THE MORNING LINE -- March 23, 2012 at 9:25 AM EDT
Pew Poll: Voters Have Negative Impression of Romney
Supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul hold up signs as Mitt Romney campaigns in Illinois last week. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
That was the reaction from 31 percent of a pool of potential voters when asked by Pew pollsters to use one word to describe Mitt Romney. The most frequent words used were "no," "no way," "rich," "flip-flopper," "idiot" and "arrogant." Pew notes in its release that roughly twice as many people gave negative one-word descriptions as positive ones.
The national poll of 1,009 voters, taken Thursday through Sunday last week by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and The Washington Post, is a shift from the last findings in December.
Such snap sentiments sparked by pollster questions may have no reflection at all on the general election, where Romney and President Obama appear to be running a close race. But with the president maintaining high personal approval ratings despite problems with the economy, the survey offers a glimpse at Romney's challenges, which Democrats will attempt to exploit.
In Pew's last similar survey, "Mormon" was the most frequent description for Romney. This time around, it's Rick Santorum's religion on display. "Religion," "Christian" and "overly religious" were among the words potential voters used to describe the former Pennsylvania senator.
As Louisiana prepares to holds its primary Saturday -- and with Santorum widening his already strong lead -- the candidates' faiths could be a factor. But Romney is marching on, with his eyes on President Obama as his prize.
On the campaign trail Thursday, Santorum took the Etch A Sketch attack perhaps a bit too far, suggesting that conservatives might be better off re-electing the president.
"You win by giving people a choice," Santorum said campaigning in San Antonio, Texas. "You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who's just going to be a little different than the person in there. 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."
The remarks gave Romney an opening to slam his top GOP rival. "I was disappointed to hear that Rick Santorum would rather have Barack Obama as president than a Republican," Romney said in a statement. "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 political director Rich Beeson kept up that drumbeat in a memo Thursday, writing about the "clarity" through which Romney will be clinching the Republican nod.
Among Beeson's points:
In order for Senator Santorum to secure the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination, he must win 70% of all remaining delegates.
Governor Romney has earned nearly 40% of the 10.2 million votes cast in the primary; 1.3 million more people have voted for Governor Romney than Senator Santorum.
In the 11 contests that followed Super Tuesday, Senator Santorum not only failed to make up any ground on Governor Romney's delegate lead, he actually fell behind by 61 more delegates.
"Each day Senator Santorum continues to march up this steep hill of improbability is a day we lose to unite in our effort as Republicans to defeat President Obama," Beeson complained. "So as Senator Santorum continues to drag out this already expensive, negative campaign it is clear that he is becoming the most valuable player on President Obama's team."
But there are two other guys in the race, too.
Talking Points Memo's Benjy Sarlin writes that Louisiana is -- yet again -- Newt Gingrich's true last stand, and Buzz Feed writes about Gingrich's new strategy of only talking with local reporters. Texas Rep. Ron Paul is also still in the race.
For its part, the Republican National Committee is not waiting for an official nominee. Politico's Maggie Haberman and Emily Schultheis write that the party is ramping up its battleground state ground-game on its own.
The first stop on Vice President Joe Biden's 2012 re-election tour came last week in Toledo, Ohio, where he talked up the administration's actions in bailing out the auto industry and slammed the Republican presidential contenders for opposing the federal rescue efforts.
On Friday, the vice president will travel to Coconut Creek, Fla., to frame the administration's differences with the Republicans on reforming Medicare, and he plans to call three of the hopefuls out by name.
"The American people won't be fooled. They know there's a fundamental difference between us and the Republicans. We believe in strengthening Medicare. They don't," Biden will say, according to excerpts released in advance by the Obama campaign.
"Make no mistake: If Republicans in Congress and their amen corner of Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich get their hands on the White House, they will end Medicare as we know it."
Biden plans to knock Romney separately for his support of a plan offered by congressional Republicans to reduce government spending. Despite the prolonged GOP nominating fight, it's clear which man is the main focus of the Obama re-election team.
"Mitt Romney also supports something the Republican leaders in Congress call 'cut, cap, and balance.' Of course, nobody knows what it means...and that's exactly what they intend. Because like so many of the most damaging things, it looks and sounds innocuous," Biden is expected to say.
"So, let's cut through it and say it in plain English. The 'cut' is cutting Social Security. The 'cap' is putting a cap on what we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay in taxes. And the 'balance' is balancing the budget on the backs of seniors and middle class Americans."
HEALTH CARE BONANZA
Romney does have that other little thing to worry about -- a debate over health care. That's one reason he penned an op-ed for USA Today's three-day editions that came out Friday morning, detailing step-by-step, "Why I'd Repeal Obamacare."
"President Obama's program is an unfolding disaster for the American economy, a budget-busting entitlement, and a dramatic new federal intrusion into our lives," Romney wrote.
He also addresses head on the law he signed as governor of Massachusetts:
When I was governor of Massachusetts, we instituted a plan that got our citizens insured without raising taxes and without a government takeover. Other states will choose to go in different directions. It is the genius of federalism that it encourages experimentation, with each state pursuing what works best for them. ObamaCare's disregard for this core aspect of U.S. tradition is one of its most egregious failings.
The newspaper will still be on display Sunday night as the Supreme Court prepares to take up a challenge to the president's signature health care law. Arguments begin Monday, and it will be the most time the court has devoted to one case since civil rights and Miranda cases in 1966.
The NewsHour plans in-depth coverage of every facet of the high court's drama. We began our analysis Thursday night with Marcia Coyle and Susan Dentzer outlining the days to come.
Watch the segment here or below.
2012 LINE ITEMS
Politico's James Hohmann gets an early look at Paul's scolding web video focusing on the Etch A Sketch.
The Washington Post's Philip Rucker sheds some light on the relationship between Romney and senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, the aide who made the now famous Etch A Sketch comment.
South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a Tea Party favorite, signaled Thursday it was time to coalesce around Romney, but stopped short of giving the GOP front-runner his endorsement. "I can tell conservatives from my perspective is that, I'm not only comfortable with Romney, I'm excited about the possibility of him possibly being our nominee," DeMint said. "I think we all need to look at this presidential primary and encourage the candidates to do a little self-reflection here - what's good for our country. The sooner we can make a decision, I think the sooner we can focus on the real problem, which is Obama."
Mark Leibovich of the New York Times looks at the president's burnishing of his everyman credentials, which includes filling out his March Madness bracket.
The president's team created a site to showcase people who have benefited from his health care law.
The Republican National Committee marks the law's two-year anniversary with a web video featuring a lonely "Obamacare" law wanting a birthday party.
The anti-Obama group Raising Red Action Fund mocks "The Road We've Traveled" using a Tom Hanks impersonator.
Etch A Sketch stock is up? Psst, I'll mention Mr. Potato Head next. Buy Hasbro tinyurl.com/6qavupa— Eric Fehrnstrom (@EricFehrn) March 22, 2012
What America needs is a campaign that resembles LITE-BRITE— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 22, 2012
Orrin Hatch will campaign full-time for re-election until April 21 GOP convention, will miss 2 weeks of Senate work #HotlineSort— Reid Wilson (@HotlineReid) March 23, 2012
OUTSIDE THE LINES
Hari Sreenivasan has the next part of our Coping with Climate Change series: Texas is running out of water.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who lost his seat in a nasty member-vs.-member Democratic primary in Ohio, is returning to Washington state. Last year, Kucinich considered running for a House seat there since his state's map was going to make it tough for him to win re-election. On Current TV Thursday, Kucinich also would not commit to voting for Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who defeated him, in the general election.
Roll Call's Shira Toeplitz on Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar's terrible week.
The Senate overwhelmingly approved a scaled-down bill Thursday that bans insider trading by lawmakers and senior federal officials, sending the measure to President Obama for his signature.
The Senate also passed legislation Thursday aimed at boosting small-business start-ups by easing regulations to allow companies to go public more quickly. Democrats, with the help of some Republicans, amended the bill to put in place stronger safeguards for investors, sending the measure back to the House before the president's desk.
Roll Call's Kate Ackley on K Street gearing up for a corporate tax fight.
Politico's Morning Score reports that the Republican Governors Association "will begin airing an ad Friday that attacks the two leading Democratic candidates vying to replace Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin's recall election." The Democratic primary is May 8 for the June recall.
"A call girl working for alleged 'Millionaire Madam' Anna Gristina told investigators she was paid to have sex with former U.S. Sen. John Edwards when he was in New York raising money for his failed presidential bid, according to the website DNAinfo.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has called for hearings to look into whether bounty systems in professional sports, where players receive extra payment for hurting opposing players, should be considered a crime under federal law.
Young Democrats of America are holding a Faith and Values Leadership conference this weekend. Among the featured speakers are Burns Strider, who led faith outreach for Hillary Clinton's presidential bid, and the Democratic National Committee's faith outreach director Rev. Derrick Harkins.
ON THE TRAIL
All events are listed in Eastern Time.
President Obama attends meetings at the White House and departs for South Korea at 12 a.m. Saturday.
Vice President Biden delivers remarks in Coconut Creek, Fla., at 12:20 p.m.
Newt Gingrich campaigns in Louisiana, giving a speech on energy policy in Port Fourchon at 11:30 a.m., followed by a media availability. He then participates in a Kenner roundtable discussion at 3:30 p.m. and a town hall at Tulane University in New Orleans at 8 p.m.
Mitt Romney campaigns in Louisiana, holding an event in Metairie at 10:30 a.m. and another in Shreveport at 3:40 p.m.
Rick Santorum holds three Louisiana rallies: in Monroe at 11 a.m., Shreveport at 2:30 p.m. and Pineville at 8 p.m.
Ron Paul holds a pair of Louisiana town halls: in Pineville at 2 p.m. and Hammond at 8 p.m.
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.
Correction: An earlier version of this entry had the incorrect location of Vice President Biden's speech in Florida on Friday.