PORTLAND, Ore. – Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry (search) on Tuesday accused President Bush of breaking a campaign promise to pressure oil-producing nations to increase production in an effort to help control soaring gasoline prices.
"Where is the president?" Kerry asked in Portland, where gasoline is selling for as much as $2.31 a gallon. "We need a president who is fighting for the American worker, the American family at the fuel pump."
Kerry said rising prices for daily necessities have hammered working families, yet Bush has provided little help.
"It's time we had a president who will lead in a way that benefits you," Kerry said during a visit to a training center. "We know that a strong economy and a strong middle class are the key to building a stronger America. That is why when we win back the White House, we will offer real relief to working families, so they have the opportunity to save and get ahead."
Kerry warned that soaring gasoline prices coupled with growing health care costs have left the American worker struggling. He heard stories from workers who have lost their jobs as companies shifted operations overseas.
"These are real people, each and every one of them," he said. "I'm going to be a president who enforces a trade agreement. If you give American workers a fair playing field, they can compete."
Kerry accused Bush of slashing programs, including the job training site where he appeared, even as the need for such programs grew.
For the second straight day, Kerry appeared with former rival Howard Dean (search). His full-throated support for Kerry was a clear signal to any of his backers who might be tempted by the maverick campaign of Ralph Nader (search).
"The number of high-paying jobs is going down and the number of low-paying jobs is going up," Dean said. "I think jobs is the number one issue in the country today."
The Kerry campaign contended that Bush "stubbornly refuses to offer help" even as higher gasoline prices will cost the average Oregon family an extra $1,006 a year and squeeze family budgets already hurt by a weak job market and higher costs for college.
Unemployment in Oregon was 6.7 percent in April, down from 7.2 percent in March. Families in the state are paying nearly 50 percent more for health care than they did three years ago, the Kerry campaign said.
The Bush campaign criticized Kerry for supporting higher gas taxes in the past. "Kerry has obstructed efforts to enact a comprehensive energy policy that would ensure a reliable energy supply, key to lowering gas prices," Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said.
Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe (search) told the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday that the president "hasn't lifted a finger" to hold down gas prices because of administration ties to the oil industry.
"They're so deep in the pocket of big oil we'll need to drill down to find them," McAuliffe said.
The White House resisted calls from Senate Democrats to release resources from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a Louisiana facility that is receiving 170,000 barrels a day.
The Senate Democrats want the administration to release 1 million barrels of oil a day for 30 days to ease prices. Kerry wants to stop filling the reserve temporarily, but the White House rejected both calls for having only a negligible impact on pump prices.
"We're going to continue to do what we've been doing, which is stay in close contact with producers around the world to urge them not to take action that would harm our economy or hurt consumers here in America," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham accused those who called for the release of emergency government oil — most of them Democrats — of "playing games" with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which he said exists to protect against a severe disruption of supply.
"The reserve is not there to simply try to change prices," said Abraham, who called on Congress to pass comprehensive energy legislation.
Kerry received a rousing boost Monday night from Dean, who built a substantial following in Oregon during his failed bid for the nomination. Dean said he was confident that as commander in chief Kerry would send troops into harm's way only after "telling the truth to the American people about why they're going."
Dean can play an important role for Kerry in swing states like Oregon. Its seven electoral votes are considered up for grabs in this year's election. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore carried the state by just 6,765 votes.