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At the Pump in Elizabeth City

By Krissah Williams
ELIZABETH CITY, N.C.-- Robert Nall mumbled a few curse words as he drove into the Citgo on Highway 17 to fill up his gas tank. Then he stood for 10 seconds at the pump, staring icily at the prices: regular $3.59, mid-range $3.72, super $3.84.

"I don't know who to blame -- the government or the oil companies," said Nall, 33, as the dollars trickled into the tank of his two door Hyundai. "I don't know what to believe. It's like the politicians are trying to sell something."

That much is true. In the days before today's primaries here and in Indiana, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been pitching their plans to deal with gas prices to voters. It's one of the few issues on which they disagree: Clinton is offering a federal gas tax holiday as a summer reprieve. She has said a tax on oil companies would make up for the lost federal revenue. Obama calls the three month holiday "a gimmick" that won't fix the problem.

Nall, who recently retired from the military and is working at Wal-Mart while studying applied science at the College of Albemarle, agrees with Obama on the gas tax holiday.
"The oil companies will probably raise prices so it's not worth it," he said.

Still, he voted for Clinton because the tax holiday is one of the few issues he disagrees with her on. "I got about as much faith in her as I do anyone else, and I like her views on health care," Nall said. "I think her experience will help us and it won't hurt that she's got Bill."

Bill Clinton, who stopped at Elizabeth City State University yesterday, dominated local news coverage with his promise that his wife would turn the country around. The headlines in the local Daily Advance: "Bill Clinton still a star for many", "Clinton: Wife can still win."

Nall put 8.057 gallons in his tank. It cost him $29.

Martha Liverman, 43, pulled the yellow school bus she drives for the local Head Start program into the next stall. High gas prices have "really killed our budget. We can't even get our buses fixed in a timely manner like we used to," she said.

She's voting for Obama today because she trusts him and "I just don't think that a woman should be the head of a country."

Gas prices aside, she refused to even consider a vote for Clinton. Liverman put 10 gallons of diesel in the bus. Price: $40.90.

Seth Carter, 45, pulled up in his shiny black Ford-250 wearing a John Deere cap. "This country is a mess, and its affecting everybody," he said. "It all rolls down hill."

His C&W Landscape has had to raise prices 3 to 5 percent for cutting grass and trimming hedges to remain profitable with fuel continuing to creep up. "I hate to do it but I've got to run a business," he said. "I've never seen anything like this."

With the race being so close, it's a tough subject around here and Carter will only say he voted early and for a Democrat. Plenty of folks here are divided, down to Gov. Mike Easley stumping for Clinton and Lt. Governor Beverly Perdue stumping for Obama.

Carter put 15 gallons of diesel fuel in his truck. Price: $61.35.

"I don't go anywhere out of the way," said Nathaniel Ralph, Jr., 22, a few minutes after stepping out of his '92 Volvo station wagon. He was already wearing his "I Voted" sticker on his way to his work-study job on campus at Elizabeth City State University.

After being labeled as an out-of-touch elitist in the Pennsylvania primary, Obama has been pushing his life story on the stump again. That's what drew Ralph, who got his sticker after voting for the Illinois senator.

"Obama is in touch with the people. He has a young family," he said. "He had a single mother."
When Ralph heard Obama call the gas tax holiday "politics as usual," he agreed.

"I'm like, that's kind of a tactic in a sense," he said. "I'd have to see it bring down prices before I would believe it."

Ralph now has his commute from the village of Belvedere into Elizabeth City down to a science, commuting only three days a week to classes at Elizabeth City State University. The rest of the week he stays close to home.

He stopped by the Hop In at the Citgo to get a soda but skipped filling up his tank, which is down to about a quarter full. He's conserving that until Friday when he plans to fill up.
"I'll drive into Virginia. It's cheaper there," he said.

By Washington Post Editors  |  May 6, 2008; 12:53 PM ET
Categories:  Primaries  
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