Image: Sen. John McCain
Mary Altaffer  /  AP
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, looks at the fish in the ocean with press secretary Brooke Buchanan during a tour the Chevron Genesis Oil Rig Platform in the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans, La. Tuesday.
updated 8/19/2008 4:21:06 PM ET 2008-08-19T20:21:06

Republican presidential candidate John McCain visited this oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday to call for increased offshore drilling that he claims would lower the cost of food and heating homes.

McCain traveled 130 miles by helicopter to tour the massive facility, which produces 10,000 gallons of oil each day. He criticized his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, for not supporting such a plan.

"He says it won't solve our problem and that it's, quote, not real. He's wrong and the American people know it," McCain told reporters.

Obama's campaign, meanwhile, called the four-hour excursion nothing more than a stunt. Obama supporter and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack compared McCain's position to the "Beverly Hillbillies" television program where the main character — Jed Clampett — stumbles onto an oil gusher. McCain, he said, has "a Jed Clampett energy policy."

McCain and his aides believe the pocketbook approach can connect with voters — and, in turn, suggest that Obama wants people to pay more for gas, food and heating.

"Americans across our country are hurting, as we all know, because of the cost of energy," McCain said aboard the rig. "Gas prices are through the roof. Energy costs have seeped into our grocery bills, making it more expensive to feed our families. Now as we prepare for the winter, it's time for us to be more serious about our home heating oil needs. ... And that means we need to start drilling offshore, at advanced oil rigs like this one."

As gas prices approached $4 a gallon, both McCain and Obama tempered their past opposition to increased offshore drilling. McCain cited high prices for the turnabout, and Obama said he would consider more offshore drilling only if it were part of a comprehensive energy package.

During an hourlong tour that took him up and down the mobile factory, McCain visited with workers and was shown how it collects fuel, separates the natural gas from the oil, and ships it back to the mainland through pipes.

"We need to drill offshore and we need to do it now. If I were president, I would call Congress back into session and tell them to get to work," he said.

Congress left the latest version of its energy bill hanging before taking its summer vacation.

New domestic oil and gas production has been the mantra of the McCain and congressional Republican energy agenda. McCain has called repeatedly for lifting the drilling bans covering the federal Outer Continental Shelf off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the eastern Gulf of Mexico for the past 27 years.

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Experts note that lifting the offshore drilling bans, even if accomplished early in a McCain presidency, would not produce any oil for five to seven years.

McCain himself acknowledged drilling "will not solve this problem alone." He also emphasized need for other technologies, such as nuclear, wind and clean coal.

McCain's visit came a day ahead of the Minerals Management Service's lease sale in New Orleans to auction off 18 million acres of the western Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling. The tracts could potentially yield as much as 400 million barrels of oil, but that amount would only meet the nation's oil needs for about 19 days, and it would be at least seven to 10 years until oil started flowing.

Democrats, meanwhile, used the visit to return a snipe. After Obama suggested drivers inflate their tires to increase gas mileage, the Republican National Committee sent reporters tire gauges. The Democratic National Committee on Tuesday sent reporters stress balls in the shape of oil barrels and bumper stickers touting Exxon-McCain.

And liberal MoveOn.org's political action committee announced a $500,000 television ad buy in North Carolina to link Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina with McCain, noting both received donations from those in the energy sector.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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