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Gas Pains

Rising gas prices - especially in the Midwest - are spawning a new campaign issue for George W. Bush and Al gore to spar over.

Gore is going after big oil this week, and Bush is going after Gore.

Alleging "oil gouging and price fixing," Al Gore is calling for tougher federal action against the nation's oil industry.

Speaking in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday Gore said he was concerned at the behavior of oil companies which he accused of making "enormous and unreasonable profits" on the backs of American consumers.

"Oil companies profits have just gone up 500 percent in the first part of this year at the same time they were raising these prices by such an extraordinary amount, particularly in the Midwest," Gore said.

But George W. Bush took Gore to task in Los Angeles Wednesday, saying "I want to remind people that this administration is devoid of an energy policy."

Bush used Gore's strongly worded attack on oil companies to say that the Clinton administration has failed to be tough enough on oil producing companing when it comes time to raise outpoint.

The Federal Trade Commission launched an inquiry on Tuesday into whether the companies had engaged in unfair practices. Gore said the inquiry needed to be thorough and hard hitting.

Gore also asked Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner to convene a meeting of the governors of the most affected states to find out how the federal government could help them.

Oil prices have bubbled up as an issue in this year's presidential campaign with gas prices at the pump rising sharply. Gas prices have shot up in recent weeks nationwide, but are as much as 40 cents a gallon higher in Illinois and Wisconsin.

The Energy Department's weekly survey showed the cost of gasoline nationally increased five cents a gallon last week to $1.68. It was the fourth week in a row prices had risen. In Chicago, prices were as high as $2.30 a gallon.

Oil companies attribute the increase in those regions to pipeline problems earlier this year as well as new environmental regulations for cleaner fuel.