by Paul Goldman
Governor McDonnell can’t understand why those Republicans who want his job aren’t focusing on the number 100%. Okay, that’s really a ratio, based on two rounded-off numbers: $3.60 as the numerator and $1.80 as the denominator. $1.80 and $3.60. But to be more precise, the Governor’s view of the Bolling vs Cuccinelli vs McAuliffe three-ring circus is being shaped by four data points: $1,400, 800, $2.20, $1,100.
At this time in Governor Warner’s last year, the average price of a gallon of gas at the pump rang the register at around $1.85. Today, according to national statistics, it is currently about $3.60. That’s a nearly 100% increase. You got it: The average swing voter knows he or she is paying a $1.75 a gallon MORE for gasoline.
According to national statistics, after you do what political strategy folks are suppose to do, it turns out the far more potent political statistic is $1,400 MORE. Why? If you shift through the various studies, it seems fair to conclude the average swing voter in a Virginia election – a middle aged worker with a used car who has to sit in traffic at times to get to work and when trying to have some fun – uses about 800 gallons of refined black gold a year. When you multiply $1.75 X 800, you get how much a year the average swing voter is paying for gasoline at the pump. It therefore costs $1,400 a year more to fill the tank of the average swing voter.
However: I concede this not very sophisticated of me, just my high school and junior college education talking. Truth is though, I never ran into a swing voter who asked me about nominal vs. inflation adjusted energy prices. Sorry therefore to spend so much time on Main Street. On the blogs, editorial boards, opinion columns, graduate school seminars, it’s different: they use the real inflation adjusted numbers, got to show something for all the money spent on graduate school.
OKAY: You got me. Forgive an old dog his trespasses. I should use inflation adjusted dollars, how unsophisticated can a guy be right? So I went to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website. They have a calculator to help us retro types understand 2013 political analysis. It produces an inflation-adjusted price of a gallon of gas at the start of this year at roughly $2.20. This means, in real terms, $1,000 is a fair estimate of the expected extra annual cost in constant dollars for a swing voter to fuel up his or her vehicle this year.
But of course, the real PhD in campaigning realizes the truly powerful number, is this one: What percentage of previously disposal income is now gone down the gas tank for the average swing voter? So let me sum it up in grade school political language: The average swing voter is hopping, jumping, freaking, kick the gas pump mad when filling up the tank. They ain’t thinking constant dollars, or any of the policy wonk psycho babble. If they have a 15-gallon gas tank, they have to pay an extra near 30 bucks to fill up. If they have a 20 gallon tank, they have to pay nearly $35 more at today’s prices. The price of gas could be $4.00 per gallon at election time.
So McDonnell is thinking: Why would anyone who has ever run a winning statewide campaign in Virginia, or played any major role in developing the strategy, believe 2013 is the election year to go to the voters with the proud boost that you did them a favor by forcing them to pay a RECORD GAS TAX INCREASE on top of the $1,400, on top of the new tolls in Tidewater, need I go on?
The answer: No one would. No one could with any political sense. Thus, when Bill Bolling jumped ship on the governor and went from supporting the total elimination of the gas tax to supporting a RECORD GAS TAX INCREASE, Mr. McDonnell decided his LG had lost his political mind, seduced by the editorial writers and others calling him the “moderate” hope of the GOP. The governor never figured Bolling would be so easily manipulated. He was wrong.
He knows Cuccinelli is a hard case. Thus McDonnell always figured McAuliffe would be the first to back his idea of shutting down the gas tax and moving toward a sales tax for transportation, an idea he actually took from the Democrats in the first place! But the governor soon realized this might be too tricky until Senator Saslaw had at least had a chance to negotiate. Terry is a loyal guy.
Leaving then, as the governor saw it: A lay-up for Cuccinelli. The Governor waited and waited. But Cuccinelli refused.
Then the AG shocked the governor by backing the GOP Senate plan. It was DOA once people realized it had no political, must less transportation, appeal. It raised less money, yet was called a tax increase by GOP anti-taxers, kept a user fee on gas, and hiked the sales tax de facto on internet sales. It offended everyone.
So now the ball sits next to the basket, a lay-up for the first candidate for governor who picks it up and declares: I WILL NOT SUPPORT A RECORD GAS TAX INCREASE. It is the only surefire winner right now.
There is no chance that Governor McDonnell is going to support a RECORD GAS TAX INCREASE if it manages to get out of the House of Delegates.
He can add: all the way up to $1400, $1,100, whatever number who think is the most accurate. Why would any sensible political advisor tell his or her candidate to leave themselves open to the charge of raising the price of gas, meaning you could get blamed for the whole mess?
Based on the governor’s rhetoric, I believe it will be difficult for him to agree to any increase in the gas tax based on his claim it would raise the price of gas. But the size demanded by the Senate Bill and Mr. Bolling is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. So I understand why the Governor is baffled by the not-ready-for-prime time campaigns of fellow Republicans Bolling and Cuccinelli.
If McDonnell were running for governor, he would have long ago denounced a RECORD GAS TAX INCREASE and promised never to back it.