Pain at Pumps May Be Felt at Polls

A block from their Senate office buildings, Democrats, from left, Richard Durbin, Barbara Boxer, Debbie Stabenow, Charles Schumer and Maria Cantwell held a news conference to criticize Republicans and oil companies over high gasoline prices. Washington Sketch, A2.
A block from their Senate office buildings, Democrats, from left, Richard Durbin, Barbara Boxer, Debbie Stabenow, Charles Schumer and Maria Cantwell held a news conference to criticize Republicans and oil companies over high gasoline prices. Washington Sketch, A2. (By Win Mcnamee -- Getty Images)
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 27, 2006

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., April 26 -- One of the soaring bridges to the beach here is named for longtime Republican congressman E. Clay Shaw Jr., and at its foot is a gas station where drivers on Wednesday were filling up, wincing at the tally and wondering whom to blame.

Gasoline prices have reached $3 a gallon in the area, and for Shaw, a former mayor and a political institution here, the rising bipartisan disgruntlement at the pumps is a troubling sign. Here and in other swing districts across the country, the Democratic challenger is attacking the Republican incumbent for inaction -- or worse -- on gas prices and other energy woes.

"This is ridiculous," said Jackie Tarone, a retired homemaker and Bush voter who was filling up a Mercedes SL500. "The oil companies keep giving money to the politicians to keep them in there -- that's the way the system works. It's a shame."

Although she has voted for Shaw in the past, she said, she isn't sure about next time.

"I don't know which is the lesser of two evils anymore," she said.

Anger over gas prices is gaining traction in many midterm races around the nation as Democrats attack Republicans for being too close to oil companies. With many in the GOP growing uneasy, President Bush this week called for price-fixing investigations. Political analysts say the rising prices could dovetail with growing public concern over the war in Iraq to give Democrats an opening in several key races.

In Virginia, one of two candidates in the Democratic primary for Senate, Harris Miller, accused Sen. George Allen (R) of siding with oil companies instead of backing legislation to protect consumers. "Looking to George Allen and George Bush to solve the gas crisis is like asking Bonnie and Clyde to solve the crime problem," Miller said.

Allen campaign manager Dick Wadhams said in response that Democrats in the Senate had obstructed the passage of an energy bill in Congress for more than five years. He said Allen fought successfully for the bill's passage in 2005. "Had Harris Miller's friends not obstructed that bill for years, we would be a lot closer to energy independence and developing renewable sources of fuel," Wadhams said.

In the Maryland governor's race, incumbent Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) took fire from his Democratic challengers, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. They accused him of failing consumers by not putting his clout behind anti-gouging legislation that died during the recently concluded legislative session.

Ehrlich dismissed the attacks as "whining" and told reporters he is realistic about his limited ability to exert pressure on gas prices. He did say he is seeking permission to temporarily halt the use of cleaner-burning gas additives in the Washington suburbs and Baltimore area.

In Minnesota, Democratic Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar has stopped at stations to hear from consumers. In Pennsylvania's 6th District, where Democrat Lois Murphy is trying to unseat Rep. Jim Gerlach, Murphy has been swinging through the state all week for rallies at gas stations. In Arizona, Democratic Senate candidate Jim Pederson proposed a tax rebate to families funded by eliminating oil companies' tax breaks.

George Gonzalez, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Miami, said the issue gives the Democrats leverage against Republican incumbents. "It certainly creates a bias against the Republicans," he said.


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