Gas Prices Climbing Fast Hurts Obama And Helps Hybrid Sales

Republicans blaming Obama for gas prices, though factors largely out of his control

Gas prices are rising faster than members of the media can cover the story. While doing a stand-up about higher gas prices, one California reporter turned around to see the station owner changing the price on the signpost by ten cents a gallon.

Talk about great timing.

The timing for President Obama, though, is not good. The President has virtually nothing to do with current spikes in prices at the gas pump, but his political opponents will not be deterred in an election year trying to put one of the most unpopular trends with voters and drivers on the White House doorstep.

This week, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum blamed Obama's "radical environmental policies" for the higher prices at the pump, suggesting Obama purposely aims to keep prices high to stave off global warming by discouraging people from driving. Newt Gingrich said the president "has been outrageously anti-American energy," and is trying to mount a Facebook campaign that aims to get people to "like" $2.50 per gallon gasoline. The former speaker doesn't offer a lot of specifics on what he is going to to do to lower gas prices, but facts and reality can be in short supply in an election year.

President Obama will deliver a speech tonight at the University of Miami on the subject of energy policy.

The president is on a roll with rising approval ratings, better job numbers and a rising stock market. But rising gas prices is a potential election-year mess. The national average price for regular gas has risen 29 cents per gallon since December.

Obama is expected to trumpet a comprehensive, "all of the above" energy policy promoting increased domestic production, improved fuel efficiency standards and greater investment in clean energy innovation. He is also expected to talk about a new federal standard for fuel economy: the new-car automotive fleet must achieve 54.5 mpg by 2025.

That standard, say many automotive analysts and executives, will move some 80% of new vehicles by that year to be hybrid, electric, diesel and natural gas powered.

Already, new-vehicle shopping sites, like AOL Autos, are seeing consideration and interest in hybrid vehicles climb off the recent gas price hikes and forecasts of even higher prices. The National Automotive Dealers Association's first-quarter report shows hybrid sales up 42 percent over last year.

The factors driving up prices include the closure of two major refineries in the Eastern U.S., rising demand for gasoline in China and oil in Northern Europe and uncertainty over Iran's threats to disrupt oil flow through the Strait of Hormuz.

Still, the Republican National Committee will release a web video today that features a clip of Obama's singing of "Sweet Home Chicago" during a White House blues concert behind a chart showing gas prices rising from $1.85 per gallon when he took office in 2009 to $3.59 this month. The ad is titled "Obama's Got America Singing the Blues." Gas prices had topped $4 per gallon during 2008, but plummeted in time for Obama's inaugural as demand fell during the economic meltdown that began in the Fall of that year.

Another factor driving gas prices up is an improving U.S. economy, which increases demand for gasoline.

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