THE RACE: Gas price drop may offer political bonus

Associated Press
President Barack Obama speaks at the Building and Construction Trades Department Legislative Conference, Monday, April 30, 2012, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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You wouldn't know it from campaign rhetoric, but gasoline prices have been trending down.

Six months out, polls show the presidential race is very close and that the frail economy and jobs still top voter worry lists. Thus even a small drop in gas prices could generate big political ripples.

Generally, any slide in gas prices should benefit President Barack Obama more than presumptive GOP challenger Mitt Romney, and vice versa.

After flirting with $4 a gallon earlier this spring, the recent national average of $3.83 a gallon is down eight cents from a month ago

The drop hasn't registered politically yet. Each party is blaming the other for high pump prices.

Republicans fault Obama for policies they claim are restricting U.S. oil production and pushing up energy costs, including his blocking the Keystone XL Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline. They also say he's taking credit for production increases that owe much to his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. "No matter how Obama spins it, gas costs too much," says an ad by Crossroads GPS, a Republican super PAC.

Romney laments that gas prices just "go higher and higher" under the Democratic president.

Obama wants to give regulators more muscle to deter price manipulation by speculators, whom he says "can reap millions while millions of American families get the short end of the stick." He also blasts GOP opposition to ending tax breaks for oil and gas companies.

Gas prices are falling partly because slowing economic growth in the U.S. and China and ongoing debt woes in Europe are easing demand for petroleum products. Also, cars are more fuel efficient and Americans are driving less.

Gasoline on average is still 55 cents higher than it was on Jan. 1. But in politics as in economics, the trend can be the friend.

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Follow Tom Raum on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tomraum. For more AP political coverage, look for the 2012 Presidential Race in AP Mobile's Big Stories section. Also follow https://twitter.com/APCampaign and AP journalists covering the campaign: https://twitter.com/AP/ap-campaign-2012.

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