A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway for Thursday, March:
THE FAT LADY HASN'T EVEN WARMED UP: The contests are far from over, but at this rate of gathering delegates, Mitt Romney's rivals won't catch him unless they pull off an unlikely fight at the Republican National Convention in August. Romney is on a delegate-winning pace to secure the nomination in June, and at their current rate none of his GOP foes will reach even half the number needed. The former Massachusetts governor's six victories on Super Tuesday netted him more than 200 delegates to the party's convention. That's more than twice as many as any other candidate. And to date, Romney has won 55 percent of the delegates at stake in primaries and caucuses. Romney isn't likely to reach the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination until summer. That's a lot of time for slip-ups and intrigue _ and plenty of incentive for Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to stay in the race and try to make up ground.
HE'LL DO: Mitt Romney faces a tough sell in the Deep South. With Mississippi and Alabama primaries coming up next Tuesday, there's concern that he's too slick, not really a conservative. In a region where the evangelical vote is important, some are skeptical about his Mormon faith. But if Romney wins the Republican nomination and it's a November choice between him and Democratic President Barack Obama, the former Massachusetts governor may be just good enough for some Southerners. "If push comes to shove and he gets the nomination, I'll go in the voting booth like this and vote for him," says Mississippi retiree David Wilke, holding his nose.
WHEN ADS ATTACK: The Red White and Blue Fund, the super PAC supporting Rick Santorum, is releasing a television ad that swipes at both Romney and Gingrich, casting them as similar to President Barack Obama _ and presses Santorum's overarching message that he's the most conservative candidate in the race. But it also acknowledges that Gingrich is a formidable opponent in the Southern states. Gingrich represented Georgia in Congress for 20 years. And while Santorum could afford to ignore Gingrich in contests in the North and Midwest, Santorum seems to know he can't do the same in Mississippi and Alabama.
DINING FOR DOLLARS: President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were dining Thursday with three donors to his re-election campaign, but this wasn't the usual high-ticket fundraiser. Donations weren't even required, but the campaign asked for contributions of at least $3 for a chance to win a private meal with the first couple. The Obamas were joined by a nonprofit executive from Nashville, a former social worker from Wauwatosa, Wis., and a retired school administrator from Cambridge, Mass., and their guests for the third "Dinner with Barack," The president's campaign has emphasized small donations from the masses, pointing to it as a sign of his broad appeal.
DUELING ALABAMA ENDORSEMENTS:
_ Romney: Former Gov. Bob Riley.
_ Santorum: San Diego Chargers quarterback and Alabama native Philip Rivers
WHERE THEY'LL BE ON FRIDAY:
_ Gingrich: Mississippi
_ Paul: Kansas
_ Romney: Mississippi, Alabama
_ Santorum: Alabama, Kansas
_ Obama: Virginia, Texas
Totals after Super Tuesday voting. Twenty-one delegates from Super Tuesday have yet to be allocated. It takes 1,144 delegates to secure the Republican nomination for president.
_ Romney: 421
_ Santorum: 181
_ Gingrich: 107
_ Paul: 47
IN THEIR WORDS:
_ "This race has been a roller coaster, up and down. I believe with your help next Tuesday when we win here and we win in Alabama we'll be back up again." _ Gingrich.
_ "If we win in Mississippi, this will be a two-person race." _ Santorum.
_"I'm learning to say `y'all' and I like grits. Strange things are happening to me." _ Romney, joking about turning into an "unofficial Southerner" while campaigning in Pascagoula, Miss.