As gas prices rise, Republican candidates step up the attacks on Obama’s energy policy

ALLEN PARK, Mich -- Newt Gingrich this weekend issued a special thank you shout-out to President Obama for recently making a nationally-televised speech on America's energy policy, which Gingrich believes merely increased Americans' concerns over high gas prices.

"I want to thank the president for the timing," the former House Speaker and presidential candidate said Saturday in a speech to the California Republican Convention in Burlingame, Calif.

News that gas prices could rise substantially this year--stemming from higher-than-usual gas prices reported last week--has many Americans on edge as they head to the polls to choose Obama's challenger.

Potentially pivotal elections are scheduled Tuesday in Michigan and Arizona ahead of Super Tuesday on March 6, when voters in ten states will hold nominating contests.

The issue of high gas prices has given Republican presidential candidates a clear line of attack and a timely way to compare themselves to the current commander-in-chief.

"If you would like to have national energy, an American energy policy, never again bow to a Saudi king, and pay $2.50 a gallon, Newt Gingrich will be your candidate," Gingrich said Saturday as he systematically rejected Obama's energy speech and promised that $2.50 gas is achievable under a Gingrich administration, in part, by developing American oil and gas production.

According to news reports, online search statistics, and anecdotal evidence, Gingrich and the other candidates attacking Obama on high gas prices are likely striking a nerve.

Many customers here at a local Marathon gas station on Southfield Road told Yahoo News they were well-aware of the reports about rising gas prices and most said the government--specifically the president--should be doing more to stem the steady rise in prices. Most customers said they had been following presidential politics, but expressed more interest in the November election than in the primary.

In addition to Gingrich adopting the $2.50 gas promise, the other presidential candidates have used the renewed discussion over gas prices to trump their own energy plans and attack the president.

Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul all advocate less government regulation--especially environmental regulation and taxes--as a way to move the country toward energy independence. And all four candidates advocate opening the U.S. to more drilling and permitting more usage of American-generated energy that might not be regarded as environmentally friendly by many Democrats and environmentalists.

Romney, Santorum and Gingrich have also made building the Keystone XL oil pipeline a regular part of their stump speeches. That project would create a pipeline between Canada and Texas. Obama stated last fall he would defer a decision on developing the pipeline until after the 2012 election, roiling Republicans in and outside of Washington.

Obama in his speech on Thursday attempted to pre-empt the fresh round of attacks from presidential candidates following news the gas price average had risen to $3.61 a gallon, according to AAA. "Only in politics do people root for bad news--do they greet bad news so enthusiastically," the president said. " You pay more; they're licking their chops."

"You can bet that since it's an election year, they're already dusting off their 3-point plan for $2 gas," he said.

The president defended his administration's energy policies--noting pipelines that have been approved, "millions of acres" that have been opened for oil and gas exploration, and claiming that dependence on foreign oil has decreased. "In 2011, the United States relied less on foreign oil than in any of the last 16 years," he said. The president also scoffed at Republican presidential candidates, saying that drilling alone can't solve the problem of high gas prices.

Republicans believe dissatisfaction and disappointment with the Obama administration will drive electoral turnout this year, and that the gas issue only fuels those sentiments.

The Democratic party chairman here in Michigan, Mark Brewer, conceded to Yahoo News that the gas issue is felt more acutely in Michigan. "High prices not only affect car owners, but the entire industry of automobile sales," Brewer said.

But he added that if prices do rise, state Democrats will be working to communicate to voters that they can aim their anger at oil companies as well as at Republicans in charge of their state, including the governor and state attorney general. "State authorities haven't done their job," to protect state consumers from high gas prices, Brewer said.

The average price for a gallon of gas rose to $3.69 nationally on Feb. 24, according to Sunday's Lundberg Survey about fuel prices--an 18-cent rise over the past two weeks. The survey attributes it to a previous increase in the cost of crude oil.

More popular Yahoo! News stories:

Muslims and Arab Americans in Michigan aren't getting attention from Republican presidential candidates

Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor, braces for recall election, proclaims controversial law is working

Rick Santorum to receive Secret Service protection

Want more of our best political stories? Visit The Ticket or connect with us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or add us on Tumblr. Handy with a camera? Join our Election 2012 Flickr group to submit your photos of the campaign in action.