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Obama/McCain: 'Psychological' benefit?

Yesterday, McCain admitted that his offshore drilling proposal would probably have mostly "psychological" benefits, NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy reports. At a town hall in Fresno that primarily focused on energy issues, McCain was asked a question about the price of gas and the viability of various short-term solutions.

VIDEO: Obama supporter, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and McCain supporter, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., discuss their candidates' differing views on offshore drilling with NBC's Brian Williams on "Meet the Press."

"In the short term I'd like to give you a little relief for the summer on the gas tax," McCain began, referring to his controversial proposal to temporarily suspend the federal tax on gasoline. But then he made a surprisingly candid admission: "I don't see an immediate relief, but I do see that exploitation of existing reserves that may exist -- and in view of many experts that do exist off our coasts -- is also a way that we need to provide relief. Even though it may take some years, the fact that we are exploiting those reserves would have psychological impact that I think is beneficial."

The Los Angeles Times: "In a visit to Fresno on Monday, McCain did not bring up offshore drilling, instead emphasizing alternative energy sources such as alcohol fuels and announcing a  $300-million challenge to develop a more efficient electric car battery. In response to a question, he said he still did not favor drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because it was pristine. When pressed, he declined to say whether the California coast was any less so, but argued that offshore drilling was safe. 'I envision they would be somewhat further offshore but that would be, again, a decision by the people of this state,' said McCain, who has said his views changed because of the impact gas prices are having on everyday Americans and concerns about the nation's dependence on foreign powers."

The AP: "Like two rival filling-station owners across the highway in long-bygone price wars, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain keep putting up flashy signs and offering new incentives in hopes of attracting customers battered by $4 gas prices." More: "Yet energy experts and economists -- and even some of the candidates' own advisers -- say none of their signature proposals will have any impact on $4 gasoline or $130 a barrel oil in the near term, or even the intermediate term. Is it open season for pandering?"

During the Q&A part of a fundraiser in Santa Barbara yesterday -- moments after McCain made his pitch that Republicans cannot afford to write off California -- the candidate was asked about his position on offshore drilling, according to the pool report. "Santa Barbara has among other things a great natural beauty -- one of our great natural beauties lies before you out there to the South," questioner Dan Secord said, gesturing toward the ocean. "We're really kind of goosey here about oil spills, and we're goosey here about federal drilling and oil lands, which are abundant offshore. So we ask you to look out there to the south and the southeast and remember the greatest environmental catastrophe that's hit this state and then balance that with the notion of winning California. This is a vibrating blue city and a vibrating state, and it's gonna be a tough haul," Secord said.

"This gathering is adjourned," McCain jokingly replied, as he's accustomed to do. McCain noted that Gov. Schwarzenegger disagrees with him on the issue, but that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist agrees. He stressed that he believes in state's rights. McCain then cited the examples of Louisiana and Texas, noting they have allowed drilling and weathered two devastating hurricanes with minimal or no oil spills. "I think the environmental situation is today -- that we could probably do that," McCain said. "But I don't want to override the state of California."

Secord told the pool reporter that he's a member of the California Coastal Commission, but as soon as the reporter started to interview him, a McCain aide said the reporter needed to leave and get into the motorcade. Secord said he is a supporter of McCain's and has contributed to the campaign. "We support people who don't agree with us a 100%," Secord said. "I feel disappointment about the cavalier resumption of offshore drilling, and I'm not so sure that it's a deal related to national security so much."

Per NBC's Caroline Gransee, both the Obama campaign and the California Democratic Party held conference calls yesterday to criticize McCain's offshore drilling proposal. On the California Dem call, Sen. Barbara Boxer said that McCain is "going about this in the same old way. Drill, drill, drill" -- and that "it is a phony answer to a real problem." Also on the call was Rep. Lois Capps who echoed Boxer's opinion that "we cannot drill our way out this problem." It is drilling that has "brought us the $4-gallon gas," Capps claim. Both officials stated that offshore drilling would only hurt California's coastal economy, and instead, they urged oil companies to tap into the leased land that they are not drilling in hopes of lowering the prices at the pump.