A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, Friday, March 31:
GINGRICH TURNAROUND: Newt Gingrich acknowledged what has become increasingly clear: Mitt Romney is the likely GOP presidential nominee. The former House speaker told Milwaukee radio station WTMJ that he thinks Romney "is clearly the front-runner" and "will probably" get the 1,144 convention delegates he needs to win. Still, Gingrich has refused to leave the race, despite letting go a third of his staff and curtailing his campaign appearances. He said earlier this week that he would continue to campaign until Romney gets those delegates.
RYAN FOR ROMNEY: It's been a good week of endorsements for Romney. The latest GOP figure to endorse him this week is Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee. Ryan announced his endorsement days before Wisconsin Republicans vote in their state's primary, saying he's convinced that Romney "has the skills, the tenacity and the courage" to lead the party in the race against Obama. Ryan's public show of support follows endorsements from former President George H.W. Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. Ryan campaigned with Romney in Wisconsin on Friday. They've scheduled additional joint appearances in the state for Saturday.
GAY MARRIAGE JAM: President Barack Obama could find himself in an election-year bind on gay marriage, pressured by supporters who want him to come out for same-sex marriage but fearful of the political perils of igniting an explosive social issue during the campaign. Gay rights advocates and people close to the president suggest it's no longer a question of if, but rather a question of when Obama will have his own coming out. He has said his views on gay marriage are "evolving."
ROMNEY: Romney once again defended his personal wealth, which has come under renewed attack from Democrats trying to portray him as out of touch with most people. Romney is a former businessman worth up to $250 million who would be among the richest U.S. presidents, if elected. He told a campaign audience in Wisconsin that continued attacks on success would have one outcome _ "a lot less success." Obama's re-election campaign is pushing Romney to release many years of income tax returns dating to his career at the Boston-based private equity firm that helped him become wealthy. Romney's opponents for the GOP nomination, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, have also talked about his difficulty "connecting" and have pressed to see a more complete set of his tax returns.
SANTORUM: Santorum says Republicans won't win the presidency by nominating a candidate who jokes about firing people. Santorum was referring to Romney's joke this week in Wisconsin about his father George, the former chairman of American Motors, who closed a factory in Michigan and moved production to Wisconsin. Santorum suggested the quip is more evidence that Romney doesn't understand working people's struggles.
GINGRICH-THEN AND NOW:
Gingrich's comment that Romney "is clearly the front-runner" represented a turnaround from his comments after Romney's third-place finishes in the nominating contests in Alabama and Mississippi on March 13.
_ Then: "If you're the front-runner and you keep coming in third, you're not much of a front-runner." _ March 13, following Romney's third-place finishes in primaries in Alabama and Mississippi.
_ Now: "I think Mitt Romney is clearly the front-runner." _ Friday, to Milwaukee radio station WTMJ.
BY THE NUMBERS:
How the race for the Republican presidential nomination stands among likely Republican primary voters in Wisconsin, according to the latest NBC News/Marist Poll, conducted this week.
_ 40 percent, Romney
_ 33 percent, Santorum
_ 11 percent, Ron Paul
_ 8 percent, New Gingrich
_ 7 percent, undecided.
Obama spoke at four campaign events, two in Burlington, Vt., and two in Portland, Maine. They were his final fundraisers before Saturday's monthly and quarterly campaign fundraising deadline. He raised $45 million in February.
_ $7,500: Starting ticket price for fundraising luncheon with about 100 supporters at the Sheraton Burlington.
_ $44: Student ticket price for University of Vermont event with about 4,500 supporters.
_ $100: General admission for university event.
_ $44: Student ticket price for Southern Maine Community College event with about 1,800 supporters.
_ $5,000: Starting ticket price for fundraising dinner at Portland Museum of Art with about 130 supporters.
WHERE THEY'LL BE SATURDAY:
_ Gingrich: Wisconsin
_ Romney: Wisconsin
_ Santorum: Wisconsin
IN THEIR WORDS:
_ "I loved cars and I was very tempted to stay in Michigan and go into the car business as he had, but I knew I would always wonder if any success I had was due to my father." _ Romney.
_ "We need someone who can talk and relate to folks battling in this economy ... not someone talking about being a CEO of a company and making jokes about firing people." _ Santorum.
_ "Everybody needs to understand that whichever one of the three of us ends up being nominated, the others would support." _ Gingrich.
_ "My determination is undiminished. My confidence in the core decency of the American people is undiminished. I believe we're on the right track." _ Obama.