TITUSVILLE — Sen. Barack Obama dismissed the suggestion Saturday that he was flip-flopping on drilling off Florida's coast, saying he remained highly skeptical about it but that big steps toward energy independence may require compromise.
"What I don't want is for the best to be the enemy of the good," Obama told reporters during the second day of campaigning across the Interstate 4 corridor. "If we can come up with a genuine bipartisan compromise, in which I have to accept some things I don't like and the Democrats have to accept some things they don't like, when it's actually moving us in the direction of energy independence, I'm open to that.
"What I will not do is support a plan that suggests that drilling is the answer to our energy problems."
Still, it's a big shift for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, who had steadfastly disagreed with Republican John McCain's proposal to lift a moratorium on drilling off Florida's coast, including just a few weeks ago in Jacksonville. With polls showing even a majority of Florida voters support more drilling off Florida, the McCain campaign has derided Obama as the "Dr. No" of energy independence.
Then on Friday in St. Petersburg, Obama applauded a sweeping, bipartisan energy plan that would allow drilling for oil and natural gas 50 miles from Florida's west coast. That area is protected by a 2006 ban on drilling within about 230 miles of Tampa Bay and 125 miles from the Panhandle.
"No one really knows where Barack Obama is on the issues these days," said McCain campaign spokesman Jeff Sadosky. "What we do know is that he's spent months attacking John McCain's common-sense plans to increase domestic production, so anything he says should be taken with a grain of salt. He'll probably try to refine his stands a few more times before November, if it is in his political interest."
Florida Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Mel Martinez, a Republican, oppose the drilling piece of the "New Energy Reform Act of 2008," and Obama stressed Saturday that he will wait to see the final proposal before embracing it.
"The one thing that I've said consistently when it comes to the Florida coastline is that as dependent as this state is on tourism, as important as that coastline is, we've got to proceed with extreme caution when it comes to anything that has an impact on that extraordinary treasure."
'Vision for space'
At a town hall-style meeting in Titusville on Saturday, Obama repeated his calls for a new stimulus package — a round of rebate checks to jolt the economy — and promised Space Coast voters a stronger commitment to NASA.
"We need a real vision for space exploration," he said. "To help formulate this vision, I'm going to re-establish the National Aeronautics and Space Council so that we can develop a plan to explore the solar system — a plan that involves both human and robotic missions, and enlists both international partners and the private sector. And as America leads the world to long-term exploration of the moon and Mars, and beyond, let's also tap NASA's ingenuity to build the airplanes of tomorrow and to study our own planet so we can combat global climate change. Under my watch, NASA will inspire the world once again."
On McCain's ads
Obama's focus on the economy in recent days has been undercut by new McCain ads likening the Democrat to vapid celebrities like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and accusing him of injecting race into the campaign by suggesting McCain is trying to scare people about Obama being different.
"In no way do I think that John McCain's campaign is being racist, I think they're being cynical," the Illinois senator told reporters. "I think they want to distract people from talking about real issues."
Obama concluded his Florida swing with a speech to the National Urban League in Orlando, where he stressed his commitment to America's cities and noted how McCain once supported abolishing the Department of Education and voted against increased spending for Head Start and Pell Grants.
"We know that government can't solve all our problems," Obama said, "and government can't and shouldn't do for us what we can do for ourselves: raising our kids the right way, being good neighbors and good citizens, becoming leaders in our industries and communities. We know that the American dream isn't something that happens to you — it's something you strive for and work for and seize with your own two hands. And we've got a responsibility as a nation to keep that dream alive for all of our people."
Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8241.