The US oil and natural gas business has been an unusual bright spot for the American economy over the past four years, and that success has helped highlight energy issues as a major factor in the 2012 election cycle.

Energy has not traditionally been a focus of electoral politics beyond prices at the gasoline pump, but this year the broader focus on the economy and the government’s role in directing it have brought to light the successes, the potential and the risks of energy development in the US.

“We’re only in the early stages of a very robust debate on energy issues,” American Petroleum Institute (API) CEO Jack Gerard told Breaking Energy in a recent interview.

API has played its part in surfacing energy and the sector’s role as an economic engine in a large awareness building campaign called Vote4Energy, revealed in Washington, DC to great fanfare at the beginning of this year. Unlike many industry group-led campaigns, API has implemented a long-term and fully committed strategy across the year as part of the campaign, and will be present at the upcoming Presidential nominating conventions planned for Tampa, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina over the coming weeks.

The campaign will intensify over the remaining months of 2012 with particularly robust outreach planned for voters in five key states, including Virgina, Ohio, Florida, Colorado and North Carolina.

“We’ve broken through to a new means of engaging with the public,” Gerard said, adding that he thinks the Vote4Energy campaign has been “wildly successful” so far. A recent poll conducted by API demonstrates what it says is broad-based and bipartisan support for the economic issues that in turn underpin the group’s pro-energy development agenda.

“This all boils down to the voters and a well educated electorate,” Gerard said. “Our industry has been a job creator every month, and is literally swimming against the tide of economic downturn.”

While Gerard reserved particular criticism for the Obama Administration’s reluctance to clear new energy development and its specific proposed tax policies for large oil companies, he said that the API’s biggest disappointment in both Congress and the Administration had been their “failure to create a comprehensive energy plan at the time when we need it most.”