The papers are full of stories about how vulnerable Obama and Democrats are on high gas prices. GOP leaders are privately urging House Republicans to embrace public angst about rising pump prices in their districts, and Obama advisers reportedly recognize that the issue could help Republicans sow public doubt about whether the economy is improving.
But Dems, eager to reverse this storyline, are laying plans of their own to try to turn rising gas prices to their advantage.
In an interview just now, DCCC chair Steve Israel said that House Dem incumbents and candidates are being urged to go on the offensive on the issue against Republicans and their votes in support for oil company subsidies — and not to shrink from defending Obama’s record or from making a larger argument about the need to seek alternative energy sources.
“We’ve told our candidates that they should remind people that we’ve actually increased domestic energy production, and talk about solutions-oriented energy policies that would end our catastrophic dependence on foreign oil,” Israel said. “We are urging them to hold House Republicans accountable for consistently protecting oil company subsidies.”
A source familiar with Israel’s thinking says paid ads on the issue are being considered.
Asked whether voters would really connect high gas prices to Big Oil, rather than blaming the party in charge of the White House, Israel said: “People know intuitively that they’re paying more at the pumps for gas and more in taxes for oil company subsidies. People can connect the dots very easily.”
The politics of gas prices are dicey. Voters in key western battleground states, where people drive more, may prove particularly axious about them. Republicans also hope gas prices feed into their larger narrative about the alleged failure of Obama’s economic policies and his opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, which they relentlessly highlight to argue he prioritized environmental concerns over jobs.
But Israel says Dems will use the issue to contrast the two parties with a larger narrative of their own.
“Every election is about who you are for, and this is a graphic example of Republican priorities versus Democratic priorities,” he said. “Republicans prioritize millionaires over Medicare and oil company provits over consumers. This absolutely fits into a narrative that has us winning every generic Congressional poll.”
“While gas prices should be a concern to everyone, if I were a Republican I’d be petrified at having to defend my vote continuing oil company subsidies,” he said. “House Democrats suggested that the oil companies really don’t need a subsidy. House Republicans said No.”
UPDATE: This is part of a broader offensive Dems have launched, which includes a new Web site, theGrandOilParty.com, and efforts by individual Dem candidates to hit opponents on the issue, such as Annie Kuster, who recently called out New Hamshire GOP Rep. Charlie Bass for giving taxpayer subsidies to oil companies that are raking in record profits.