WILKES-BARRE, Pa. - Republican John McCain yesterday credited the recent $10-a-barrel drop in the price of oil to President Bush's lifting of a presidential ban on offshore drilling, an action he has been advocating in his presidential campaign.
The cost of oil and gasoline is "on everybody's mind in this room," Mr. McCain said at a town-hall meeting.
He criticized Democratic rival Barack Obama for opposing drilling on the outer continental shelf.
Mr. Bush recently lifted the executive order banning offshore drilling that his father put in place in 1990. He also asked Congress to lift its own moratorium on oil exploration on the outer continental shelf, which includes coastal waters as close as three miles from shore.
"The price of oil dropped $10 a barrel," said Mr. McCain, who argued that the psychology of lifting the ban has affected world markets.
The White House didn't go that far. Presidential spokesman Dana Perino said the price drop also could reflect diminished demand.
"I don't know if we fully deserve the credit," she said.
Mr. McCain also said that Democratic candidate Barack Obama's Iraq policies amount to "unconditional withdrawal."
His criticism of his rival has heated up as Mr. Obama has drawn the lion's share of attention during the last few days for his visit to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and other destinations.
Mr. McCain said Mr. Obama's plan to withdraw U.S. troops over a 16-month period "could lead to a resurgence in our enemies, and we would have to come back."
Under a McCain presidency, the Arizona senator said, "We will never have to go back. We will have won this conflict."
Later in the day, he pushed back against Democratic criticism that he misstated when the troop buildup ordered by President Bush began, saying elements were put in place before Mr. Bush announced the strategy in early 2007.
At an impromptu stop at a super market in Bethlehem, Pa., Mr. McCain said what the Bush Administration calls "the surge" was "made up of a number of components," some of which began before the President's order for more troops.
During a Tuesday interview with CBS, he disputed Mr. Obama's contention that a Sunni revolt against al-Qaeda combined with thousands more U.S. combat troops to Iraq produced the improved security situation there. Mr. McCain called that a "false depiction."
Democrats said Mr. McCain's remarks showed he was out of touch, because the rebellion of U.S.-backed Sunni sheiks against al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq's Anbar province was under way well before Mr. Bush announced in January, 2007, his decision to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq.
Mr. McCain asserted he knew that and didn't commit a gaffe.
Meanwhile, he greeted shoppers and commiserated with them on soaring costs. "Among other challenges, Americans face the price of milk at over $4 a gallon," he said.
But there were other questions. Mr. McCain brushed aside a question on a running mate when asked whether Minnesota Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty is at the top of his list. "I can't mention names," he said. But asked what he thought of Mr. Pawlenty, Mr. McCain said, "He's a great, fine person."
"He and [Louisiana Gov.] Bobby Jindal and a number of other governors are the future of the Republican Party," he said.