Romney on Solid Ground in Nevada Despite Admitting He ‘Misspoke’

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  February 3, 2012 at 8:04 AM EST

Mitt Romney; photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Mitt Romney campaigns in Reno, Nev., where he holds a commanding lead in the polls. Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Mitt Romney admitted Thursday that he “misspoke” when he said he was “not concerned about the very poor,” a comment that put him on the defensive just hours after winning a decisive victory in the Florida primary.

“I misspoke,” the former Massachusetts governor told Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston. “I’ve said something that is similar to that but quite acceptable for a long time. And you know, when you do I don’t know how many thousands of interviews, now and then you may get it wrong. And I misspoke. Plain and simple.”

(Tune in to Friday’s NewsHour — Ralston will preview Saturday’s caucuses on the program.)

But for a second day in a row former House speaker Newt Gingrich swiped at Romney over the “very poor” comment. “I really believe that we should care about the very poor, unlike Gov. Romney,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich accused Romney and President Obama of sharing the view that poverty can be solved with a safety net. “What the poor need is a trampoline so they can spring up,” he said. “So I want to replace a safety net with a trampoline.”

The week has prompted a new round of stories about Romney’s tendency to put his foot in his mouth, especially on the subject of money. “When you know that the media is against you to start with, which is the case with Romney and [Newt] Gingrich, you have to be extremely careful that you don’t give them a phrase that can go on a bumper sticker,” a Republican congressman told The Hill’s Cameron Joseph.

Even with Romney’s verbal stumble, it seems he will likely score his third victory of the nominating season Saturday. The latest Nevada polls have him up by at least 20 points, and the Silver State gave him a nearly 40-point win four years ago.

(Romney also has big leads in some of the other February contests.)

In advance of Saturday’s caucuses, be sure to read Mitchell Landsberg’s piece in the Los Angeles Times that takes a look at one slice of the Nevada electorate with a lot riding on Romney’s candidacy:

As Romney heads into Saturday’s GOP caucuses in Nevada, his religion may work in his favor for the first time in this year’s campaign. About a fourth of Nevada’s GOP primary voters in 2008 were Mormons; they went heavily for Romney then and probably will again.

Nevada, however, is an anomaly, the state that produced the highest-ranking Mormon in American political history, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat.

The nomination of Romney, a onetime Mormon bishop who remains active in the church, would be “a 1960, JFK moment for Mormons, where the glass ceiling is shattered,” said Patrick Q. Mason, a professor of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University, referring to John F. Kennedy’s election as the first Catholic president.

DELEGATE DUST-UP

Gingrich said Thursday he would petition the Florida GOP to challenge its winner-take-all process of allocating delegates.

Team Romney noted Gingrich’s “changing tune” on the topic in a press release Thursday night.

“Before his overwhelming defeat on Tuesday, Gingrich had pledged to stay out of delegate fights and ‘play by whatever the rules are that are given to us,’” a Romney aide noted in an email that included a link to Adam Smith’s story in the Tampa Bay Times.

Track the delegates here, via the Washington Post.

WEALTH AND POVERTY IN AMERICA

On Thursday’s NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown hosted a discussion about the presidential candidates’ tendency to talk about the middle class and not the poor, speaking with Angela Glover Blackwell of the advocacy group PolicyLink, New York University professor Lawrence Mead and Barbara Perry, a senior fellow in the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. They all agreed that it’s a good thing wealth and poverty have become part of the campaign debate.

A Pew Research Center poll done in October found that 57 percent of lower income Republican and Republican-leaning voters said the government does too little for poor people. More from the survey is here.

Click here to watch our segment.

ENTHUSIASM GAP?

An Associated Press story Thursday looking at turnout in the early Republican contests cheered President Obama’s team in Chicago.

“In the four states to vote so far in the GOP nominating race, turnout has been strongest where people were energized to vote for somebody else,” writes Nancy Benac.

The AP found turnout “down significantly” from the 2008 election in Florida, but up in counties where Gingrich did well and down in counties where Romney dominated, according to Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University who runs the United States Elections Project to track election data.

More from the story:

The Romney campaign says it sees hopeful signs in the turnout numbers. His team stressed that in Florida, where this year’s turnout of 1.7 million voters in the GOP primary was down from 1.9 million four years ago, a 2008 ballot initiative on taxes brought out people in droves who cared nothing about the presidential race. When those voters are taken out of the equation, Romney’s campaign argued, this year’s primary blows 2008 out of the water….

The Obama camp sees plenty to smile about in the GOP turnout figures and in polls showing a lack of enthusiasm for the Republican field, including a drop in turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire among those who identify themselves as Republican. “This is going to be a turnout game,” said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. “They are absolutely not prepared for that battle, nor do they think that battle is that important. But eventually they’re going to have to persuade voters, and they’re not going to be there.”

The lack of GOP enthusiasm, Messina said, will be “a real problem when you get to the part where you have to turn out voters.”

ON RETIREMENTS AND REDISTRICTING

North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler became the 12th House Democrat to decide against re-election on Thursday. (See a list of everyone heading for the exits here.)

His move further depletes the ranks of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats on the Hill, but it also demonstrates a major political undercurrent influencing the November contests. Shuler’s exit is due in large part to redistricting — North Carolina Republicans redrew lines there aimed at exactly this result. It’s not a given that the GOP will win Shuler’s seat this fall, but without an incumbent on the ballot it certainly is an easier prospect.

The scenario has played out all over the country, but the Tarheel State has seen the worst of it, with Democratic Rep. Brad Miller being forced to resign instead of run against a friend in a Democratic primary.

Four California Republicans have opted for retirement instead of battle in tougher districts, drawn there by a citizen commission. In some cases they were avoiding races against fellow members.

New York is the next big state to watch. With the House losing two seats, and two new members in the delegation thanks to following special elections prompted by scandal, it’s sure to get interesting.

2012 LINE ITEMS

(The Morning Line on Thursday linked to a Reuters story that suggested Trump was about to endorse Gingrich. The Donald actually did the opposite, in a surprisingly muted speech from a podium at his Las Vegas hotel.)

  • A Pew Research Study released last month evaluated whether endorsements would help the presidential candidates. It found that an endorsement by Herman Cain would sway just 17 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters to support a candidate, while 15 percent of the same voting group would be less likely to support a candidate after a Cain endorsement. (Cain endorsed Gingrich last weekend.) The Trump bump is even less lucrative. He was viewed positively by just 13 percent of Republican voters, while 20 percent had a negative view. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s backing was considered a good thing by 10 percent of those survey, while 18 percent said it would negatively influence their vote.

  • According to a ticker on Romney’s website, he’s raised more than $1 million from his One Term Fund push against President Obama. Watch the video.

  • Roseanne Barr will seek the Green Party’s presidential nomination, the comedian announced. Seriously. Barr said “she’s a longtime supporter of the party and looks forward to working with people who share her values. She said the two major parties aren’t serving the American people,” the Associated Press reported.

  • In an odd stunt in Miami, videographer Elizabeth Glover asked Gingrich and his wife Callista if they are in an open marriage. The couple laughs and says no. Watch.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • Senate Republicans put forward a plan Thursday to delay for a year more than $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts — half coming from the Pentagon — by trimming the federal workforce and extending a pay freeze for federal employees, reports the Hill’s Jeremy Herb.

  • Ethics reports released Thursday show the Senate received 77 requests to review alleged violations, 58 of which were dismissed because of lack of jurisdiction and an additional 14 that were not pursued because there was insufficient evidence that a violation of Senate rules had occurred. None of the matters under review resulted in disciplinary action or public admonition. House reports show the ethics committee commenced reviewing 25 new matters last year, in addition to 26 that it carried over from the 111th Congress. It completed 16 probes, 12 of which were publicly disclosed. It confidentially closed four other cases, which typically means no violation of House rules occurred, reports Roll Call’s Amanda Becker.

  • Jack Abramoff is giving a talk next week about “cleaning up the influence industry,” the Washington Post’s Emily Heil reports.

  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is helping Planned Parenthood fill the $700,000 void left when the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation announced it was cutting its grants to the women’s health organization for breast cancer screening. Michael Paulson and Kate Taylor of the New York Times report that Bloomberg will give Planned Parenthood a $250,000 matching gift.

  • Watch our segment from Thursday’s NewsHour on the dust up.

NewsHour politics desk assistant Alex Bruns contributed to this report.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Rick Santorum holds a pair of events in Hannibal, Mo., at 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., campaigns in Fulton at 2 p.m. and attends a rally in Lee’s Summit at 8:30 p.m.

  • Newt Gingrich holds a rally in Las Vegas at 1:30 p.m. and drops by the International Church of Las Vegas at 10:30 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney holds three Nevada campaign events: a business roundtable in Sparks at 11:10 a.m., a rally in Elko at 3:25 p.m. and a get-out-the-vote gathering with supporters in Henderson at 8:15 p.m.

  • Ron Paul attends a rally in Pahrump, Nev., at 3 p.m. and holds a pair of events in Las Vegas at 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

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

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