RENO, Nevada (Reuters) - White House hopeful Barack Obama talked energy policy on Sunday with T. Boone Pickens, a billionaire oil investor who funded the “Swift Boat” attacks on Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004.
Pickens, a lifelong Republican, has endorsed neither his party’s candidate, Arizona Sen. John McCain, nor Democrat Obama in the November 4 election and wants to make energy a top campaign issue.
He has advocated a plan to cut U.S. oil use by converting cars to run on natural gas.
Pickens funded efforts in 2004 by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which sought to discredit Kerry’s military service in Vietnam. The Massachusetts senator’s initially tepid response to the attacks was partially blamed for his loss to President George W. Bush.
Obama brushed off Pickens’ past at the start of a meeting the Texas energy tycoon requested on Sunday.
“You know, he’s got a lot longer track record than that,” the Illinois senator told reporters when asked how it felt to meet with someone who tore down his Democratic predecessor in 2004.
“He’s a legendary entrepreneur and, you know, one of the things that I think we have to unify the country around is having an intelligent energy policy,” Obama said.
Both Obama and McCain advocate increasing the use of wind, solar and other renewable energy sources to help curb U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
McCain has, however, also pushed strongly for offshore oil drilling and a massive expansion of nuclear power across the nation.
Pickens, who has also met with McCain, has been touring the country pushing a plan under which domestic natural gas supplies would be used to power cars instead of electrical power plants. And he wants the federal government and private investors to build a massive wind farm system in the middle of the country from Mexico to Canada to provide electricity.
Pickens, who heads the hedge fund BP Capital, stands to benefit from such a program. He’s building a 4,000 megawatt, $10 billion wind farm in northern Texas that should start generating power in 2011.
Pickens issued a statement after his meeting with Obama saying he told the Illinois senator his energy advocacy did not have a party preference.
“I assured Senator Obama that this is a non-partisan campaign and that I will do everything in my power to work together with leaders who are willing to solve our immense energy problems,” Pickens said.
“It would be inappropriate for me to speak for Senator Obama. I have a real sense, however, that he was very engaged. He understands the issues and is interested and excited by the work we are doing.”
Pickens released a similar statement after his meeting with McCain.
Editing by David Wiessler and Todd Eastham