MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney pumped his own tank of gas on Friday and blamed President Barack Obama for a surge in prices that are straining American pocketbooks.
Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, was set to join four other Republican rivals -- Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann -- for an evening of speeches about how they would bring down America's debt and deficits.
It is the biggest gathering of potential candidates since a Washington conference of conservatives two months ago in a slow start to the 2012 Republican presidential nomination race.
New Hampshire holds an early voting contest and is a must-visit state for presidential candidates.
Before the event, Romney played a little pump politics, mingling with customers at Hillsborough Gas and Repair in Manchester and listening to their stories about how they are coping with gas prices that are threatening America's fragile economic recovery.
"We cut back on frills, we don't go out as much," Sharon Williams told him as she filled up her Kia Optima.
Wearing blue jeans and a casual shirt, Romney parked a Ford Escape at one of the station's gas pumps, where a regular gallon of gas cost $3.93, and paid $38.72 to fill it up.
Gas station operator Tony Chedid said he paid $3.80 a gallon from a distributor for his station's supplies. After paying credit card fees, he makes only an average of 3 cents a gallon on the gas he sells.
"It's been downhill for the last two years," he said.
Romney is arguably the front-runner in a wide Republican field in the 2012 race for the White House.
He said he believed Obama was contributing to oil price pressures by not pursuing an energy policy aimed at drilling more and increasing America's supply.
This is leaving the impression with the markets that the U.S. energy supply will not be increasing, leading to the expectation of higher oil prices and pushing up the actual cost of gas at the pump, he said.
"It's a marketplace and if America is not serious about getting our own energy resources in line, then we are going to have higher and higher prices in part today as a result of the expectations of higher prices tomorrow," Romney said.
Obama says the United States' oil production reached its highest level since 2003 last year, and argues that money must be spent to develop alternative sources of energy to help alleviate higher prices in the long run.
Romney said it is fine to develop alternative power sources but stressed that most cars run on carbon-based fuel.
"It would be great if we had more electric cars but it's going to be a long, long time before that happens," he said.
Romney waved off a potential challenge from real estate tycoon Donald Trump, saying it was fine with him if Trump enters the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
"I like a big competitive field, and I think there will be one," he said.