By BRIAN BAKST
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich dangled the prospect Monday of gas as low as $2 a gallon if he's elected.
The former House speaker has spoken in the past of gas dropping to $2.50 a gallon under a Gingrich administration. The prediction, coming as Gingrich campaigned in Oklahoma, contrasts sharply with rival Rick Santorum, who told an Ohio audience that big-city Americans should brace themselves for $5-a-gallon gas.
Both candidates are citing new sensitivity over rising pump prices to push for relaxed regulation on domestic oil production. Gingrich isn't the first candidate to claim he can bring relief; former GOP candidate Michele Bachmann made $2 gas a standard part of her pitch.
What the candidates don't say is that U.S. presidents have limited, if any, power to affect prices of a global commodity like oil because such costs depend largely on supply and demand. As the economy improves, demand could rise, putting extra pressure on prices.
Gingrich and Santorum have been highlighting oil exploration in North Dakota and slamming the Obama administration for delaying a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline. Those projects are considered long-term steps and might not have much effect on short-term prices.
But Gingrich's comments resonate in a place like Oklahoma, where the oil and natural gas sector is vital to a bustling state economy.
"With Gingrich policies, what we know is we will dramatically expand our independence in the world market, dramatically expand our capacity to produce energy without regard to our foreign potential enemies and in the process prices will clearly be a lot lower," Gingrich said. "Now, I picked $2.50 as a stabilizing price for capital investment reasons. It could easily go down to $2."
According to AAA's daily fuel gauge, a gallon of regular gas was approaching $4 in some places and even topped it in California. The national average was $3.56 per gallon.
Gingrich boasted that gas cost as little as $1.13 per gallon when he led the House and that the national average was below $2 when Obama was inaugurated.
"Why do we have this assumption all of a sudden, `oh gee, that's the distant past,"' Gingrich said. "He hasn't been president that long."
Santorum focused on fears of prices climbing to record highs while campaigning in Ohio.
The former Pennsylvania senator blamed Obama for failing to drill aggressively for more oil and gas in the U.S.
Santorum said the economy has begun to improve slightly but "all of a sudden we're going to be hit with the same force of wind that hit us in 2008, in the summer, that caused us to go into a recession, all because of the radical environmentalist policies of this president."
— — — Associated Press writer Charles Babington contributed from Steubenville, Ohio. (Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)