By DARREN  SAMUELSOHN | 3/30/12 5:57 PM EDT

President Barack Obama isn’t the only candidate who has to worry about  gasoline price spikes.

Take a look at members of Congress and their challengers, who are going all  out to express concern about the plight of American motorists — often with  personal stories of their own sticker shock.

Illinois GOP Rep. Bobby Schilling took a page from that  playbook this month when he invited reporters to watch him fork over a C-note to fill up his Chevy Suburban  at a Phillips 66 U-Save Mart in Moline. So did Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), who  opened a recent weekly e-newsletter by bemoaning her last $58 pit stop.

Others are content just to empathize.

Hence, Republican Jason Plummer — running to replace retiring Rep. Jerry  Costello (D-Ill.) — visited ConocoPhillips’s Wood River refinery outside St.  Louis to slam EPA policies that he blamed for driving up fuel prices. New York  GOP Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle’s YouTube moment came when she gave explicit instructions on  what she wanted Energy Secretary Steven Chu to tell his administration  colleagues: “The American people are hurting. They need you to do something  now.”

Expect to hear a lot of the same until November.

“This train stretches from New York City to Los Angeles with how many people  have jumped on it,” said Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst at  Gasbuddy.com., a fuel price tracking website. “Either you are for low gas prices  or you are going to get voted out of office. Everyone running is forced to talk  about it because the other party is.”

There’s good reason for all the gas pump bickering. A Gallup poll in March found that 65 percent of Americans  think Congress and the president can take actions to control gas prices, and  that 85 percent want “immediate actions to try to control the rising price of  gas.”

Blame is also easy to spread around. Senate Democrats tried to put  Republicans on the spot in March with a floor vote to repeal oil subsidies,  while House Republicans see rewards from a legislative agenda heavy on domestic  drilling and embarrassing the Obama administration on the Keystone XL  pipeline.

“I’m certain that with $4 gas, the American people will remember who listened  to them and who didn’t,” House Speaker John Boehner said in May before passing  one in a series of energy bills.

During last year’s price spikes, freshmen fanned out to meet with voters and  hear their complaints about fuel costs. Wisconsin GOP Rep. Reid Ribble’s visit to  an Appleton gas station made local TV newscasts, as did Republican Rep. Robert  Hurt’s stop with Virginia farmers, where he talked up offshore development and alternative energy.

The House websites for Ribble, Scott Rigell (R-Va.) and Indiana GOP Rep. Larry Bucshon all feature gas price surveys asking people to  vote on policy solutions.

Indicative of this year’s political stakes, Senate Republican candidates hoping  to help their party reclaim the majority are being much more aggressive than  their House counterparts with their attacks on Democrats.

Virginia Republicans, for example, have posted a video picking at the opening line of a response from  Democrat Tim Kaine at a town hall event when asked about gas price spikes. “I’ve  got to admit there’s some aspects about the gas price thing that makes me  scratch my head,” Kaine says in the clip — a comment his campaign says was taken  out of context.

Kaine’s likely opponent, former Republican Sen. George Allen,  is also up with a  website that allows visitors to type in the make and model of their car to  see how much more it costs to fill up their tank compared with when Obama came  into office.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s long-shot Republican opponent Elizabeth  Emken features a “#FeinsteinOnEmpty” hashtag on her website. She  also questions Feinstein’s past praise for Chu, who said in 2008 — before  joining the Obama administration — that he supported Europe-style gas prices in  the United States.

Democrats are in on the action too.

Indiana Democrats are squeezing Sen. Richard Lugar with a Web ad slamming the Republican over his support for a gas tax hike of $1 or more.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) sent an email to voters in February talking up legislation he has  co-sponsored that would curb oil market speculators.

He also solicited voters’ ideas on “what else you think we could do to bring  down gas prices.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill’s website tries to bust what she lists as six myths about gas prices (No. 5: “Nothing can be done to  bring down the price of fuel”). The Missouri Democrat also promotes her call for  Obama to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for the second time during his  term.

Democratic candidates for House seats are also going after Republican  incumbents’ campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, pairing them  with votes against repealing the industry’s subsidies.

Nearly identical press releases came out in late February from New Hampshire  Democratic candidate Annie Kuster, who is challenging Republican Rep. Charlie  Bass; Nevada state Assembly Speaker John Oceguera in his race against Rep. Joe Heck; former New  York Rep. Dan Maffei in his rematch against Buerkle; and Manan Trivedi  in his second attempt to unseat Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.).

“High gas prices? You can thank Washington insiders influencing Washington  insiders,” Trivedi posted on Twitter, where he linked to a statement criticizing Gerlach for supporting oil and gas  subsidies while taking more than $132,000 in campaign contributions from the  industry.

Outside groups are also weighing in on the gas price debate.

Public Campaign, a group with ties to MoveOn.org and labor unions, sponsored  two weeks of cable  TV ads against Republican Rep. Scott Tipton in his Western Colorado  district, knocking him for taking more than $100,000 in campaign contributions  from the oil and gas industry and questioning his vote against repealing the  industry’s subsidies.

The American Petroleum Institute has already spent generously this cycle,  mostly to help Republicans, including House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred  Upton (R-Mich.), Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Science  Chairman Ralph Hall (R-Texas), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and  Boehner. The trade group also ran radio and print ads ahead of the Senate  subsidy debate in the Senate and presidential battleground states of Maine,  Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

Karl Rove’s American Crossroads is also going after vulnerable House and  Senate Democrats, including $1.5 million spent so far challenging McCaskill. The  attacks include a  website called “The Truth About Claire” that questions her commitment to  lowering gas prices.

The group’s spokesman Nate Hodson said the group “won’t be shy” when spending  tens of millions more this cycle to raise the gas price issue in congressional  races. “It’s what voters are paying attention to right now,” he said.

This article first appeared on POLITICO Pro at 5:41 p.m. on March 30,  2012.

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