Prices at the pump might drive upcoming election

You know the leading issue for voters this fall will be the economy when an owner of a Prius is complaining at the pumps.

But if you take a moment away from your own anger the next time you fill up, you can enjoy a bit of solace knowing there is safety in numbers.

Last Thursday afternoon, I talked to several motorists filling up at the bargain price of $4.05 for regular unleaded at a Terrible’s Chevron on Rampart Boulevard in Summerlin.

As the pump neared $40, Harry Clayton grimaced.

“I figured the extra sticker price was worth it at the pumps,” Clayton said of the trendy blue Toyota hybrid that gets him plenty of compliments around Sun City. “Basically, it’s a great conversation starter whenever someone sees me get out of it in a parking lot.

“But I’m just as broke as them,” he added.

Clayton got off easier than Maria and Frank Lopez, who own a Ford F-150 pickup.

Typically, Frank drops Maria off at work at a medical office on Rancho Drive before heading to a construction site where he occasionally needs his truck.

“It’s really to the point where we can’t afford to work,” Frank said, handing over a few $20 bills to his wife to pre-pay.

Maria said she’s thought about taking mass transit and even went to the Regional Transportation Commission’s Web site to find a suitable bus route.

“I typed in our address and my work address thinking it was like Google maps,” she said. “It told me my best route was pedestrian at 7.4 miles.”

The Lopezes said they used to bemoan the fact they were a one-vehicle couple. Now they’re trying to figure out how to be a no-vehicle one.

“I used to say that my driving habits would change if we ever hit $2.50 a gallon,” he said. “Now we went from $3 to $4 just like that, and I almost haven’t had time to change.”

Forget about going out for dinner, Maria and Frank said they don’t even rent movies anymore.

“And nobody’s doing a thing about it,” Maria said. “All I hear about on the radio is how we’re not supposed to buy gas during the day because of the ozone. When are we going to hear a solution for how we’re going to buy gas?”

The Lopezes have already spent their tax stimulus check of $600. Half went to pay a gas credit card and the other half has already been handed over to fill up the truck.

“I’m so thankful we had it because it meant we could keep using the truck the past few weeks,” Frank Lopez said. “Now, we’re really at the point where we have to find a bus, even if it means a long walk from the house to the stop.”

Jessie Arthur wiped her windshield clean as she put $56 into her Corolla.

“I used to round up to the dollar when I pumped,” she said. “Now, if that thing clicks off, I hang it up. I’m so sick of this.”

Arthur, a student at the College of Southern Nevada, said she can’t afford gas at $4.05 a gallon, but can’t live without her car.

“I’m basically just putting gas on credit cards,” she said. “I know it’s not what you’re supposed to do, but I really can’t walk.”

Arthur has two jobs roughly 25 miles apart and squeezes in time for classes.

“I think I’d need about four different buses and would still be walking a ton if I gave up my car,” she said.

Analysts used to say driving habits would change when gas crossed $3 or $4 or $5 a gallon.

Here in the Las Vegas Valley, where prices have climbed 20 cents in just under two weeks, even those who are driving less are being driven crazy.

This is the perfect climate to sow political fear. And that’s precisely what Republican-led efforts to stall a climate change bill in Congress have in mind.

In the long run, the best solution is to reduce our dependency on $135-a-barrel-and-climbing foreign oil. If the goals of the climate bill are met, we will have more feasible options, better performing vehicles and, in theory, reduced demand for foreign oil.

But all you hear from the Republican attack machine is that the legislation would raise gas prices.

Doing nothing for the environment certainly hasn’t reduced prices. It would seem it’s high time to try something else.

Here’s how gas prices translated to politics at the local pump Thursday.

Frank and Maria Lopez are registered Democrats and said that while they supported Hillary Clinton, they will stick with Barack Obama this fall.

Clayton, a registered independent, said he typically votes for Republicans for president and voted for George W. Bush twice.

“No more of that,” Clayton said. “John McCain seems like he’s just going to keep on with the Bush policies in the Middle East that help spike these prices.”

Arthur, 20, said she’s never voted. She plans to register this year as a Republican like her parents and older brother. Only she plans to vote for Obama.

“Something has to change,” she said.

Those three motorists hardly constitute a scientific sample, but it’s clear from the anger and angst at area service stations that this election will shape up around the pumps and the pocketbooks.

Contact Erin Neff at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com

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