SAGINAW, Mich.—A spike in home heating costs means the upcoming winter is shaping up to be a tough one for Michigan families struggling to make ends meet in a weak economy, a grim reality that could exacerbate Democratic losses in the House.
Heating oil and natural gas across the state is projected to cost roughly 30 percent more than last year, one of the largest one-year spikes ever recorded in state history. The average Michigan family, according to the Department of Energy, can expect to pay nearly $2,500 to heat and electrify their homes this winter.
"We anticipate a really heavy utility assistance season because of inflation. It’s made it really hard for low-income families and seniors on a limited income to make their ends meet," Stephanie Kasprzak, executive director of the Monroe County Opportunity Program, told the Washington Free Beacon. "We’re seeing a new population of people seeking assistance now, people who are employed, people who may have young children."
Democrats in competitive districts throughout Michigan have struggled to respond to voter frustrations with energy prices, instead focusing on abortion rights or former president Donald Trump's conduct during the Jan. 6 riots. Rising energy prices uniquely impact Michigan, which is the top residential consumer of petroleum in the entire United States. Electricity prices in the state are already nearly 17 percent higher than the nation’s average. As a result, Republicans see Michigan as a huge opportunity in their hunt for a congressional majority as statewide polling shows inflation and cost of living as the top issue on the minds of voters there.
"We’re all struggling. My mom is disabled and my dad is a truck driver, there’s just not that much income left," said Vinnie Chesla, who was recently laid off as a roofer in Michigan's seventh district and plans to vote Republican for the first time in November. "We’re already paying over $200 a month on gas alone."
Republican candidates in the state say they have a solution. Republican John James, running in Michigan 10, says the White House should be doing everything in its power to "drill here."
Other Republicans, such as John Gibbs, running in Michigan 3, and Tom Barrett, running in Michigan 7, say the United States could once again be energy independent if federal regulators got out of the way and let energy companies produce. Such policy solutions appear sensible to swing voters, such as Miles Bloom.
With a mother on disability and a father who makes a middle-class income as a welder, energy costs are making Bloom's home life tumultuous. But President Joe Biden and the Democrats who control Congress aren't helping things, according to Bloom.
"One of the first things he did was shut down the pipeline," Bloom said, referencing Biden's decision to cancel the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
The National Energy Assistance Directors' Association wrote in a recent report that 2022 will "be the second year in a row of major [home heating] price increases. Since 2020, the cost of home energy has skyrocketed by 36 percent—the highest prices in more than 10 years.
Those conditions, according to the group's executive director, "will put millions of lower income families ... [with] no choice but to make difficult decisions between paying for food, medicine, and rent."
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D.), who is running to represent Michigan's seventh district, makes no reference to energy costs on her campaign website’s list of "priorities." Instead, Slotkin says she’s running in part to help "fight for the Roe standard to preserve women's personal freedom."
Those priorities are likely a reflection of who Slotkin sees as her top constituency: college students at Michigan State rather than families in suburban Lansing who are more likely to be personally responsible for their home heating costs. Fox News recently reported on a Democratic consulting firm offering $500 to Tik Tok influencers if they endorse Slotkin.
National groups have poured tens of millions of dollars into the Michigan 7 race, making it the most expensive in the entire country. Slotkin has raised nearly $9 million, compared to Barrett's $2 million.
In Michigan’s eighth district, incumbent Rep. Dan Kildee (D.) is facing his toughest reelection race in a decade. His opponent, former prosecutor and news anchor Paul Junge, has been singularly focused on bringing energy costs down.
Junge's effective messaging on energy prices is making national Democrats nervous. Axios reported on Tuesday that a Democratic dark money group, the Voter Participation Project, is spending thousands of dollars on mailers to boost a libertarian spoiler candidate running in the district.
"You watch and see how everything has taken a decline. I'm not saying Trump was the best, but we were in a better situation then," said Larry Martinez, a contractor in the Livingston area who intends to vote for Junge. "I see heating prices and I just feel for the ones who are less fortunate, I'm lucky."