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In General Election Ads, It's Game On Over Gas Prices

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In General Election Ads, It's Game On Over Gas Prices

In General Election Ads, It's Game On Over Gas Prices

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

The presidential primaries may not be over, but the political ads have already moved on to November. President Obama's reelection campaign released its latest TV ad this week. With gas prices just under $4 a gallon, the ad is a defense of the president's energy policy and a direct attack on GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney.

As NPR's Brian Naylor reports, gas prices have become the first battleground in the general election.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Blaming the Obama administration for the recent rise in gas prices is a favorite tack among the Republicans running for president. Newt Gingrich has promised 2.50-a-gallon gas. And Mitt Romney has called on President Obama to fire what Romney dubbed the Gas Hike Trio, the secretaries of Energy and Interior and the EPA administrator.

The attack has been picked up by the American Energy Alliance, which has reportedly spent some $3.6 million to air this ad.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Since Obama became president, gas prices have nearly doubled. Obama opposed exploring for energy in Alaska. He gave millions of tax dollars to Solyndra which then went bankrupt. And he blocked the Keystone pipeline, so we will all pay more at the pump.

NAYLOR: The American Energy Alliance is led by a former lobbyist for Koch Industries, whose top executives, Charles and David Koch, are major backers of conservative causes. The Obama campaign ad, which is airing in six battleground states, is in part a response to the Energy Alliance's charges.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Under President Obama, domestic oil production is at an eight-year high. So why is Big Oil attacking him? Because he's fighting to end their tax breaks. He's raising mileage standards and doubling renewable energy. In all these fights, Mitt Romney stood with Big Oil for their tax breaks, attacking higher mileage standards and renewables. So when you see this ad, remember who paid for it and what they want.

NAYLOR: Attacking Romney by name is a first for the Obama campaign, reflecting its belief that the former Massachusetts governor is the all but certain Republican nominee. The ad also illustrates the concern that high gas prices pose political problems for the president.

DR. DANIEL YERGIN: High gasoline prices and presidential politics is a very volatile mixture.

NAYLOR: Daniel Yergin is chair of IHS CERA, an energy research firm, and author of "The Quest."

YERGIN: And when they go up, motorists who are also voters get angry and they tend to hold the person who is in office responsible.

NAYLOR: On the campaign trail, Romney laughed off the Obama ad and said the president is trying to escape responsibility for the surge in gas prices.

MITT ROMNEY: And so the president put an ad out yesterday talking about gasoline prices and how high they are. And guess who he blamed? Me.


ROMNEY: Why, maybe after I'm president I can take responsibility for things I might have done wrong. But this president doesn't want to take responsibility for his mistakes.

NAYLOR: Romney's campaign also posted this video on its website.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The Obama attack machine has started, spending millions to sling mud or oil at Mitt Romney. Why? Because in the five states where Obama is attacking Romney, gas prices have roughly doubled. But Obama's mud can't cover his failed energy policies.

NAYLOR: In reality, Daniel Yergin says, the president has little immediate control over how much we pay at the pump.

YERGIN: In the short term, there's not very much that any president can do about high gasoline prices, because these are really reflecting what's happening in the world market.

NAYLOR: Still, as long as gas prices remain high, the president is likely to find his energy policies under attack. So, as its ad shows, the Obama campaign is trying to turn a negative into an opportunity. It's hoping to tie his opponent to quote, "Big Oil," and emphasizing Mr. Obama's call to end industry tax subsidies. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, those tax breaks are worth some $16 billion a year to the oil industry.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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