Energy Returns as Major Issue

Barack Obama shakes hands at a town hall meeting at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. Rival John McCain was campaigning in neighboring Michigan.
Barack Obama shakes hands at a town hall meeting at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. Rival John McCain was campaigning in neighboring Michigan. (By Alex Brandon -- Associated Press)
By Perry Bacon Jr. and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 6, 2008

BEREA, Ohio, Aug. 5 -- Barack Obama and John McCain used an ongoing debate over energy policy to tack back to core themes of their campaigns Tuesday, with Obama blasting his rival for the presidency as a clone of the current administration and the Republican seeking to revive his reputation as someone willing to buck his party on major issues.

Obama, campaigning in Ohio, said a McCain administration would be "four more years of oil companies calling the shots." Arguing he would do more than McCain to reduce gasoline prices, the senator from Illinois repeatedly attempted to connect McCain to President Bush and Vice President Cheney, both former oil company executives, saying "after one president in the pocket of the oil companies -- we can't afford another."

"Remember that when George Bush took office, he had an energy policy, he turned to Dick Cheney and he told Cheney, 'Go take care of this.' " Obama told a crowd at a gym in Youngstown, Ohio. "John McCain's taking a page out of the Bush-Cheney playbook."

McCain countered with a new television ad that will appear in crucial battleground states. The spot declares that "Washington's broken" and "we're worse off than we were four years ago," paraphrasing a line Ronald Reagan used to criticize Jimmy Carter almost three decades ago. While not criticizing Bush by name, the senator from Arizona pledged to "battle Big Oil" and "make America prosper again."

Standing in front of a nuclear power facility in Michigan, where he touted his plan to build 45 new plants by 2030, McCain noted that it was Obama, not he, who had voted for Bush's 2005 energy bill, which included major subsidies for oil companies.

"I think he might be a little bit confused, because when the energy bill came to the floor of the Senate full of goodies and breaks for the oil companies, I voted against it; Senator Obama voted for it," he said. "People care not only what you say, but how you vote."

Obama and Democrats in Congress have consistently sought to tie McCain to Bush's fading fortunes, labeling the Republican nominee "McSame" and running ads that feature McCain praising Bush. On Tuesday, Democrats unveiled a Web site called "The Next Cheney," in which they seek to compare McCain's possible running mates to the current vice president.

For McCain, the maneuvering has been more delicate as he tries to distance himself from the unpopular head of his party, while not angering the many conservatives who still back Bush.

Republican sources said Tuesday that Cheney -- one of the most controversial figures in the Bush administration -- is not scheduled to appear at the Republican National Convention next month, where McCain will be chosen as the new leader of the party. "His schedule hasn't been set for next week, let alone next month," said Megan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Cheney.

McCain's assertion in his new ad, that the state of affairs has grown worse in the past four years, contrasts sharply with his declaration months ago that "Americans overall are better off, because we have had a pretty good, prosperous time, with low unemployment and low inflation and a lot of good things have happened."

For the second consecutive day, both candidates focused on their energy plans, as high gas prices continued to be one of the biggest issues of the presidential race. Obama touted his energy proposals as he campaigned in Youngstown and Berea, two working-class towns in eastern Ohio, appearing with Sen. Sherrod Brown and Gov. Ted Strickland.

McCain toured the Enrico Fermi 2 nuclear power plant near Monroe, Mich., as he sought to highlight his support for nuclear power as a key to the country's independence from foreign sources of energy.

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