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Could $5-Per-Gallon Gas Be What Palin Needs?

Could $5-Per-Gallon Gas Be What Palin Needs?

By Scott Conroy - March 8, 2011

As gasoline prices shot up for the 13th straight day on Monday to a new national average topping $3.50 and oil prices rose to over $106 a barrel, the cost of energy seemed poised once again to rise to the forefront of the political discourse just as the 2012 presidential campaign generates steam.

Of all the prospective Republican candidates, none may have a better opportunity to benefit politically from a nominating cycle in which gas prices take center stage than former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Marginalized by critics in 2008 over her perceived parochialism and lack of foreign policy experience, Palin can legitimately boast of a wide breadth of knowledge and wealth of experience on energy issues. For her, high gasoline prices may be an opportunity to demonstrate her own candlepower.

Since her 2009 resignation as governor, Palin has seemed eager to show off her policy chops on the national stage, but instead has struggled to mitigate the drawbacks of her celebrity image while repeatedly finding controversies large and small.

But it would be difficult for Palin's GOP rivals, and even her Democratic critics, to deny that energy issues fall directly into the wheelhouse of the former Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commissioner who went on to lead a state where almost 90 percent of the budget is funded by oil revenue. As Tina Fey might say, Palin can see oil pipelines from her house.

During an appearance on Fox News last weekend, Palin nodded in anticipation and smiled confidently as host Jeanine Pirro lined up a question about what the government should do about rising gas prices.

Speaking with unbridled relish, Palin replied that opening the strategic oil reserves was not the solution to the problem and reverted to her old mantra that the government should "drill here and drill now" before going into a more in-depth criticism of the Obama administration's energy policies.

"Back in '08, our U.S. crude also was trading at about $100 a barrel as it is today for about six months, and that was right before our world economy imploded," Palin said. "And now here we are back again, so [Obama's] timing - his destructive timing - of locking up 97 percent of our off-shore and not allowing ANWR to be touched, not allowing domestic drilling to take place to the degree that it should, it is terrifying where he is leading us in terms of being at the mercy of foreign regimes that would seek our demise to produce energy for us."

With analysts predicting that gas prices are likely to soar even higher amid continued unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, other prospective GOP contenders have already begun seizing on the issue, as the high energy usage summer months approach rapidly.

During an appearance at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour accused Obama of intentionally boosting energy prices to promote a progressive environmental agenda.

"This administration's policies have been designed to drive up the cost of energy in the name of reducing pollution, in the name of making very expensive alternative fuels more economically competitive," Barbour said.

As the governor of a Gulf state, Barbour might also lay claim to having a special understanding of energy issues, but Palin for years has placed a particular emphasis on topic during her time in office and beyond.

The Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, which Palin signed into law in August of 2008, set the framework for a major natural pipeline proposal that would transport natural gas from Alaska's North Slope to the Lower 48.

On the vice presidential campaign trail just weeks later, Palin spoke more frequently about energy issues than any other subject, and the emotional high-point of her boisterous rallies often came when she led crowds of tens of thousands of people in chants of "drill, baby, drill!"

As Palin continues to generate criticism from those who frequently suggest that she has not demonstrated a thorough understanding of the issues facing the country, the energy topic could offer a prime opportunity for her to prove them wrong.

As she continues to mull a presidential run, Palin figures to take particular note that energy issues figure to loom especially large in the nation's first voting state of Iowa.

"The people here who are large consumers of fuel, in the trucking industry or farmers, it cuts into their profitability, and those businesses will start to ask questions about what can be done to relieve costs of high fuel," said Polk County Republican co-chairman Will Rogers, a supporter of Newt Gingrich, who is in talks to become a paid consultant to the former House speaker in the coming weeks. "Whether it's Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich or anybody else that's looking at running for president, this is a real issue for many Americans. If we see between now and January another $20 to $30 added to the price of a barrel of oil, people will be talking about it here in Iowa."

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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