2008: The year of the gas station presser

CRANFORD — In what might be the most common press conference setting of the campaign season, Republican Senate candidate Dick

CRANFORD — In what might be the most common press conference setting of the campaign season, Republican Senate candidate Dick Zimmer and 7th District Congressional candidate, State Sen. Leonard Lance, stood together at a gas station in Cranford today, where they decried a "do nothing" Democratic congress's record on energy, along with those of their opponents.

Several other candidates – including both Lance's and Zimmer's opponents – have held similar press conferences. In May, Lance's opponent, Assemblywoman Linda Stender, stood with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) at a Scotch Plains gas station to talk about energy independence. Days later, third district Democratic congressional candidate John Adler stood with House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) at a Mount Laurel Sunoco. Last month, Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez attacked President Bush on energy prices in front of gas pumps in Paterson, and just last week Zimmer himself held a press conference in Fair Haven.

The station in Cranford, where a gallon of regular gas cost $3.99, was reflective of New Jersey, which just today saw its average price per gallon reach beyond $4.00.

As he did last week, Zimmer criticized Lautenberg and the rest of Congress for taking a recess without substantially dealing with the energy crisis.

"Senator Lautenberg was summering at his home in The Hamptons while we were paying for higher gas in New Jersey. And Congress went home without addressing in any meaningful way to provide for American made energy or reduce gas prices," said Zimmer, who also highlighted Lautenberg's votes to give tax relief to oil companies, along with a $500 million "slush fund" or companies operating ‘stripper wells' and a vote against eliminating $1.8 billion in subsidies for oil companies.

Although most of the criticism at the press conference was directed at Lautenberg's 24 year record in the Senate, Lance sent one barb in Stender's direction.

"Linda Stender has said as recently as three years ago that increasing the gas tax is a must. I respectfully disagree with that," he said.

Both Lance and Zimmer said they would focus on developing alternate forms of energy and opposed any additional federal or state taxes on gasoline. Lance said that Gov. Corzine was mulling whether to increase the state gas tax, although he has expressed hesitance to do so in the press.

Lance touted his record as a pro-environmental legislator, noting that he took slack during the recent 7th District Republican primary for his record. During the primary campaign, he outlined a five point energy plan to deal with oil prices, including eliminating tariff and trade barriers, exploring domestic production opportunities, providing tax incentives for renewable energy resources and increasing and extending tax credits for hybrid and hydrogen cars.

"I took a great deal of heat in the primary because it is environmentally responsible, but I wanted it on the record then," said Lance.

Zimmer blamed the Congress for only recently getting around to improving vehicle fuel efficiency standards.

"It's inexcusable that Congress waited until this year to increase the fuel efficiency on automobiles, which hadn't been done a single time since Frank Lautenberg arrived in Congress in 1983," he said. (Technically, the new standards were passed in December, 2007).

Zimmer acknowledged that the Republican controlled Congress between 1994 and 2006 bore part of the responsibility for failing to pass new standards, but said most of the blame belongs to the Democratic dominated Michigan delegation, who he said opposed the new regulations and, after it became impossible to oppose them any longer, effectively worked to weaken them. Zimmer said that he would work to address loopholes in the standards that apply to "gas guzzling vehicles."

"We should take the standards that were adopted this year and strengthen them," he said.

Of course, Zimmer and Lance are far from the only candidates with plans to alleviate gas prices. But both said that they would seek solutions in a non-partisan manner, as opposed to Lautenberg's criticism of Bush.

"We're going to be different because we're going to focus on the solutions. We're not going to get involved in posturing and partisanship. Frank Lautenberg cannot talk about the energy crisis without blaming somebody for it and trying to duck responsibility for it," said Zimmer.

When pressed on his own six year record in the House, Zimmer said that he co-sponsored a bill to fund technological developments towards an electric car just two months after entering the body in 1990.

Neither, however, would criticize presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain for changing his position to support lifting of a federal ban on off-shore oil drilling – something Democrats have already seized on.

Both Zimmer and Lance said they were opposed to drilling off the coast of New Jersey or in states where drilling could impact New Jersey's coastline. Zimmer, however, said that he wouldn't have a problem with states drilling off-shore if it has no effect on New Jersey's coasts – which doesn't put him at odds with McCain's call to lift the off-shore drilling ban.

Zimmer said that if a state like Virginia – where drilling could affect New Jersey – wanted to drill, he would fight against it.

Lance, however, warned states off of off-shore drilling.

"I'm really not a fan of off-shore drilling and I would caution other states in that regard," he said.

Calls to staff members of the Lautenberg campaign were not immediately returned.

Stender spokeswoman Abby Curran issued a statement that basically echoed the goals of outlined at today's press conference, but included a jab at President Bush.

At a time when New Jersey families are struggling to pay over $4 a gallon for gas, Linda Stender wholeheartedly opposes raising the gas tax. Linda will work to bring real relief to families paying higher costs for everything from gas to food to healthcare," she said.

"Linda will work to provide middle class tax cuts, not tax breaks for the same Big Oil companies reporting record profits. The same Big Oil companies the Bush Administration helped secure no-bid contracts for in Iraq. In Congress, Linda Stender will fight for the change our families need. Linda will work to develop a real national energy policy that brings down gas prices, through investments in renewable energy sources and green technologies."

2008: The year of the gas station presser