The Note: Gassing Up

When is the flop less dangerous than the flip? (When it costs $75 to fill up your Jeep.)

Who knows better than Bill Clinton what it takes to be a president? (Nobody -- which is why evasion is interesting.)

What beats 200,000 screaming Germans? (Maybe 50,000 roaring Harleys -- but were their tires inflated?)

What did Sen. Barack Obama really want for his birthday? (Hint -- John Kerry knows, though Obama could have done without Kerry's decision to label Sen. John McCain as "dangerous.")

It's energy week on the trail, and a second policy shift by Sen. Barack Obama hardly registers as a surprise. Both candidates are following the voters here -- and they realize that there's more peril in standing firm than in allowing a touch of policy flexibility into your thinking.

In the process, might conventional wisdom be shifting? Should we still be certain that sky-high gas prices will be a drag on Sen. John McCain -- guilty by association with an oil-soaked GOP?

A party looking for a new brand may be finding one with its new standard-bearer, along with an energized congressional contingent that's found a winner, and a prop the GOP and its allies are quickly learning to love.

McCain, R-Ariz., visits a nuclear power plant outside Detroit on Tuesday -- finding another area of distinction with Obama, D-Ill., on energy policy; Obama has two energy town halls in Ohio (and brings a new, sharper message).

"Energy has become a pivotal issue in this increasingly competitive election, as voters fret over high gas prices, which have hovered around $4 a gallon, and their impact on food and transportation costs," Amy Chozick and Elizabeth Holmes write in The Wall Street Journal. "Sen. McCain has successfully seized on the issue to gain ground against Sen. Obama, who continues to lead in most polls."

Obama is adjusting mid-course -- and he's fortunate that this is a story about energy, not about flip-flopping: "Obama's proposal includes two reversals of positions he has taken in the past: He had fought the idea of limited new offshore drilling and was against tapping the nation's emergency oil stockpile to relieve gasoline prices that have stubbornly hovered around $4 a gallon," per USA Today's write-up.

"With the politics of energy shifting as rapidly as gasoline prices, Democrats, led by presidential candidate Barack Obama, are retreating from long-held positions and scrambling to offer distressed voters more immediate relief from spiraling costs," Peter Nicholas and Janet Hook write in the Los Angeles Times.

"Those shifts by Obama are indicative of the pressure that politicians of both parties -- but especially Democrats -- are under to develop specific, short-term energy proposals in the face of rising costs," they continue. "Against that backdrop, politicians risk looking insensitive if they tout only solutions that could take years to hit the pump, such as Obama's plan to develop hybrid cars that can travel 150 miles on a gallon of gasoline."

"His campaign insists the moves demonstrate his pragmatism, but Republicans say the Illinois senator is merely following the polls," Russell Berman writes in the New York Sun. (Are some polls worth following?)

McCain has found a groove -- and with those tire gauges already scattered wide, remember that no one can push a message (or make a quote famous) quite like a united Republican Party.

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