The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Feder challenges Wolf to energy debate; A1

10th District candidates already scheduled to debate twice

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

The Democratic candidate in the 10th Congressional District has challenged the Republican incumbent to a debate on federal energy policy.

But the campaign of Rep. Frank Wolf says the invitation from Democrat Judy Feder is nothing but a publicity stunt.

Feder, the dean of Georgetown University’s public policy institute, wrote to Wolf last week challenging him to appear with her on Aug. 1.

“She’s moved from cherry picking votes to cherry picking news,” said Wolf spokesman Woody Patrick.

Patrick’s assessment of the situation was blunt. “We’ve already signed up for two debates,” he said, slated for mid-October.

“Now she’s throwing this [proposed debate] out there because [Feder] figures we won’t go to it, and then she has a news story saying we’re trying to duck her,” he said.

“While I’m pleased that Frank Wolf has agreed to two debates in the fall, they will cover multiple issues and the seriousness of our energy crisis demands that we devote an entire debate to this issue,” Feder responded in an e-mail to reporters.

Wolf has a history of debating his opponent twice. In 2004, he shared the stage with challenger James Socas two times.

Feder’s campaign has repeatedly hit the theme of gas prices and the GOP’s record on energy, taking every opportunity to tie Wolf to President Bush, whose approval numbers have sagged as gas prices have climbed.

Gas prices spiked last year when Hurricane Katrina took out a significant portion of the country’s refining capacity and damaged a number of oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. But after a brief reprieve at the $2 per gallon level, fuel prices headed skyward again as demand climbed with the summer driving season.

Recent fighting in the Middle East and unrest in other oil-producing regions have forced crude oil to nearly $80 per barrel as of late, and gas prices have kept pace.

Regular unleaded averaged about $2.93 per gallon across the commonwealth Monday, according to AAA.

Feder’s campaign has held press conferences at gas stations all over the district, and isn’t shy to pull out the “Big Oil” card when the issue shifts to fundraising.

In particular, she points to $70,000 donated to the Wolf campaign by employees and PACs of oil companies over his career.

While $70,000 isn’t chump change, it’s just a drop in the bucket of $5.6 million raised over a 26-year career, according to the Wolf campaign.

In fact, Wolf has taken less oil money in his career than seven other members of Congress have taken during this election cycle alone, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Voters deserve to know whether their leaders are on their side or on the side of the oil companies,” Feder wrote to Wolf, “so I am inviting you to a public debate on gas prices and energy policy.”

Feder has criticized Wolf repeatedly for supporting last year’s energy bill and its tax breaks for oil companies. At the time, backers said the tax breaks were needed to spur new exploration for oil.

But Wolf is no mouthpiece for energy, his campaign says.

Wolf took to the floor of the House earlier this year and called on President Bush to exercise the “bully pulpit” of the White House, and summon oil company executives to the Oval Office to account for higher fuel prices.

He also backed the “H-Prize” bill, which would establish millions of dollars in awards for inventors who help move the country away from gasoline toward hydrogen.

For her part, Feder says she’d work to roll back $48 billion in tax breaks given to oil companies in the energy bill Wolf supported and try to impose a windfall profits tax to “discourage profiteering” by oil companies when prices are high.

Election Day is Nov. 7.