THE MORNING LINE -- March 13, 2012 at 9:22 AM EDT
High Gas Prices Fuel Dip in President Obama's Approval Rating
President Obama speaks about U.S. energy policy last week at the Daimler trucks plant in Mt. Holly, N.C. Photo by John W. Adkisson/Getty Images.
The Republican presidential candidates are duking it out Tuesday in the South, which is also the direction President Obama's poll numbers are headed with gas prices on the rise.
The president's approval rating now stands at 41 percent, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll released Monday, a nine-point drop from his position just one month ago. The Times/CBS survey comes on the heels of a Washington Post/ABC News poll that put Mr. Obama's job approval at 46 percent, down four points from last month.
Jim Rutenberg and Marjorie Connelly of the New York Times write about the impact that high fuel costs might be having on the president's numbers:
Mr. Obama's drop was particularly pronounced among low-income households that may be feeling the pinch of the higher gas prices -- as well as increases in prices for groceries and some retail items -- more than others.
Over all, 54 percent of poll respondents believed that a president can do a lot to control gas prices, as opposed to 36 percent who believe they are beyond a president's control.
The GOP presidential candidates have been using the issue of gas prices to attack the president's energy policy, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich leading the charge in calling for a return to $2.50 per gallon of gas.
For his part, President Obama has attempted to blunt that criticism by pointing to increased domestic production of oil and gas. "Despite the gains we've made, today's high gas prices are a painful reminder that there's much more work to do free ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil and take control of our energy future," Mr. Obama said in a statement Monday tied to the release of a progress report on the country's energy future. "And that's exactly what our administration is committed to doing in the months ahead," he added.
Politico's Darren Samuelsohn and Darren Goode write about the White House's "intensive press strategy on gas prices," noting that the president and his team are on a media blitz. They write, "[T]op administration energy officials met with representatives from the renewable energy and natural gas industries, labor unions and other interests in the Roosevelt Room for about an hour Monday afternoon."
Given the potential impact gas prices could have on his re-election prospects, the president finds himself in the tricky situation. He has to make every effort to give the impression that he is addressing the issue, even if there is very little he can actually do that will help lower costs in the short term.
Still, the Times/CBS poll was not all bad news for the president. Even with the dip in his job approval rating, the president still matches up well against his potential GOP opponents. He leads Mitt Romney 47 percent to 44 percent, although the three-point margin is within the poll's sampling error. Against Rick Santorum, the president's advantage is four points, 48 percent to 44 percent. He holds double-digit leads over Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Gingrich.
Speaking of the GOP presidential candidates, they face contests Tuesday in Alabama, Mississippi and Hawaii, with more than 100 delegates at stake.
Judy Woodruff previewed the two Southern primaries on Monday with Steve Flowers of Alabama Politics and Sid Salter, journalist-in-residence at Mississippi State University.
Flowers declared the race in Alabama a "dead heat" and laid out the support behind each of the candidates:
Gingrich is probably benefiting from the fact that he is a Georgia candidate. The South has a more pronounced friends-and-neighbors politics, if you will, than the rest of the country. The fact that Gingrich is from Georgia is benefiting him and putting him in the race, where he probably wouldn't be otherwise.
As a matter of fact, the last person to carry Alabama as a Democrat was Jimmy Carter in 1976. And he was a devout Southern Baptist peanut farmer from South Georgia. And he very narrowly carried the state. And then Romney is probably getting the mainstream voter, probably the person who thinks that Romney is the better candidate to beat Obama.
Salter, meanwhile, noted how all of the attention the candidates are paying to Mississippi is a new experience for many voters:
I think is that people in Iowa and New Hampshire are used to this kind of attention. Mississippi has been traditionally a tarmac state, where candidates hold a press conference on the airport tarmac, and then get back on the plane and leave.
This time, they're getting a lot of attention. And it's generating a significant amount of interest.
Watch their discussion here or below.
Watch our Vote 2012 Map Center as returns come in. Polls close at 7 p.m. in Alabama and 8 p.m. in Mississippi. Hawaii Republicans also hold caucuses Tuesday night.
Romney may not have done himself any favors Monday by weighing in on Peyton Manning's next career move. The former Massachusetts governor told an Alabama radio station, "I don't want him to go to Miami or to the Jets," which are teams that play in the same division with the New England Patriots. "I've got a lot of good friends -- the owner of the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets -- both owners are friends of mine."
The remark comes after a similar statement he made during a trip to last month's Daytona 500, where he mentioned that he had friends who owned race teams. Those comments, and others, have played into the narrative that Romney is out of touch with average voters.
Worth considering as the returns come in: "Restore Our Future, a super-PAC backing Romney, aired ads 2,098 times in Alabama through March 11, compared with 279 spots from Romney's campaign," Bloomberg's Greg Giroux writes.
He notes that the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future super PAC "aired ads 411 times in Alabama, compared with 131 ads by Gingrich's campaign." Pro-Santorum super PAC the Red White and Blue Fund aired ads 282 times, but the campaign didn't.
"In Mississippi, Restore Our Future paid for 1,548 ads, compared with 454 for Winning Our Future and 300 for Red White and Blue Fund," Giroux writes. "Restore Our Future aired 65 percent of all ads in Alabama and Mississippi."
NEWT AND NANCY, STILL
As Gingrich continues to spar with Santorum to find new life on the campaign trail, he's faced yet again with his couch moment.
That is, the moment he sat on a couch with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for a "We Can Solve It" climate change ad.
In the 2008 ad, Gingrich says the United States "must take action to address climate change" and promotes the We Can Solve It effort. Even though Gingrich has since called the campaign spot "the single dumbest thing I've done in years," his fellow Republican contenders have no qualms about taking him to task.
On Monday afternoon, shortly after speaking at the Gulf Coast Energy Summit in Biloxi, Miss., Santorum's campaign sent a press release headlined "Newt and Nancy need a bigger couch." It accused Gingrich and Romney of having "stood on the side of radical environmentalists and supported the junk science of global warming." Romney allies also have used the four-year-old campaign against Gingrich.
At the Energy Summit, Santorum reiterated what he finds to be the bogusness of climate science with a little science of his own, asking rhetorically, "The dangers of carbon dioxide?" and imploring the audience to "tell that to a plant, how dangerous carbon dioxide is."
Watch the 2008 ad here or below:
2012 LINE ITEMS
The New York Times writes that the Obama administration "is discussing whether to reduce American forces in Afghanistan by at least an additional 20,000 troops by 2013, reflecting a growing belief within the White House that the mission there has now reached the point of diminishing returns."
Romney, Santorum and Paul all dispatched a son or daughter to Hawaii ahead of Tuesday's caucuses.
The Wall Street Journal's Neil King Jr. explores the important undercurrent to the primary: the "Battle for the unbound" delegates.
The Washington Post's Steven Mufson looks to answer the question: "How much does the president have to do with the price of gasoline?"
The Obama campaign released a new excerpt of its movie about the president's first term, "The Road We've Traveled." This portion focuses on the killing of Osama bin Laden and stars former President Bill Clinton lauding Mr. Obama. The film "premieres" this week as the campaign hosts screenings for supporters across the country. Watch it here or below.
Team Obama released the details of Vice President Joe Biden's first speech of the re-election campaign, a Thursday address to the United Auto Workers in Toledo, Ohio. "The Vice President will discuss the critical role the auto industry plays in growing the economy in Ohio and throughout the country. He will also highlight the contrast between the President's efforts to reclaim the security of the middle class, and Republicans' plans to return to the same policies that created the economic crisis and put the middle class at risk," the campaign said in a release.
The president will deliver an opening message in a forthcoming Cartoon Network documentary on bullying.
"Sen. Marco Rubio is furiously trying to regain control over a personal narrative and political image that have taken some hits lately," Politico's Scott Wong reports.
Roll Call's Eliza Newlin Carney writes about the groups focused on voter ID laws ahead of the fall elections as the Department of Justice gets involved in Texas' restrictions.
Ashley Parker of the New York Times writes that Romney missed out Monday on his traditional birthday dinner of meatloaf cakes.
Gingrich says he had grits this morning: "I thought it was a very normal thing to do."— Erin McPike (@ErinMcPike) March 12, 2012
Welcome to the new Congress.org! We've redesigned the site to make it easier to use and add new coverage of important issues.— Congress.org (@congressorg) March 13, 2012
OUTSIDE THE LINES
Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, is "facing the most serious GOP primary opponent of his career," reports Alex Isenstadt of Politico. The 10-term lawmaker is running against state Sen. Scott Beason in Tuesday's Alabama primary.
Politico's Manu Raju looks at the "all-out war" FreedomWorks is waging against Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Romney upped his endorsement by cutting a television spot for Hatch ahead of next month's convention.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., sets up the next battle: judicial nominees.
Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., questioned the legitimacy of the president's birth certificate at a town hall meeting.
The Sunlight Foundation has a new iPhone and iPad app called Open States. It has "up-to-date information on legislation being considered and how to contact legislators, campaign finance and voting records, plus news happening in your state," Sunlight says.
Roll Call's annual brackets by congressional district are out.
NewsHour politics desk assistant Alex Bruns contributed to this report.
ON THE TRAIL
All events are listed in Eastern Time.
President Obama meets with the 2012 Intel Science Talent Search finalists at the White House at 10:50 a.m. and attends one of the NCAA Tournament's "First Four" games in Dayton, Ohio, with British Prime Minister David Cameron at 6:30 p.m.
Newt Gingrich campaigns in Birmingham, Ala., addressing the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce at 1:45 p.m., visiting the Birmingham Zoo at 3:15 p.m. and hosting an election night rally beginning at 9 p.m.
Mitt Romney campaigns in Missouri with stops in St. Louis at 12:50 p.m. and Liberty at 6 p.m.
Rick Santorum holds an election night rally in Lafeyette, La., beginning at 8:30 p.m.
Ron Paul has no public campaign events scheduled.
All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.