Rising gasoline prices could damage President Obama's bid for re-election, but the fact that the Republicans are emphasizing the issue so aggressively suggests that other economic concerns may be fading fast.
Obama and the GOP are engaging in a battle over who is responsible for oil price hikes that have raised the average cost of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline to $3.74, up 25 cents in the past few weeks.
The Republican presidential candidates and GOP congressional leaders such as Sen. Mitch McConnell say Obama is to blame because he hasn't pushed hard enough for the development of domestic energy reserves. They also blast his administration for rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline that would have transported oil from Canada to the United States as an example of Obama's wrong-headed energy policies. And they argue that the administration wasted millions of dollars trying to "prop up cronies at Solyndra," an energy company that the government invested in only to see financially collapse.
Earlier this week, the Republican National Committee tried to highlight the increase in gas prices with a new web video entitled "Obama Running on Empty."
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said, "As gas prices climb to record highs, Barack Obama remains completely out of touch. After calling for a comprehensive energy plan 'that works' during the campaign, four years later Americans are scratching their heads wondering exactly how long they are expected to wait."
Obama says he favors an "all of the above" energy policy that expands development, not only of oil but also of natural gas and alternative fuels. He urges Congress to remove the oil industry's $4 billion annual tax breaks and subsidies.
"Let's put every single member of Congress on record," Obama said in New Hampshire Thursday. "You can stand with oil companies or you can stand up for the American people."
The two sides could fight to a draw on the issue. The latest Pew-Washington Post poll finds that 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is mostly responsible for rising gas prices, 14 percent blame oil companies, 11 percent blame turbulence in the Middle Eas, 38 percent attribute the rise to other causes, and 24 percent didn't know or refused to answer.
But taking the offensive against Obama over oil prices suggests that the Republicans find less of an advantage in hammering Obama on unemployment, which is gradually declining, along with the overall economy showing signs of improvement and the stock market on the upswing.