Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama Tuesday charged that oil giants were betting their record profits on John McCain and accused his Republican foes of "lying" about his own energy plan. Senator Obama and fellow Democrats painted McCain as a puppet of "Big Oil," seeking to leverage public anger over high gasoline prices and bind him to the economic legacy of President George W. Bush.
"Under Senator McCain's plan, the oil companies get billions more, we don't pay any less at the pump, and we stay in the same cycle of dependence on oil that got us into this crisis," Obama said in Ohio. "The oil companies have placed their bet on Senator McCain, and if he wins, they will continue to cash in while our families and our economy suffer and our future is put in jeopardy."
Obama chose to press home his attack in the heart of Ohio, a midwestern state hammered by the loss of heavy industry jobs which is a perennial bellwether in US presidential elections. The Illinois senator argued that though McCain was right to argue America had grown addicted to foreign oil over the past 30 years, he was a part of the problem, as he served in Congress for most of that time. And Obama fought back after being ridiculed by McCain for urging drivers to properly inflate their tires, which even the US government says could reduce national oil consumption by at least three percent a year.
"They know they're lying about what my energy plan is," he said after Republican aides mockingly handed out tire gauges to reporters to sum up Obama's policies. "Instead of running ads about Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, they should go talk to some energy experts and actually make a difference," the Democrat added, battling back against a McCain offensive on his celebrity status.
The Democratic National Committee backed up Obama's attack with a new web video, showing McCain as a puppet being manipulated by oil industry lobbyists. The McCain campaign, however, pointed out that Obama voted for a Senate energy bill in 2005, which included huge handouts for oil firms. McCain voted against the legislation, slamming its oil industry giveaways and arguing it would not solve the energy crisis.
On Tuesday, the Republican presumptive nominee used a visit to a nuclear power plant in the battleground state of Michigan to argue for an expansion of the industry.
"Senator Obama has said that expanding our nuclear power plants 'doesn't make sense for America'," McCain said in remarks released by his campaign. "If we want to enable the technologies of tomorrow like plug-in electric cars , we need electricity to plug into."
Obama's aides accused McCain of misrepresenting his position, saying the Democrat was open to more nuclear plants, but only when such issues as security of nuclear fuel and disposal of waste were resolved. Republicans are also hammering Obama for his opposition to expanding offshore drilling, which Democrats oppose arguing that new supplies would not swell US oil stocks for around a decade and even then would barely cut prices. Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor tipped as a possible running mate for McCain, rejected Obama's energy plan on a Republican National Committee conference call.
"I believe Senator Obama has just misunderstood and under-appreciated this crisis. It is going to need to be dealt with boldly and aggressively," he said.
Pawlenty said he welcomed Obama's recent policy reversals on the issue of energy, but said they did not go far enough.
"He is obviously thrashing about, trying to grab on to the idea and catch up to the idea for the week. It is obviously belated, it is obviously haphazard."
Demands for more drilling seem to be striking a chord with the public, and Obama has shifted his position slightly, saying he would agree to some drilling as a way to unpick a political deadlock over comprehensive energy reform. A CNN/Opinion Research survey last week found 69% of respondents backed offshore drilling, the latest of a string of public polls on the issue which are giving Democrats pause. A Rasmussen tracking poll Tuesday had Obama and McCain tied at 44% while the Democrat led 47 to 43% in Gallup's newest survey