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McCain says Obama didn't flip-flop on energy, but he did

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain wants you to know: On oil drilling, Sen. Barack Obama is no flip-flopper.

It may seem like an odd thing for the Republican candidate to say about his Democratic opponent in a heated presidential contest, especially at a time when the charge and counter-charge of flip-flopping has taken center stage.

But if there's one thing McCain can't have, it's Obama sharing his position on the need to boost the nation's energy supply, an increasingly popular stand that Republican strategists believe will help McCain prevail in November.

Despite his own record of promoting alternative energy technologies and fuel efficiency standards, McCain is highlighting more conservative, traditional Republican policies on energy, focused more on increasing supply than reducing demand.

Aides say McCain's campaign is trying to highlight his differences with Obama, who until last week was adamantly against increasing offshore oil and gas drilling.

"We're spending a lot of time focusing on the supply aspects of our comprehensive plan because they are essential components and appear to be an area of real contrast with Sen. Obama," said Nancy Pfotenhauer, McCain's spokeswoman on energy. "In other words, we all agree on the need for solar, wind, hydro, alternative fuels, hybrids/plug-ins/flex-fuel vehicles, energy efficiency and conservation."

Tuesday morning, the McCain campaign took the unusual step of sending reporters a missive titled, "Statement in Defense of Barack Obama."

"Sen. Obama's stance on offshore oil drilling has been mischaracterized," the memo from Jill Hazelbaker, McCain's communications chief, read. "He has not changed his position. He has continually campaigned against additional drilling, calling the policy a 'gimmick,' saying it was a 'scheme' and ridiculing those who support it."

In reality, Obama did shift his position in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times on Friday. It came after a bipartisan group of 10 U.S. senators released a plan that called for spending $84-billion to boost research and development of alternative energy, as well as for opening the nation's southeastern coast — and Florida's west coast — to oil and gas exploration as close as 50 miles offshore.

Obama reiterated his support for the general ideas behind the proposal Monday, when he outlined his own comprehensive energy plan in Lansing, Mich.

"Like all compromises, this one has its drawbacks," Obama said of the Senate proposal. "It includes a limited amount of new offshore drilling, and while I still don't believe that's a particularly meaningful short-term or long-term solution, I am willing to consider it if it's necessary to actually pass a comprehensive plan."

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report. Wes Allison can be reached at allison@sptimes.com or (202) 463-0577.

McCain says Obama didn't flip-flop on energy, but he did 08/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 6, 2008 3:46pm]

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