As rising energy costs take center stage in the US presidential campaign, Democrat Barack Obama proposes tapping the strategic oil reserve to help lower gas prices, and calls rival John McCain a tool of big oil companies.
Barack Obama Monday branded John McCain a stooge of profit-soaked US oil giants, as the White House rivals dueled on high gasoline prices and energy policy exactly three months from election day.
Celebrating his 47th birthday, the Democrat launched a stinging counter-attack after the Republican McCain had last week cast him as a vacuous celebrity unfit to lead at a time of gathering crisis.
Unveiling a new energy plan, Obama promised a 10-year, 150 billion dollar drive to cut US "addiction" to oil from global hotspots like the Middle East and Venezuela.
"Breaking our oil addiction is one of the greatest challenges our generation will ever face," Obama said in Michigan, the general election battle ground state which is home to the crippled US auto industry.
"It will take nothing less than a complete transformation of our economy."
The Illinois senator proposed a windfall tax on big oil firms to bankroll a 1,000 dollar per family rebate to help defray soaring energy costs.
After McCain's media onslaught of last week, Obama also hit back with his own new advertisement claiming the Arizona senator was "in the pocket" of oil firms basking in record profits.
"After one president in the pocket of big oil ... we can't afford another," the ad said, in a reference to President George W. Bush, a former oil executive.
Obama campaign spokesman Hari Sevugan said: "As it turns out, Big Oil's most successful speculating wasn't in the oil fields, it was in Washington where they invested millions in John McCain and got their money's worth."
Obama's plan calls for an expanded use of "clean coal," solar energy, windpower, the development of new biofuels, cuts in consumption, and the creation of five million new jobs in the "green energy" sector.
But McCain argued the ambitious blueprint would fail without an immediate expansion in offshore oil and gas prospecting, and a new generation of nuclear power plants.
"Anybody who says that we can achieve energy independence without using and increasing these existing energy resources either doesn't have the experience to understand the challenge we face or isn't giving the American people some straight talk," he told reporters in Pennsylvania.
McCain's campaign meanwhile denied the senator had taken "Big Oil" donations, and accused Obama of trawling for contributions himself from oil industry employees.
"Barack Obama's latest negative attack ad shows his celebrity is matched only by his hypocrisy," McCain's spokesman Tucker Bounds said in a statement.
Republicans also pounced on Obama's call Monday on the US government to sell 70 million barrels of oil from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve in a bid to lower prices, pointing out that he had opposed such a plan a month ago.
Obama's foes also accused him of backtracking for political gain on the question of expanding offshore drilling, which he opposes but now says he would accept if it would ease political deadlock over sweeping energy reforms.
Republicans also mocked Obama by delivering tire gauges to reporters, highlighting the Democrat's comment that drivers could save gas by properly inflating tires, which McCain claims is proof the Obama energy plan is shallow.
However, the Obama campaign noted that the US Department of Energy and the NASCAR auto racing series tell drivers to keep tires inflated to improve gas mileage.
Obama's assault on McCain coincided with a new Rasmussen daily tracking poll showing the two rivals locked in a tie -- 44 percent each, ahead of the general election on November 4.
When undecided voters who were "leaning" to one candidate or the other were included, McCain led by 47 to 46 percent, the first time he had posted an advantage since Obama secured the Democratic nomination in June.
The latest Gallup daily tracking poll Monday had Obama up by three points, 46 to 43, after his lead dipped to just one point late last week.
After he returned from a triumphant tour of Europe just over a week ago, Obama had led the Gallup poll by nine points.
But there was encouraging data for Obama in another survey published by the Washington Post, which showed him leading McCain 47 percent to 37 among low-wage white workers, a constituency he has struggled to attract.
Date created : 2008-08-05