates, who have seemed to be running for mayor at times, now must run for the presidency.

They face what is essentially a national election in a week, two dozen contests coast to coast, and can no longer get by with the single-state pandering that helped get them where they are. Don’t expect to be hearing more about Iowa hog waste from the men and woman who would be president.

Nor are they talking anymore about Yucca Mountain, the site in Nevada designated for nuclear waste and a point of contention between Democratic hopefuls who ate up time and money competing to be the loudest voice against it just a week ago.

Now come concerns shared by city people as well as farmers, blacks and whites, red states and blue: a teetering economy that threatens to sink all ships, a war that could spill into another decade, a terrorist threat that’s been in abeyance but hasn’t gone away, a hunger for health care that doesn’t break the bank, at home or in Washington.

The economy has stormed to the front of voters’ worries in this period of market convulsions abroad and fire-alarm stimulants to avert recession at home.

Candidates who were already pledging expensive remedies saw their packages overshadowed in one swoop by the Bush administration and the Democratic Congress, joining in quick agreement on tax rebates and other relief.

First off the mark with Feb. 5 advertising, Democrats are putting out messages that mirror both the transformation of state contests into a national campaign and the drop-off of the Iraq war, once their — and the country’s — preoccupation.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is plugging his health care plan in several states. Altogether, his ads are running in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Missouri, Connecticut, Delaware, Alabama, Georgia and Utah. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has rolled out ads on the economy and energy independence in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah.

In Florida, which holds its primary Tuesday, the Republican field, too, latched on to the economy in a big way.

Mitt Romney proposed a stimulus package exceeding $230 billion, some $80 billion more than Washington plans to spend to revive the economy. He offers smaller rebates than Washington does and none for the lowest income workers, but deeper corporate tax cuts than his rivals have outlined.

Among Democrats, Clinton added $40 billion in tax rebates to a $70 billion stimulus plan, proposing $250 for people of low and middle income, while Obama called for $250 bonuses to Social Security recipients and income tax rebates of the same amount. Under the deal reached in Washington, individual taxpayers will get $600 each and most workers who don’t make enough to pay income tax will get $300.

In the race to be timely, the candidates were ahead of their time, for none will be president for another year and Washington is acting on the problem it faces now.

But their plans serve as guideposts for the direction they might take on the economy, a distant concern in polling last spring but a leading one now.

It marched to the head of the line with the war in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll this month, before the latest souring, after a year during which Iraq was head-and-shoulders above anything else.

And in an AP-Yahoo poll finished early this month, more people mentioned the economy as a top concern than said the war, 61 percent to 41 percent. Health care was mentioned the next most frequently, 34 percent, followed by social issues and immigration, each at about 20 percent.

Republicans have perhaps had more than their share of limited constituencies to talk to, most recently in the Florida contest.

Religious conservatives and their attention to moral values held sway for Mike Huckabee in Iowa. Michiganders powered Romney in the state of his birth and fellow Mormons lifted him in Nevada. Independents and military families helped John McCain win in New Hampshire and South Carolina respectively.

In Florida, they were pressed to take a stand on a proposed national catastrophe fund wanted by hurricane-prone states, especially that one.

Rudy Giuliani supports it, McCain opposes it and it’s hard to tell with Romney. But while it’s a big deal for Gov. Charlie Crist, he endorsed McCain anyway.

Even local issues have national import, of course, and no more so than with the Nevada waste site.

Candidates who opposed it are not about to identify which state or states might take the radioactive waste instead.

With most of the country still to vote, this would not be the time to kick around names.


AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.