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Gas price up, Obama re-election prospects down

By MARK S. SMITH
April 24, 2011

With gas prices climbing and little relief in sight, President Barack Obama is scrambling to get ahead of the latest potential obstacle to his re-election bid, even as Republicans are making plans to exploit the issue.

No one seems more aware of the electoral peril than Obama himself.

“My poll numbers go up and down depending on the latest crisis, and right now gas prices are weighing heavily on people,” he told Democratic donors in Los Angeles this past week.

In fact, Obama raised the issue unsolicited in a series of town meetings in Virginia, California and Nevada that were ostensibly about his deficit-reduction plan. And he made the gas spike the subject of his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday.

“It’s just another burden when things were already pretty tough,” he said.

As Obama well knows, Americans love their cars and remain heavily dependent on them, and they don’t hesitate to punish politicians when the cost of filling their tanks goes through the roof. Indeed, for presidents, responding to sudden surges is a recurring frustration.

“These gas prices are killing you right now,” Obama said at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, acknowledging that many Americans can’t afford new fuel-efficient cars and must drive older models.. For some, he said, the cost of a fill-up has all but erased the benefit of the payroll tax holiday that he and congressional Republicans agreed on last December.

On Saturday, Obama insisted in his radio and Internet address that the best answer is a long-term drive to develop alternatives to fossil fuel. He also renewed calls to end $4 billion in subsidies for oil and gas companies. “Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy sources,” he said, “we need to invest in tomorrow’s.”

Republicans contend that high gas prices are the inevitable result of an administration they accuse of stifling domestic drilling, and which placed new curbs on offshore exploration after last spring’s disastrous BP oil spill.

“The administration has declared what can only be described as a war on American energy,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Obama is vulnerable on gas prices and the Republicans have and will exploit this as a wedge issue,” said James Thurber, who directs the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.

Legislative aides report House Republicans are considering a series of hearings and floor votes on measures to boost domestic oil and gas production when Congress returns from its Easter break.

Meantime, Obama has ordered his Justice Department to form a task force to look for fraud or manipulation in the oil markets. It will “root out” any abuses, he told a town meeting in Reno, Nev. The president is among those who’ve said the surging price for crude is caused by worries about political upheaval in the Arab world and increasing demand from China and elsewhere.

Still, Americans have a tradition of holding the party in power responsible for rising gas costs.

Obama’s focus on the issue came as a New York Times/CBS News poll published Thursday found that 70 percent of the public believes the country is headed in the wrong direction. That followed a March AP-GfK survey reflecting widespread discontent over the economy, with just 15 percent seeing an economic improvement the previous month. Through the spring, Obama’s approval numbers in several polls have slipped.

“Gas prices are a major factor in his slide … along with unemployment and his talk about cuts and tax increases to deal with deficits and debt,” Thurber said.

The national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is currently $3.84, almost a dollar higher than a year ago. In many places, it’s well over $4.

The gas price debate has a sense of deja vu to it, Obama notes. Vows to end dependence on expensive oil imports go back to Richard Nixon’s “Project Independence”, a 1973 response to the Arab oil embargo, and this has been a popular refrain by presidents of both parties over the last 40 years.

“Whenever gas prices shoot up, like clockwork, you see politicians racing to the cameras, waving three-point plans for two dollar gas,” Obama said in Saturday’s address. But when prices subside, those plans are quietly shelved.

Even calls to target price gouging have a familiar ring. When gas hit $3 a gallon in 2006, George W. Bush launched a probe, declaring Americans “don’t want and will not accept … manipulation of the market. And neither will I.”

Seven months later, Bush took what he called a “thumping” in mid-term elections. Of course, other issues — especially Iraq — played a big role. But Obama can’t help pondering that example, and wondering what rising gas prices could do to his hopes for a second term.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

9 Responses to Gas price up, Obama re-election prospects down

  1. bmclellan

    April 24, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Sure, we’ll vote in the fossil fuel party because skyrocketing fuel prices have nothing to do with middlemen, speculators, and shadow oligarchs.

    It’s the Prez who is to blame when his mighty invisible scepter runs out of fairytale justice dust.

    Who better to protect us than another prick who’s up to his neck in oil stock ?
    Where oh where will we find the next Dubya and Dich show for our entertainment pleasure ?
    Huck Mitt Sarah, Michele Tim or Don, I just can’t wait to hear,
    what planet they are on.. Hack

  2. dshaw

    April 24, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Why is it every leader voted in to white house worries about the next election instead of dealing with the problems that the american people face every day.

    If are susposed leaders really cared they would stop all this nonsence do something about it, but no they cant do that because that may hurt there second term. I own a company that works in the oil and gas industry and i personaly think us should use are own resources, and when they run low or out well maybe we will have are alternitive fuels up and running and that should be the focus of the us government.

  3. Wayne K Dolik

    April 24, 2011 at 11:45 am

    The whole democratic plan for U.S. energy is uterly nonsense. American oil, gas and coal are abundant resorces. A real President would open up the reserves.

  4. freecitizen

    April 24, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    It is clear what is going on, to anyone that still have working brain cells, a very small minority in this country! Prices are being manipulated for the benefit of the few, enabled by our bought and paid for corruptees in office.

    I am sure you will hear notions of compassion and understanding(I feel your pain)for all the problems our US cabal of corrupt, self-serving liars that we, the United States of America keeps in office year after year. they will start some kind of commission or some such to “look into” rising prices but , will never do anything about it! why would any politician stop the gravy train to thier re-election campaigns? they will have to keep thier elitest corporate bosses happy while assuring a gullible and virtually brain dead public that they will do what they can with many empty promises……..if you will just elect them again!!! afterall, they all have done such a great job with this country already….right?

  5. Michael Griffith aka Griff

    April 24, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    “Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.” – Thomas Paine

  6. jerry

    April 24, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    You cats bang a drum from an unknown soruce. I don’t see much adventure in that. Why blame your leaders when you know you are the blame. You cats have lived in excess for so long and wasted your time and mine without a doubt, Let me explain; you don’t care who is in office unless you don’t make more money. You don’t like who is in office unless you make more money. You are no different then they are as of to-date. get a grip folks look at yourselves a bit closer.

    • Michael Griffith aka Griff

      April 25, 2011 at 8:27 am

      The sixties are over dude.

  7. Tom

    April 25, 2011 at 7:41 am

    Can you say futures market? Until 1991 there were limits on the trading of futures, then Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan etc.. asked the SEC to not require the buyer of contracts to take delivery of the commodity. A friend works in the animal feed industry and said that the US is operating on a 2 week supply of corn and a little bit more of a cushion on other grains all due to the fact that the speculators have the contracts in storage driving the prices up. Old cows and bulls (hamburger) are selling at double the prices of last year. And with feed prices going up we will not be seeing an increase in herd numbers but a steady decrease.

    • woody188

      April 25, 2011 at 6:06 pm

      Well said. Restore sanity to the market and sanity will return to the land. The problem being that those distorting the market are the ones greasing the palms and campaigns of the Hill people.