- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

With gasoline prices rising, President Bush’s campaign released a television ad charging that Democratic candidate John Kerry once supported increasing the gas tax by 50 cents, while Mr. Kerry blamed the administration for driving up fuel costs now.

“I’ll use real diplomacy to do what George Bush hasn’t — pressure OPEC to start providing more oil,” Mr. Kerry said in laying out his energy plan in San Diego yesterday. “We’ll stop diverting oil to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until gas prices get back to normal.”

The senator from Massachusetts also repeated his pledge to develop renewable energy sources, saying it will create 500,000 jobs and make it unnecessary to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, as the administration has advocated.

But speaking in Wisconsin yesterday, Mr. Bush, without mentioning Mr. Kerry by name, blasted “some on the other party in Washington who would like to raise gas taxes.”

In 1994, Mr. Kerry told the Boston Globe he supported a proposal being pushed by Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat, for a 50-cents-a-gallon gas tax increase.

Mr. Kerry’s campaign stresses that he has never sponsored a gas tax increase, and no longer holds that position, but yesterday the Bush campaign began running an ad tying Mr. Kerry to the position.

“Some people have wacky ideas. Like taxing gasoline more so people drive less. That’s John Kerry,” the announcer says.

The gas tax ad is the most recent in a blitz that began earlier this month and that seems to have reversed Mr. Bush’s decline and Mr. Kerry’s ascendance in the polls.

A Gallup survey for CNN and USA Today released yesterday found that Mr. Bush leads Mr. Kerry 49 percent to 46 percent among registered voters, a reversal from Mr. Kerry’s 50 percent to 45 percent lead earlier this month.

Mr. Kerry now is viewed as “too liberal” by 41 percent of those surveyed, up from 29 percent at the start of February.

With gasoline prices rising, strategists had long expected Mr. Bush to hammer Mr. Kerry on his gas-tax record. But the Kerry campaign thinks Mr. Bush is vulnerable on the gas issue, based on his and Vice President Dick Cheney’s ties to oil companies.

“Oil prices keep rising. The way they’re going now, Dick Cheney and George Bush are going to have to carpool to work,” Mr. Kerry said yesterday, calling the gas prices “Halliburton” prices, a reference to the company Mr. Cheney used to head.

Mr. Kerry and other Democrats said those ties to oil companies are skewing Mr. Bush’s priorities, particularly in replenishing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the government-controlled fallback supply.

“It seems that the administration is busy filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve with no regard for rising gas prices,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat. “They are busy with their campaign of inaction that seems to help nobody but the oil companies.”

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, in a letter to Mr. Bush yesterday, called on him to support a Senate amendment that passed earlier this month urging him to suspend filling the reserves. That amendment passed by a 52-43 vote as part of the Senate’s budget resolution.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said the House will not pass anything similar and that Mr. Kerry’s speech “just shows he has no clue in how to develop energy for this country.”

Others questioned whether Mr. Kerry’s ideas would work.

“There’s no evidence that stopping the filling of [the Strategic Petroleum Reserve] would do anything, and nobody’s ever coughed up evidence it would do anything,” said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist who said Mr. Kerry’s record hasn’t shown much attention to energy issues.

“He’s got one thing over George Bush on energy. He and the House of Saud all probably went to the same Swiss finishing school,” Mr. McKenna said, referring to Mr. Kerry’s having spent the 1954-55 school year at Institut Montana Zugerberg while his father was a U.S. diplomat in Berlin.

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