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Senator-elect John Fetterman speaks to supporters

Democratic Senator-elect John Fetterman speaks to supporters during an election night party on November 9, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

Targeting 'Big Oil Greed' Helped Dems in Key Races, Say Climate Campaigners

"All year long, inflation and the cost-of-living crisis registered as the top concern," a new memo notes. "Winning Democrats were able to tap into this popular energy and connect this crisis to its true culprits: massive corporate greed."

Jake Johnson

Election results are still rolling in and control of Congress has not yet been determined, but climate campaigners said Wednesday that one message proved to be a clear winner for Democrats in close races across the country: Big Oil is ripping off the American public.

In a new memo, the Stop the Oil Profiteering (STOP) campaign points to key Democratic victories in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Michigan to argue that a "focus on Big Oil greed"—and Republicans' refusal to do anything about it—was a significant factor, particularly given voters' overriding concerns about high gas prices and inflation overall.

"It turns out that aligning with voter beliefs—aligning with voters, in fact, over corporate villainy—is a good strategy."

"In the critical Pennsylvania Senate race, Senator-elect John Fetterman defeated his opponent with a strong, consistent message about oil and gas CEO greed and the GOP 'simps' in Congress who enable it," the memo notes.

Fetterman, who in August called for the prosecution of oil and gas executives who are price gouging consumers, "effectively painted his opponent as a wealthy ally of the same powerful interests who kept gas prices high while capturing record-breaking profits on the backs of working people," the memo adds.

The memo also cites anti-profiteering messaging utilized by Pennsylvania's new Democratic governor-elect Josh Shapiro, who hammered oil company CEOs for raking in huge profits as consumers struggled to fill their gas tanks and pay their energy bills.

"We don't need to give them more money," Shapiro wrote on social media earlier this year, referring to Big Oil CEOs. "But that's what Republicans' plan would do."

In New Hampshire, Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan handily defeated Republican challenger Don Bolduc after a campaign in which she slammed fossil fuel companies for "taking advantage of high prices and unfair tax breaks."

The new memo goes on to examine Democratic wins in Michigan, Massachusetts, and New York:

In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer won re-election, handily beating back spending by Canadian energy giant Enbridge over the Line 5 fight while Massachusetts governor-elect Maura Healey won following high profile litigation efforts against Exxon’s climate lies as attorney general. In similar bad news for big oil and gas price gougers, Attorney General Tish James won re-election in New York.

"These victories shouldn't come as a surprise," the memo argues. "All year long, inflation and the cost-of-living crisis registered as the top concern among the American electorate—an electorate that demanded accountability for profit-hungry CEOs gouging prices and making life harder. Like Fetterman, Shapiro, Hassan, Whitmer, and Healey, winning Democrats were able to tap into this popular energy and connect this crisis to its true culprits: massive corporate greed, led by oil and gas CEOs who saw the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine as an opportunity."

Survey data released throughout the year has shown that U.S. voters blame corporate profiteering for inflation and are more inclined to support candidates willing to challenge greedy companies for driving up prices to pad their bottom lines.

Just over a week before Tuesday's elections, President Joe Biden pledged to explore a windfall profits tax if oil and gas giants refuse to cut prices at the pump—a step that progressive lawmakers and campaigners had been urging him to take for months.

Jamie Henn, a spokesperson for the STOP campaign, said Wednesday that he has "no doubt" Biden's remarks on the windfall tax and his "stronger rhetoric" on Big Oil profits "helped Democrats shift momentum their way."

"I also think that Democrats could have started this line of attack way earlier and been far more consistent," Henn added. "Biden and Dem leadership has waffled on the message. After yesterday's results, they should stick with it."

The American Prospect's David Dayen similarly observed Wednesday that populist messaging on corporate power "was a factor" in the election, even if Democrats didn't always bring it to the forefront.

"I heard about it from every candidate I talked to this year," Dayen wrote. "They pointed to a vote held in May in the House of Representatives on the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, which would have enhanced the powers of the Federal Trade Commission to go after corporate price-gouging by gas companies, as well as giving the president additional tools to crack down. Not a single Republican voted for this bill."

Acknowledging that "teasing out the themes of an election and what caused winners to win and losers to lose is always a bit of a mug's game," Dayen argued "it would be wrong to say that Democrats won despite a lack of an economic message."

"Democrats certainly could have done more to highlight corporate power issues. At a national level, they came to it a little late, and in the Senate there could have been more votes to put Republicans on the record," he added. "But it was part of the firmament of this election, without question. And it turns out that aligning with voter beliefs—aligning with voters, in fact, over corporate villainy—is a good strategy."

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