At California gas station, Republicans woo voters angry at fuel prices — but it’s complicated

GARDEN GROVE, California, April 1 (Reuters) – Half a dozen mostly young Republican activists stood bravely outside a Chevron station at a busy Southern California intersection, jumping high downstairs and holding a large sign that reads “Gas Too High? Join Republican.”

The protest in Garden Grove, Orange County this week drew tones of support and succeeded in getting a few motorists to pull over to talk about gas prices.

The Republican Party says the Southern California voter registration effort is one of many it is holding outside gas stations across the country to woo independents and frustrated voters who have supported President Joe Biden, a Democrat, in the 2020 election.

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Republicans are widely expected to win a majority in the US House of Representatives and possibly even the Senate in the November congressional midterm elections. Voters’ dissatisfaction with high gas prices could help them achieve this.

In addition to transforming its deeply conservative base, the party wants to win back moderates who fled the dramatic turns and right-wing nationalism of former President Donald Trump, as well as win new supporters.

But the response at the busy Garden Grove intersection, which is in a highly competitive Republican-leaning congressional district, shows that’s not an easy trick to pull off.

Four people stopped to fill out forms at the group’s table. One said he was homeless but could use his parents’ address. Three were already registered as Republicans, while one was an Independent.

“The gas is so high because of Biden and the Biden administration,” said Ernie Nueva, 69, who stopped when he saw the group.

Nueva says it now costs $100 to fill the tank of its Nissan Titan V8 truck — up from $60 before the latest spike pushed fuel prices to nearly $7 a gallon in parts of California. A lifelong Democrat, he voted twice for Trump and last year changed his voter registration to Republican.

David Wakefield also blames Biden for high gas prices, saying the United States needs to become more self-sufficient and produce more fuel. He is considering canceling a driving vacation planned later this month to see friends and family in northern California, Idaho and Utah.

But he is also already a reliable Republican voter.

“It’s a big short-term problem, but it’s unclear how it’s going to hold up in November,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University in Los Angeles.

In recent years, American voters have been driven to the polls more by cultural and social divide, rather than other public policy issues, Sonenshein said. While high gas prices are certainly not good for Democrats, they may not prove powerful enough to boost turnout or induce voters to switch parties.

The cost of fuel could also come back down ahead of the election, weakening Republicans’ case, he said.

Economists say prices have started to rise as travel and economic activity resumed after the easing of pandemic shutdowns, both in the United States and around the world, raising fears of a supply crunch. world in oil.

These trends worsened when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rocked global oil markets. But the ruling party is generally blamed for the economic woes, and Biden and the Democrats are already at the center of some consumer anger.

“IT IS COMPLICATED”

The RNC has conducted similar registration campaigns at gas stations in California and other states, including Arizona, North Carolina and Florida.

RNC spokesman Mike Joyce said the gas station sign-up drives have been successful, attracting voters of all political stripes who are angry at gas prices.

The RNC did not give data showing how many new voters had registered at those events, except to say the number was in the thousands. “Majorities are won on the margins and with each new registered voter we are getting closer to the final retirement of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer,” RNC spokeswoman Emma Vaughn said, referring to the Democratic House Speaker. of the United States and Senate Majority Leader.

At the Chevron in Orange County, dozens of motorists honked their horns in support of the small group during the nearly four-hour protest.

David Duprat, 38, a passenger in a refueling car, feels every penny of rising gas prices. He drives to construction sites where he works and lives on a tight budget while trying to help his mother.

He doesn’t blame Biden for high gas prices, but overall he believes Democratic policies have contributed to California’s high cost of living. He has never voted before, but plans to do so in November – as a Republican.

“I really, really want to make sure my voice is heard,” he said.

Motorist Benjamin Kohn, a liberal Democrat, is also feeling the rise in gas prices. But he thinks both sides are pushing black-and-white interpretations of events that are more nuanced.

He has no intention of changing sides on gas prices, and as he exited the Chevron, he honked his horn like many other passing motorists. Then he poked his head out the window of his minivan.

“It’s complicated,” he shouted before leaving.

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Reporting by Sharon Bernstein, editing by Ross Colvin and Alistair Bell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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