Skip to main content

Will high gas price be Obama's Achilles' heel?

By Ford C. O'Connell, Special to CNN
updated 7:49 PM EDT, Wed March 21, 2012
A gas station in Miami, Florida, on March 16.
A gas station in Miami, Florida, on March 16.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Average gas price has reached $3.87 nationwide -- the highest ever recorded in March
  • Ford O'Connell: Increases in gas prices can hurt President Obama's re-election chance
  • He says Republican candidates must seize the moment to push for a different energy policy
  • O'Connell: If President Obama doesn't change his policies, he may lose his job in November

Editor's note: Ford C. O'Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on the 2008 McCain-Palin presidential campaign, is chairman of CivicForumPAC, an organization that promotes conservative activism. He is a guest commentator on Fox News, CNN and other TV networks.

(CNN) -- Thanks to the circular firing squad nature of the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, it had begun to look as if President Obama would coast to re-election in November.

But then came along high gas prices. The recent dramatic increase in gas prices could become the issue that slows the economy, stalls the recovery and sinks the president's chances at a second term.

As a Republican who recognizes President Obama's great skill as campaigner-in-chief, I'm shocked he has handled the issue so poorly. Even most of those who agree presidents can't do much to lower gas prices acknowledge they must be perceived as doing everything they can to ease the suffering. Sixty-five percent of Americans tell pollsters they disapprove of the president's handling of gas prices.

Ford C. O\'Connell
Ford C. O'Connell

Average gas prices have reached $3.87 nationwide, the highest ever recorded in March. The prices are expected to go even higher as the summer driving season arrives. If President Obama can't change the perception that he can't do anything about it, he could find himself pumping his own gas after November.

The international markets are unlikely to save him, given the current unrest in the Middle East and rising demand in China, India and elsewhere.

Popular opinion -- and the U.S. economy -- could take a strong turn against him if the situation is not rectified by summer. Americans will not appreciate paying $5 per gallon or more on their vacations. Those in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada and Colorado could be particularly annoyed.

They will come to see his energy policy -- calling oil "the fuel of the past," and slowing the permit process for drilling in the Gulf -- as crafted to please his friends in the green movement. And while the president is set to begrudgingly fast track the southern portion of the XL Keystone pipeline, he does not appear to have bought into the merits of the entire project.

President Obama can argue that changing his policies would not dramatically increase domestic oil supplies in the short run. While this is technically correct, Americans are unlikely to buy the argument. As economist Larry Kudlow and others have noted, speculators and traders, whom President Obama has blamed for the current crisis, respond to news of new energy exploration. For example, President George W. Bush confronted a similar problem with gas prices spiking during spring and summer 2008. He responded by lifting an executive branch moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf regions in an effort to jump-start production, and high prices subsided by fall.

President Obama seems to be leaning toward dipping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which may or may not work since that move does not actually increase production. And he has embarked on an American energy tour, highlighted by stops in three swing states, to convince voters he's doing all he can.

The Republican candidates, who seem never to miss an opportunity to take on the president, must seize this moment to push for an energy policy that would better serve the interests of the middle class. They should start a conversation now on how to avoid future gas price spikes.

Domestic energy security is one of the nation's most critical issues. President Obama's own Energy Information Agency says we will need almost as much gasoline for transportation in 20 years as we consume today.

The president is right that drilling alone will not satisfy our domestic needs. And he has supported an all-of-the-above approach. But his actions haven't completely matched his words. It truly must be all of the above. It must, as Newt Gingrich contends, tap into proven homegrown reserves in the High Plains, in Alaska, off both coasts and in the Rocky Mountains. It must include an all-of-the-above approach to technology as well -- including fracking, mapping and drilling -- and it must again involve building refineries.

Such an approach can help drive down oil prices in the short term, boost domestic energy production, reduce dependence on unstable foreign sources, create jobs and provide new revenue streams for the government. It will be environmentally responsible because production of oil under U.S. environmental standards is among the strictest in the world.

President Obama has pinned almost his entire re-election hopes on an economic recovery. If gas prices don't retreat soon, Americans will cancel their vacations, the seasonal industries that depend on those vacations will wilt, consumer spending will slow and the administration's hopes of showing concrete signs of an economic recovery by Election Day will fade. In that scenario, the president could find himself out of a job -- and it will be his own fault.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ford C. O'Connell.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:12 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
updated 5:24 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
updated 7:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
updated 7:50 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 7:00 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
updated 4:31 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT