A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012:
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
GOP CAMPAIGN LULL: Mitt Romney and his rivals for the GOP presidential nomination are using a lull in the campaign to raise needed cash. The candidates are meeting in Arizona for a debate a week from Wednesday and the next primaries _ in Arizona and Michigan _ aren't until Feb. 28. Romney was spending most of the quiet week courting donors from coast to coast. He's working to make sure he has the resources to swamp his opponents when the state-by-state contest resumes at the end of the month. The money chase is more urgent for Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, each of whom is trying to emerge as the top conservative alternative to Romney. Shoestring budgets have brought both men this far. But with the nomination fight entering a phase where multiple states will be voting on any given day, Gingrich and Santorum need money _ and lots of it _ to pay for get-out-the-vote efforts, TV ads and other expenses.
ROMNEY'S AUTOS: Romney argued anew in an opinion piece published in The Detroit News that Detroit would be better off had the government not intervened in the U.S. auto industry. Romney, a Detroit native who needs to win the state's GOP presidential primary, said he favored "managed bankruptcy" for Chrysler and General Motors, not the federal bailout that he alleges led to "crony capitalism" by President Barack Obama. Romney said a labor union that supported Obama and Democrats got an ownership share of Chrysler and a major stake in GM in return; taxpayers became GM stockholders; and an Obama campaign donor was put in charge of his auto recovery task force. In the op-ed, Romney advocates selling the government's shares in GM and giving taxpayers the proceeds. Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod responded on Twitter: "Does anyone believe what Mitt says: that the American auto industry would be better off today if the president hadn't intervened in 2009?" The U.S. auto industry has rebounded and Obama passes up no opportunity to talk about it.
SANTORUM'S VULNERABILITIES: Santorum is the latest Republican to surge in presidential preference polls, with two new surveys showing him in a virtual dead heat with Romney. Now, Santorum's trying to turn his newfound strength and popularity from a trio of recent wins into something lasting. Curious Republicans are packing his weekday rallies by the hundreds. Supporters have filled his formerly empty campaign account with nearly $4 million in the last seven days. His staff is plotting an aggressive strategy to challenge Romney in his native Michigan, and beyond. But there is weakness just beneath the surface. Santorum is underfunded, disorganized and out-manned. It's also unclear if has the capacity to protect his newfound status, or see his fortunes fall like other candidates who came before him. His opponents, on the right and left, meanwhile, are putting in place their own strategies to tear him down.
OBAMA'S VALENTINE'S DAY ADVICE: Popular in blue states, Obama had a decidedly red message on Valentine's Day: "Go big." The president opened a morning White House event on the benefits of a payroll tax cut with a reminder to the gentlemen out there of the occasion. "Do not forget!" he warned, suggesting that he could have used the same reminder at some point in his 19-year marriage to Michelle. "I speak from experience here. It is important that you remember this. And go big _ that's my advice," he said. Later in the day, through a personal greeting on Twitter, Obama showed that he didn't forget his own obligation. "Hey, (at)MichelleObama: Happy Valentine's Day. -bo." And he took his own advice, escorting Mrs. Obama to dinner Tuesday night at a restaurant in Alexandria, Va., a Washington suburb.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR WALLET?
PAYROLL TAX CUT: Valentine's Day costs aside, Obama said he was hopeful that Congress will renew a 2-percentage-point cut in the Social Security tax paid by workers before the temporary reduction lapses at month's end. He said it's also important to renew jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. Obama commented a day after House GOP leaders backed off plans to require spending cuts to cover the nearly $100 billion cost of extending the tax cut through the end of the year. Republicans decided instead to add the cost to the nation's more than $15 trillion debt and avoid being blamed in case the tax cut is not extended. Agreement on spending cuts by the month-end deadline was not guaranteed. The tax cut is worth about $20 a week to someone earning $50,000 a year.
BY THE POLL NUMBERS:
Two new surveys show Santorum and Romney in a virtual tie among Republicans nationally, illustrating just how much the topsy-turvy contest has changed yet again in just a few weeks.
CBS NEWS/NEW YORK TIMES poll, with its January findings in parentheses. The poll was conducted after Santorum swept contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri last week and during Romney's weekend victory in Maine's caucuses.
_ Santorum: 30 percent (16 percent)
_ Romney: 27 percent (28 percent)
_ Ron Paul: 12 percent (15 percent)
_ Newt Gingrich: 10 percent (21 percent)
PEW RESEARCH CENTER survey, with its January findings in parentheses. The survey also was conducted after Santorum's three-state sweep and during Romney's weekend win in Maine's caucuses.
_ Santorum: 30 percent (14 percent)
_ Romney: 28 percent (31 percent)
_ Gingrich: 17 percent (16 percent)
_ Paul: 12 percent (15 percent)
IN THEIR WORDS:
_ "Just pass this middle-class tax cut. Pass the extension of unemployment insurance. Do it before it's too late and I will sign it right away." _ Obama.
_ "I want to make Michigan stronger and better. Michigan has been my home and this is personal." _ Romney, in new TV campaign ad airing in Michigan.
_ "Polls come. Polls go. I run it one state at a time." _ Santorum, on now running even with Romney, according to the latest polls.