News Column

Gas Prices May Play Role on Election Day

October 24, 2012

Martin B. Cassidy

Gas Prices

As he did in 2008, Joseph Russo said he plans to vote for Barack Obama again in November, regardless of concern about a recent run up in gasoline prices.

Russo, 62, of Stamford, said while he has felt the financial effects of higher gas costs, he believes the Democratic president's economic policies have done a decent job of stabilizing the economy. He also hopes during a second term the president will allow East Coast oil drilling to increase supply and limit the economic effects of dependence on foreign supplies.

"Even though prices are too high, I feel we are leaning in the right direction," Russo said recently outside the A&P supermarket on High Ridge Road in Stamford. "I'd like the economy to be in better shape, but I think he has done a good job."

At the Greenwich Shell station on East Putnam Avenue in Greenwich this week, Eric Roitsch, 47, said while fuel prices are also influenced by market speculation, he believed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would loosen a moratorium on East Coast drilling, which could yield enough domestic production to further curb U.S. use of oil from Middle Eastern countries.

While attempts to promote electric and hybrid electric fuel vehicles are admirable, the government should be more concerned with enabling oil production along with efforts to prod development of new technologies, the Greenwich resident said.

"I'm supporting Romney, but energy policy is just part of it," Roitsch said. "In my humble opinion, I would rather be liberated from foreign oil and ultimately fossil fuels but I don't think the government should be forcing products on the market before there is an infrastructure to support them.

"The reason electric and hybrid cars aren't taking off is that there isn't an infrastructure to make it practical for most people."

Stamford, Norwalk, and Greenwich residents offered mixed views this week on whether the rise in gasoline prices would influence their voting in the November presidential election, but said the spike prompted them to consider where they stood on domestic drilling and the proposal to build the Keystone XL Pipeline to bring supplies from Canada to the Gulf Coast for refining.

The pipeline project is supported by the Romney, while President Obama temporarily halted it early in 2012, reserving a decision on the controversial link in order to further weigh the environmental toll the project would have.

Last Thursday, a gallon of regular gasoline in the Bridgeport-Stamford area averaged $4.23, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report, compared to $3.84 at the same time last year. By Tuesday, prices has slid to $4.09 a gallon.

Gary Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University, said while most voters have already made up their minds on how they will vote,

Romney stands to gain if a small percentage of uncommitted voters in swing states decide to place blame for rising gasoline prices on Obama.

"The president becomes an easy target when a gallon of gas skyrockets even though the price of fuel is beyond the president's control," Rose said. "It's simply out of frustration that voters will reconsider their support for the president, rather than a sophisticated analysis of the energy and fuel problem."

Stopping to partially fill his tank at High Ridge Shell Thursday, Mitch Passero, 42, of Stamford, said he is supporting Romney based on his position on a wide range of issues, including what Passero expects will be more off-shore drilling and a more strident posture in dealing with Middle East turmoil.

In Passero's view, the low gasoline prices in late 2008, when Obama was elected, followed by a gradual rise, is evidence of a failed policy.

Passero said it costs about $140 to fill his Ford F-250 truck.

"I'll never forget the price of gas before he was elected," Passero said. --ŽI also think the way Obama has carried himself on the world stage has made us look weak."

Steve Guveyan, executive director for the Connecticut Petroleum Council, which represents major oil companies, refineries, and terminal operators in Connecticut, including Exxon Mobil Corp., said the president's blocking of the pipeline and other moves, such as placing a moratorium on drilling from the eastern Gulf of Mexico north to Virginia has helped cause higher gasoline prices by preventing the development of new wells.

"It's a very important campaign issue," Guveyan said. "The question is do you want to develop your own resources to provide our own fuel, and become energy independent or not?"

Gerry O'Hara, of Ridgefield, another patron at High Ridge Shell, said despite gasoline prices being too high, he still supports Obama, noting the low prices of 2008 had followed much higher prices earlier in year.

Obama's mandate to the auto industry to pursue better fuel efficiency standards and to spur development of alternative forms of energy, including solar and wind power, is more responsible but politically risky than an oil-centered policy.

"I like that he is not opposed to trying to develop new sources and also has been open to developing natural gas and not relying on just one thing," O'Hara said.

Fahrid Ahmedd, of Stamford, said he would tend to support Obama, though had yet to make a final decision, partially based on the effect that higher food and gas prices are having on his finances.

Ahmedd said he hoped the winner would take the necessary steps to save drivers painful price spikes during the annual summer travel peak until better technology and fuel efficient technologies for electric vehicles curb the level of consumption and needed supply.

"But sometimes I feel like they don't do anything after they win," he said.

Sharon Vartuli, 53, said she is leaning towards supporting Romney because of the inflation she sees in basic staples such as dairy products and bread as well as gasoline prices.

"I feel like everything has changed with Obama in office but whoever it is I hope they do a better job with the economy," she said.

Edward Deak, a professor emeritus of economics at Fairfield University, said the continued stalemate with Iran over their threats to cut off oil exports as the West tries to halt their suspected attempts to develop a nuclear weapon has also helped push gasoline prices in most of Fairfield County over $4 a gallon.

More recently, refinery shutdowns and outages have also made prices volatile, he said.

"Could one say the president could have had a more drilling-friendly policy?" Deak said. "Maybe. Certainly energy independence is a long-standing goal, but everything has a cost. The question is whether you can make choices are made that minimize the cost on one hand, and solicit the proper amount of public support for new energy ideas. That's what elections are about."



Source: (c)2012 The Stamford Advocate (Stamford, Conn.) Distributed by MCT Information Services