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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Kerry to Unveil Plan to Slow Gas Prices

The Democrat, saying Bush has done nothing to curb hikes, will urge that reserves be opened.

March 30, 2004|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry will announce a plan today in San Diego for reining in skyrocketing gas prices, saying President Bush has done nothing to stop increases that are hurting average Americans.

Kerry's campaign said Monday night that the candidate would use a rally at UC San Diego this morning to propose increasing pressure on OPEC to produce more crude oil and to suggest that the United States should temporarily let supplies in its Strategic Petroleum Reserve be depleted, making more gasoline available for consumers.

The presumptive Democratic nominee will introduce the issue a day after Vice President Dick Cheney accused him of supporting some 350 tax increases during his time in the Senate, including gasoline tax hikes.

"After voting three times to increase the gas tax and once proposing to increase it by 50 cents a gallon, he now says he doesn't support it," Cheney said Monday before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

Kerry's camp fired back at the Bush administration.

"While candidate Bush promised to address gas prices, he has simply let the problem fester," said a statement from the Kerry campaign Monday.

"Increased gas prices are costing a typical family $289 more a year. Higher gas prices is just the latest example of how the Bush economy is hurting American families."

Kerry's argument will be supported by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has scheduled a conference call with reporters today to suggest that rising gasoline prices under Bush have cost consumers $24 billion.

The issue is likely to remain at the forefront of the campaign in coming days, as the Bush camp responds to Kerry's proposal and both sides try to persuade consumers that they would do more to bring down prices.

Most of Kerry's day Monday centered not on gas prices but on meeting voters and financial donors in Sacramento and San Francisco, a trip that will continue today in Southern California.

Kerry will then fly tonight to Boston, where he will undergo surgery Wednesday to repair a shoulder injury. He will spend four days away from the campaign trail.

The highlight of the Massachusetts senator's day was a fundraiser for 1,200 people at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco that raised nearly $3 million, organizers said.

The party began with an all-star band of old-time rock 'n' rollers, led by Boz Skaggs. When Kerry arrived to cheers, he quickly gave a hint of the line of attack he would pursue today, telling the crowd that gas prices in California were creeping toward $3 a gallon.

"And if it keeps going like that, Dick Cheney and President Bush are going to have to carpool to work together," Kerry said. "Those are not Exxon prices, ladies and gentleman, those are Halliburton prices."

That remark about the oil services firm that Cheney once headed won a roar of approval from the crowd, as did his statement that the "administration traffics in prejudice against gays and lesbians and others in this country."

"And shame on the president for choosing to play politics with the most treasured document in this country, the Constitution of the United States of America," Kerry said, referring to a proposal for a constitutional amendment that would declare marriage as only the bond of a man and a woman.

Earlier, a Sacramento fundraiser brought in at least $200,000 for Kerry. This morning's rally at UC San Diego is scheduled for 11:30. And the California swing will end tonight at the Beverly Hills home of investment banker and former supermarket magnate Ron Burkle. James Taylor is scheduled to entertain as many as 1,500 donors who will pay a minimum of $1,000 each to attend.

Kerry will not have much time for rest, as he plans to fly overnight to Boston, where he will undergo the 45-minute surgery under general anesthesia to correct his injured right shoulder.

While the repair should correct physical pain Kerry has occasionally experienced, the figurative suffering might last a little longer.

That's because Kerry will be in a sling for two days and restricted for up to three weeks from performing those campaign trail staples -- shaking hands and hefting babies.

Kerry, 60, originally hurt his right shoulder in a 1992 bicycling accident. He aggravated the injury in January while traveling on his campaign bus in Iowa. The candidate was walking down the aisle when the bus lurched. Kerry wrenched his arm trying to brace himself.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, Kerry's surgeon, Dr. Bertram Zarins, said he would advise the candidate not to shake any hands or lift heavy objects for two or three weeks. Kerry would then probably be cleared to begin those activities sparingly.

"I think this should repair the injury and return his function back to normal," Zarins said.

Zarins had hoped that, with rest, Kerry's shoulder would heal on its own. But since the January incident, Kerry has shook hundreds of hands.

The Massachusetts senator also skied and snowboarded this month during a weeklong vacation in Ketchum, Idaho.

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