Rising gas prices and the 2012 election

On another front in campaign 2012 : Rising gasoline prices are getting the attention of both the White House and its Republican challengers. Gasoline is now the costliest it's ever been this time of year -- an average $3.56 per gallon, up 40 cents in a year. CBS News correspondent Whit Johnson explains what that means during a presidential election year.

Amid rising gas prices, Republican presidential hopefuls have a new line of attack.

"This president is anti-American energy," said Newt Gingrich on Fox News Sunday. He was quick to point out the price for a gallon of gas is now $1.64 higher than when President Obama took office.

"So what I can guarantee you is the Obama program is higher prices, more dependency in the Middle East, more vulnerability to Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Iran -- exactly the wrong direction," said Gingrich.

At a Tea Party event Saturday, Rick Santorum hammered the president for blocking the Keystone pipeline slated to bring crude from Canadian oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast: "All sorts of opportunities for us to be more energy independent. And what does he say? 'No Canada, you build that pipeline to the West Coast and send that oil to China.'"

Republicans hope to exploit a potential weakness to President Obama's re-election, at time when his approval has seen a bump -- now at 50 percent, up seven points in three months.

"Our economy is getting stronger," said Obama in Washington state Friday. "America is coming back."

America's economy grew in the fourth quarter by 2.8 percent; the latest jobs numbers better than expected; and last week's extension of the payroll tax cut are fueling the stock market.

But continued threats from Iran to disrupt international oil trade are helping to push gas prices even higher and may undercut economic growth. It's something the White House admits is a top concern.

"The president is keenly aware of the impact that higher gas prices have on families trying to make ends meet," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Some industry analysts say rising gas prices actually means the economy is getting better: Demand goes up when people have more money to spend. But that argument could be a tough sell to voters and Republicans know it.