A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Thursday, March 22, 2012:
SKIMMING DELEGATES: Rick Santorum is falling so far behind Mitt Romney in the race for convention delegates _ he's down by 300 _ that his best chance of picking up pledges might be in states that voted weeks ago. Some of those states are just now determining who's pledged to whom. Santorum is trying to improve his count in states like Missouri, Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Maine and Washington. Combined, those states have 223 delegates. Without picking up delegates from past races, Santorum would need to win 74 percent of the delegates in the remaining primaries, feat that's unlikely. So far, he's winning 27 percent.
SEARCHING FOR SUPPORT: Mitt Romney was spending the day raising money and trying to win over uncommitted GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill. He passed the hat at a breakfast fundraiser, according to Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, who attended the event. Later, Romney met with uncommitted House Republicans from Texas, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. A Republican who requested anonymity to speak on the subject described Romney's activities. Although Romney by far leads the Republican pack in endorsements from members of Congress, he's trying to consolidate support among congressional conservatives.
OHIO ART SAYS THANK YOU, ERIC FEHRNSTROM: Ohio Art, maker of the iconic Etch A Sketch, is sending a big box of the red-framed screens to the presidential campaigns, a thank you for the publicity and boost in sales. Rick Santorum had one on hand for a second day while campaigning in Texas, telling his San Antonio audience the toy is like rival Mitt Romney's conservative credentials _ easy to erase. Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom pulled the baby boomer amusement from the bottom of the toy box when he invoked the Etch A Sketch on Wednesday to explain that no matter what's been said during the primary, the candidates start with a proverbial blank slate for the general election. Democrats and Romney's rivals didn't waste a moment: Santorum and Newt Gingrich had Etch A Sketches in hand at the very next campaign stop to slam Romney's change in stance social issues. The DNC slapped together a web ad with essentially the same message. Ohio Art stock, which trades over the counter, nearly tripled on Thursday, closing at $9.65. Major stores reported a jump in Etch A Sketch sales.
PIPE, BABY, PIPE: President Barack Obama firmly defended his record on oil drilling while visiting Oklahoma, one of the reddest of red states. On the last day of his three-day tour highlighting his energy policy, Obama ordered the government to fast-track an Oklahoma pipeline while accusing Congress of playing politics with the larger Canada-to-Gulf Coast project _ Keystone XL. Deep in Republican oil country, Obama said lawmakers refused to give his administration enough time review the controversial 1,170-mile Keystone XL pipeline to ensure that it wouldn't compromise the health and safety of people living in surrounding areas.
ROMNEY RETURNS TO LENO: Mitt Romney has been a target of Jay Leno jokes, and now he'll get the chance to give the late-night comedian a few jabs in return. NBC announced that the Republican presidential candidate will be the lead guest on the "Tonight Show" on Tuesday. It's the former Massachusetts governor's first visit to Leno's stage during the 2012 presidential season. Over the years, Leno has riffed about the candidate's wealth _ Romney is a multimillionaire _ and poked him on his restrained _ some say stiff _ demeanor. Romney has been a Leno guest three times, but this will be his first appearance since 2010.
WHERE THEY'LL BE FRIDAY:
_ Gingrich: Louisiana
_ Paul: Louisiana
_ Romney: Louisiana
_ Santorum: Louisiana
_ Obama: White House
IN THEIR WORDS:
_ "If they're going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future." _ Santorum, casting Romney and Obama as more alike than different.
_ "This election is more important than any one person. It is about the future of America. Any of the Republicans running would be better than President Obama and his record of failure." _ Romney, in a statement expressing disappointment that Santorum would have Obama re-elected.
_ "We're proud that one of our products is shaking up the debate." _ Bill Killgallon, chairman of Ohio Art, maker of the Etch A Sketch.