Rivals Dismiss Romney’s Weekend Gains

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  February 13, 2012 at 10:07 AM EDT

Mitt Romney; photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Mitt Romney addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Mitt Romney’s rivals are looking to take the luster off of his pair of weekend victories by casting doubts on the outcomes in hopes of preventing the GOP front-runner from regaining his momentum following losses in three states last week.

The former Massachusetts governor was declared the winner of Maine’s Republican presidential caucuses Saturday, capturing 39 percent of the vote with nearly 84 percent of precincts reporting. Texas Rep. Ron Paul finished second with 36 percent, but his campaign contested the outcome, claiming the outstanding vote would throw the caucuses to him.

(As of posting, Romney leads Paul by 194 votes. Check the NewsHour Map Center to see the full Maine results.)

Paul’s campaign manager, John Tate, issued a statement late Saturday criticizing the process. “In Washington County — where Ron Paul was incredibly strong — the caucus was delayed until next week just so the votes wouldn’t be reported by the national media today,” Tate wrote. “Of course, their excuse for the delay was ‘snow.’”

Tate went on to note that the prediction of three to four inches of powder that caused the postponement resulted in “nothing more than a dusting.” He added that the votes in Washington County “would have been enough to put us over the top” and called the whole matter “an outrage.”

Nate Silver of the New York Times asks: “Could Ron Paul Still Win Maine?”

Based on how the county voted in 2008, that seems unlikely. Just 113 votes total were cast in the county in 2008, and only 8 of those were for Mr. Paul. John McCain, instead, won the plurality.

Romney’s other win on Saturday came in the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll, where he took 38 percent of the vote to Rick Santorum’s 31 percent.

But in an appearance Sunday morning on CNN, Santorum called into question how Romney achieved that victory.

“Those straw polls at CPAC, as you know, for years, Ron Paul’s won those because he just trucks in a lot of people, pays for their ticket, and they come in and vote and then they leave,” Santorum told host Candy Crowley. “We didn’t do that. We don’t do that,” he added. “I don’t try to rig straw polls.”

Asked by Crowley if he thought Romney “rigged” the contest, Santorum responded: “You have to talk to the Romney campaign and how many tickets they bought. We’ve heard all sorts of things.”

The former Pennsylvania senator also played down the significance of the CPAC straw poll, given where it was on the nominating calendar. “They were important last year when we weren’t voting, but states are voting right now,” Santorum said.

Politico’s Jonathan Martin talked with top conservatives at CPAC who said they still feel uneasy about Romney. “He’s just not a natural fit,” Martin writes, which plays off of Romney’s use of the phrase “severely conservative.”

Martin also reported that the Romney campaign worked the straw poll in order to ensure the desired result.

With the next slate of contests still two weeks away, it appears Romney’s opponents are set on making sure he benefits as little as possible from the two victories. But as the saying goes, a win is a win, and Romney’s sweep of the weekend is better than any of the alternatives.

SUPER PACS LOOK TO SUPER TUESDAY

The money is flooding into the Red, White and Blue Fund, said Stuart Roy, an adviser to the pro-Santorum super PAC. The donations have been coming in via many “small” chunks of $5,000, in addition to some large checks. “It’s been a great week,” Roy told the Morning Line.

Roy said that the super PAC will consider advertising in Tennessee and will take a look at Georgia after reviewing polls it has out in the field in states that hold Super Tuesday contests March 6. “We don’t think Gingrich has a hold on Southern states,” Roy said.

Roy added that it’s “very likely we’ll be playing ball” in Michigan, even though it is considered Romney’s home turf. The super PAC likes what it sees in Michigan, where the delegates will be awarded proportionally.

The pro-Romney Restore our Future super PAC has a new video up on its YouTube page, a freshened slam on Gingrich’s use of Ronald Reagan in his campaign. It’s not clear if the spot will run on television. Watch the video here.

On Saturday, Rick Tyler of the pro-Gingrich Winning our Future super PAC tweeted a link to a video showing Santorum endorsing Romney in 2008, perhaps a signal of that group’s next line of attack.

Bloomberg News reported that billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife “don’t plan to deliver another big check to float Gingrich’s campaign, according to a person familiar with their deliberations.”

BUDGET DAY ON THE HILL

President Obama’s budget arrives Monday on Capitol Hill, but the document already appears to have a firm wall of Republican opposition standing in its way.

The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery outlines the numbers:

Obama’s spending plan, which mirrors recommendations he made in September to the congressional debt-reduction “supercommittee,” would lead to significantly lower deficits in the years ahead, according to White House officials, and would trim future borrowing by more than $4 trillion over the next decade. That sum includes an agreement last summer to cut $1 trillion from agency budgets.

Of the new savings, $1.5 trillion would come from higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, including the expiration of the George W. Bush tax cuts on income over $250,000 a year. An additional $278 billion would come from a hodgepodge of cost-saving maneuvers, such as charging higher premiums for federal pension insurance, asking federal workers to contribute more to their own retirement and cutting federal farm subsidies. About $850 billion would come from capping spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, though about $200 billion of those savings would be redirected to new road and rail projects.

In an appearance Sunday on ABC, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., charged that the administration’s blueprint failed to address the key drivers of the country’s fiscal problems: entitlements such as Medicare.

“We’re taking responsibility for dealing with the drivers of our debt,” Rep. Ryan said of congressional Republicans.

With 2012 being an election year, the president’s budget also is destined to become a matter of political football. Romney weighed in on the proposal with a Monday morning press release.

“The President has failed to offer a single serious idea to save Social Security and is the only president in modern history to cut Medicare benefits for seniors,” Romney said in a statement. “I believe we can save Social Security and Medicare with a few commonsense reforms, and — unlike President Obama — I’m not afraid to put them on the table.”

FROM THE NEWSHOUR

On Friday’s NewsHour, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius detailed how the president’s about-face on contraception coverage would work in actuality. Watch the segment here.

Mark Shields and David Brooks say President Obama made the right decision on contraception.

Gwen Ifill (@pbsgwen) wrote a piece Friday noting that it was a week “where the politics of alternatives defined the debate.”

She writes:

For President Obama, the decision to abandon his opposition to big money super PACS was a studied choice….

For GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, who saw his march toward the Republican nomination slowed by a trio of primary season losses, the week’s choice was more of a pivot.

With good news building on the economic front, it was becoming more difficult (but not impossible) to fault the incumbent president’s handling of the economy. Then Rick Santorum clocked him in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, and Romney was left with little choice but to start speaking to the social conservatives who seem immune to his charms….

For voters on the left and the right, the alternatives — and the choices to be made — become more basic. Do they choose electability or enthusiasm?

For Democrats, that means coming to grips with the idea of re-electing an incumbent they may not always agree with.

And for Republicans, it’s about deciding when and whether to choose a nominee who can beat that incumbent – even if he does not make the heart pound.

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • On Monday, President Obama’s re-election team will launch the “Truth Team,” a network of grassroots supporters to “promote the President’s achievements [and] respond to attacks on his record.” The campaign has set a goal of reaching two million people before the Democratic National Convention in September.

  • Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman write in Politico about Rick Santorum’s plans to derail Romney’s candidacy.

  • A new poll from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling shows Santorum taking the lead nationally. The former senator had 38 percent to 23 percent for Romney, 17 percent for Gingrich and 13 percent for Paul.

  • On Saturday night, Romney emailed supporters about his new, Obama-style fundraising contest. The winning donor will get to hang out with Romney on the road. “We’re still figuring out some of the when and where specifics. But from the rumblings I’ve heard this will be one the more exciting days on the trail so far,” Romney wrote.

  • Sandhya Somashekhar of the Washington Post looks at Santorum’s evolving campaign style now that he’s gained national attention.

  • The Washington Post examines spending by the Obama campaign and the DNC and finds that Democrats “spent twice as much money as all the GOP candidates combined in 2011. It is all part of effort to mobilize supporters, start building infrastructure for a successful reelection.”

  • The Democratic National Committee took a pause from its regular programming of knocking Romney to craft a web video propping up the president’s decision on contraception. It suggests that Republicans would undo what Mr. Obama announced Friday and shows a clip of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.. The video asks: “Who do you think should make decisions about your contraception…you or your employer?” Watch the video here.

  • The New York Times profiled first lady Michelle Obama’s vegetable-fueled campaign swing.

  • Amy Shipley writes in the Washington Post about Romney’s stewardship of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • The New York Times’ Binyamin Appelbaum and Robert Gebeloff delve into Minnesota’s Chisago County, telling the tale of Tea Party-supportive residents who also rely on government assistance. The county is represented by freshman Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack.

  • Illinois House candidate Ilya Sheyman is up with his first ad, telling voters about his upbringing and proclaiming, “The American dream is under attack.” Watch the ad here. Sheyman is in a primary battle against Blue Dog Democrat Brad Schneider. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is backing Sheyman. The primary winner will face freshman Rep. Bob Dold.

  • Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., was released from the hospital and moved to a center to rehabilitate after the stroke he suffered last month.

  • University of Nebraska regent Chuck Hassebrook will run for the Democratic Senate nod in Nebraska.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Newt Gingrich campaigns in California, with stops in South El Monte at 6 p.m. and Pasadena at 8 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney holds a rally in Mesa, Ariz., at 7:45 p.m.

  • Rick Santorum holds a rally in Tacoma, Wash., at 10 p.m.

  • Ron Paul has no public campaign events scheduled.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @quinnbowman.