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Political stunt draws apathetic voters who just need cheap gas

Updated Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012 | 9:06 a.m.

RENO--The cheap gas offered by the conservative political group Americans for Prosperity in Reno on Tuesday was a political event designed to blame President Barack Obama’s energy policies for driving up the cost of petrol.

But many of the scores of people who lined up around the block to fill up their tanks at $1.84 a gallon didn’t come for politics. They didn’t blame Obama for the gas prices. They just needed cheap gas.

One woman pulled up with a car full of three children, eager to save the 30 bucks on gas — money that would go toward school clothes for her kids. She said her family lives on $1,700 a month.

“This isn’t Obama’s fault. It’s everyone’s fault,” said Kaylen Hartshorn, of Reno. “You can’t elect one man and expect him to solve a million people’s problems. Everybody needs to do their part, help their neighbors.”

But Hartshorn stopped short of saying she would back Obama in November. She’s still trying to make up her mind and is drawn by Republican Mitt Romney’s promise that he can turn around the economy.

Indeed, the cheap gas event shined a bright light on the need generated by the economic recession.

One man literally had to push his truck the final 50 feet after running out of gas waiting in line. Another woman jumped with glee as she left the cashier’s window holding up four dollars in change from filling up her tank.

“I actually got change!” she shouted.

At $1.84 a gallon, which was briefly the national average when Obama took office after plummeting from a peak of $4.11 in July 2008, the customers at the Rainbow Mart on Tuesday were saving about $2 a gallon. Americans for Prosperity is holding a similar event in Las Vegas from 7:30-9 a.m. Thursday at the Speedee Mart on West Desert Inn Road.

For the organizers of the event, the cheap gas offering wasn’t a handout for those in need.

“It’s citizen education,” said Nick Vander Poel, of Americans for Prosperity. “This is issue awareness. We’re educating them on the issues.”

As people filled up their tanks, they stood in the shadow of AFP’s campaign bus emblazoned with the slogan: Obama’s Failing Agenda. One man registered voters. A Hispanic voter outreach group spoke Spanish to motorists filling up their tanks.

Americans for Prosperity is a conservative organization, co-founded by the wealthy political donors Charles and David Koch, that espouses the value of low taxes and low regulations.

But many motorists weren’t eager to listen to a political pitch; they were just thankful for the gas.

Still, while many said they didn’t blame Obama for the gas prices, they weren’t necessarily going to vote for him. Nor were they all that excited about Romney.

“I don’t know who I’m going to vote for,” said nonpartisan voter Rosemary Hufford as she pumped her gas. “I don’t think (Obama) is taking care of business.”

She said Obama could have an effect on gas prices if he cleared the way for the Keystone Pipeline to be built, adding that he could’ve put people to work through the project as well.

“But the Republicans could have gotten a better candidate. Mitt Romney is not up to par when it comes to the average person,” Hufford said.

She bristled at Romney’s comments caught by a hidden camera at a fundraiser in May, implying that 47 percent of voters supporting Obama are victims who want to rely on the government.

“People aren’t looking for handouts,” Hufford said. “People want to work. They want a job so they can take care of their family.”

Mark Miller, whose family owns the gas station where Americans for Prosperity held its event, said he doesn’t blame Obama for the high gas prices, either. But he does disagree with his policies and he was viscerally angry at Obama’s implication that business owners rely on government infrastructure and programs to be successful.

“If these roads weren’t here, would this gas station have just organically appeared?” Miller said. “Would the $1.8 million in start-up costs just have appeared? I didn’t see the government here when I was covering the 2 a.m. shift.”

This story was updated to include the day of the cheap gas event in Las Vegas.

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