While in southwest Florida last week, I was watching a local television report about rising gas prices when the newscast itself turned into the story.

As the reporter was standing in front of a gas station to do his story on the escalating fuel prices, the price at that particular station went up by 10 cents during the time it took to do the two-minute segment.

It only punctuated his report and showed the volatility of the energy market, which is and will continue to impact us all right through election day.

Later in the week, President Obama appeared in Florida, explaining that there is no easy answer – or silver bullet – to the rising prices we're seeing at the pumps.

As he was stating his case and defending his policy, the national average for gas spiked to $3.65 a gallon. Analysts say it's not unusual to have a spike in gas prices in the spring, but certainly not this early in the year.

Concerns about Iran disrupting the supply of oil has investors worried and that speculation is driving the prices.

A conflict between Iran and Israel would have even greater impact.

While Obama' has taken an all-of-the-above approach to weaning this country off foreign oil dependency, it hasn't been enough to influence market speculators. As the price at the pumps continue to march upward, a recent Associated Press-GfK poll says that 7 in 10 Americans find the issue deeply important.

Republicans are pouncing to make this a front-burner political issue, as well they should.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas is correct in stating that we should be doing a lot more at home to produce the energy we need. She isn't alone in her opinion that Obama's policy has brought about a slowdown in new exploration and production of oil and gas.

The most blistering attack on Obama's energy policy came this past weekend from Newt Gingrich who is banking on the energy issue to revive his chances for the Republican presidential nomination. Gingrich countered Obama's claim that there are no quick fixes to the energy problem.

He said the president could free up 2.3 million barrels of oil a day by signing orders that would allow drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, expand energy development in Alaska and approve the Keystone pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada. As president, Gingrich said he would immediately open up drilling on federal lands where, he points out, production has decreased by 11 percent under the Obama presidency.

The former speaker also has a campaign sign showing a gas pump with a price listed at $2.50 a gallon. Gingrich says his energy policies could bring gas prices down to between $2 and $2.50 per gallon.

The surge in fuel costs will continue to drive up other consumer prices, posing a threat to the weak economic recovery Obama likes to credit himself for during his speeches.

When it comes to taking responsibility for the U.S. energy policy, meanwhile, the president is much less eager to boast.

One thing this administration should realize however, is that the restless consumer of today can easily turn into the frustrated voter of tomorrow, specifically Nov. 6.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com