Gas prices are no silver bullet for GOP


Gas prices are posted at the Sunoco gas station Friday, Feb. 24, 2012 in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

They’ve got their work cut out for them.

While Americans have been more than happy to question Obama’s stewardship of the economy during the bad times, the vast majority aren’t clamoring to blame him for continually high fuel prices.

According to a new Pew Research Center/Washington Post poll, fewer than one in five Americans volunteer Obama’s name when asked whom they blame for high gas prices.

Obama is still the top culprit — 14 percent blame oil companies while 11 percent blame conflicts in the Middle East, the next two most-mentioned reasons — but that fact that four in five Americans don’t reflexively blame the president for gas prices shows that drawing the connection will be a difficult task for the GOP.

The good news for Republicans is that they don’t shoulder the blame either. Only 9 percent volunteer Congress or politicians in Washington when asked whom they blame, and only 4 percent blame Wall Street.

In fact, what’s perhaps most interesting is the fact that Americans are significantly less apt to blame anybody for the high gas prices than they have been in the past. When the same question was asked in 2005 and 2006 as gas prices rose, Americans were much more prepared to play the blame game.

When gas prices rose in September 2005, 28 percent blamed President Bush, 36 percent blamed the oil companies, and 18 percent blamed Middle Eastern countries. Only 10 percent couldn’t find anyone to blame.

Today, despite gas prices being even higher than back then, those numbers have fallen significantly, and nearly one-quarter of Americans couldn’t muster anyone to blame.

This may reflect a couple things.

One is that the rise in gas prices has become such a muddled issue that Americans are simply throwing up their hands and admitting ignorance. After all, if you ask 10 experts why gas prices are high, you may get 10 different answers.

Another possibility is that, while Bush started wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama hasn’t done something similar that could be so easily tied to gas prices. Sure, not guiding the economy back to health could make people blame him, but drawing that connection is a little harder than linking U.S. wars in the Middle East to fuel prices.

None of this is to say that Republicans can’t gain something by blaming Obama. If nothing else, the strategy can fire up the GOP base.

What’s more, people do generally think a president can affect gas prices — a CBS News poll this week showed 54 percent agree with that statement — and reinforcing the fact that gas prices are high may temper people’s optimism overall about the economy, which could hurt Obama.

But gas prices aren’t a glaring vulnerability for Obama at this point, and it will take a big effort to change that.

Santorum predicts top-two finishes everywhere: Rick Santorum predicts he will finish in the top two in all 10 states holding contests on Super Tuesday.

“We’re going to do well in every state,”he said at a rally in Atlanta, per NBC News. “First or second, every state, right?”

That could be a tall order. With Newt Gingrich polling a lead in Georgia, that would mean Santorum would likely have to finish ahead of Mitt Romney there.

Gingrich targets Santorum: Speaking of Super Tuesday, Romney must be smiling right now.

That’s because, as Santorum and Gingrich battle over Tennessee and Oklahoma, Gingrich is now launching robocalls accusing Santorum of supporting “big labor.”

“As senator from Pennsylvania, Santorum cozied up to the labor union bosses and voted for the AFL-CIO and against a national ‘right to work’ bill that would have let workers opt-out of paying union dues Union dues that hurt families and small businesses,” the ad says.

Santorum benefitted from not having to compete with Gingrich in basically every state holding a contest in February; that won’t be the case in the four key states on Super Tuesday — Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Ohio.

Fixbits:

Santorum’s campaign gets a delegate strategist.

Bill Clinton says Romney’s dad “must be turning over in his grave” to hear Romney oppose the auto bailout.

Gingrich’s baloney fixation continues.

Obama goes after oil subsidies.

A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows Americans narrowly favor Obama’s contraception policy.

Speaking of the contraception debate, Senate Democrats play up their women in a new web video accusing the GOP of a “war on women.”

It’s looking more and more like the courts will draw the new congressional map in New York.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) ties newly minted Senate candidate and former senator Bob Kerrey (D) to his home for the last decade, New York City, in a new ad. The buy is $70,000.

Texas’s primary will be held May 29, as expected.

Independent 2010 Maine governor candidate Eliot Cutler may run for Senate. Cutler finished second two years ago, ahead of the Democratic nominee.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) takes on global warming in a new book.

Former congressman Gary Condit’s (D-Calif.) son, Chad, is running for Congress as an independent.

Must-reads:

Democrats squawk over $690 million bridge” — Ashley Halsey III, Washington Post

That Presidential Voice” — Todd Purdum, Vanity Fair

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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