The July 4 week is a milestone in a political season. The big issues are firming up, with energy rising to the top. We offer our thoughts:

Pignanelli: "Will Democrats snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" is the common inquiry in political discussions and blogs. Pollsters and analysts have decreed 2008 is an absolute lock for Democrats to gain the presidency and increase numbers in the House and Senate. Some politicos have already developed eulogies for the Republican Party. But Democrat veterans remember past minor missteps exploding into major catastrophes. This year, the potential disaster is gas prices.

American consumers' relationship with gasoline is interesting — $3 a gallon causes minor grumbles. At $4, millions of families are readjusting their travel plans and screaming for action. A tipping point (as described by Malcolm Gladwell) is when "the momentum for change becomes unstoppable." We have likely reached that stage. A recent Pew study reveals Americans now believe petroleum costs are the No. 1 issue, with almost one half of self-described liberals sharing the concern. This poses challenges for Democrats that maintain a longtime opposition to offshore drilling and internal exploration. Current U.S. Senate candidate and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner is running from the traditional Democratic position against offshore drilling to avoid voter anger.

As usual, congressman Jim Matheson is ahead of the curve. An expert in energy matters, he is co-sponsoring legislation to ensure the federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission has authority to detect and punish excessive speculation on oil.

Republicans will not make it easy for Democrats to retreat or massage messaging on restricting oil development. They are provoking the public with a claim that prices will drop when drilling is allowed. Unfortunately for Democrats, their current response (i.e., the problems with offshore drilling, plans for alternative energy, etc.) is too long and complicated. Republicans usually retort "Drill, Drill, Drill!"

Democrats need an articulate message on gas prices that soothes voters ... and fits on a bumper sticker.

Webb: The high price of energy is an enormous drag on the economy, and it impacts every one of us. It's a much bigger threat than even terrorism and thus deserves pre-eminence in the 2008 election. Any politician who doesn't focus hard on realistic ways to achieve energy independence, and make it a top priority, ought to be defeated.

We need to get serious. Here's what it's going to take:

• Much more conservation (turn off lights, take public transit, buy high-mileage cars, build energy-efficient homes and businesses). Conservation can make a big difference, and breakthroughs in automotive and a lot of other technologies are going to help.

• Rapid development of clean energy alternatives (wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, hydro, wave and clean coal). We're going to see a lot of exciting improvements and new technologies in clean energy.

• Construction of as many new nuclear power plants as possible, as fast as we can get them. Nuclear energy is efficient, it's clean. We desperately need nuclear power generation.

• More drilling for oil and natural gas, offshore, in Alaska, on public lands — wherever deposits exist. We can do it without destroying the environment, and we need to get about it.

• Rapid development of our immense deposits of oil shale and tar sands. The sooner the better. We have enough water. We can develop our resources and protect the environment.

In other words, we have to do it all to solve the energy crisis and avoid dramatic disruptions to our way of life. Any politician or environmentalist who says we can do it just with conservation or clean energy is either terribly naive or a liar. Global energy demands will soar as the world quickly industrializes and modernizes. We need to do it all — as fast as we can.

Any politician who argues otherwise is a fraud and should be defeated.

To continue moratoriums on off-shore drilling, drilling in Alaska or oil shale development is insane, and almost traitorous. Politicians who support such silliness are endorsing the transfer of billions of our dollars into unfriendly countries. It is a rip-off of the American taxpayer.

Anyone who votes for politicians who won't develop U.S. energy reserves deserves to live in a dark cave, cooking on a campfire, whining about how good things used to be.

Independence Day messages:

Pignanelli: Many television political analysts are hoping for a president "who will bring us together." What bunk. In the toughest days of this country (founding, Civil War, Depression) our greatest presidents confronted bitter opposition. To be American is to question. Real leaders persuade and cajole others to garner a majority to enact policies. Officials who enjoy the support of the entire population are usually tyrants. We just spent the weekend celebrating our disposal of them. God Bless America and our contrariness.

Webb: The Declaration provides sacred principles upon which our nation was founded: Men are endowed with unalienable rights; government was instituted to protect these rights; government derives it power from the people (not the reverse). These principles should guide all political decisions.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Deseret News managing editor. E-mail: [email protected]. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a Utah state tax commissioner. E-mail: [email protected].