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Obama beats back GOP over gas prices

By Alexander Mooney, CNN White House Producer
March 15, 2012 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
President Obama speaks about energy policy Thursday in Maryland.
President Obama speaks about energy policy Thursday in Maryland.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama reiterates that no politician can bring down gas prices in short term
  • "We are starting to see a lot of politicians talking a lot and not doing much," said Obama
  • Obama targeted Newt Gingrich's promise to lower gas to $2.50 a gallon, if elected
  • Polls show link between president's approval rating and rising gas prices

Washington (CNN) -- Confronted with recent polling suggesting rising gas prices may already be damaging President Obama's political standing ahead of the summer driving season, the president on Thursday reiterated the case that neither he, nor any other politician, has the power to bring down prices in the short term.

"We are starting to see a lot of politicians talking a lot and not doing much," Obama told an enthusiastic crowd at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Maryland. "We've seen this movie before."

"Every time prices start to go up, especially in an election year, politicians dust off their three point plan for $2.00," the president continued, deviating from prepared remarks the White House had distributed to reporters before the speech. "I guess this year they decided they were going to make it $2.50."

Obama: No quick fix to rising gas prices

That was a direct reference to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has pledged of late that he will dramatically lower gas prices to $2.50-a-gallon if he is elected president. Fellow GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have also pledged to bring down the cost of gasoline, though not with same rhetorical flourish as Gingrich.

Obama battles rising gas prices

"You know better," Obama said Monday. "There's no such thing as a quick fix when it comes to high gas prices. There's no silver bullet. Anybody who tells you otherwise isn't really looking for a solution -- they're probably just looking to ride the political wave of the moment."

It's the same argument the president made during a recent speech in Miami and at his presidential news conference last week, trying to counter Republican arguments that the president is sitting idle as prices at the pump soar. On Monday, the president ticked through a series of measures his administration had already taken to wean the country off foreign oil in the long-term, including opening new lands to domestic drilling, investing in alternative sources of energy, and raising fuel efficiency standards.

Still, both Republicans and the president's political advisers recognize such long-term arguments bring little solace to Americans who are feeling the pinch of higher gas prices now.

Indeed, a series of recent polls suggest the president's approval rating has begun a slide into the mid 40s as gas prices tick up. The same polls show the president losing significant support with lower income earners who report feeling the pain of higher gas prices most acutely.

An ABC/Washington Post poll reported about half of those who make less than $50,000 a year consider the higher gas prices a "serious hardship." Of that group, the president's approval stood at 44%, down eight points before gas prices began their climb last month. Moreover, a New York Times/CBS poll last week found 54% feel the president does have the ability to control gas prices, compared to 36% who say he does not.

It is poll results like those that led the president in recent weeks to engage in an education mission of sorts over just what drives the prices of gasoline, hoping he doesn't become the target of Americans' frustration if prices continue their march well over $4.00 a gallon.

"Every time there's instability in the Middle East, we'll feel it at the pump," he said. "As rapidly-growing nations like China or India keep adding more cars to the road, the price of gas will rise. That's not the future I want for the United States of America."

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