John McCain made an unusual campaign stop this week, at a rally for motorcycle enthusiasts whose roaring machines filled the air with the fumes of burning gas.
He called the noise "the sound of freedom," but he should have said something about the odor of all that exhaust too. It's the smell of a strategy that could get him elected president.
Americans are furious about the rising price of gasoline.
Gas is a bargain here compared to much of the industrial world, but life in the U.S. is built around cars -- and fuel isn't considered a finite resource, it's a right.
McCain has been campaigning in support of an unpopular war, an unpopular president and an unpopular party, but there is the possibility that gas could get him elected.
He's found common cause with the American people on that one crucial issue and right now, he's experimenting with its appeal.
America can learn something from the rest of the world. Norway and the United Kingdom get a lot of their oil offshore; France and Japan rely heavily on nuclear power. But years ago, environmental worries turned the U.S. away from fully exploiting those kinds of opportunities.
McCain says Washington has to reconsider every option and increase America's ability to supply itself with energy. He's finding a lot of voters agree.
The proof isn't just in the polls; it's in Barack Obama's decision to start changing his positions on the issue too.
Up till now, Obama has stressed the need to use energy more efficiently and safeguard the environment.
But this week he also said he also would be prepared to support offshore drilling.
Both candidates have much more complex energy policies that they are doing their best to promote. They are also trying to avoid the obvious: No U.S. president can make oil as cheap or plentiful as it was for most of the twentieth century.
But you probably can't run for president right now without promising to try.
McCain's big issue has been national security. Obama's big issue has been the need for change.
But a lot of Americans really want cheaper gasoline and both candidates want to find a way to promise it.