A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, Thursday, Feb. 9:
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
AT CPAC, DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR? If Mitt Romney needs some good news in an otherwise lousy week, he might find it in an improbable place: the packed hallways of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. One day of a dozen hallway interviews is no scientific survey. But the comments Thursday were remarkably similar. There was little buzz about Colorado or Minnesota. Conservatives' paramount goal is to deny Obama a second term. They see the economy as the top issue, which plays to businessman Romney's strengths. While several people said they like Rick Santorum somewhat more than Romney, almost no one placed that question above electability, where many felt Romney has the edge. Romney, Newt Gingrich and Santorum are scheduled to address the conference Friday. Ron Paul's taking a pass.
CONTRACEPTIVE POLITICS: Vice President Joe Biden says he believes the Obama administration can address concerns raised by the Catholic church and religious groups about the new birth control policy that's ignited a political firestorm. The policy says church-affiliated employers must provide contraceptive coverage for their employees. Biden says there's a "lot of misunderstanding" about the rule. Biden told a Cincinnati radio station Thursday that he's "determined to see that this gets worked out and I believe we can work it out." The White House has signaled it's looking for a way to ensure women have free access to birth control while avoiding requiring religious employers to provide contraception coverage directly.
SOONER SWOONER: A cardinal rule of cross-country political campaigning is to know and then praise your audience. Rick Santorum appears to have it down. He barreled into deep-red Oklahoma on Thursday, eager to heap on the superlatives. "I have loved you guys from afar," he told a packed ballroom. "You are ground zero of the conservative movement." The night before, Texans were the gleam in Santorum's eye. "Texas is the conservative epicenter of this country," the Pennsylvania Republican gushed.
NEWT'S NEWEST PLAN: Newt Gingrich is in danger of losing his perch as Mitt Romney's strongest challenger, so he's fine-tuning his presidential campaign to place more emphasis on raising money, guarding his home turf and trying to avoid nasty quarrels with the former Massachusetts governor. Gingrich also wants voters to compare his record with Santorum's and decide he's the better choice. Gingrich will be at CPAC Friday, then move on to California where he'll be Monday through Wednesday, mixing a few public events with eight fundraisers. Meanwhile, Georgia's presidential primary on may not be a slam dunk for Gingrich, a congressman from the state for two decades. Rival Mitt Romney is signaling that the biggest prize on Super Tuesday could be up for grabs. A home-state win is key to Gingrich's Southern strategy.
A look at ad buys by Romney's campaign or super PAC, Restore Our Future, and their result:
_ $1.2 million in New Hampshire, compared with $1.7 million for Paul, who placed second.
_ $15.9 million in Florida. Gingrich and his super PAC spent just over $4 million.
_ $566,000 in Nevada. Paul spent $350,000. Gingrich bought no ads; Santorum placed a minimal cable buy.
_ $3.3 million in South Carolina versus about $2 million for Gingrich and his allies. Gingrich won.
_ $2.7 million in Iowa, which stopped Gingrich's rise and gave Santorum a narrow win over Romney.
_ Not quite $190,000 total in Colorado and Minnesota and zero in Missouri. Romney lost all three contests.
So how will Maine go? Romney made only a small cable buy for Friday and Saturday in the state's largest city, Portland. Romney's advisers privately say they expect Texas Rep. Ron Paul to win or place a strong second.
IN THEIR WORDS:
_ "It has nothing to do with the right of a woman. This has to do with the right of the church not to spend their resources in a way that's inconsistent with their faith." Santorum, on the requirement that religious institutions provide employee health insurance that covers contraception.
_ "I think it's the frustration with the Republican base. And, you know, the turnouts keep _ keep going down. ...Maybe they're getting tired of the Republicans bickering among themselves when they realize that their positions are essentially the same." _ Paul, when asked on CNN to explain Santorum's three-state win over Romney.
_ "The American people have a right to know who is bank-rolling these television ads." _ Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a chief sponsor of a constitutional amendment to rein in runaway, secret spending in elections.