From NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy and NBC's Abby Livingston
The message of the McCain campaign for the day is on energy, as today McCain announced that in his speech before oil executives in Texas tomorrow he would call for lifting the federal moratorium on oil and natural gas exploration, leaving the decision on whether to explore for oil up to the states.
McCain has a mixed record on supporting off-shore drilling in the senate, but this decision seems to be a bit of a capitulation to the oil companies who are in favor of searching for new sources of oil. McCain is against drilling in ANWR.
"Tomorrow I'll call for lifting the federal moratorium for states that choose to permit exploration," McCain said. "I think that this and perhaps providing additional incentives for states to permit exploration off their coasts would be very helpful in the short term in resolving our energy crisis."
He was also forced to address the planned fundraiser with Clayton Williams in Texas, which has been postponed but notably not canceled. McCain said his campaign was unaware of Williams' offensive statement, and he defended his campaign's decision to keep the money -- saying the donors are supporters if his, not Williams.
"First of all, my people were not aware of a statement that he made 16 or 8 years ago," McCain said. "I've forgotten how many years ago it was. … The people who contributed are supporters of mine, not supporters of his. So when we found out that this was planned there [at his home], we said, "No, we'll reschedule it, and we'll do it someplace else. And I understand that he's not attending."
That statement, which he maintains those on his staff (which once included Texas politico Tom Loeffler) were not aware of, referred to rape as "It's like the weather, if it's inevitable, relax and enjoy it."
The comment caused an almost literal overnight implosion of the Williams' 1990 campaign for Texas governor and is often cited as the primary cause for Ann Richards' ascension to the Texas governor's mansion. The story was covered in the national media, making The New York Times, was used in Richards' 1990 advertisements, and the word "rape" is in the title of the third link that comes up in a "Clayton Williams" Google search.
He reiterated his call for town halls with Obama and cited a specific meeting of La Raza in California where they will both be in attendance, and he suggested that the two candidates hold a town hall before the group instead. He commented on his meeting with Iraqi foreign minister Zabari, and said that they both agreed America was winning in Iraq.
He also called himself the "underdog" against Obama. "I know I have to out campaign my opponent in every respect, and so I do not underestimate," he said. "I consider myself an underdog, and so we have a lot of work to do organizing and energizing our grass roots support and we're working everyday, but we really have a great deal of work to do. I wouldn't be talking straight with you if that was not the case."
*** UPDATE *** The Obama camp responds this way: "John McCain's 'plan' to simply drill our way out of our energy crisis is the same misguided approach backed by President Bush that has failed our families for too long and only serves to benefit the big oil companies. Barack Obama's plan offers comprehensive change that makes significant investments in alternative forms of energy to secure our energy independence, make energy more affordable for our families and protect our health and environment."