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the vote blog

Government is serious. Democracy is sacred. And then there is politics the way it is actually played. The Vote blog looks at politics the way the players talk about it among themselves after work.

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum poses for a photo with a supporter at a rally, Tuesday, in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Is Rick Santorum facing a brewing 'women problem'?

By Staff Writer / 02.14.12

Does Rick Santorum have a women problem?

Or would he have one, in a general election?

Certainly not the way, say, Newt Gingrich might. Mr. Santorum has been married to the same woman for more than 20 years, and regularly talks about his devotion to her.

But increasingly, his statements about women – both in interviews and in his 2005 book, "It Takes a Family" – are raising eyebrows.

Last week, women in combat was the issue. Santorum told CNN's John King that he has "concerns" about women on the front lines, adding that "I think that can be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interests of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved."

IN PICTURES: Rick Santorum

Santorum later clarified that he was referring to the emotions of men, who may have emotions "when they see a woman in harm's way."

Among those who have objected to his statements is Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, whose daughter served in Iraq. “I like Rick Santorum a lot. I just disagree with any inference that he might have made that somehow women are not capable of serving in the front lines and serving in combat positions," Governor McDonnell said on CNN on Monday.

And in the past few days, Santorum has been pressed to explain some of the statements in his book – particularly the section where he wrote that, "the radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness."

In an interview with ABC's George Stephanopolous, in which Mr. Stephanopolous asked him about the quote, Santorum defended himself, noting that he grew up with a working mother. He just wants women who work both inside and outside the home to feel "affirmed for the choices they make," he said.

"You say that now," Stephanopolous replied, "but you also wrote in the book that radical feminists have been making the pitch that justice demands that men and women be given an equal opportunity to make it to the top in the workplace. Isn't that something that everyone should value?"

Santorum replied that he wasn't familiar with that quote from the book, and agreed that people should have equal opportunity to rise in the workplace – before punting on responsibility for the quote by saying that his wife, Karen, actually wrote that section. (He does not credit her in his acknowledgements as one of those "who assisted me in the writing of this book.”) When his wife gave up her career as a lawyer and nurse to have children, he told NBC's David Gregory, who also pressed him on the section, she "felt very much like society and those radical feminists that I was referring to were not affirming her choice."

Add that to his strong stances on abortion and contraception (forget the recent flap about whether Catholic-affiliated organizations should be required to have health insurance that covers contraception – Santorum believes birth control "shouldn't even be in an insurance plan" of any type since it's "affordable"), and it's clear why some pundits are wondering about his ability to get votes from women in a general election.

Already, even among GOP ranks, there are signs of a gender split.

In a CNN poll released Tuesday, Santorum and Mitt Romney are essentially tied nationally. But who their supporters are differs significantly. Santorum's voters are more committed, more conservative, more blue-collar – and more male. Among Republican men, Santorum holds a 10-point edge, while Romney beats Santorum among Republican women by 9 points.

If Santorum gets the nomination, he may have an even tougher time convincing women who are independents that he believes in issues important to them.

"The book 'It Takes a Family' was written in response to Hillary Clinton's 'It Takes a Village' in the 1990s, and it was not generally taken by women's rights groups as a tome of affirmation," writes Politico's Maggie Haberman about the latest controversy. "And it's one of the reasons Santorum will keep facing questions about whether he can appeal to a key general election swing group."

IN PICTURES: Rick Santorum

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A supporter of Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney holds a campaign sign before a campaign event in Mesa, Arizona Monday. (Joshua Lott/REUTERS)

Can Mitt Romney convince Arizona he is a true conservative?

By Staff Writer / 02.14.12

For Mitt Romney to head into Super Tuesday on March 6 as the GOP front-runner, he needs to notch solid wins in the two states that hold primaries before then: Arizona and Michigan, both on Feb. 28.

Already, Rick Santorum has surged ahead in polls in Michigan, suggesting that Mr. Romney's home-state advantage (he was born and raised there, and his father was a Michigan governor) won't mean much.

But what about Arizona?

The state, with a prize of 29 delegates, looks much better for Romney. It's in the West, where he tends to do better, and it has a sizeable Mormon population – about a tenth of the Republican electorate. The latest state poll, by Rasmussen, has Romney leading the field by 24 points. Mr. Santorum isn't even in second place (that spot belongs to Newt Gingrich), but is lagging in third with 13 percent.

Keep in mind, though, that the poll was taken on Feb. 1 - a week before Santorum's impressive three-state victory in Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri, which gave him an enormous boost around the country.

At this point, a Romney victory in Arizona still seems highly likely, but the state will provide an interesting counterpoint to Michigan in two weeks. In particular, it will be a testing ground for whether Santorum's social-conservative message can resonate in a less traditionally religious state.

Unlike voters in some of the Santorum-friendly Midwest states, Arizona Republicans tend to be a bit more Libertarian. Santorum may find more fertile ground if he tries to drum up populist support and anger – this is a state hurt hard by the housing crash, for instance – by emphasizing, say, Romney's Wall Street ties, rather than his lack of conservative credentials.

Both candidates may also have to take on immigration issues in a much more direct way than they have to date. (Look for this to be a big topic at the only debate between now and the primaries, held in Arizona on Feb. 22.)

For now, Santorum is focusing most of his energy and money on Michigan, which he has a far better chance of winning. But if he can put in a strong second-place showing in Arizona, even if he doesn't win, it could still be a boost for his candidacy.

Romney spent Monday in Arizona, before heading to Michigan later this week, and sounded his new theme: making the case that he is a true conservative.

“My conservatism did not come so much from reading the writings of great conservative scholars as it did come from my living my life, my family, my faith, my business,” he told the crowd in Mesa, Ariz.

He also tried to undercut Santorum, without mentioning him by name, by emphasizing the importance of experience outside of government.

“People go [to Washington] and they get infected by this Washington disease which makes them think that government is the source of our greatness, that government should guide our lives and they become more and more insistent on intruding government into our lives," he said.

Early voting is already underway in Arizona. And Romney is likely hoping to convince as many voters as possible to register their support for him now, before Santorum has a chance to gain a foothold in yet another state.

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Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally in Mesa, Ariz., Monday. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

Will Mitt Romney's aversion to the auto bailout hurt him in Michigan? (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.14.12

Will Mitt Romney’s past opposition to the auto bailouts mean trouble for him in the upcoming Michigan primary? You’d think that would be the case. Michigan’s economy is pretty much all autos, all the time. Even the Republican car executives who live in gilded Grosse Pointe and Bloomfield Hills know that their jobs might have been nothing but tailpipe exhaust if Washington hadn’t used taxpayer cash to help GM and Chrysler.

Plus, Mr. Romney’s obviously still sensitive on the subject. He’s got an opinion piece in Tuesday’s edition of the Detroit News arguing the merits of his position. In it, he says it’s “indisputably good news” that GM and Chrysler are still in business. He points out that he grew up in Michigan drinking Vernor’s ginger ale and going to Tigers games. His dad George was head of American Motors. (His campaign released a new ad emphasizing his roots in Michigan - see below)

(Have you ever had Vernor’s? It’s the Ndamukong Suh of soda pop. Take a sip and you’ll think they made a mistake at the factory and you’re drinking undiluted ginger ale syrup base.)

Then Romney goes on to say that the managed bankruptcy that the Obama administration arranged for the Tottering Two is just what he would have done, except he would have done it differently. The unions got too sweet a deal, and the person the administration chose to run the bailouts, Steven Rattner, was “ethically challenged.”

“This was crony capitalism on a grand scale. The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better,” wrote Romney.

Well, we’ll say this: Romney’s argument is difficult to parse. He was against the bailout before he was for it, except not the bailout that happened, or something like that. At time of writing, the commenters on the Detroit News website weren’t buying it – they were 90 percent highly negative of Romney’s piece.

But the surprising thing is that Romney’s bailout stance might not be the reason he’s now behind Rick Santorum in polls of the Michigan GOP electorate, after all.

Public Policy Polling included a bailout question on its recent Michigan survey, and 62 percent of state GOP voters said they opposed the move. “Romney stance not bad for primary,” PPP tweeted on Feb.14.

When you add in Democrats and independents, however, Michigan voters do support the bailout, by 52 to 36 percent. So it’s an issue that could haunt Romney in the fall, if he wins the nomination.

However, the PPP survey did point out a surprising weakness for Romney in the upcoming GOP vote. Republican Michiganders do not consider the former Massachusetts governor to be one of them. He gets no home-state advantage for the years he spent watching Al Kaline light up the American League.

A whopping 62 percent of GOP respondents said they did not consider Romney a Michigander, according to PPP.

“Romney really doesn’t have some great reservoir of goodwill in Michigan to fall back on,” according to a PPP analysis.

His favorability ratings are in free fall in the Mitten State as a result. Only 49 percent of likely GOP primary voters have a good impression of him, down from 61 percent last July.

That’s perhaps why Santorum has vaulted past Romney into the lead in Michigan polls. PPP has Santorum over Romney by 39 to 24 percent. An American Research Group survey has Santorum up 33 to 27 percent.

Well, for Romney there’s at least this: Maybe he doesn’t have to pretend to like Vernor’s, if he really doesn’t.

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Early voters line up just before 7:00 a.m., to vote in the Carson City County Republican Caucus, Feb. 4, in Carson City, Nevada. With three weeks until Super Tuesday, early voting is now under way in three states: Vermont, Ohio, and Georgia. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Three weeks until Super Tuesday, but some states are already voting

By Staff writer / 02.13.12

February is supposed to be the lull in the craziness of this year's GOP presidential primary, without a single contest between the Maine caucuses (which ended Saturday) and the Michigan and Arizona primaries on Feb. 28.

But Super Tuesday has already begun.

On Monday, early voting began for Georgia primary voters. The March 6 primary is three weeks off, but expect plenty of Georgians to vote between now and then.

Of the 10 states where voting takes place on Super Tuesday, Georgia is the one with the most delegates: 76.

But other states are significant, too. Ohio, another big prize, began its early-voting period last week. And Vermont's began even earlier, a full 45 days before the primary is held.

Tennessee's begins Wednesday, and Oklahoma will have a brief period of early voting just before the primary.

In fact, of the states holding primaries (as opposed to caucuses), just two – Virginia and Massachusetts – don't have unrestricted early voting (but do offer absentee voting to anyone with a valid excuse).

Still, it remains to be seen how much, if at all, early voting affects the votes on Super Tuesday. If there's been one constant in this volatile GOP primary season, it's that voters are fickle and change their minds frequently and rapidly. Unusually high percentages of Republican primary voters are reporting – even just days before a nominating contest – that they're still not settled on a candidate.

This may make many voters reluctant to vote early, even when it's an option. Newt Gingrich has been wooing early voters in Ohio – and given his trajectory in the polls is probably happy for any votes he locked in last week – but reports show that voting activity there so far is sluggish.

Mr. GIngrich has also been hoping that Georgia, the biggest Super Tuesday prize, will be a lock for him, as a native son. But already some political experts are speculating that Rick Santorum could make some inroads into Gingrich's base there.

For now, Mr. Santorum is probably hoping that many Georgia voters don't take advantage of the open polls, but instead give him time to make his case.

RECOMMENDED: Eight reasons to ‘mute’ super PAC ads 

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Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Could Mitt Romney lose to Rick Santorum in Michigan? (+video)

By Staff Writer / 02.13.12

Despite his trifecta of embarrassing defeats last week – losing to Rick Santorum in Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota – Mitt Romney could look ahead to the upcoming primary schedule with some confidence. Michigan, on Feb. 28, should be his. He was born and raised there; in 2008, he won the Michigan primaries by 9 points.

Not so fast.

According to two new polls, Mr. Romney is now trailing Mr. Santorum in Michigan.

An American Research Group poll of likely Republican Voters has Santorum ahead of Romney 33 percent to 27 percent. (Newt Gingrich got 21 percent and Ron Paul 12 percent.)

And in another sign of Romney's "enthusiasm gap" problem, the most committed voters are the ones least likely to vote for him. Among voters who say they will definitely vote in the primary, Santorum leads Romney 36 percent to 25 percent. Among those who only say they'll "probably" vote, Romney comes out on top by 11 points.

Another poll, by Public Policy Polling, is even worse for Romney. It has Santorum leading Romney 39 percent to 24 percent. One critical factor in Santorum's surge ahead, according to PPP: Gingrich's nosedive. Increasingly, it looks like the "anti-Romney" Republicans are coalescing around Santorum as their candidate.

Despite his relatively low support (Gingrich got 11 percent in the poll), his continued presence still benefits Romney. PPP's analysis:

"Republican voters aren't just declining to vote for Gingrich at this point – they don't even like him anymore. Just 38 percent have a favorable opinion of him to 47 percent with a negative one. His numbers are inching back closer to what they were before his surge in the polls began in November. His continued presence in the race is a boost to Romney though. 54 percent of his supporters would go to Santorum if he dropped out, compared to only 21 percent for Romney and 14 percent for Paul. Santorum's lead in a Newt-less field would expand to 21 points with him at 48 percent to 27 percent for Romney and 13 percent for Paul. So every day Gingrich stays in is a saving grace for Romney's hopes."

Other interesting tidbits from the PPP poll: People really like Santorum. (He gets a 67/23 breakdown on voters who view him favorably versus unfavorably, compared with 49/39 for Romney.) And despite the media discussion of Romney's home-state advantage in MIchigan, voters there don't agree. Only 26 percent of primary voters consider Romney to be a Michigander (62 percent do not).

In addition to the likeability factor, what else could be behind the shift? For one thing, Romney has repeatedly struggled in the Midwest – and Santorum's message (which includes reviving American manufacturing) may be a more natural sell to some of the blue-collar Republicans in a place like Michigan. (Romney, in contrast, has done better in wealthier counties around major cities.)

Just as in Colorado and Minnesota, which he won in 2008 and lost last week, Romney faces the challenge of no longer being the "conservative alternative" to the mainstream candidate as he was back then, but the mainstream candidate that conservatives are trying to beat.

Romney may also be regretting that stand he took against the auto bailouts back in 2008, when he wrote a New York Times op-ed that was given the unfortunate headline "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

In coming weeks, look for Romney to spend more time and money in Michigan. Arizona's vote, also held Feb. 28, at this point looks like more of a sure thing for Romney, but a defeat in either state would be a major blow.

The best news for Romney in Monday's polls: Voters are still undecided. The PPP poll shows a majority of voters (53 percent) still open to changing their minds.

The Michigan vote is over two weeks away – and if there's anything this election has shown to date, it's that candidates' fortunes can swing wildly in a short amount of time. In Florida, polls showed massive shifts toward Gingrich in the days right after his South Carolina win, only to tilt back toward Romney in just over a week. In the end, of course, Romney won by 14 percent.

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Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, kicks balloons from the stage after speaking to supporters following his loss in the Maine caucus to Mitt Romney, Saturday in Portland, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Did Mitt Romney steal Maine caucuses from Ron Paul?

By Staff writer / 02.13.12

Did the GOP establishment steal the Maine caucuses away from Ron Paul? That’s what some Paul supporters are grumbling this morning. They suspect that another Republican campaign conspired with the Maine state GOP to suppress Representative Paul’s vote.

That other Republican campaign is Mitt Romney's, though the Paul campaign is not saying so directly. But who else is the establishment backing at the moment? If you think it's Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, we've got a moon base we'd like to sell you. It's cheap – and statehood's impending!

Here’s the Paul camp’s thinking: On Saturday, Maine GOP chairman Charlie Webster announced that Mr. Romney had won the statewide caucus presidential preference poll with 2,190 votes, or 39 percent. Paul, the only other candidate to seriously contest the Pine Tree state, came in second with 1,996 votes, or 36 percent.

Romney claimed victory, but Paul did not concede. His supporters point out that the preference poll is not yet finished. Among other things, the caucus for Washington County, scheduled for Saturday, was cancelled due to the threat of inclement weather. The conspiracy theory holds that “snow” was just an excuse, and that the real reason they pulled the shades down was fear of a Paul victory.

Washington County’s votes would have put Paul over the top, claimed Paul’s campaign manager John Tate in an e-mail to supporters.

“The caucus was delayed until next week just so the votes wouldn’t be reported by the national media,” charged Mr. Tate.

Who are the conspirators here, according to the Paul team? The “GOP establishment and their pals in the national media, [who] will do anything to silence our message of liberty,” said Tate.

Hmmm. Perhaps we didn’t get that message from our overlord Bret Baier. But we do have this to say about the alleged caucus theft:

First, these people have never been to Washington County in the winter. It’s the far northeastern part of Maine, so far up that Portland might as well be Miami. We have been there in January, and it was so cold ice formed on the car windows as we drove. The inside of the car windows.

Also, the roads in Washington County are narrow and slippery at best. Read the Bangor Daily News – the two-car head-on collision is a staple of winter coverage. We’re not going to question anybody’s weather-related call up there.

That said, it’s also unlikely that Washington County’s votes would have thrown the preference poll Paul’s way. The invaluable polling analyst Nate Silver at the New York Times FiveThirtyEight blog points out that in 2008 fewer people participated in the Washington County GOP caucus than the current gap between Romney and Paul. So even if Paul won 100 percent of that turnout, he would have lost.

Of course, given the spotlight now shining on the county, it’s possible Paul supporters will pile in when the caucus is actually held, inflating the numbers. We’ll have to wait and see.

But the real bottom line is this: The presidential preference poll held at Maine caucuses does not matter. It has no influence on the allocation of Maine’s 24 delegates to the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla. 

What did matter at Maine’s caucuses was the second phase of the action – selection of delegates to the state GOP convention, which in turn will allocate those precious 24 national votes. And the Paul camp may have dominated this process.

The Paul camp planned this – we’ve called it their secret ninja caucus strategy.  While they’re complaining about the preference poll, they’re also telling their supporters that their delegate strategy means they may win the Pine Tree State in the end.

“We are confident that we will control the Maine delegation for the convention in August,” said Paul’s national campaign chairman Jesse Benton in a statement Sunday.

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Sarah Palin, the GOP candidate for vice-president in 2008, and former Alaska governor, delivers the keynote address to activists from America's political right at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Sarah Palin wows CPAC. But has the race for the White House moved beyond her?

By Staff writer / 02.11.12

As the wind-up speaker at this weekend’s CPAC gathering, Sarah Palin did what she’s always done best since her brief tour as the GOP’s vice presidential candidate four years ago: Cheer lead for conservative causes and candidates, needle Democrats and liberals, and keep herself positioned as a major voice in the Republican Party.

Before an enthusiastic crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Palin lit into President Obama across the board on issues – from the economy to environmental protection to national security

“His plan isn’t winning the future, it’s losing the country,” she said.

“The American people have woken up” to the dangers of big government, she said. “The conservative movement has never been stronger or brighter, yet the federal government has never cast a bigger shadow.”

What she did not do was endorse one of the four presidential rivals. That keeps her more securely in the game – someone to be wooed and treated deferentially.

If anything, judging by articulated positions, her “Mama Grizzly” status as a tea party darling, and the candidates she’s backed in statewide races, she would seem more inclined to favor Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum over Republican establishment favorite Mitt Romney. (Her husband Todd Palin already has endorsed Gingrich.)

She came to Gingrich’s defense when prominent Republican figures, including former Sen. Bob Dole, went after the former House Speaker

She’s sometimes rankled that party establishment, most recently when with her criticisms of “crony capitalism” and a “permanent political class.”

“The corruption isn't confined to one political party or just a few bad apples,” she wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column. “It's an endemic problem encompassing leadership on both sides of the aisle. It's an entire system of public servants feathering their own nests.”

As for Romney as her party’s presidential candidate, Palin has been lukewarm at best.

“That glowing enthusiasm isn't there yet,” Palin told Greta Van Susteren on Fox News this week. “I believe a lot of that is in part the idea that it's a foregone conclusion that Mitt Romney will be the GOP pick. He certainly has the establishment support and much of the media support. I also believe that he is the one that President Obama would love to debate and to run against in November.”

In the years since she and 2008 Republican ticket front-runner John McCain went their separate ways, Palin became a small industry – public speaker, author, reality TV star, Fox News commentator, and potential presidential candidate who made tons of money while tantalizing millions of tea party supporters around the country with suggestions that she might run this year.

But polls show most Americans (including most Republicans) don’t think she’s qualified to be president, and through 2011 until the present, her approval ratings continued to drop – down to 38 percent favorable and 56 percent unfavorable, according to one CNN survey.

Donations to her political action committee dropped sharply during the second half of 2011. “Palin’s relatively meager second half haul came despite heavy spending on fundraising and a bus tour that fanned speculation that she might seek the GOP presidential nomination,” Politico reported recently.
 And that slide from favor may eventually hurt her financially, particularly in her pitch for another “reality” TV show.

Hollywood Reporter put it this way recently:

“So far, networks have balked at the steep asking price…. Another obstacle is Palin’s waning status as a cultural lightning rod. The former Alaska governor burst onto the scene as the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate with a compelling personal storyline and outspoken conservatism that made her the darling of the right and a target of the left, helping her land a $1 million annual contract with Fox News.…. Says one network insider, ‘I think it’s safe to say her time has passed.’”

That certainly was not the case at CPAC Saturday, when thousands of conservatives crowded around after her speech, basking in the warmth of her political celebrity, agreeing whole-heartedly with the music being played: country singer Shania Twain’s “She’s Not Just a Pretty Face”

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President Barack Obama pauses while announcing the revamp of his contraception policy requiring religious institutions to fully pay for birth control, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012, in the White House press room. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Political fallout from birth control fight: A glimmer of good news for Obama?

By Staff writer / 02.11.12

President Obama may have hoped to dispel the political firestorm raining down on him over contraception and religion with the new White House approach announced Friday. But that never was going to happen.

Anything that angers social and religious conservatives while annoying a significant portion of his own base does not soon fade, especially in a presidential re-election year.

Still, there may be some beneficial political fallout for Obama as Republican presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich try to outdo each other on this hot-button issue, which they short-hand as the incumbent president’s “war on religion,” leaving Mitt Romney to explain his moderate position on birth control (and even abortion) back when he was Massachusetts governor.

Anything that keeps Republicans fighting, that prolongs the GOP’s nominating process, works to Obama’s benefit.

Then, there’s the divide between the Roman Catholic hierarchy and most Catholics on birth control, back in the spotlight as the result of the controversy, indicating that Obama may be able to keep a good portion of the 54 percent of Catholics whose vote he won in 2008. More on that in a minute.

But for now, as Jonathan Allen at Politico put it, “The battle over contraceptive coverage at religiously affiliated institutions has bound together Republicans of all stripes because it hits core GOP themes: religious liberty, government intrusion, and reproduction politics.”

“Perhaps more important politically,” Allen added, “it has given Republicans something to talk about other than the economy, just when Obama’s gotten a lift from modest gains.”

Under the proposed new rule that Obama announced Friday, religiously affiliated institutions (such as hospitals and universities) will not be required to include free birth control in health insurance plans for female employees.

Instead, insurance companies will be required under the Affordable Care Act to provide contraception to all employees at such institutions free of charge – which may be a distinction without a lot of difference, or as one critic put it “an accounting gimmick.”

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, calls Obama’s latest move “a first step in the right direction.” Which implies that more steps will be demanded, as Archbishop Dolan puts it, in order to “to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations."

But Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, which represents hundreds of church-run hospitals and other facilities, was much more effusive in her response.

“The Catholic Health Association is very pleased with the White House announcement that a resolution has been reached that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions,” Sister Keehan said in a statement. “We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished.”

That appreciation for and support of Obama by the Catholic Health Association was seen earlier and in more controversial fashion when the organization supported the President’s health care reform plan.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops was furious with Keehan, charging that she had “weakened the moral voice of the bishops in the US.”

That episode illustrated the divide between the church hierarchy and many Catholics over some important moral and therefore political questions – particularly when that hierarchy is all-male and the question involves women’s sexuality and reproductive health.

The Guttmacher Institute reported last April that 98 percent of Catholic women have used methods of contraception not approved by the church.

“Sixty-eight percent of Catholic women use highly effective methods of contraception: sterilization, the pill or another hormonal method, and the IUD,” Guttmacher reported. Only 2 percent of Catholic women rely wholly on natural family planning (the “rhythm method”) allowed under church doctrine.

Also regarding today’s controversy over contraception, health care insurance, and religious institutions, many (perhaps most) Catholics apparently do not go along with their bishops.

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reported this week that 58 percent of Catholics believe that employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception and that a majority of all Catholics (52 percent) say that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should be required to provide coverage that includes contraception.

“Given how closely divided Catholic voters are … it seems unlikely that this issue will galvanize Catholics nationally and seriously undermine Obama’s electoral prospects with this important religious constituency,” said PRRI research director Daniel Cox.

We’ll all have to wait until November to know if that’s true.

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Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas addresses supporters during caucus night party Tuesday in Golden Valley, Minn. (Jim Mone/AP)

Ron Paul's secret ninja strategy for Maine caucuses

By Staff writer / 02.10.12

Ron Paul has a secret, ninja-like Seal Team 6 strategy to win big in the Feb. 11 Maine Republican caucuses. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and the mainstream media won’t see Paul’s forces coming until they’ve snatched a majority of the Pine Tree State’s 24 delegates and raced off towards August and the national convention in Tampa, Fla.

OK, that’s kind of an exaggeration. But it contains a nucleus of truth. The Paul team has a plan for winning more delegates in many caucus states than straw poll votes would indicate Paul is entitled to. Mr. Paul’s supporters are proud of this approach, which has “not been clearly reported”, as Paul campaign manager John Tate said earlier this week.

We’ll use Maine to explain how this works.

On Saturday, Feb. 11, Maine’s Republican Party is set to announce the results of a presidential preference poll taken at caucuses held around the state. (While many of those caucuses will take place on Saturday, some towns held theirs weeks ago, as we’ve previously noted.)

But that poll is non-binding. It’s a beauty contest, a straw vote, a mere indicator of personal preferences. It will not be indicative of how the state’s delegates will be divvied up.

That apportionment will be the result of a second task the caucuses were supposed to accomplish: selection of delegates to the state GOP convention in May. It’s that meeting that will officially put its stamp on for whom Maine’s delegates will go. So if Paul’s folks stick around at town caucuses and get themselves picked as delegates to the state confab, voila, they can then vote for their guy at the state convention. Thus it’s possible for Paul – or any candidate who tries this – to outperform their beauty contest showing.

That’s the case in most other caucus states, too. (Nevada is different.) As Davidson College political scientist Josh Putnam points out on his invaluable voting process blog Frontloading HQ, “delegates from those states cannot be allocated until, well, they are allocated. In Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, and over the weekend add Maine to the mix, that won’t happen until the congressional district or state conventions.”

Paul campaign manager Mr. Tate spelled out some of the practical implications of this in his statement to supporters. In Minnesota, where Paul finished second to Mr. Santorum in the preference poll, “the Paul campaign is well-organized to win the bulk of the delegates there,” according to Tate.

In Colorado, where Paul finished fourth with 12 percent of the vote, the Texas libertarian will end up with more than 12 percent of the state’s delegates, Tate asserted. In Larimer County, where the straw poll vote was 23 for Santorum and 13 for Paul, Paul supporters took all 13 state delegate slots available, for instance. In Delta County, where the preference vote went 22 for Santorum, 12 for Mr. Romney, and 8 for Paul, Paul took all five available delegate slots. And so forth.

It’s possible that the Paul campaign is cherry-picking districts here in an attempt to make their results look good. It’s also possible that Paul has greater underlying delegate strength at the moment than most members of the Pundit Club realize.

Of course, he’ll need those delegates. At the moment, Romney has 94 pledged delegates that count toward the national convention in Tampa, according to a New York Times calculation. Santorum has 71, and Newt Gingrich 29. Paul has eight.

Plus, the total number of delegates at stake in all GOP caucus states this year is 462, by our count. Yet a candidate needs 1,144 delegate votes to win the nomination. Clearly there are limits to any caucus-centric Paul strategy.

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Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks to a gathering of employees and media after touring the Jergens manufacturing facility in Cleveland during a campaign stop Wednesday. (Amy Sancetta/AP)

Where does Newt Gingrich go after big losses Tuesday?

By Staff Writer / 02.08.12

If Tuesday night was a bad one for Mitt Romney, who didn't come out on top in any of the three GOP nominating contests, it was a worse one for Newt Gingrich.

The former House speaker finished dead last in Minnesota, barely squeaked by Ron Paul in Colorado, and wasn't even on the ballot in Missouri.

The contests mean little when it comes to delegates. Missouri's primary was essentially a "beauty contest" before the state awards its delegates in caucuses next month, and the caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota were nonbinding, though they'll influence the delegate selection.

But for a man who just weeks ago was coming off a big win in South Carolina and seemed to have all the momentum going his way, such a total loss was still bad news.

And while no delegates were awarded, the Tuesday results do matter significantly in terms of money, which Mr. Gingrich needs. Conservative Republican donors who funded Gingrich when he seemed like the best chance to avoid a Romney nomination are now likely to turn to Rick Santorum, who with a sweep of Tuesday's contests now takes on the mantle of conservative "anti-Romney."

Gingrich's polling trends don't look good either. Since his peak right after the South Carolina primaries, he's been going steadily downhill, according to Gallup's daily rolling average. Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum, on the other hand, are climbing.

He also made some key tactical errors, and came across to viewers as angry and out-of-touch in his Nevada post-caucus press conference. (Gingrich opted for the press conference rather than a concession speech, and failed to congratulate Romney on his win.) On Tuesday night, he opted not to speak at all.

Gingrich knew February would be a tough month for him. He had no organization and had done little campaigning in all four of the states voting in the first part of the month, and none of them was a natural fit for him. Even worse, the month is sparse on his strong suit: debates. There is just one debate scheduled on Feb. 22, in Arizona.

His plan has been built on surviving until Super Tuesday, where geography favors him more – Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee all vote then, as does Ohio, where Gingrich is spending more time and money and believes he can be competitive.

And March, overall, is a more favorable month for Gingrich. After Super Tuesday on March 6, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana all hold primaries (among other states). The big prize that Gingrich is gunning for is Texas on April 3 (unless it's delayed due to pending redistricting litigation).

"I run a campaign which twice now has made me the front-runner and I suspect will again by the Texas primary or so," Gingrich told reporters after his Nevada loss.

The problem is surviving until those primaries. In the fast-paced world of Republican primaries, a month is an eternity – and a long time for Santorum to be reaping the donations and press coverage from his victories. Given that Gingrich's biggest liabilities are his lack of money, discipline, and organization, it's hard to see how he'll rebuild those in time to capitalize on the more fertile Southern terrain where his message resonates best.

He's been heavily reliant on his Super PAC funders, particularly casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his family, who have donated $10 million just in the past few months. But at some point, as a Gingrich candidacy seems less and less likely, that support could dry up. And he has few backers among the Republican establishment – or even among other influential conservatives.

Gingrich, known for his tenacity, has vowed to fight on. He spent Wednesday in Ohio, where he hopes to be competitive, and was likely looking forward to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) later this week, which will give a prime speaking opportunity to the audience he most needs to convince of his viability. He plans a swing through Georgia next week, as well as fundraisers in California.

The person who may be happiest that Gingrich intends to stay in as long as possible? Mitt Romney. As long as Gingrich is there to get some votes, it will be harder for Santorum to cobble together enough "anti-Romney" votes from conservatives to defeat him.

In her Right Turn blog Wednesday, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote, "It was a dismal night for Newt Gingrich. If his Romney-hatred is deep will he get out and endorse Santorum? Ironically, Romney probably hopes his nemesis sticks around, taking up 15 percent or so of the not-Romney vote."

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