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Starting Gate: Stick And Move

If the goal of John McCain's aggressive push last week was to get Barack Obama engaged in some of the back-and-forth, it succeeded. But Obama may prove a more elusive opponent than Republicans have become accustomed to battling.

The Obama campaign is out with a new ad attacking McCain on energy. "Every time you fill your tank, the oil companies fill their pockets," the ad begins. "Now Big Oil's filling John McCain's campaign with 2 million dollars in contributions. Because instead of taxing their windfall profits to help drivers, McCain wants to give them another 4 billion in tax breaks. After one president in the pocket of big oil, we can't afford another."

A game-changing ad it isn't but it does signal a new willingness by the Obama camp to return the fire they've been taking for the better part of a week. And it suggests that there's something happening on the energy front which is working for McCain – and against Obama. Underneath all the talk about celebrity and the "messiah" Web ad, McCain appears to be getting some mileage on the issue of gas prices.

Much like he did right after the primaries, Obama over the weekend shifted slightly on the issue of offshore drilling, saying that he would now consider expansion of it as part of his comprehensive energy policy. "My interest is in making sure we've got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices," Obama said Friday in an interview with The Palm Beach Post. "If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage - I don't want to be so rigid that we can't get something done."

Obama took some hits at the end of the primary season when he appeared to moderate his position on issues the progressives see as central – such as the FISA bill. While critics and opponents will call it "flip-flopping," the label has yet to stick to Obama in the way it has to candidates in the past (see Kerry, John). Instead, Obama is proving adept at doing just enough to diffuse the situation without capitulating in any meaningful way. Offshore drilling? He's not totally against it, but he's not really for it either. McCain may have landed some blows in the last week, but Obama is proving to be a tough target to pin down.

Around The Track

  • It's Barack Obama's birthday today but the 47 year-old isn't taking any time to relax as he kicks off "energy week" in Michigan today.
  • John McCain starts the day with a roundtable discussion in Pennsylvania then heads to South Dakota for the annual Sturgis motorcycle festival. McCain will participate in a tribute to veterans at the rally tonight.
  • Virginia hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1964 but the Washington Post looks at just how close the Old Dominion could end up being this year.
  • Vice presidential focus turns to Indiana Senator Evan Bayh (D) and Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor (R) this week.
  • Three separate studies based on economic projections predict an Obama victory in November, with the Democrat getting between 52 percent and 55 percent of the popular vote, Reuters reports.