A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Wednesday, March 21, 2012:
MITT'S DAILY DOUBLE: Mitt Romney got a boost from two establishment Republicans _ former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Sen. Bob Dole _ a sign that the GOP is finally gathering behind him. Bush has been on the sidelines for much of the primary season. But the day after Romney's win in Illinois, Bush made the surprise announcement, calling on the GOP to unite behind Romney. Meanwhile, Dole, a veteran of three national campaigns, points out that Rick Santorum has a math problem. "In every race, Romney is going to pick up delegates... At some point, you look kind of foolish and you know the handwriting's on the wall." Dole also predicts that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will soon leave the campaign. "I don't have any ill will toward the others. I think Gingrich is probably finished or almost finished." Dole has had three ill-fated campaigns for national office, the first as former President Gerald Ford's running mate 1976. Dole ran for the GOP nomination in 1988, but dropped out of the 1988 primary contest before the convention and in 1996, he led the GOP ticket against Bill Clinton.
TOYS "R" US: Campaign time has become play time for Mitt Romney's rivals, Democrat and Republican alike, courtesy of an ill-timed comment by one of Romney's advisers comparing the shift between the primary and general election campaigns and the iconic Etch A Sketch toy. The DNC rushed out a Web ad that mocked the comment. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich drew on Etch A Sketches as props in Louisiana campaign appearances Wednesday, suggesting Romney would try to shake off his conservative stances going toward the fall showdown with President Barack Obama. They keyed off Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom's cable TV remarks that the transition to the general election was like an Etch A Sketch: "You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again." The red toys seemed to be everywhere: Santorum clutched one during appearances, campaign staffers handed them out to reporters and supporters and an aide snapped a photo of the candidate twisting the famous white dials on one in his SUV. Gingrich played along too, handing his toy to a child at a rally. According to reports, Gingrich told the girl, "You could now be a presidential candidate." _ Associated Press writer Brian Bakst contributed this report.
OBAMA ENERGY: President Barack Obama and his Republican rivals are all plunging into gas-pump politics as energy becomes a driving issue in the election campaign. The president is defending his energy agenda this week, at a solar panel plant in Nevada on Wednesday and later to oil and gas fields in New Mexico and the site of a future oil pipeline in Oklahoma. At the same time, GOP opponents from front-runner Mitt Romney on down are vigorously accusing him of stifling domestic production and betting on foolhardy alternative energy methods over traditional oil drilling. With gasoline reaching $3.86 a gallon in the U.S. and apparently heading higher, the public is impatient for Obama _ or someone in his place _ to do something, although a president has little direct control over gas prices. Well aware of Republicans' criticism, Obama's advisers argue that voters take a sophisticated view toward energy and think about it as a problem demanding long-term answers. They know that talk about future solutions may not satisfy people as they endure high prices, but they're betting that voters will side with the candidate they trust the most to deal with the issue _ and they're determined that that will be Obama.
CONGRESSIONAL MILESTONE: Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland is officially the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress. Over the weekend, the 75-year-old Baltimore native surpassed Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers, a Massachusetts Republican, as Congress' longest-serving woman, for a count of 12,982 days. Mikulski was elected to the House in 1976 from Maryland's Third Congressional District. A decade later, in 1986, she won election to the Senate. In January 2011, she was sworn in to her fifth Senate term. Colleagues paid tribute to the feisty lawmaker on the Senate floor. In her remarks, Mikulski said she didn't start out wanting to be a historic figure. For her, she said, being a lawmaker isn't about length of service or making it into the history books. It's about being of service, she said.
WHERE THEY'LL BE THURSDAY:
_ Gingrich: Louisiana
_ Paul: Off the trail
_ Romney: Off the trail
_ Santorum: Texas
_ Obama: Oklahoma, Ohio
IN THEIR WORDS:
_"Now is the time for Republicans to unite behind Governor Romney and take our message of fiscal conservatism and job creation to all voters this fall." _ Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
_ "I'm just speaking from personal experience. When you're out of money and you don't have the organization to buy TV, you have to take a hard look at it. As much as you don't want to do that, sometimes you have to face reality."_ Bob Dole, former GOP presidential nominee, on when to call it quits.
_"I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again."_ Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom.
_"I think having an Etch A Sketch as your campaign model raises every doubt about where we're going."_ Newt Gingrich
_"It actually revealed what everybody knew or suspected but now know: Gov. Romney is interested in saying whatever is necessary to win the election and when the game changes, he'll change."_ Rick Santorum
_ "The issues I'm running on will be exactly the same. I'm running as a conservative Republican. I was a conservative governor. I will be running as a conservative Republican nominee _ hopefully, nominee at that point. The policies and the positions are the same."_ Mitt Romney, on his platform for the general election.
_ "And, yes, that means we make investments in stuff that is new, and we stop subsidizing stuff that's old. The current members of the Flat Earth Society in Congress, they would rather see us continue to provide $4 billion _ $4 billion _ in tax subsidies, tax giveaways, to the oil companies _ $4 billion to an industry that is making record profits. Every time you fill up the pump, they're making money." _ President Barack Obama, on energy.