Gas prices are going up again.
According to an article in the LA Times, petroleum analysts say that gas could reach $5 per gallon in big cities by Memorial Day 2012. At the very least, the cost of fuel could top $4 by spring of this year. An unstable political situation in the Middle East (Read: Syria and Iran) is partially to blame for the higher projections, but a growing pinch on US refineries (we haven’t built a new one in decades) is also responsible.
If gas does manage to hit the $5 or even $4 mark it would be politically terrible news for President Obama. Obama needs a strong economic recovery to justify his reelection, and has been polling better as of late due to improving economic indicators. A spike in gas prices could throw the recovery off track, or give consumers a sense that things are not getting any better. Either outcome would be bad for a president who took office when gas cost only $1.87 (Yes, you read that right. The average cost of gas when Obama took office was $1.87)
A spike in gas prices would also be bad for Rick Santorum – and gold for Mitt Romney. Santorum is the social issues candidate in the GOP field, and as the economy becomes less of an issue he’ll gain ground. Romney, on the other hand, has run his campaign on a promise of a return to economic prosperity. Increasing gas prices would make the recovery look even weaker than it already is, playing to Mitt’s advantage.
Obama could always pull the “share the wealth card” and argue that oil companies should accept smaller margins to help consumers, but that argument probably won’t hold water with an angry electorate looking to collect.