Consumers’ pain at the gas pump will likely be shared by President Obama at the polls in 2012 and could cost him a second term unless energy prices take a drastic turn for the better in the next 18 months.
The average gasoline pump price across the country is $3.621 per gallon, the Energy Information Administration reported. Prices in some parts of the country are already topping $4 a gallon.
And the uncertain global situation isn’t helping.
“Unrest in the Middle East and Japan’s loss of nuclear-powered electricity add pressure to oil prices that were already growing along with the world economy,” Heritage Foundation energy economist David W. Kreutzer told The Washington Times. “While the U.S. only generates 1 percent of its electricity from oil, Japan uses 9 percent and will need more to fuel standby generators and to replace lost nuclear production.”
Analysts see a perfect political storm hitting when it comes to energy supply and demand. China and India, with booming economies, are suddenly world-class consumers of oil and other energy sources. The unrest in the Middle East and the bad news out of Japan have unsettled the supply picture even more, a disruption being reflected in prices at the pump in Wichita and Altoona.
At the same time, Republicans think they have found a potent political issue in the environmentally sensitive Mr. Obama’s decision to put a hold on new domestic energy production virtually from his first day in office.
While polls suggest gas-pump prices loom large in voter calculations, Mr. Obama’s only move to try to contain the impact of the issue so far came in a March 11 news conference, in which he drilled home the idea that partisan politics and not production is the root of today’s energy woes.
“Every few years, gas prices go up, politicians pull out the same political playbook and nothing changes,” Mr. Obama said. “I think the American people are tired of talk. We’ve got to work together, Democrats, Republicans and everybody in between.”
But critics say such above-the-fray talk is not useful when the government has the power to act.
“Our own policies that restrict the development of U.S. oil production don’t help,” said Heritage’s Mr. Kreutzer. “Republicans already have their ad teams working on TV and radio spots and print ads that will make just that point, in as many ways as possible.”
Some on the right claim to see Mr. Obama’s electoral pain being eased by a sympathetic news media as the 2012 elections approach.
“You won’t have the dominant media culture show people hurting at the pump and having to fish change out of their ashtray to pay for gas, not to the extent the media would bleed over the consumers’ plight if a Republican were president,” said Mr. Wheeler.
Mr. Wheeler, of the National Republican Trust PAC, and some analysts predict that the Federal Reserve Board will come to the administration’s aid and ease the sting of higher energy and food prices by printing more dollars to stimulate the economy. But it’s unlikely Mr. Obama can avoid all political fallout from the surge in gas prices.
Mr. Obama’s vulnerability is of his own making, critics say. The president, expressing environmental and other policy concerns, has blocked or slowed U.S. oil drilling on land and sea. Republicans on Capitol Hill have been making that an issue virtually since the president assumed office.View Entire Story
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Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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