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Obama Ignites Next Battle in Gas War; Taxpayer Funded Campaign Trips Look Chintzy; Santorum Needs to Regain Mich. Momentum

GOP Hits Back After Obama Blames Congress for High Gas Prices 

"11 percent" 

-- Reduction in oil production on federally controlled lands in the previous fiscal year according to the free-market Institute for Energy Research. 

The gas wars in Washington will continue unabated today as Republicans push hard on President Obama following his effort in a campaign speech in Florida to put the blame on them for blocking his plan for energy independence. 

In his speech, Obama said that while he favored increased domestic production of some fossil fuels, he believed that higher taxes on producers were imperative in order to finance federal subsidies for green energy initiatives. 

Snatching the "all of the above" slogan from Republicans, Obama has been campaigning on the idea that Republicans are beholden to oil companies while he is interested in having the government use oil profits to develop everything from windmills to ethanol from algae. 

Obama has struggled to balance his own environmental goals and the demands of his political base with mounting anger among voters about rapidly rising fuel prices. The straddle has always been a difficult one for Obama who ran on a platform that included aggressive environmental action, but has frequently bowed to mainstream pressure to withhold planned restrictions on the existing energy sector. 

For example, when Obama closed off much of the U.S. coast to drilling, he expanded the portions of existing exploration fields open to producers. Obama also was forced to spike aggressive penalties for power companies blamed by environmentalists who believe the planet is growing dangerously warm, but compensated by imposing tough clear air standards that will still shutter many of the same power plants. 

The recent rise in gas prices, fueled in large part by deepening unrest in the Middle East, comes at an inconvenient time for Obama who only recently nixed a plan for a massive pipeline to bring Canadian oil to U.S. refineries. The Keystone XL project is hugely popular in surveys, but anathema to environmentalists who believe cheap gasoline is a danger to the planet's climate. 

Obma has been relentlessly disciplined in his campaign message since his Labor Day kickoff, casting almost every problem facing the nation as in some way the result of Republican closed-mindedness, corruption or unpatriotic partisanship. And so he is on gasoline prices, saying that if Republicans would have allowed new taxes and spending, energy prices would be heading the right direction. 

To bolster his argument that it is Republicans, not him, who are being rigid, Obama has often cited recent increases in domestic oil production. Republicans today, though, are pushing back on the notion, touting statistics that show contraction in oil and gas production on federal lands, the place where the White House can determine the pace. 

The GOP is also blaming Obama specifically for higher gas prices suggesting that price spikes have often followed Obama policy decisions. 

"He is a speculator's dream," a Republican strategist who advises House leaders told Power Play. "They know he will constrict supply and provide reliable price increases that they can profit from." 


Costly Campaign Trips Cause Trouble for Obama 

"$674,000" 

-- Cost of flying Air Force One to Florida, as reported by ABC News, for the president to give a speech on gasoline prices and then attend three fundraisers for his campaign. 

The Obama White House has succeeded in defeating complaints from Republicans and some in the press about the president's aggressive swing-state campaign schedule. 

As Obama's press secretary famously said of president's bus tour in Iowa last year, it is important for the chief magistrate to "venture forth" into the nation and interact with the citizenry. Quite so. 

When pressed on the fact that Obama almost always seems to "venture forth" in one of 12 states up for grabs in November, the answer is that these are not campaign trips... but if they were, George W. Bush did it too. Obama may do it more than anyone ever, but the precedent has been established and he must therefore be held blameless. Case closed. 

Power Play doesn't care what Democrats or Republicans want to call the trips. Semantic arguments over whether something is an official speech on a campaign theme in a swing state or a campaign speech on an official policy in a swing state are pointless. The White House may want to say that the president only spends about 1/20th of his time on his re-election, but even his admirers know that is hogwash. But so what? 

A practical consideration, though, is how much it costs to have the president out campaigning and how much his campaign is reimbursing the Treasury for campaign travel. 

For a trip to swing state Florida that was political through and through - a political rally in which he attacked Republicans followed by three big-money fundraisers - the Obama campaign will eventually pay back taxpayers for the cost of first-class airline tickets for the president and his political team who flies with him aboard Air Force One. And they will likely only have to pay for tickets for the leg of the flight that the administration defines as political - Miami to Orlando and back for two of the fundraisers. 

The president has to travel in Air Force One because he is the president whatever he is doing, even when it's pocketing checks from NBA players. He shouldn't be expected to pay for the cost of bringing his security and communications apparatus with him when he goes on the campaign trail. 

But amid huge deficits and with the Obama campaign flush with cash, there is something unseemly with the president imposing so much cost on the public for his re-election bid. It might be politically wise for Obama to either scale back his taxpayer-funded campaign swings or to increase the money he is paying to do so. 

For a campaign sitting on mountains of cash, it looks chintzy to be trying to stick the government with so much of the bill for trips. 


Santorum Delayed Damage Control 

"He is not correct. I made no commitment to him about supporting judges. I made no deal." 

-- Former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter to radio host Michael Smerconish denying the claim of his former colleague, Rick Santorum, who maintains that he endorsed Specter, who subsequently switched to the Democratic Party and provided a crucial vote for President Obama's health care law, as part of a bargain to gain support for conservative judicial nominees. 

Rick Santorum is back on the campaign trail in Michigan today after a day spent behind closed doors with donors in Texas. 

It was not a good day to be out of view as Mitt Romney hammered away at Santorum's "team player" line from Wednesday's CNN debate. Santorum was taking lots of heat Tuesday for his defense of compromises from his political career; on funding Planned Parenthood, on earmarks, on No Child Left Behind and on endorsing liberal Sen. Arlen Specter. 

With his brand of staunch, principled conservatism under fire, Santorum was out of sight. With only four days to the Michigan primary, where both Santorum and Romney are facing potentially debilitating losses, it may not have been wise to give his chief rival a free hand with which to swat him. 

Santorum has lost some steam in recent Michigan polls and must revive his momentum there since a win for him in libertarian-minded Arizona looks unlikely. Michigan can either be a springboard for Santorum into Super Tuesday (which includes neighboring Ohio) or the start of a dive. 

If Santorum wants to go the distance with Romney he ought not leave the Great Lakes state again until the voting is done. 

And Now, A Word From Charles 

"Now, it happens that algae will grow on anywhere on earth. I looked it up while I was away for those three days. You thought I was sunning myself. I did research. It grows in oceans, in lakes and ponds, in your swimming pool when the pool man is on vacation. In snow, in ice, on soil, on turtles, on sloths, the bark of trees and rocks. Why are we drilling for oil? We are the Saudi Arabia of rocks. We have a mountain range called the Rockies and we are allowing ourselves to be dominated by these oil producers. I think (President Obama) is on to something here that is truly revolutionary. Why would you build a pipeline, the Keystone pipeline with real oil from Canada to put in real refineries and put in real existing cars when you can do algae? I think he is on to something. And I think this shows the vision, the hope and change he promised in 2008." 

-- Charles Krauthammer on Special Report with Bret Baier.


Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.

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