Youngstown, Ohio (AP) - Democrat Barack Obama blamed Republican energy policies for some of the nation's economic woes Tuesday as his GOP rival John McCain advocated a large expansion of nuclear power.
Both candidates roamed the economically depressed Rust Belt touting their energy plans as concerns over $4-a-gallon gasoline and job losses have emerged as the presidential campaign's hottest issues.
Obama, who has had some difficulty connecting with working-class whites, told an audience in a Youngstown, Ohio, high school gym that the Bush energy policy, crafted in large part by Vice President Dick Cheney, an ex-oilman, tilted to provide tax breaks and favorable treatment for Big Oil and that McCain would expand oil industry tax breaks by $4 billion.
Obama has proposed an excess profits tax on Big Oil to finance a $1,000-per-family energy rebate to deal with the high cost of gasoline.
Oil giant Exxon-Mobil "makes in 30 seconds what the typical Ohio workers makes in a year," Obama said. "We need more jobs and economic development. Why don't we focus on clean energy and reopening factories and putting people back to work? Nobody is benefiting from jobs that are leaving the community," he said.
Outside Detroit, another depressed Rust Belt city, McCain became the first presidential candidate in recent memory to tour a nuclear plant. His energy proposals include building 45 nuclear power plants by 2030 to reduce the nation's reliance on oil imports.
"Sen. 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. I have proposed a plan to build additional nuclear plants. That means new jobs, and that means new energy. If we want to enable the technologies of tomorrow like plug-in electric cars, we need electricity to plug into," McCain said at the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Plant.
"Now, nuclear power alone is not enough. Drilling alone is not enough. We need to do all this and more. That is why I am calling for an 'all of the above' approach." Like Obama, McCain has multi-billion-dollar long-term plans to reduce oil imports.
Responding to safety concerns that have long stalled the nuclear industry's growth, McCain boasts that the Navy, in which he served as a fighter pilot, has safely operated nuclear power plants in aircraft carriers and submarines without an accident in 60 years.
Yet recent events somewhat undercut that message. Last week, the Navy announced that one of its nuclear-powered submarines, the USS Houston, had leaked minimally radioactive water into harbors since March as the sub traveled around the Pacific.
With polls showing increasing numbers of voters favoring oil drilling off the U.S. coast, Obama has scrambled in recent days to add new elements to his overall long-term energy policy of promoting fuel-efficient autos and developing alternate energy sources. He dropped his total opposition to more oil drilling if a limited, environmentally careful offshore plan would help pass a long-term energy bill, and he reversed himself to advocate release of oil from the nation's strategic reserve to help drive down gasoline prices in the short-run.
When Obama emphasized the key role of Cheney, the unpopular vice president, in Bush's energy policy, Republicans were quick to point out a contradiction in his criticism.
"President Bush, he had an energy policy. He turned to Dick Cheney and he said, 'Cheney, go take care of this,'" Obama said. "Cheney met with renewable-energy folks once and oil and gas (executives) 40 times. McCain has taken a page out of the Cheney playbook."
But Obama himself voted for a 2005 energy bill backed by Bush that included billions in subsidies for oil and natural gas production, a measure Cheney played a major role in developing. McCain opposed the bill on grounds it included billions in unnecessary tax breaks for the oil industry.
The Obama campaign has said the Illinois senator supported the legislation because it included huge investments in renewable energy.
McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds, said, "Barack Obama is opposed to offshore drilling and is also opposed to admitting that he voted for the same corporate giveaways for Big Oil that he's campaigning against today."
Continuing to criticize McCain's energy program at an afternoon town hall at Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, Obama noted that his own energy policy had won the support of oilman T. Boone Pickens.
"T. Boone Pickens is about as conservative a guy as there is. That's a serious Republican. Oil man. Driller. He says we can't drill our way out of the problem. I think he knows more about it than John McCain," Obama said.
Pickens said Monday he was "strongly encouraged by Sen. Obama's speech on America's energy future. Foreign oil is killing our economy and putting our nation at risk."
Pickens has been on a $58 million publicity tour to promote his plan to erect wind turbines in the Midwest to generate electricity, replacing the 22 percent of U.S. power produced from natural gas. The freed-up natural gas then could be used for transportation.
McCain also produced a new TV ad that emphasized his independent streak to counter Obama's charges that he's the same as President Bush.
"Washington's broken. John McCain knows it. We're worse off than we were four years ago," says the ad. "He's the original maverick."
It also tried to cast McCain, a four-term Arizona senator, as a change agent, a claim Obama has made for himself.
"Only McCain has taken on big tobacco, drug companies, fought corruption in both parties," the ad says. "He'll reform Wall Street, battle big oil, make America prosper again."
It does not mention areas where McCain and Bush agree, like tax cuts, the Iraq war and free-market economics, a point the Obama campaign highlighted in its response to the ad.
Democrat Barack Obama blamed Republican energy policies for some of the nation's economic woes Tuesday as his GOP rival John McCain advocated a large expansion of nuclear power.