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Week In News: Obama, Gas Prices And The GOP Race

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Look, we know there's no silver bullet that will bring down gas prices or reduce our dependence on foreign oil overnight.


That's President Obama speaking in his weekly video address today about the rising cost of gasoline. James Fallows is away for the next few weeks, but we're delighted to welcome Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page to our studios for more on the stories behind the headlines. Clarence, great to have you with us.

CLARENCE PAGE: Thank you, Guy. Great to be here.

RAZ: John Ydstie just explained some of the reasons behind the rising gas prices. But let me ask about the politics here. All signs seem to suggest the White House is very nervous about this issue. We're talking about a classic pocketbook issue for many voters.

PAGE: They're very concerned, and it does show. The president was brave, in political terms, in telling people the truth that he has no silver bullet. And, in fact, they tend to be cyclical. Back in 2008, that was an important factor during the campaign between Obama and John McCain. At that time, gas prices were going up, and that just added to the economic misery out there, especially with swing voters who tend to be suburban. And guess what, suburbanites tend to drive a lot.

RAZ: Indeed. And, of course, if we're talking about $4 a gallon gas prices in the summer when the election season really starts to heat up, that could be bad news for him.

PAGE: It could be. And I think the White House is hoping that the usual cycle occurs where you have gas prices going up, early summer people going on vacation, driving around a lot and they cycle back down toward the fall. What's really critical is Labor Day and after. That's when, especially those swing voters, those late deciders who are making up their minds.

RAZ: Well, let's talk about some of those voters, because we're, of course, looking forward to the Michigan primary on Tuesday. This is Mitt Romney's home state where his dad was the governor.

PAGE: That's right.

RAZ: And yet he is facing a strong challenge from Rick Santorum there.

PAGE: Yeah. This is his - a state where he's, like, viewed as a favorite son. And people were expecting this to be a fairly easy win for him. Well, but quite the opposite has happened. As the campaign train has moved toward Michigan, Rick Santorum was on top of the polls and has still been running strong. But I think after this debate this past week, Mitt Romney has some new strength. He's got some new momentum. And he has an advertising budget that's three times the size of Rick Santorum's. And that means he's been pummeling Santorum with attack ads.

RAZ: He has to win Michigan or else it'll be very embarrassing for him, obviously.

PAGE: Well, that's our conventional wisdom, Guy.

RAZ: Yes.


PAGE: But I tell you, how much does our conventional wisdom been side-railed, you know?


PAGE: You know, I still think - and this is based on talking with a lot of experts and insiders out there - that Mitt Romney, in the long run, is still the favorite. But...

RAZ: Yeah.

PAGE: ...yeah, you're right. If he doesn't win Michigan, though, that's a very big hole in the road for him to stumble over.

RAZ: Clarence, some eyebrows were raised this week when former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, arguably among the most influential Republican in the country, he said that he found some of the rhetoric he's been hearing from the GOP presidential candidate as, quote, "troubling." He even wondered whether he'd be considered a conservative anymore.

PAGE: And he clarified it later, I am a conservative. But when he was speaking, he was saying this in terms of how the way traditionally he's defined a conservative. Suddenly, that's not the definition of the more extreme parts of the Republican Party. And the fact is the Tea Party has energized the Republicans over the last couple of years.

And to them, their version of conservatism, Ronald Reagan would have a very tough time meeting that standard nowadays. The significance of Jeb Bush's remarks is that this is a voice from the Republican establishment. You've been hearing about the Republican establishment, how Mitt Romney was their favorite all along here, which I've been hearing from them very much. And those who we know are members of that establishment have not spoken out much.

Here, you see Jeb Bush just kind of off the cuff seemingly speaking out and saying what a lot of folks have been saying in private in the party that if they got a candidate that's too conservative, they're going to have a very tough time winning those swing voters in November.

RAZ: And we'll be sure to put Jeb Bush's point to Newt Gingrich who will be on the program tomorrow. So we'll see what he has to say about that.

PAGE: I'm looking forward to that.

RAZ: That's Clarence Page. He's a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Clarence, thanks so much and hope you come back soon.

PAGE: I look forward to it, Guy. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.