President Barack Obama talks gas prices, energy policy in Miami

Published Feb. 23, 2012

MIAMI —President Barack Obama stopped in Miami on Thursday to refuel his re-election campaign with $4 million in big-donor cash and to bash Republicans for politically "licking their chops" over the high price of fuel at the pump.

"Some politicians always see this as a political opportunity. You're shocked, I know," Obama said to a large crowd of University of Miami students.

"Only in politics do people greet bad news so enthusiastically. You pay more, and they're licking their chops?" Obama asked rhetorically. "And you can bet that since it's an election year, they're already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas."

Obama's likely reference was to third-place Republican candidate Newt Gingrich, who has promised $2.50-a-gallon-gas on a "drill-here, drill now" platform.

All the Republican candidates have criticized Obama for not encouraging enough domestic fuel production and for rejecting what's known as the "Keystone XL Pipeline," which would deliver oil from Canada to Texas.

Obama never mentioned Keystone, but he did say that "my administration has approved dozens of new pipelines, including from Canada."

Later at a Biltmore Hotel fundraiser, Obama took credit for the growth in jobs, but received his loudest applause for giving the go-ahead to kill Osama bin Laden.

Obama didn't tout his accomplishments during the UM speech, where he got the loudest applause for holding his hands in the schools trademark "U." During the speech, the president stayed almost exclusively on the topic of oil.

The president also boasted that "under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years."

Unmentioned by Obama: nearly all of that drilling was approved under his predecessor, President George W. Bush.

Obama said, in the old days, he would stay and watch the Miami Heat-New York Knicks basketball matchup featuring Jeremy Lin, but he had other things to do. Specifically, he has to raise money.

Obama hit up three high-dollar fundraisers: one at the swank Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables (tickets, which started at $500, were doubled to $1,000), another at the Pinecrest home of a top Democratic fundraiser (pictures with the president cost as much as $15,000) and a third at the Orlando home of basketball star Vince Carter (dinner plates cost up to $30,000 each).

About a dozen protesters gathered outside the Biltmore, holding homemade signs, including one that read, "Obama Marxist/Muslim Dictator."

The Miami area events fetched nearly $2 million and the Orlando dinner brought in slightly more than that.

Since Obama also spoke publicly, the lion's share of the Florida trip — which will exceed $1 million — will be paid for by taxpayers.

Obama's visit, the second this year, comes as the economy is showing signs of improvement along with his poll numbers. Still, most Florida polls show his approval rating under 50 percent in a state that's still plagued by high unemployment and home-foreclosure rates.

The Republican National Committee noted that, since last year, the average price for a gallon of regular gas in Miami has risen 82 percent, to about $4 per gallon.

"President Obama promised to be a leader on energy policy when he was campaigning in 2008, but gas prices have skyrocketed since he's been in office with most Floridians paying well above the national average," Sharon Day, a Broward Republican and RNC co-chair, said in a written statement.

"It's clear from President Obama's focus on campaigning in Florida today that he's more concerned about spending taxpayer dollars on his campaign trips than he is with saving American jobs or reducing prices at the pump," she said.

A national Quinnipiac poll released Thursday shows voters believe the economy is improving, but they don't think Obama should be elected to a second term. Voters say that the economy has begun to recover, 54-43 percent, a 51-point shift in opinion since Sept. 1.

But Obama gets a negative 45-49 percent job approval rating, and 50-45 percent say he does not deserve to be re-elected.

The closer it gets to election time, the worse high gas prices are for Obama, said Brad Coker, pollster with Mason Dixon Polling & Research, which conducts surveys for the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald.

"Right now, it doesn't matter what the price of gas is today or what the unemployment rate is today for the president," Coker said. "It's going to start to matter in the last week of September. That's when people will really start to pay attention."

Obama's speech had a defensive tone to it, pointing out that developing nations such as China and India are growing and consuming more fuel. More demand equals higher prices, Obama said, suggesting he wasn't to blame.

Obama repeatedly said the "phony-election year promises" were easy to make. But the long-term commitment for alternative energy will eventually make the United States energy independent.

"There are no short-term silver bullets when it comes to gas prices," he said. "And anyone who says otherwise is just not telling the truth."

Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei and McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter Erika Bolstad contributed to this report.