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KCStar: Gas Prices Hot Political Issue

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KCStar: Gas Prices Hot Political Issue

Gas prices become hot political issue for congressional races

Who is to blame for high gasoline prices? If you listen to campaign ads, the answer is either Republicans or Democrats, depending on who is paying for the ad.

Jordan chides Moore with energy solutions clockBig oil and high gas prices are the issues du jour this election, and both Republicans and Democrats will be spending millions in congressional races to sell voters on their versions of the truth. They want voters to believe their opponents are the reason people are paying a lot more at the pump.

Republicans are being portrayed as the handmaidens of Exxon Mobil, Shell and other oil companies. Democrats are criticized for not supporting an increase in domestic oil production and discouraging the construction of new refineries through strict environmental regulations.

"The economy is the issue, and within that are the high gasoline prices," said Steve Glorioso, campaign manager for Democrat Kay Barnes, who is running in Missouri's 6th Congressional District. "It's a huge issue."

So radio ads are accusing Barnes' opponent, incumbent U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, of being responsible for high gas prices. The ads come to you courtesy of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Topeka Democrat Nancy Boyda, who has been in the Congress only two years, gets the same criticism.

In the 3rd Congressional District of Kansas, Republican Nick Jordan's campaign has put a "Moore's vacation from energy solutions" clock on its Web site, referring to the August congressional recess and U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, a Lenexa Democrat.

"We're pointing fingers at them (Democrats) because they're in charge," Jordan said. "They've developed no national policy."

Of course, Democrats are quick to point out that Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress from 2001 to 2007 and no national energy policy was adopted then.

Asked about that, Jordan replied, "I'm not excusing anybody."

Moore said the Congress has made progress on this issue, including efforts to increase fuel efficiency standards, promote renewable energies and encourage the expansion of refinery capacity.

"Unfortunately, since this is an election year, some of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have refused to put politics aside so that we can develop a comprehensive energy policy for our nation," he said.

Freedoms Watch, a conservative lobbying group based in Washington, is running radio ads against Barnes and Boyda on the issue.

"Nancy Boyda, time and time again, has voted against more American energy, more American jobs and lower gas prices," the radio ads profess.

Boyda fired back earlier this week in a 16-page insert in The Topeka Capital-Journal outlining her energy policies.

In a recent television interview, Boyda said energy is a highly partisan issue in Washington. She said there have been several votes in the last 18 months on energy policy and all have split along party lines.

"We've done a great deal of work already," she said, adding that Senate Republicans either filibuster the issue or the President threatens a veto.

Political experts say the back-and-forth campaign debate on a complicated issue has to leave a voter's head spinning.

"It's all so confusing," said Dick Bond, a former Kansas Senate president and ex-congressional aide. "It's hard to believe anyone."

Bond also said that if gasoline prices continue to drop as the election draws near, the issue could evaporate and another one take the top spot.

Glorioso said the Freedoms Watch commercial suggests that Barnes supports higher gasoline taxes.

The claim actually comes from her support in 2001 of an increase in the tax when gasoline ranged from $1.65 a gallon to $1.10 and Missouri roads needed a major facelift. Most local officials at the time supported the increase, which was proposed by former Gov. Bob Holden. Barnes was Kansas City mayor then.

Glorioso said his candidate doesn't support such a tax increase today and it is misleading to suggest she does.

Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University in Topeka, said voters are tired of the energy gridlock in Washington and want a bipartisan solution.

"In domestic policy the American political system is glacial in how it works in getting something changed," he said. "The energy problem has been a problem for years, obviously."

He said the obvious solution is a combination of more domestic oil production, including off-shore drilling, as well as alternative energy sources and conservation. Many candidates today, he said, are talking about compromise.

"This is what's going to solve this problem down the road," he said.

Until then, the politics of oil will be front and center until the November general election.

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