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Obama zeros in on offshore drilling, McCain

The Jacksonville skyline provides the backdrop as Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama answers questions at a news conference before a fundraiser Friday. The fundraising reception was expected to raise at least $300,000.

MARTHA RIAL | Times

The Jacksonville skyline provides the backdrop as Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama answers questions at a news conference before a fundraiser Friday. The fundraising reception was expected to raise at least $300,000.

JACKSONVILLE — Sen. Barack Obama on Friday opened a two-day Florida campaign swing by slamming Sen. John McCain for shifting his position in favor of lifting the moratorium on drilling off the coast of Florida and elsewhere.

"The politics may have changed, but the facts haven't,'' the Illinois senator said, standing on the banks of the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville. "Offshore drilling would not lower gas prices today. It would not lower gas prices tomorrow. It would not lower gas prices this year. It would not lower gas prices five years from now. ..."

Obama was in northeast Florida for a private fundraising reception expected to bring in at least $300,000, but he announced a last-minute news conference to weigh in on drilling, a suddenly hot issue in this crucial swing state.

McCain had been a consistent opponent of offshore drilling until Monday, when he announced that states should have the authority to decide whether to permit such drilling. Historically, candidates have steered far away from advocating drilling off Florida, whose economy depends so heavily on tourism. But with gas prices topping $4 per gallon, the political climate is not so clear.

Gov. Charlie Crist, also a longtime drilling foe, promptly embraced McCain's position and both have been hammered by environmentalists and newspaper editorial boards across Florida.

McCain and Obama are eager to show they are trying to give Americans relief at the gas pump. Obama wants to tax the profits of oil companies to pay for a tax cut he said would save middle class families $1,000.

"The American people cannot afford Barack Obama's do-nothing, out of touch energy policy,'' McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds said. "John McCain has laid out a clear strategy that will provide Americans needed relief at the gas pump while giving the states the right to choose deep water energy exploration, and the ability to move America toward energy independence."

The Florida stop came the day after Obama announced he would skip public financing for his campaign, which would have limited how much he could spend on the race. Obama, who is shattering money-raising records, had previously said he would abide by spending limits under the public financing system if McCain would.

Campaign finance reform advocates and McCain have been criticizing Obama for breaking his word. Obama responded by noting that many of his contributions are small donations.

"What we have done is to create a system that allows us to free ourselves from dependency on special interests and from lobbyists,'' Obama said.

At the fundraiser, where donations ranged from $500 to $2,300, Obama lavished praise on former rival Hillary Clinton and struck a more partisan tone.

"We know what kind of campaign they're going to run. They're going to try to make you afraid. They're going to try to make you afraid of me. He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black? He's got a feisty wife," he said to cheers. "Ultimately, I think the American people recognize that old stuff hasn't moved us forward. That old stuff just divides us."

Max Linn drops out

Max Linn, the millionaire financial planner who snatched headlines but few votes during his unsuccessful run for governor in 2006, has suspended his campaign for a seat in Congress. Linn, a Reform Party candidate two years ago, had become a Democrat to challenge C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, for his District 10 seat that represents much of Pinellas County.

With Linn no longer in the race, Young still faces Samm Simpson, a freelance broadcaster and grandmother who lost to Young in 2006, and Bob Hackworth, the mayor of Dunedin.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com or (727)893-8241.

Obama zeros in on offshore drilling, McCain 06/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 10:49am]

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