INGTON (AFP) - Speculation over potential running mates to Barack Obama and John McCain heated up Sunday as two little-known contenders emerged in the increasingly bad-tempered White House stakes.
Backers of the presidential contenders warred over a combustible new mix of negative attacks by the Republican McCain on his Democratic rival, with Obama under new fire for seeming to reverse his opposition to offshore oil drilling.
In the run-up to the party convention season starting in late August, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Obama to add Texas congressman Chet Edwards to his list of potential running mates.
The top Democrat touted Edwards, 56, whose district includes President George W Bush's hometown of Crawford, as an "extraordinarily talented person" and a champion for military veterans who deserves a shot at the vice presidency.
"I just wanted people to be aware of the extraordinary credentials of Chet Edwards. And I hope he will be the nominee," she said on ABC News.
Pelosi also accused McCain of stooping to a negative approach that was "not worthy of the office of president" with campaign ads portraying Obama as a vapid celebrity in the mould of Britney Spears and a Moses-like messiah figure.
"For Senator McCain to demean the race for the presidency in this way is not, I think, humorous, I think it's silly," she said.
"But I will say this, let's take it back to the American people," Pelosi added, demanding a true debate about jobs, energy policy, education and healthcare.
Lieutenants to McCain insisted they were having that debate, but said the new campaign blitz rolled out last week used humour to pose a serious question: is Obama ready to lead?
Senator Lindsey Graham lashed out after the Obama campaign said Saturday it was prepared to hold three presidential debates in September and October, but said nothing about a series of joint "town-hall" meetings proposed by McCain.
"I have no idea what he's saying or what he means: soaring rhetoric, feel-good persona, ever-changing positions," the South Carolina senator told Fox News Sunday, highlighting the debate over offshore drilling.
"The reason we're not in town-hall meetings testing these two candidates is because Barack Obama doesn't want to be tested," Graham said, while berating Obama's suggestion that the McCain campaign might use his race against him.
Speaking in Florida Saturday, Obama said he would possibly back a new bipartisan energy bill introduced in the Senate Friday that includes a measure to overturn a ban on oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Obama said the bill "has some of the very aggressive elements that I've outlined in my plan to move us in the direction of genuine energy independence."
Democrats, having hammered McCain for dropping his own opposition to offshore drilling, insisted Obama still thought the idea was no panacea but could work as part of a broader package to overhaul long-term energy policy. As she promoted the VP credentials of Edwards, Pelosi said the idea that new drilling could reduce pump prices was "a decoy, it's not a solution."
McCain meanwhile was reported by Politico.com to be running the rule over Virginia congressman Eric Cantor as a potential VP pick. Cantor, who at 45 would bring relative youth to the 71-year-old McCain's ticket, has provided personal records to the Republican's vetting team, Politico quoted a campaign adviser as saying.
"With a Southern lilt and a talent for raw politics, Cantor is one of the nation's most prominent Jewish Republicans; he has impressed the McCain team by becoming a prolific fundraiser for the campaign," the website reported.
With Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine also among the contenders for Obama's running mate, both campaigns would then have VP nominees from a pivotal state that is up for grabs in November's election.
But political pundits' tongues were also set wagging by Obama's schedule for the coming week: he is due to spend much of Wednesday in Indiana, the state of another VP front-runner, Senator Evan Bayh.