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Who’s to blame for record high gas prices?

Gas prices Tuesday went from being a widespread economic concern to political red meat as Democrats launched a campaign blaming the president for skyrocketing fuel costs.  But there's far more to it than just gas prices.

Gas prices went from being a widespread economic concern to political red meat as Democrats launched a campaign blaming President Bush for skyrocketing fuel costs.  But there’s far more to it than just gas prices.

For Democrats it included a coordinated attack on high gas prices and the president’s response.  Presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry said: “Highest prices that we’ve had in this country on average ever, and where is the president?”

Two weeks before Memorial Day weekend Democrats now sense a political “opening” — voter frustration over fuel costs.

The national average for a gallon of unleaded gas is now $2.017, according to the AAA and U.S. Department of Energy.  That price is echoing loudly in key Western “battleground” states, where prices are above the national average:

  • Arizona: $2.127
  • Nevada:  $2.245
  • Washington:  $2.248
  • Oregon:  $2.271

The Democrats’ plan to lower the price includes:

  • Pressure OPEC to increase supply
  • Simplify rules on fuel additives, which vary state-to-state
  • Take 30 million gallons from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., made a key argument for the plan Tuesday on Capitol Hill. “We’re at 96 percent of capacity at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve today," he said.  "If we can’t draw it down at 96 percent, when can we?”

But Republicans bristle at that suggestion, saying the small drop in prices wouldn’t be worth the risk.  “We should maintain as much oil as we can in our strategic reserve to protect us in the event of a national security crisis,” said Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham.

And, while Kerry has been flirting with the gas-price issue since March, Tuesday the Bush campaign railed on Kerry’s one-time support for a 50-cent gas tax and his opposition to the president’s energy bill, which would boost domestic capacity.

“For John Kerry to attack anybody on higher gas prices is for him to ignore his own vote history on this issue,” said Terry Holt, Bush-Cheney ’04 senior spokesman.

Democrats privately admit gas prices don’t win elections but they can be used to make broad assertions about a fragile economy, even if the job market is improving.

“And you feel it everywhere — in the products you buy, the trucks that drive them there, they’re paying more in prices," said Kerry.  "It just squeezes everybody downwards, folks.”

Tuesday, 10 Democratic governors called for an investigation of the nation’s gas-pricing structure, and Kerry’s aides say he’ll ride the issue at least through the Memorial Day weekend.