A woman behind the counter at the McDonald’s in southwest Ohio showed Rep. Tim Ryan the math she was trying to work out last week: filling up her tank would be $20 cheaper in West Virginia, but would that cost less than the gas she’d use on the drive there and back? And what about her shifts, or taking care of her three kids?
Meanwhile, the companies that own whichever station she ends up at are all reporting billions of dollars in profit per quarter.
“They’re making huge amounts of money,” the Ohio congressman and Senate candidate told CNN, “while putting the squeeze on the worker.”
That’s the kind of voter the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm is hoping to appeal to with a new ad being rolled out on Tuesday. It’s part of the populist, pouncing-on-profiteering approach that Democrats are pushing in response to “I did that!” stickers of President Joe Biden popping up on gas pumps across the country, people familiar with the shift in campaign strategy tell CNN.
And Senate Democrats will lead the charge in arguing that companies are raising prices while racking up profits – with Trump-era tax breaks passed by Republicans letting the shareholders and the CEOs take home more of that money for themselves than ever before.
The clearest signal of the shift will be the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm on Tuesday rolling out a new ad ahead of Biden’s State of the Union address. The first half touts success on passing the infrastructure bill and cutting unemployment. Then comes a sharp switch to ominous music. Images flash by of the Wall Street sign, glasses full of red wine being clinked and $100 bills being counted into someone’s hands, ending with a shot of a smiling Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Mitch McConnell’s fighting too — for the same wealthy insiders who get rich by keeping prices high,” the narrator says. “With McConnell in charge, they win and you lose.”
“What you’re seeing right now with rising prices is those very companies that received huge tax breaks are actually earning huge profits and they’re increasing their prices,” said Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “When you have large corporations actually bragging to their shareholders that they’re able to increase prices, I think that will anger the American people.”
Biden himself will be pressing this line on Tuesday night, when he delivers his first State of the Union address to Congress. “We’ve seen higher prices all around the world related to the pandemic, but we’ve also seen huge corporations taking advantage of the American people while making astronomical profits,” said a White House official. “We are focused on holding them accountable where we see it, and often we’ve seen them bragging about it.”
Poll after poll shows that voters’ disapproval of Biden’s handling of the economy is a major factor in sinking the President’s overall approval rating below 40%. All over the country Democrats are anxious about how much worse those numbers could still get as sanctions imposed by the President in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine cut off the Russian fuel supply from international markets.
But several Democratic strategists tell CNN they see reason for hope in voters’ answers when asked specifically about inflation and whom they blame, in public and private polls. In a Washington Post-ABC poll last week, for example, 50% of people combined said they blame Biden “a great deal” or “a good amount” for inflation, while 68% of people combined said they blame corporations trying to increase profits.
Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who is advising the Senate Democrats, said those numbers in his results are even starker among independents, adding that voters already believe the populist argument and are predisposed to think of Republicans as associated with corporations.