INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar's opponents are hitting the embattled incumbent on policies they say would be driving gas prices higher than they already are.
Democrats pointed Wednesday to a series of speeches Lugar gave in 2006 calling for a baseline price for a barrel of oil as a way to drive investment in alternative fuels. Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock, meanwhile, has spent roughly $35,000 on an ad attacking Lugar for supporting a $1 gas tax proposal in 2009.
"Senator Richard Lugar clearly believes that we should be paying more at the pump, not less," Indiana Democratic Party spokesman Ben Ray said Wednesday.
Ray pointed to a March 2006 speech Lugar delivered at the Brookings Institution where he called for a $35-per-barrel price floor that would trigger federal subsidies for alternative fuels, such as ethanol, to help them compete against oil.
"Many analysts say that expensive oil is here to stay, but most energy investors are hesitant to take on that risk. A modest price floor for oil that we may never reach would provide a major stimulation for energy alternatives," Lugar said in the speech.
Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher says critics are distorting separate plans that included tax offsets and an end to an expensive ethanol tax credit. Fisher says the plans would have saved billions of tax dollars. The price-floor trigger, he said, was designed to keep foreign oil producers from undercutting the development of alternative fuels by dropping their prices arbitrarily.
"It blunts the oil weapon that OPEC is trying to use against the U.S.," Fisher said.
Mourdock's campaign, meanwhile, hit Lugar for supporting a gas tax hike in 2009. The anti-tax Club for Growth blasted Lugar for voting for a gas tax in 1982. Fisher beat back those critiques, noting that in 2009 Lugar also called for an offset to the gas tax hike that would have cut payroll taxes.
The new attacks comes just weeks before Lugar faces Mourdock in the May 8 Republican primary and are the latest in a series of criticisms from opponents in the fight of his political career.
Lugar hit back at the start of the week, buying roughly $100,000 worth of airtime for an ad accusing Mourdock of relying heavily on out-of-state money for his campaign. Former Lugar staffers running the Indiana Values Super PAC, meanwhile, opened an online push Wednesday asserting that a Mourdock win would give Democrats their best shot at winning the seat in November.
Political attacks on the rising price of gas — AAA reported Wednesday's national average for a gallon of regular gas at $3.92 — have become rampant from both Republicans and Democrats.
Indiana Republicans have parroted national critiques of President Barack Obama for blocking development of offshore oil reserves in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. Lugar has hit the president for blocking the expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pipe Canadian oil sands through the plains states to Texas oil refineries.
Tom LoBianco can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/tomlobianco