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.
Wearing a hard hat with earplugs attached, protective glasses and gloves, McCain toured the plant's control room and turbines, asking questions about safety and training.
But the visit raised questions about his repeated insistence that nuclear power is free from safety concerns. The first Fermi reactor -- located adjacent to the reactor McCain toured -- suffered a partial meltdown and was mothballed in 1972.
As he often does, McCain noted the U.S. Navy's experience with nuclear-powered ships and submarines, and his experience on the first such ship, the USS Enterprise. "I knew it was safe then, and I know it's safe now," he said.
In April, he said: "My friends, the United States Navy has sailed ships around the world for more than 50 years with nuclear power plants on them and we've never had a single accident."
But last week, the Navy reported that a nuclear-powered sub leaked tiny amounts of radioactive water as it navigated the globe. The Navy said the leak from the USS Houston was negligible.
"Safety is always a concern when it comes to power sources, but ultimately the perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the good, and nuclear power is an important part of John McCain's 'all of the above' approach to gaining energy independence," said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.
McCain used the appearance at the nuclear plant to assert once again that Obama "says no" to the energy solutions the Republican is pushing, including increased exploration for oil and natural gas off the nation's coastlines.
"The fact is, we have to drill here and we have to drill now and we have to drill immediately," McCain said, repeating a now-common refrain. "I believe that it's vital that we move forward with that."
"Solving our national energy crisis requires an 'all of the above' approach," McCain said. "Senator Obama has said that expanding our nuclear power plants 'doesn't make sense for America.' He also says no to nuclear storage and reprocessing. I couldn't disagree more."
Obama aides, on the defensive in recent weeks as the McCain campaign has repeatedly described him as "Dr. No" on energy, emphasized Tuesday that their candidate backs the use of nuclear power, although he has been less bullish on the technology than McCain. Obama has said the security of nuclear fuel and waste must be addressed before an expansion of nuclear power is considered.
In recent days, Obama has modified his positions on key energy issues, saying he would remove oil from the nation's emergency reserves to reduce gas prices in the short term and could back some offshore oil drilling. But he blasted McCain's focus on drilling.
"That's what he talked about yesterday, 'I want to drill here. I want to drill now,' " Obama said, quoting McCain talking in South Dakota on Monday. "I don't know where he was standing. I think he was in a building somewhere. This plan will not lower prices today; it won't lower prices during the next administration."
He also cast McCain's recent tactics, such as airing an ad that likened the Democratic nominee to celebrities Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, as part of his move toward Bush's style of politics, which Obama pledges to change.
"John McCain wants to talk about Paris Hilton and Britney Spears -- that's his idea of a relevant campaign -- but I don't have time to deal with that mess," Obama said to loud applause at a high school in Youngstown.