U.S. Senate Candidates React To Gas Price ‘Crisis’

As quickly as gas prices have risen across the country, they’ve fast become a campaign issue for a crowded field vying for Wisconsin’s open U.S. Senate seat.

A gallon of gas cost $3.78 in Madison on Monday, up 44 cents from one month ago, and a record high for this time of year. Republicans highlighted the need for fewer regulations, while the Democrat in the race promoted various alternative energy sources.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson, former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann and state Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, all Republicans, said they would support building the Keystone Pipeline, drilling for offshore oil and fracking for natural gas.

“The failure of President Obama to aggressively address this issue is costing America jobs and national security,” Thompson told reporters in Madison. “It’s a choice between more regulation or more freedom.”

His Republican primary opponents agreed, using similar language.

“America’s energy crisis harms not only our economy but threatens our national security,” Neumann said. “We really need a big picture energy plan that ends our dependence on countries whose tyrants want to kill us.”

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen things from (the Obama) administration like the Keystone Pipeline that’s been killed, and that’s killed thousands of jobs that could’ve come here to the U.S.,” Fitzgerald said.

A challenge to the Republicans’ similar energy policies may come in the general election. U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the lone Democrat in the race, has said she supported more regulations for fracking and offshore drilling.

“Tammy supports a comprehensive energy strategy that ensures the American people have access to affordable, safe energy that meets the demands of our economy, both today and into the future,” wrote Phil Walzak, a spokesman, in an emailed statement. Baldwin’s U.S. House website indicates she supports alternate energy sources and conservation.

Baldwin was in Washington on Monday, but Graeme Zielinski, a state Democratic Party spokesman, highlighted her positions.

“Tammy Baldwin’s the only person in this race who’s actually talking about the middle class and what they have to go through,” he said. “Whether it be gas prices, whether it be the payroll tax, whether it be (preserving) Medicare and Social Security.”

Balancing The Budget

Meanwhile, the Republican candidates blasted the Obama administration and Congress for the nation’s budget deficit.

“We had cut taxes so people kept more of their money,” said Neumann, who was a member of Congress in the 1990s — the last time the federal budget was balanced. “When they kept their own money, they either saved it or spent it and our economy boomed. It’s been going steadily downhill since then.”

Fitzgerald suggested that politicians needed to “level with” the U.S. public about necessary cuts to programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

“If we make the adjustments now and make those programs solvent, we’ll be OK in the long run,” Fitzgerald said. “If we keep making false promises, we’ll have to pull the rug out from someone eventually.”

Thompson defended his record, adding that he didn’t think he shouldered the responsibility for Wisconsin’s structural budget deficit when he left office in 2001.

“No, I do not (take responsibility),” Thompson said. “I take responsibility for cutting taxes 91 times, and for developing 742,000 jobs.”

Zielinski criticized the former governor on the issue.

“That’s shocking that somebody who’s standing for high office, somebody who was governor for 14 years — with the clear record of spending and doubling the size of government — wouldn’t take responsibility for it,” Zielinski said.