LIMA, Ohio (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John McCain poured scorn on his Democratic rival Barack Obama on Thursday for failing to match his commitment to drilling off U.S. coasts for oil and natural gas.
Speaking at a town hall meeting, he returned repeatedly to a theme that has moved to center stage this week in an increasingly bitter contest between the two candidates. The issue could be critical to the November 4 election to succeed President George W. Bush.
McCain says he wants an “all-of-the-above” approach to solving U.S. energy problems, which have seen gas prices rise to more than $4 a gallon before falling back.
He advocates a range of measures including building more nuclear power plants by 2030, developing clean coal as well as wind and solar power and wants Congress to rescind a ban on fresh drilling off U.S. coasts.
Energy is particularly important in Ohio because the traditional battleground state where Republicans and Democrats are evenly matched is one of the nation’s largest producers of coal.
“Obama says he wants energy independence but he’s opposed to new drilling at home. He’s opposed to nuclear power. He said the high cost of gasoline doesn’t bother him it only rose too quickly. Tell that to the people who are driving the oldest automobiles,” McCain said to applause.
Obama claims McCain has misrepresented his plans on energy for political gain but Republicans see the issue as one on which they have an advantage because of shifting voter sentiment in favor of drilling near the U.S. coastlines.
McCain apparently backed away on Tuesday from his campaign’s criticism of Obama for saying that inflating tires to the correct pressure could increase fuel efficiency, but in Lima he returned to the point.
“Obama’s claiming that putting air in your tires is the equivalent of new offshore drilling. That’s not an energy plan my friends. That’s a public service announcement,” McCain said.
“We need to drill offshore here and now. When we exploit and find these new reserves of oil it will reduce the price of a barrel of oil. That’s just a fact. When you increase supply the price of whatever it is will go down,” he said.
McCain also attempted to link the issue of offshore drilling to what he says is Obama’s inexperience and vacillation over key policy issues compared to his own forthrightness.
“Obama might be a little bit confused. Yesterday, he accused me of having President Bush’s policies on energy. That’s odd because he voted for the president’s energy bill and I voted against it,” McCain said.
“I know he hasn’t been in the Senate that long but even in the real world voting for something means you support it and voting against something means you oppose it,” McCain said.
Editing by David Alexander and David Wiessler