Coming off a week in which he was compared to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and saw his standing in the polls drop, Democrats' chief concern when assessing Barack Obama was not whether he could take a punch but whether he could launch a sustained counterattack against John McCain.
The Illinois Democrat is doing his best to placate those worries. For the second straight day, Obama is taking the offensive on energy. Once again, he is painting the presumptive Republican nominee as a stooge of Big Oil, a clone of George Bush, and a roadblock to any meaningful policy reform.
The Obama campaign released a contrast (err... attack) ad on Tuesday morning, drawing attention to his opponent's many years in Washington and opposition to alternative energies.
"John McCain. He's been in Washington for 26 years. And as gas prices soared and dependence on oil exploded, McCain was voting against alternative energy, against higher mileage standards. Barack Obama. He'll make energy independence an urgent national priority, raise mileage standards, fast-track technology for alternative fuels. A thousand dollar tax cut to help families as we break the grip of foreign oil. A real plan, and new energy."
Later in the day, Obama is set to appear in town halls in Youngstown and Berea, Ohio, where he will draw even tougher arguments against his opponent.
"So to sum up, under Senator McCain's plan, the oil companies get billions more, we don't pay any less at the pump, and we stay in the same cycle of dependence on oil that got us into this crisis," read prepared remarks released by the Obama campaign. "The oil companies have placed their bet on Senator McCain, and if he wins, they will continue to cash in while our families and our economy suffer and our future is put in jeopardy.
"That's the choice we face in this election. We can choose four years more of the same failed policies that have gotten us where we are. Four years more of oil companies calling the shots while hard working families are struggling. That's what Senator McCain is offering."
The sharp rhetoric reflects not only the importance of the energy debate but the critical stage that this campaign is entering. One Democratic operative told the Huffington Post that he was worried Obama had allowed himself to be too easily defined as a vacuous celebrity last week without offering a similarly unflattering frame for McCain. Hammering home a critical message for more than one day, he added, would be a needed response -- something which Obama now seems to be doing.