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The Republican Party is using voter indecision to attack electric cars as expensive for the US

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Heading into next week’s midterm elections, many Republican candidates are looking to capitalize on voters’ worries about inflation by bashing a key component of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda: electric cars.

On social media, in political ads and at campaign rallies, Republicans say the Democrats’ push for battery-powered transportation will leave Americans broke, stuck on the road, and even in the dark. Many of the attacks are untrue — for example, the auto industry itself has largely embraced the shift to electric vehicles, and some Republican lawmakers are quick to cheer the opening of electric vehicle battery plants in the U.S. that promise new jobs.

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But political analysts say GOP messages are exploiting voter indecision about electric vehicles, which could push Democrats to the defense at a time when Americans are particularly struggling financially.

More than two-thirds of Americans say they are unlikely to buy an electric car in the next three years, according to a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Democrats are twice as likely to say they plan to buy one as Republicans, 37% to 16%, respectively.

“There’s still a lot to sell before electric cars take over the American people,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and longtime aide to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, R-Nev. He described as a mistake the initial messages of the Democrats, which claimed that electric cars were an immediate solution to the problem of rising gasoline prices. “It creates an opportunity for Republicans in this election that starts and ends with the economy and inflation.”

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In a key Iowa House race, an ad by a Republican group shows a man standing next to a pickup truck and calls Democratic Rep. Cindy Axn and the Biden administration “ignorant and ridiculous” for supporting battery electric vehicles currently being manufactured. in China.

In competitive Nevada, GOP Senate candidate Adam Laxalt is scoffing at Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s support for her party’s sweeping climate and health care bill, which includes tax credits for the purchase of electric vehicles. Laxalt warns that Nevada drivers will have to forego charging their electric vehicles during extreme heat to avoid strain on the power grid.

The issue has also become a flashpoint in gubernatorial races in states like Michigan, Minnesota and California, where incumbent Democrats have touted their support for a rapid transition to electric vehicles — California has set a goal of all new cars being electric or plug-in hybrids by 2035 — and has faced questions about how to pay for charging stations and road upgrades as gasoline tax revenues begin to dwindle.

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Even with higher gas prices, the inexorable march toward an all-electric future faces challenges, none of which will be resolved before the midterm elections that decide control of a deeply divided Congress.

With tight supply chains and manufacturing currently dependent on battery parts made mostly in China, electric cars cost an average of $65,000 and remain out of reach for most US households. That has pushed Republicans to hit harder on prices — former President Donald Trump often says electric cars will kill the U.S. auto industry — and Democrats tout the recent drop in gas prices and jobs created by electric cars and other clean energy. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy promises to increase US oil drilling and repeal Biden’s climate and health care laws if his party returns to the House.

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As president, Biden has won congressional victories, including directing $7.5 billion to states to build a national highway network with up to 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles. The Democrats’ Health and Climate Act also provides consumers with up to $7,500 in tax credits starting next year for electric vehicle purchases.

Autotrader analyst Michelle Krebs said electric cars are a tough sell during the campaign because they remain a distant future for most Americans. Unlike the 2020 stimulus checks, the electric vehicle tax breaks in the Democrats’ climate and health care law are still being worked out and could end up leaving few Americans eligible. Electric vehicles currently account for about 5% of new car sales in the US.

“Right now, not everyone sees EV charging stations in their neighborhoods, so that’s having an impact,” she said.

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In an interview, White House infrastructure adviser Mitch Landrieu said the high cost of electric vehicles — including up to $400,000 for an electric school bus — was a “legitimate criticism,” but added, “The more we make these cars, the cheaper they are going to get.″

General Motors, Ford, Toyota and other automakers have pledged to dramatically ramp up production of electric cars, he said, and if they do, electric cars “will become more affordable.” GM, for example, plans to start selling the Chevrolet compact electric SUV next year with a starting price of about $30,000.

Gregory Barry, 45, a Republican father of two from Audubon, Pennsylvania, says he’s open to electric cars if they become more affordable and require less time to charge, but says the U.S. is wrong to ignore oil and other energy sources. .

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Unsatisfied with Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz on other issues, Barry said he has ruled out voting for Democrat John Fetterman because of his seemingly controversial positions on fracking and will likely cast a ballot for a third-party candidate.

Meg Chaifitz, a 67-year-old progressive from Columbus, Ohio, is concerned about climate change and believes the government is not doing enough to address the problem. But she has no intention of buying an electric car, saying she and her husband can’t easily install a charger at home because they park their cars outside. Cheifitz also believes that electric vehicles remain a relatively unknown technology with potentially ambiguous environmental impacts.

“Tax credits for electric cars are not enough,” said Cheifitz, who voted Democratic in early voting but says she will not support Biden if he runs in 2024. “I don’t see them taking any significant action on climate.”

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Environmental groups are pushing back against the idea that the issue of climate change has been lost during the midterm elections, citing recent White House announcements highlighting billions in private-sector investment in domestic production of electric vehicle batteries, as well as $1 billion in federal spending on electric school buses. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen hailed a new “battery belt” in the Midwest, while Vice President Kamala Harris headed to Washington state to promote the purchase of 2,500 “clean” school buses as part of a new federal program.

In some states, support for electric vehicles is bipartisan. Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is embracing big investments from Hyundai and Rivian to build electric car plants in his state in his re-election bid against Democrat Stacey Abrams. Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is running an ad for his race against Republican Herschel Walker that features the incumbent riding an electric school bus. “Get on the bus, get on the bus of the future,” Warnock says, touting thousands of jobs at the Georgia-based company that makes electric school buses.

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In Ohio, Republican Senate candidate J. D. Vance opposes Honda’s planned $3.5 billion joint venture battery plant, part of a wave of announcements for a US battery and electric vehicle assembly plant aimed at developing a domestic supply chain. Democrat Tim Ryan’s campaign is criticizing Vance’s opposition as a sign that he has “no idea what’s going on in Ohio when he opposes our booming electric vehicle industry.”

Kathryn Garcia, director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign, said the U.S. is “at an inflection point in the adoption of electric vehicles,” adding that the new climate law will be a “game changer for climate action.” ³

“This administration and this (Democratic) Congress really got the climate right, and we need that to continue,” she said.

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AP polling director Emily Swanson and AP writer Jill Colvin in Washington and auto writer Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s midterm election coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.

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