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CAMPAIGN '08

Gas tax holiday is sound, says McCain advisor

Naysaying economists are mired in 'theory,' she argues. Meanwhile, Clinton aides say their candidate can still win.

May 12, 2008|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — One of John McCain's leading economic advisors said Sunday that she couldn't name a credible economist who supported the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's proposal to suspend the federal gas tax for the summer.

But Carly Fiorina, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee's 2008 fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts, scoffed at the lack of support from economic analysts. "I don't think it matters," she said.

Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Fiorina, who was chairwoman and chief executive of Hewlett-Packard Co. until being ousted in 2005, said economists "sometimes argue about the theory" while Americans worry about filling their gas tanks.

Her remarks echo comments last week by Democratic presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said, "I'm not going to put my lot in with economists."

Both Sens. McCain of Arizona and Clinton of New York argue that a tax suspension would provide vital relief to millions of Americans at the gas pump this summer.

Clinton has offered a similar proposal.

The idea has been widely panned.

Critics say that a suspension of the 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gas tax could save drivers as little as $20 over the summer -- while resulting in a loss of as much as $9 billion in federal revenue for road and bridge construction.

Road builders say suspending the gas tax could jeopardize more than 300,000 highway- related jobs, about 23,000 of them in California.

Clinton has proposed to recover the money by imposing a windfall profits tax on oil companies.

Fiorina would not say what McCain might do to offset lost revenue.

Democratic front-runner Sen. Barack Obama, who once endorsed a gas tax holiday while in the Illinois Legislature, has characterized the proposal as a gimmick and cited studies showing that the Illinois suspension did little for consumers.

Economists generally agree that such tax suspensions would encourage gasoline consumption at a time of already soaring demand.

Meanwhile Sunday, Clinton's supporters continued to assert that she could capture the Democratic nomination and that she would remain in the contest at least until the end of the primary season in 3 1/2 weeks.

Senior Clinton advisor Howard Wolfson, appearing on "Fox News Sunday," rejected the idea that the campaign was over.

He predicted victory in the next primary, on Tuesday in West Virginia, where Clinton is heavily favored.

"If Barack Obama wants Hillary Clinton out of this race, beat her. Beat her in West Virginia, beat her in Puerto Rico, beat her in Kentucky," Wolfson said, citing other upcoming contests.

Clinton's campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, acknowledged Sunday that it was unlikely Clinton would be able to overtake Obama's lead among pledged delegates.

But at the end of the primary season, he predicted, more people will have voted for Clinton than Obama -- if the disputed primaries in Florida and Michigan are counted.

"I believe we will be ahead in the popular vote," McAuliffe said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Obama gained support from another superdelegate Sunday, Crystal Strait, 28, of Sacramento, a leader in Young Democrats of America. Over the weekend he surpassed Clinton in pledges from such party leaders and elected officials.

Strait said in an interview that she had been leaning toward Clinton, "an inspirational figure," but opted for Obama because of the support he had garnered among young voters.

Strait also approved of Obama's plan to undertake a 50-state voter registration drive.

"Clearly the Obama campaign is committed to rebuilding the Democratic Party," said Strait, who called her endorsement "the hardest decision of my life."

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noam.levey@latimes.com

Times staff writer Dan Morain in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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