By Ben Geman - 10/22/12 10:34 PM EDT
Gasoline prices are heading downward nationwide, and the decline is especially sharp in several swing states in the White House contest, including the prized battleground of Ohio.
The trend is likely a relief to President Obama’s campaign. But prices remain high by historical standards as Mitt Romney continues to hammer the president over drivers’ pain in the race’s homestretch.
“AAA expects that gas prices across the country will continue to drop leading up to Election Day and will move even lower approaching the end of the year, barring any unforeseen forces,” said Avery Ash, AAA’s manager of regulatory affairs, in his weekly analysis. He expects average prices in the range of $3.40 to $3.50 per gallon on Election Day.
Prices are in free-fall in Ohio, where the close race between Obama and Romney for the state’s 18 electoral votes could decide who occupies the White House. The Buckeye State’s average price is $3.38 per gallon, a drop of 24 cents in the last week.
Wisconsin, another battleground, has seen a 21 cent drop to $3.55 per gallon over the last week. Iowa saw the 10th-steepest decline nationwide over the last week, down 16 cents to 3.54 per gallon, according to AAA, which uses data from the Oil Price Information Service.
However, prices remain elevated.
The current $3.67 per gallon nationwide average is 21 cents above last year’s Oct. 22 average, and a record for the date. Prices have been setting records for specific calendar days for more than two months, AAA said.
The all-time average high remains $4.11 per gallon, reached on July 17, 2008.
Ash said there are several factors behind the recent drop, that include declining crude oil prices and refiners’ switch over to winter blends.
Also in the mix: the resolution of refinery problems in California that had caused prices to soar there, and the easing of markets in the Midwest and other mid-continent areas where markets were affected by Hurricane Isaac, Ash said.
“We are seeing a lot of these factors that have been waiting in the wings to impact prices, once we dealt with some of the supply and distribution issues we were seeing domestically, now finally bringing relief to consumers,” he said in an interview.
While gas prices are often front-and-center in political battles, policymakers have little sway over pump costs that are tethered to crude oil prices set on global markets. Here’s more from Ash's weekly analysis on that topic:
AAA has consistently noted, because it is a publically traded global commodity, there is no silver-bullet solution to high gas prices and there is very little that politicians in Washington can do in the short-term to meaningfully impact prices. This fact has been evident throughout 2012 as motorists have experienced volatile pump prices due to increasing global demand, geopolitical tensions overseas, international economic news, and most recently domestic supply and distribution issues.