Tapping into unhappiness about higher prices at the gasoline pump, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) said Monday that President Bush has done more to help energy companies boost their profits than to help consumers with soaring energy costs.

"When it comes to developing a real energy policy, George Bush has run out of gas," Kerry said. "The money that you're paying at the pump is going directly from your wallets straight into the hands of the oil companies and Republican-controlled Congress for failing to pass an energy bill.

Kerry argued that higher energy prices amounted to an unaffordable tax increase, as he tried to throw off Republican contentions that a Democratic administration would bring tax hikes.

A new Kerry campaign ad argues that Bush's tax cuts shifted more of the burden from wealthier taxpayers to middle-class families. "We need to cut taxes on the middle class, not raise them," the narrator says.

Broadening his criticism beyond energy, the Democrat accused the president of looking out for special interests, not everyone's interest, in health care, taxes and other issues.

"The only people George Bush's policies are working for are the people that he's chosen to help," Kerry said. "They're working for drug companies, they're working for HMOs, and they're certainly working for the big oil companies."

Kerry said he would push scientists at the state's major government research labs in Sandia and Los Alamos to develop alternative fuels.

The Bush-Cheney campaign said Kerry had worked in the Senate against the president's proposals to decrease the nation's dependence on foreign oil and develop renewable energy.

"John Kerry's obstruction of a national energy policy makes his current political opportunism completely hypocritical," said spokesman Steve Schmidt. "John Kerry will tell people whatever he thinks they want to hear, and his multiple positions are destroying his credibility with the American people."

To lower energy costs and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, Kerry wants to develop a trust fund for developing clean fuels, develop energy efficient buildings, diversify sources of oil and other fuels and upgrade electricity grids.

Kerry landed in Albuquerque late Sunday and told voters he came to New Mexico "to get some clean New Mexico air, get some of that good mountain inspiration" for the debate with Bush in Tempe, Ariz.

The visit also shores up support in a state where a poll taken after the first debate showed the Democrat virtually tied with the Republican incumbent.

"Here I am in the state of New Mexico. George Bush is still in the state of denial," Kerry told the supportive crowd Sunday. "New Mexico has five electoral votes. The state of denial has none. I like my chances."

In 2000, Democrat Al Gore narrowly won the state.