Skip to main content

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

By Ford C. O'Connell, Special to CNN
March 21, 2012 -- Updated 2349 GMT (0749 HKT)
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
September 20, 2014 -- Updated 1624 GMT (0024 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT