Inflation looms as major issue in general election

By Nick Phillips | Arizona Capitol Times  

Inflation is already taking a toll on local residents’ wallets and it’s shaping up to be an important theme in general elections this fall.

In Phoenix, prices have jumped more in the past 12 months – 11% – than anywhere else in the country, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data through April. In Maricopa County, the average price of a gallon of gas recently broke $5, a shocking figure for drivers who still remember pandemic-era lows of $2 or less.

In response, Republicans are sharpening their economic message – Democrats, and specifically President Joe Biden, are to blame for the sticker shock that Arizonans are facing everywhere from the gas pump to the housing market.

“(E)nergy prices are only going higher and Bidenflation will keep taking a larger chunk out of Arizonans’ paychecks,” a spokesman for the Republican National Committee wrote in an email earlier this week.

For now, the issue still hasn’t taken center stage. Immigration remains by far the top issue for Republican primary voters and on the Democratic side the top issue is education.

But that could change after the August primary election, once candidates turn their attention to the moderates and independents whose votes they’ll need to win in November, said Paul Bentz, a pollster with the GOP consulting firm HighGround, Inc.

Bentz said economic messaging can be particularly persuasive to independents and pinning the blame for inflation on Democrats “could be a very effective weapon for Republicans in the general if that’s what they focus on.”

Ian Danley, a veteran Democratic consultant, said candidates on the left shouldn’t brush aside the attack. “I think you really got to acknowledge struggle and the pain that so many Arizonans are feeling,” he said.

But he said Democrats can counter with a more complicated narrative: the inflation we’re seeing, and fears of a looming recession, isn’t the result of one party or president.

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