Gas Prices Are Fueling Midterm Political Races

Mike Shteiwi pulled out the pump in disgust after buying just a few gallons of gas on a day when the price for a gallon of regular jumped a dime, to $3.09, in his southwest Ohio hometown.

"It's killing everybody," muttered Shteiwi, 54. "Whoever's in office now, I'm not going to vote for none of them."

With the country's gas prices averaging $3 a gallon, congressional and gubernatorial candidates nationwide are trying to turn pain at the pump into smart politics.

In the Illinois governor's race, Republican hopeful Judy Baar Topinka wants to suspend a portion of the state sales tax on gasoline. In Missouri, Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill is touring the state to promote alternative fuels. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, is making rising gas prices and energy independence part of her re-election campaign, featuring them in her first television ad.

In Washington state, Democratic congressional candidate Darcy Burner campaigned with "Gas Pump Man," a character wearing a red, yellow and black gas pump costume and cape.

Candidates from both parties are paying attention to polls that show people attach the same level of concern to energy issues as they do to terrorism and immigration. About seven of every 10 Americans expect gas price increases to cause them or their faly a quarter of Americans approve of the way Bush is handling gasoline prices, according the AP-Ipsos poll.

Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said the issue might cool a bit after summer, but it will be back on voters' minds as the holiday season approaches and they take account of how much they have to spend.

"If they (prices) go down, maybe they go down to $2.80," said Richard Curtain, director of consumer surveys at the University of Michigan. "Is that enough to change consumers' views? I don't think so."

Ann Armstrong, whose family just bought a more fuel-efficient SUV to replace a 12-miles-per-gallon truck, said seeing gasoline at $3.09 a gallon was a shock. But she will continue to vote Republican.

"I don't believe Congress or the president have direct price control on corporate decisions such as those of the oil companies," said Armstrong, 58, of Enon, Ohio.

Democrat Pamela Anderson, 48, of New Lebanon, said she was sticking with her party, too.

"Will this affect my voting — gas prices? To a point, yes, it will," Anderson said, as she put $10 of gas into her white Firebird. She said the issue makes her even more determined to vote for her party.