President Obama's two-day trip to highlight his energy policies has lit a fire under the Republicans, who say he is distorting his record and trying to duck responsibility for high gasoline prices.
It's a sign that energy will be a big issue for the rest of this political year, and that all sides will continue their efforts to make gains by bashing each other. The trigger for the debate has been rising gas prices, which reached a national average of $3.86 per gallon on Wednesday, up from $1.83 in January 2009, when Obama took office.
Obama is visiting New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Ohio to make his energy pitch. He says his "all of the above" strategy is improving the U.S. energy situation by focusing not just on oil and natural gas production but also on renewable energy sources and promoting conservation.
Speaking at a solar energy plant in Nevada Wednesday, Obama said, "If some politicians get their way, there won't be any more public investments in solar energy. These folks dismiss the promise of solar power and wind power and fuel efficient cars."
"If these people were around when Columbus set sail, they would've been founding members of the flat earth society."
A White House spokesman added that Obama's planned visits to Oklahoma and Ohio Thursday would highlight his "commitment to improving and supporting the infrastructure that helps us leverage our domestic resources, while also ensuring these projects are developd in a safe and responsible way."
But the GOP is dogging his every move.
House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman ridiculed the Obama trip as a "tour de farce." And Republican National Committee Press Secretary Kirsten Kukowski argued in an email to reporters that, "Obama has a lot of work to do to convince voters he cares about their pain at the pump."
"The president's energy spin leaves out a very inconvenient reality ... that production on federal land has decreased since Obama took office," the RNC said.
In addition, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies is running a new TV ad underscoring what the group called "President Obama's dramatic failure to keep energy prices down, while he has instead focused on untested and naive strategies that have virtually no impact on energy consumption or demand." Crossroads is a conservative political action committee dedicated to defeating Obama for re-election. One of its founders was Karl Rove, the former political architect of President George W. Bush.
Obama has "taken a number of aggressive steps to limit energy production, which include blocking offshore oil exploration, restricting the development of American oil shale, and personally lobbying against the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline," says Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio. The pipeline was conceived to bring oil from Canada and northern states in the U.S. to refineries in southern Texas, but the administration blocked it on environmental grounds. Obama is now supporting the southern part of the original project but critics say it's only a fraction of what's needed.
Crossroads says it is spending $650,000 to place its TV ad on cable and local broadcast networks in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Columbus, Ohio, and Las Vegas, Nevada—three cities on or near Obama's route this week.
Democrats were quick to defend Obama. The Democratic National Committee says Crossroads is funded in part by oil and gas interests, making their charges suspect. A DNC spokesman says Obama is looking for "every single area" where he can help consumers deal with high gas prices.