McCain visits Aspen, says lets drill and drill now |

McCain visits Aspen, says lets drill and drill now

Scott CondonAspen CorrespondentGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado Republican presidential candidate John McCain proved Thursday that not everyone in Aspen is a liberal Democrat.McCain drew vigorous applause from an audience of about 800 people at the Aspen Institute when he bashed Barack Obama for his position on Iraq, insisted offshore oil drilling will relieve gas prices and vowed to cut government spending.McCain received the most support when he was challenged on his positions by two audience members during a brief question-and-answer period.One speaker asked McCain why he supports domestic offshore oil drilling when the U.S. Department of Energy said that it wouldnt have a significant impact on gas prices for at least a decade.McCain said an association of independent oil producers in California told him recently that, by using existing facilities, they could have an immediate impact on our supply of oil if offshore restrictions were eased. Exploration of known areas of reserves could pay dividends in a year or two, he said, and have a dramatic effect within a few years.This is what we need as a bridge, McCain said. An increasing of our offshore reserves of oil and gas is not the long-term answer, but [effective action] in the short term, while we pursue this all-of-the-above strategy.McCain said his broader policy is to promote conservation and provide incentives for alternative energy. The senator from Arizona dismissed criticism from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that he missed eight votes on providing tax credits for alternative energy sources by saying he never missed any crucial vote.McCain also wants to build 45 nuclear power plants in the U.S. by 2030 and develop clean coal technology.Meanwhile, he supports offshore oil drilling as a way to ease dependence on foreign oil imports reaching $700 billion per year.My response to the Department of Energy is lets try it lets try everything. Lets drill and drill now, McCain said to widespread applause.The Vietnam war hero and savvy political veteran showed a tough side when audience member Larry Gellman pressed him on what he perceived to be flip-flops on the senators positions. Gellman suggested McCain embraced the religious right to earn the Republican nomination and engaged in the same type of negative campaigning against Obama that McCain was victimized by when running for president in 2000.McCain responded that he believes in a very big Republican party. He was unapologetic about a reconciliation with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and said he didnt see it as a flip flop.McCain didnt acknowledge negative attacks on Obama, but said he has major differences with his foe over his stance on Iraq. McCain noted that he was accused of being disloyal by fellow Republicans last year when he called for a change in U.S. military strategy in Iraq. He called for more troops, which is what the Bush administration did with a surge.Sen. Obama said the surge wouldnt work, that it would fail, he voted to cut off funding for the men and women serving in Iraq. He refuses to acknowledge that the surge has succeeded, McCain said. His recommended course of action has been called by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff as a course very dangerous for America. So I think hes wrong and I think he used the issue of Iraq for political reasons to get the nomination of his party.For most of his 70-minute discussion of issues with Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson and Q&A session with the audience, McCain was his trademark easy-going self, cracking several jokes and often poking fun at himself. He defended his taste for the music group ABBA, for example.McCain noted that he spoke in Aspen last August before he established himself as the front-runner in the Republican campaign.At this time last year, when I was here, not only was I declared dead but I was reminded of the words of Chairman Mao who once said its darkest before its totally black, McCain quipped.He trotted out at least one of the same jokes he used in his speech at the Aspen Institute last year, noting that Arizona is so dry that the trees chase the dogs. But McCains best flash of wit came when he complained about gas being $3.75 per gallon and was quickly told by several in the audience that it is $5 in Aspen.Thats the classic liberal Democrat approach soak the rich, he said, drawing big laughs from the crowd.For the record, McCain sprinkled his discussion with a healthy dose of the phrase my friends, as numerous reporters have noted he does in his speeches. He used the phrase eight times in Aspen.The senator was all business when talking about Russias military action in neighboring Georgia. This is an act of aggression, he said, calling it the biggest crisis since the end of the Cold War.He cautioned against U.S. military intervention but said the country should work with its allies to find a way to punish Russia for its action. The goal is to de-escalate the situation, he said.McCain said he doesnt think Russia was trying to provoke a confrontation with the U.S.I think they want to have a situation that sends a message to the other nations in the region, the Baltics, Ukraine, etc., that they are now reasserting their traditional role of the Russian empire in the region, he said.After the presentation, McCain huddled with 100 top fundraisers and supporters in Aspen. The events included a dinner at the Hotel Jerome. The Wall Street Journal reported that the supporters and fundraisers would received briefings Thursday and Friday from McCains top advisers, including Rick Davis, Steve Schmidt and Charlie Black.

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