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Poll: Gas prices hurting summer vacation plans
WASHINGTON — Most Americans expect record gasoline prices to cause them financial problems and affect their vacation plans, a new USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows. And both presidential candidates are trying to capitalize on their concerns.

One in five people blamed corporate greed for the high cost of gas, and one in five blamed the war in Iraq. Only 5% blamed President Bush, suggesting he has escaped political damage so far.

U.S. gas prices averaged slightly more than $2.05 per gallon Tuesday, up 2 cents from Monday and 24 cents from a month ago, the American Automobile Association said. The highest average price was $2.36 in California; the lowest was $1.89 in South Carolina.

The prices have put a crimp in some people's plans. In the poll, taken last weekend, 59% said gas prices will cause financial hardships for them this summer; 56% said it will cause them to drive less than they might otherwise. (Related story: Fuel costs raise prices away from the pump)

The price surges have become a weapon in the presidential race. The Bush campaign ran an advertisement saying that Kerry supports gas-tax increases — including a 50-cent-per-gallon increase on which he had once commented favorably. Kerry says Bush should do more to drive down prices; he suggested Tuesday that Bush's Iraq policies might be driving them up. America is paying "an enormous penalty" because Bush has not pressed OPEC to increase production before now, Kerry said.

Kerry spoke on a sunny afternoon in front of four yellow school buses arranged near a diesel pump of the Parkrose School District in Portland, Ore. Superintendent Mike Taylor said extra fuel costs are costing an unexpected $24,000 this year.

Kerry, in Seattle Tuesday for another energy event, introduced the week's theme Saturday in a national radio address outlining his recommendations for energy independence. Among them: demand that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries increase supply; divert oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to the market; invest federal money in new technologies and alternative fuels; increase fuel efficiency; and offer tax incentives for efficient vehicles.

The same day, in his own radio address, Bush said he had increased fuel-economy standards for large vehicles like SUVs; his Energy Department had set up a hotline to take price-gouging complaints; and his Energy secretary was in Amsterdam talking to world oil producers about output. But he blamed Congress for blocking other proposals, such as tax incentives for fuel-efficient vehicles, greater use of ethanol, and drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Related story: Gas prices fuel hybrid sales)

Kerry was a chief opponent of drilling in the refuge. The Bush campaign said Tuesday that it "could produce more oil per day than we import from Saudi Arabia." The campaign also said diverting petroleum from reserves would have little impact on prices.

Industry analysts say most of Bush's and Kerry's proposals are too modest and incremental to have much more than a small and temporary impact on gas prices. They say oil and gas prices are rising because global supply is not keeping up with demand.

Contributing: USA TODAY reporters Martin Kasindorf in Portland, Ore.; Peronet Despeignes in Washington

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