From NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Hillary Clinton portrayed herself as a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt this morning, saying she'd build the political will to take on oil companies as president.
"At the turn of the last century, Teddy Roosevelt took on the oil companies," she said at the Deluxe Sheet Metal factory this morning. "We need a president who will take on the oil companies again, and I will do that. I will take away their tax subsidies. They don't need them to make these outrageous profits."
All week, Clinton has been beating the drum on her plan for a gas tax holiday. Today she used some different language on the issue, not calling it a tax holiday but saying she wanted "the oil companies to pay the federal gas tax this summer."
She also criticized McCain when asked about his statement that he'd use treasury funds to replace revenues the tax provides for the highway trust fund.
"I think that's a typical Republican response: don't pay for anything," she said of McCain's plan. "We haven't paid for the war in Iraq; we haven't paid for the tax cuts for the wealthy, so now we're not going to pay to replenish the Highway Trust Fund. … He is just driving us deeper and deeper into deficit and debt."
And she continued to knock Obama for, in her view, ignoring the short-term solution to the price crunch, adding that she hopes voters will consider this next Tuesday.
"I have no illusions about how difficult this would be, but you got to start somewhere," she said. "Going after the oil companies, which we're going to have to do in order take on our energy challenges and to get back into some balance in this country economically … means that we gotta start now to build the political momentum. I want this to be a voting issue. I hope people in Indiana and North Carolina on Tuesday will vote for me, because I'm willing to take on the oil companies."
Clinton took a few questions from reporters after her remarks, but carefully dodged one about Obama's comments yesterday distancing himself from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. (She addresses it on Bill O'Reilly tonight, calling Wright's comments "offensive" and "outrageous.")
"You know what? I wanted to call on somebody from Indiana," she said, after hearing the start of the question. "I was looking for a hand from Indiana."
Clinton started her morning with a carefully choreographed photo op, commuting to work with Jason Wilfing, an employee of the Deluxe factory, stopping for gas along the way. After the tank filled at the Marathon station, Clinton acknowledged that she hasn't pumped gas herself in some time.
"I have a unique situation," she said, noting her Secret Service protection. "But I sure have heard a lot from so many people about what it costs them to buy gas, and you know, what we were just talking about is how the price of petroleum, as it goes up, everything else goes up."
Clinton picked up the tab for the $63 fill-up, got a French Vanilla cappuccino inside the mini mart, and then got back in the Ford F-250 pickup Wilfing borrowed from his boss for the drive to get work. Wilfing's own pick-up did not meet Secret Service specs for the drive, which also included Clinton's traveling aide and an armed agent.