Democrats to Focus on Fuel

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By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 20, 2006

Seeking to gain advantage on a potent election-year issue, Democrats are promoting ambitious ideas to lower gasoline prices, targeting key voting blocs such as farmers and autoworkers.

Party leaders are requesting that all House and Senate Democrats stage events back home over the Memorial Day recess to signal the start of the summer driving season. The lawmakers will pitch new Democratic proposals to reduce foreign oil imports and expand domestic alternative-energy supplies.

Their marching orders even include instructions for how to select locations, recruit participants and set up camera shots.

The kickoff event will take place today in Ohio, when Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) appears with Rep. Sherrod Brown, the Democratic Senate candidate, in front of a giant wind turbine outside a Cleveland science center.

"Wherever you live, your gas prices are out of control, and you want to hold someone accountable for it," Reid said.

Brown is making an issue of the $330,000 in donations that Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) has received from oil and gas companies over the course of his career. Democratic Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., running for Senate in Tennessee, attacked oil companies in TV and radio spots this month.

Democrats hope energy will help in Senate races in the biofuel-producing states of Missouri and Montana, as well as in House races across the agricultural Midwest and in commuter districts on both coasts.

For a special election on June 6 in San Diego, to fill the House seat vacated by Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R), House Democrats are sponsoring local radio traffic reports, using the spots to highlight Republican candidate Brian P. Bilbray's energy record from when he served previously in the House.

The rush of activity comes as the average national price for gasoline hovers around $3 per gallon. It also follows a spike in natural gas prices that caused heating bills to soar over the winter and drove the cost of nitrogen fertilizer to record highs, putting the squeeze on many farmers.

Polls show mounting voter concern about high energy costs and the dent they are making in family budgets. A Pew Research Center survey this month showed that respondents ranked high gasoline prices second only to the Iraq war as the most important issue facing the country.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week showed that 54 percent of respondents said they trusted Democrats to tackle gas prices, while 23 percent favored Republicans.

House and Senate Democrats are promoting separate energy packages. The differences reflect the challenge of reconciling the many regional interests and biases that influence energy debates in Congress.


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