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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.

President Barack Obama sings the blues with B.B. King at the White House. (PBS)

Obama sings the blues with Mick Jagger, B.B. King (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.22.12

"Let the Good Times Roll".... "The Thrill is Gone".... "Sweet Home Chicago." A Republican recipe for ending Barack Obama’s presidency after one term? Not quite. It was blues night at the White House, and those were on the play list.

More important, B.B. King was in the house, and when Mick Jagger (yes, that Mick Jagger) handed President Obama the microphone Tuesday night, that was all it took to get the First Crooner to belt out a few bars with the King of the Blues (see video below).

Buddy Guy, another legendary blues man in attendance, told Mr. Obama he’d heard about the president singing a little Al Green recently and added, “You gotta keep it up,” according to the Associated Press.

The concert, timed for Black History Month, was the latest in the “In Performance at the White House" series and will air Monday on PBS. This one is called “Red, White and Blues.”

Also performing: Trombone Shorty, Jeff Beck, Shemekia Copeland, Susan Tedeschi, Gary Clark Jr., Keb’ Mo’, Derek Trucks, and Warren Haynes.

Set list

1. “Let the Good Times Roll” (Ensemble)

2. “The Thrill Is Gone” (B.B King)

3. “St. James Infirmary” (Trombone Shorty)

4. “Let Me Love You Baby” (Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck)

5. “Brush With The Blues” instrumental (Jeff Beck)

6. “I Can’t Turn You Loose” (Mick Jagger)

7. “Commit A Crime” (Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck)

8. “Miss You” (Mick Jagger, Shemekia Copeland, Susan Tedeschi)

9. “Beat Up Guitar” (Shemekia Copeland, Gary Clark Jr.)

10. “Catfish Blues” (Gary Clark Jr.)

11. “In The Evening (When The Sun Goes Down)” (Gary Clark Jr.)

12. “Henry” ( Keb’ Mo’)

13. “I’d Rather Go Blind” (Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes)

14. “Five Long years” (Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Gary Clark, Mick Jagger)

15. “Sweet Home Chicago” (Ensemble)

QUIZ – How much do you know about Black History month?  

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Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign event in Mesa, Ariz., last week. (Joshua Lott/REUTERS)

Could Rick Santorum topple Mitt Romney in Arizona?

By Staff Writer / 02.21.12

While polls in recent weeks have suggested that Mitt Romney is vulnerable to Rick Santorum in his home state of Michigan, he has always counted on winning at least one state in next week's primaries: Arizona.

It's a Western state with a sizeable Mormon population; its Republicans are less socially conservative and more Libertarian than in some Midwest states where Santorum does well; and Mr. Romney has been well ahead in all polls there.

But a new poll from CNN/Time Tuesday suggests that Mr. Santorum may be closing the gap in Arizona as well.

The poll has Romney with 36 percent of likely primary voters, compared with Santorum at 32 percent. Newt Gingrich has 18 percent, Ron Paul has 6 percent, and 6 percent are undecided. The 4 percent difference between Romney and Santorum is within the poll's margin of error – meaning they're essentially tied.

The poll comes on the eve of Wednesday's debate in Mesa, Ariz. -– the last GOP debate before next Tuesday's primaries and the following week's Super Tuesday events.

And it will be a critical debate for both Romney and Santorum. According to the CNN poll, about one-third of voters are still open to changing their mind in the next week.

Next week's contests will also be the first chance to see if Santorum can win in a primary election, rather than a caucus. The major states he's won so far have all been caucus states – which tend to emphasize the favorite candidate of more extreme, impassioned voters. These contests have been tough on Romney, who inspires less enthusiasm even among his supporters.

An Arizona win would be especially helpful for Santorum, since it would be in territory presumed to favor Romney, and his first win outside of the Midwest, the region where he seems most at home. Even a very close second-place showing might be good for him.

According to the CNN/Time poll, the electoral divisions in Arizona mirror those in many other states. Santorum has the edge among evangelical Republicans and tea party supporters; Romney beats him by a sizeable margin among non-evangelicals and Republicans who don't favor the tea party. Romney also leads in urban areas, but not in suburban and rural areas.

"Class and gender may also play a role on February 28, with Romney doing best among Republican women and among GOPers who describe themselves as white collar," says CNN polling director Keating Holland.

The poll is hardly definitive. A week is a long time in this exceptionally volatile nominating season, when candidates' popularity seems to peak and plummet from day to day. Polls up until now have given Romney a sizeable edge in Arizona. (The Real Clear Politics rolling average has Romney up by about six points in the state.)

Still, the momentum right now seems to be going Santorum's direction – and the fact that Arizona is even in play is not good news for Romney.

All of which makes Wednesday night's debate even more interesting.

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A dog in a devil costume watches a carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, earlier this month. (Silvia Izquierdo/AP)

Does Rick Santorum have a Satan problem?

By Staff writer / 02.21.12

Does Rick Santorum have a Satan problem? Specifically, is it a political negative for him that the Drudge Report all day Tuesday has highlighted a story about a 2008 speech he gave at Ave Maria University in Florida in which he said America is under assault by Satan?

“Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that [have] so deeply rooted in the American tradition,” Mr. Santorum said in that 2008 speech.

Audio excerpts from the speech indicate that Santorum said Satan had successfully subverted academia first, followed by mainline Protestantism, which he said is “in shambles,” and then the culture. Politics came last.

“The body politic held up pretty well until the last couple of decades,” he said in the speech.

As to whether this hurts Santorum’s electability, we’ll just note that lots of people were making fun of this Tuesday on Twitter. We suspect, however, that they’re people who were not going to vote for Santorum in the first place. On the other end of the spectrum, his committed supporters may shrug off the references. Because he was speaking in a religious context, he was using religious language, and “Satan” as a metaphor for lots of things is a pretty common usage from pulpits of a Sunday.

Will swing voters, or new fans of Santorum whose attachment is not deeply rooted, be put off? That’s the real question.

Furthermore, the fact that this speech is surfacing now, at such a crucial moment in the campaign, should trouble Santorum’s advisers. Where did it come from? The most likely prospect would be from the camp of an opponent who has the money to do opposition research and needs to slow Santorum’s rise. You can supply your own names there – we don’t have to.

If his opponents have this, they may have other stuff, too. Santorum is recent days has already spent a lot of time explaining what he meant when he referred to President Obama’s “phony theology.”

On Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, Santorum said that in fact he’s on the campaign trail in the upper Midwest talking about energy, talking about manufacturing jobs, talking about the budget deficit and cutting corporate taxes. Yet all the media harp on are his comments about abortion, contraception, and other hot-button social issues, Santorum complained.

“Of course they want to talk about the issues that fit their narrative and their narrative is, oh, Rick Santorum all he cares about are these issues,” Santorum said on Fox.

Santorum went on to say that the “phony theology” line referred to Mr. Obama’s embrace of what the ex-Pennsylvania senator called “radical environmentalism” that raises the Earth to a position above man, instead of the other way around.

In a keynote speech Tuesday in Arizona to the Maricopa County Lincoln Day Lunch and Presidential Straw Poll, Santorum offered up his hard-hitting view of the Obama administration that has drawn supporters who've been wary of Mitt Romney’s commitment to conservatism.

“Ladies and gentlemen this election is about foundational things. It is about whether ... we are going to be a free people economically,” said Santorum.

More and more, the government is prescribing what kinds of loans you can get, what kinds of light bulbs you can use, what kind of car you can drive, according to Santorum.

“President Obama says, 'I am going to give you the right to health care, give me your money, give me your freedom, and we will provide for you.' When the government gives you rights, they can take those rights away,” said the GOP presidential hopeful.

White House spokesman Jay Carney declined on Tuesday to be drawn into a discussion about whether Santorum is questioning Obama’s religious faith.

“This president is focused on doing the things that he believes the American people elected him to do, which is work with Congress or independently to take every measure and every action he can to grow the economy and create jobs,” said Mr. Carney.

RECOMMENDED: Rick Santorum: Top 7 culture war moments 

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Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum addresses the Maricopa County Lincoln Day Luncheon in Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

Is Rick Santorum the new Teflon candidate to whom nothing sticks?

By Staff writer / 02.21.12

The minute Rick Santorum clinched caucus and primary victories in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado two weeks ago, revamping the GOP presidential nominating race, front-runner Mitt Romney, and the "super political action committees" supporting him, turned their cannons on the former Pennsylvania senator. 

Those ads, and the big money Mr. Romney has at his disposal to throw into them, were a big help to Romney in putting Newt Gingrich into the rear-view mirror when Mr. Gingrich seemed to be gaining on him.

The trouble this time: Mr. Santorum isn't nearly as easy a target.

Gingrich offered plenty for Romney and his backers to latch onto. There were ethics lapses in Congress (which seemed particularly to resonate with some voters); videos linking him to Nancy Pelosi, global-warming legislation, and other more liberal issues; and Gingrich's spotty personal life.

At first glance, there's a lot to mine from Santorum's past, too. There are the segments from his book about "radical feminists," seeming to disparage women in the workplace, and his comments criticizing contraception. He recently attacked the idea of prenatal testing, and he once compared homosexuality with "man on dog" sex. (The latter earned a now-famous reply from his Associated Press interviewer, who declared, "I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about 'man on dog' with a United States senator; it's sort of freaking me out.")

The trouble is, those statements, which may be useful in the general election, are almost impossible to use against him now. Santorum's base is the conservative wing of the Republican Party, particularly social conservatives. Romney, who is trying to persuade those voters that he's a better choice, can't risk directly mocking Santorum for some of his more out-there statements on conservative issues. Any such attacks might backfire, leading conservatives who are already unsure about Romney's conservative credentials to definitively conclude that he is, in fact, too moderate.

Instead, Romney is relying on an old standby: criticizing Santorum for not being fiscally conservative enough – voting to raise the national debt ceiling and supporting "earmarks" (pet projects for the home state) when he was in Congress.

One Romney TV ad currently airing in Michigan starts with an image of a man falling through water, as a voiceover intones, "America is drowning in national debt."

"Yet," the voice continues, "Rick Santorum supported billions in earmarks." It then cuts to an old video of Santorum on a talk show, telling the interviewer, "I have had a lot of earmarks. In fact, I'm very proud of all the earmarks I've put in bills."

It's not a bad line of attack – and is similar to an ad that challenger Ron Paul rolled out Tuesday, which focuses on Santorum votes to raise the debt ceiling, increase the size of the Department of Education, and vote for the Medicare drug benefit.

The trouble is, it's not a sure thing that voters care.

Compared with Gingrich's messy divorces and ethics charges, or Herman Cain's women troubles, or Rick Perry's multiple insert-foot statements and debate missteps, earmarks and the debt ceiling may seem run-of-the-mill. Besides, is there anyone in Congress who hasn't voted for district earmarks at some point?

Romney is also working to paint Santorum as a Washington insider. "When Republicans go to Washington and spend like Democrats, you’re going to have a lot of spending,” Mr. Romney told a crowd in Ohio on Monday. “And that’s what we’ve seen over the last several years.”

And one current ad by the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, ends with the statement: “Rick Santorum. Big spender. Washington insider.”

Still, the Romney line of attack appears to be making little headway. Part of the problem may simply come down to likeability. Whereas Romney compared fairly well on that front with Gingrich, new polling suggests that Romney's own favorability ratings are suffering, whereas Santorum is doing well.

Expect more negative ads and statements attacking Santorum in coming weeks, especially if Romney feels desperate. But finding a line of attack that really sticks may prove to be tricky.

RECOMMENDED: Eight reasons to ‘mute’ super PAC ads 

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Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a campaign stop at the Christ Redeemer Church, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012, in Cumming, Ga. (Eric Gay/AP)

Is Rick Santorum helped or hurt when he talks morality?

By Staff writer / 02.20.12

Rick Santorum said on Sunday that President Obama has a “phony ideal” in regards to mankind’s relationship with Earth's resources.

Man is not here to serve the Earth, as “radical environmentalists” seem to believe said Santorum on “Face the Nation” on CBS. It’s the other way around – the Earth is here to provide man with resources which he needs to use wisely.

The GOP presidential aspirant added that he’s not suggesting Obama is not a Christian. He’s saying that Obama has “a world view that elevates the Earth above man”, something that in the end is just an attempt to “centralize power and to give more power to the government.”

RECOMMENDED: Is Rick Santorum facing a brewing 'women problem'?

Santorum then said he’s skeptical that mankind’s actions are changing the world’s climate. But let’s leave aside the scientific and theological implications here, and just consider the political implications of this kind of discussion. Is Rick Santorum helped or hurt when he talks about morality in such direct terms?

We ask this question because some conservatives think it’s a big problem for him. “Is Santorum the Sharron Angle of 2012?” asked the Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin on Sunday.

Sharron Angle was the Tea Party favorite who won the Republican nomination for Senate in 2010, if you’ve forgotten. She lost to Majority Leader Harry Reid after she got tangled up trying to explain her moralistic remarks. Ms. Rubin believes that Santorum risks that same fate.

“Santorum’s views and persona have limited appeal in a general election,” Rubin writes.

Of course, not everybody on the right agrees with this. Some say that Santorum is just responding to similar talk from Obama, who uses theology-tinged arguments in support of his economic policies.

The conservative blogger Ed Morrissey wrote Sunday that at the recent Capital prayer breakfast Obama, when discussing his proposal to raise taxes on upper income taxpayers, said “for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required’.”

On Hot Air Morrissey added that “normally I would advise presidential candidates to avoid getting caught in arguments over the relative merits of the faith of their opponents.... In this case, though, Rick Santorum didn’t start that fight.”

Whether he started the fight or not, it might weigh to his disadvantage, concludes New York Times polling analyst Nate Silver on his FiveThirtyEight blog. If the election focuses on economic issues, it’s possible that Santorum is almost as electable as Mitt Romney, Silver points out. Santorum’s blue-collar personal background and populist economic proposals are a better fit for the voter-rich swing states of the upper Midwest, such as Ohio, than Romney’s stiff corporate CEO persona.

But if economic recovery seems to be taking hold, and the campaign turns to focus more on social issues, than Santorum could be the potential GOP candidate at the greatest disadvantage.

“The more that social policy is emphasized, the more the electability gap [between Romney and Santorum] could grow,” Silver writes.

RECOMMENDED: Is Rick Santorum facing a brewing 'women problem'?

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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at the Cuyahoga County Lincoln Day Dinner in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, Thursday. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

Why Michigan could be Mitt Romney's make-or-break moment (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.17.12

For Mitt Romney the upcoming Michigan primary is very important. How important? Listening to the punditry on this we’ve heard lots of mythic/historical references – the Feb. 28 vote is Mr. Romney’s D-Day, his Armageddon, his Waterloo, and so on.

We’ll just say it’s a must-win, lest we get bogged down explaining our allusion. Romney grew up in Michigan and won the GOP primary there in 2008.

Given that, let’s run this thought experiment: Has any presidential aspirant lost their home state primary, yet gone on to win a major party nomination?

We’ll look at only races back to 1972, because prior to that, many states didn’t hold primaries. Unsurprisingly, the answer is “no.” Eventual nominees always won the state with which their name was most closely associated.

The Bush family always won Texas, Bill Clinton always won Arkansas, Walter Mondale won the Minnesota primary in 1984, and so forth. Jimmy Carter won the Georgia Democratic primary in 1980. George McGovern won the South Dakota primary in 1982. You can look it up.

A candidate who can’t win over the voters who know them best is likely to be deficient in some aspect, be it message, personal appeal, or campaign efficiency. Plus, it’s an easy stumble for the media to exploit. Even if there’s some good reason why a candidate is no longer a fit for their home state – the state in question has moved several clicks rightward or leftward, for instance – you can be sure the pesky flies of the pundit class will still use it against them.

That’s where Romney is headed at the moment, as he continues to trail Rick Santorum in Michigan. Today the RealClearPolitics rolling average has the former Massachusetts governor behind Mr. Santorum by 8.2 percentage points.

Yes, we see you waving your hand. You want to point out the fly in our argument. As we’ve just noted, Romney was governor of Massachusetts, not Michigan. His campaign headquarters is in Boston, not Detroit. His dad may have run both Michigan and an auto company, young Mitt may have grown up there and attended school there, and (according to Jon Stewart) is even named after Michigan’s mitten-like shape, but he’s not a Michigander. He’s a Massachusian.

We don’t agree, but we’ll accept this for the sake of argument. Romney’s the favorite to win the March 6 Massachusetts primary, too. Santorum’s emphasis on social issues isn’t a good fit for the Bay State.

But here’s the kicker: All major party candidates back to 1972 also won their home states in the general election, with two exceptions. Al Gore lost Tennessee to George W. Bush in 2000, and George McGovern lost South Dakota to Richard Nixon in 1972. Both Vice President Gore and Mr. McGovern lost their White House bids, of course. Neither is someone Romney would like to be linked with.

Yet Massachusetts leans blue, despite current GOP Senator Scott Brown, and right now Romney is far behind President Obama there. A recent WBUR/MassINC survey has Obama over Romney in Massachusetts by a whopping 21 percent.

Flipping back to Michigan, the general-election situation is a touch brighter for Romney, but only a touch. He’s behind Obama in the Wolverine State by merely 16 percentage points, according to a recent PPP survey.

“You Can’t Go Home Again” was the title of one of Thomas Wolfe’s most famous novels. Mitt Romney surely hopes it doesn’t apply to him.

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Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, is accompanied by his wife Carol Paul, as he speaks to his supporters following his loss in the Maine caucus to Mitt Romney, Saturday, in Portland, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Will Ron Paul win Maine caucuses after all? State GOP taking new tally.

By Staff writer / 02.17.12

Ron Paul might win the Maine caucus presidential preference contest after all.

The Maine state GOP on Thursday announced that in essence it will announce a new total for the straw poll in early March that will include results from Washington County, which has yet to caucus. State Republican chair Charlie Webster added that the party is contacting town officials throughout Maine to “reconfirm” results of caucuses already held.

“All Republicans are keenly aware of the intense interest in the results of the Maine Republican Party Presidential Preference Poll,” said Mr. Webster in a statement.

Translation: We’re getting hammered because we declared Mitt Romney the caucus poll winner, despite the fact that the vote was incomplete – Washington County canceled due to weather. Oh, and those zeroes entered next to towns that did caucus in the vote totals? We’re looking into it. Sorry.

OK, we’ll admit we were wrong – we did not think Pine Tree State Republicans would go this far. We’ve been covering this in close detail and we thought everybody up there wanted to get past the debacle and get to mud season as soon as possible.

But we know what it’s like to get on the wrong side of the Ron Paul forces – the e-mails cause all your mobile devices to melt. And Webster was getting further pressure from national GOP figures about the Maine mess calling the whole caucus system into question. After all, victory in the Iowa caucuses got passed around like a deli platter. First, it was offered to Romney, and then handed to Rick Santorum. After that nobody in Nevada could properly add up their caucus votes, apparently. Then Maine. It’s enough to make you dream of the logic of a national primary day.

By the way, Ron Paul himself was noncommittal on the question of a Maine recount. His campaign has emphasized that the preference poll there was nonbinding, and that the real contest was for delegates to the state GOP convention, which will allocate Maine’s delegates to the national confab in Tampa in August.

That’s what we’ve called Paul’s “secret ninja strategy” to do better than the media thinks in caucus results. His campaign has now released some claims as to how this has worked so far. In the Minnesota caucuses, for instance, Paul won 27 percent of the presidential preference vote, but 75 percent of the delegates chosen to attend the state convention are Paul supporters. In the Colorado caucuses, Paul got only 12 percent of the vote, but 50 percent of the state delegates are Paul supporters.

That’s what the Paul campaign claims, anyway.

“Ultimately, the odds that Paul could get enough delegates to swing the national convention to a vote nominating him are nil. But the more delegates Paul controls, the more of an impact he can have on determining the GOP platform at the convention,” writes Katrina Trinko at National Review Online.

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Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum meets with business leaders Wednesday in Tioga, N.D. (Williston Herald, Elijah Nouvelage/AP)

Will Mitt Romney use Rick Santorum's tax returns against him? (+video)

By Staff writer / 02.16.12

Rick Santorum Wednesday night released to Politico four years of personal tax returns, covering 2007 through 2010. That’s more 1040s than either Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich have made public.

But commitment to disclosure isn’t the only issue here. Do Mr. Santorum’s personal finances, as detailed in the returns, say anything interesting about him as a candidate for president?

Well, political applicability is in the eye of the beholder. But some things struck us during a preliminary study of the documents.

Santorum's rich

The former Pennsylvania Senator earned more than $3.6 million over the period in question. That’s not nearly what Gingrich made from his various business enterprises, and Romney probably has employees that earn that much. But in the context of the nation as a whole Santorum is part of the 1 percent.

Santorum himself downplays his newly-disclosed wealth, pointing out that among other things he’s lost a lot of wealth from a drop in the value of his real estate, and he has large expenses for the care of a special needs child.

“I worked very hard – in many cases six or seven jobs a year,” said Santorum during a Wednesday night appearance on Piers Morgan’s talk show on CNN.

Much of it's Washington money

Santorum‘s post-Senate income is dependent on the connections he made in the nation’s capital. For instance, he was paid $65,000 by the American Continental Group, a D.C. lobbying firm, according to an Associated Press analysis. He made $125,000 from the Clapham Group, a Virginia firm that helps religious rights organizations in D.C.

As for corporate connections, he made $142,500 as a consultant to Consul Energy, a Pennsylvania firm with coal mine holdings. In 2009 and 2010, Santorum earned a total of $1.37 million in media appearance and consulting fees paid through his own Excelsior LLC.

His tax rate's higher than Romney's

In 2010, for instance, Santorum earned $930,230, and paid $263,440 in taxes, for an effective rate of 28.3 percent. In none of the years covered did he pay less than 25 percent.

This is due to the fact that Santorum’s money was almost all earned income, which is taxed at a higher rate than investments. Investments are the basis of Romney’s fortune. By way of comparison, Romney paid 13.9 percent of his income in taxes in 2010.

He didn't give much to charity

Santorum is not a tither. In no year did he give more than 3 percent of his income to charities, as revealed in claims for charitable deductions. One year he gave less than 2 percent.

What does all this mean, politically-speaking? Well, the Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin thinks the low charitable contributions number could be a problem.

“So much of Santorum’s career and a good deal of his writing focus on faith-based charities. So why did he personally give so little to the groups he lauds?” she wrote Thursday in her Right Turn blog.

In addition, he may be open to charges from the Romney camp that he’s a Washington insider. Like Gingrich, Santorum never registered as a lobbyist. But also like Gingrich, Santorum’s money is a mix of consulting fees from firms and groups with interests before Congress and fees for talking about politics on TV.

None of that should be surprising, of course – that’s what ex-Senators do. But Restore Our Future, the super PAC associated with the Romney campaign, has already been running ads that attempt to paint Santorum as part of the Washington problem, and it’s likely they’ll now recut those ads to include some of the information contained in the Santorum 1040s.

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Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, speaks to his supporters following his loss in the Maine caucus to Mitt Romney, Saturday, in Portland, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Should Ron Paul demand a new vote count in Maine?

By Staff writer / 02.15.12

Should Ron Paul demand a new vote tally for the Maine caucuses? On Feb. 12, state GOP officials announced that Mitt Romney had won the Pine Tree State confabs by a narrow 194 votes. But since then there’s been increasing evidence that Romney’s margin of victory was somewhat notional.

Maine’s Washington County canceled its caucuses due to weather, yet the state party went ahead and called the election without them, for instance. A few other towns had previously scheduled their caucuses for the post-Feb. 12 period, and their totals weren’t included either.

Now it appears that some towns which did caucus did not have their vote totals listed in the state’s final count. The vote for most Waldo County towns was entered as “0,” pointed out the Bangor Daily News on Feb. 14. Waterville’s numbers were similarly omitted.

(Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage was Waterville’s mayor. Will he be happy about the apparent disenfranchisement of his home town?)

Plus, in Portland, votes involving the second part of the caucus process, the choice of delegates to the state GOP convention, somehow got messed up. Officials have declared that vote void.

“Mistakes were made. Something tells me it’s going to take some time to sort this out,” wrote University of Maine political scientist Amy Fried on her Pollways blog.

Two quick points need to be made.

First, this is much ado about a beauty contest. The Maine results are nonbinding in terms of delegate selection. It’s that second process – the state delegate selection – that leads to allocation of Maine’s votes for the GOP convention in Tampa in August.

That’s why Ron Paul himself has been noncommittal about the mess. He thinks in the end his supporters stayed behind at the caucuses, after the presidential preference vote, and then dominated the delegate selection process, Portland’s process notwithstanding.

Last Sunday Rep. Paul told Bob Schieffer on CBS Face the Nation that he was “disappointed” about the preference poll vote, but that “we’re in a good position to win a good majority of [Maine’s national delegates].”

Second, it’s unlikely there’s going to be a full recount, because caucuses are a party-run thing. They’re not overseen by professional state election officials, as are primaries. They don’t have the time or the money to go through all the ballot slips again, no matter how many angry tweets Paulites send state GOP chair Charlie Webster.

That said, we think it’s still possible that Maine Republicans will be forced to announce an updated preference poll adding in towns that got skipped or have yet to vote. It’s also possible that Paul will win Maine after this announcement, as Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses after the fact.

Yes, The New York Times' polling analyst toted up the figures, and he thinks otherwise. He’s pointed out that the total number of votes cast in Washington County caucuses in 2008 is less than Romney’s current margin of victory.

But as we’ve noted it’s no longer just about Washington County. There are towns whose votes went uncounted, and other towns whose caucus dates are yet to come. Plus – and here’s the big finish – the Paul forces are now fully alerted, and if you’ve ever been on their wrong side, you know what that means. Their social media organizations are going to be focused on turning out more caucus attendees than the Washington County GOP has ever seen.

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Sake, a Pug, is seen in the backpack of its owner during a 'Dogs Against Romney' demonstration outside the 136th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at New York's Madison Square Garden Tuesday. (Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS)

'Crate-Gate' puts Mitt Romney in doghouse at Westminster show

By Kara Bloomgarden-SmokeContributor / 02.14.12

For Mitt Romney, it’s the family road trip that seems to never end.

Almost three decades after Mr. Romney strapped a dog crate, complete with dog, to the roof of the family station wagon for a trip to Canada, the road trip’s repercussions have come rambling to the doorstep of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, where a small group of mostly dog-owning Democrats gathered Tuesday in protest.

The story of the trip was first told as an anecdote to illustrate Romney’s emotion-free crisis management style in a 2007 article in The Boston Globe. But the episode – sometimes referred to as “Crate-Gate” – continues to haunt the presidential candidate.

It was 1983 when Romney put Seamus the Irish setter on the roof for the trip from Massachusetts to Canada. When one of his sons noticed that the dog was suffering from intestinal discomfort, Romney broke his rule of making only planned stops, pulled over to a service station, and hosed down the side of the white Chevy station wagon.

Despite the interruption, Seamus, who survived the journey but has long since died, rode on the luggage rack the rest of the way.

The Internet attests to the story’s enduring popularity.

“Mitt Romney + Dog on Roof” is the fourth result when searching for Romney on Google. The Facebook group “Dogs Against Romney” has over 25,000 “likes.” New York Times columnist Gail Collins has cited the incident over 30 times since 2007 – virtually every time she has referenced Romney in her semi-weekly column.

After the Boston Globe article, Scott Crider, a social media strategist in Alabama, founded “Dogs Against Romney.” The group’s website “went viral for about 10 days in ’07, before Romney's campaign flamed-out,” Crider writes in an email. When Romney announced that he was running for president again, Mr. Crider writes, he dusted off the website and started to get some traction once again.

“We are getting literally thousands of user-generated images from our followers on Facebook – pictures of their dogs with our slogan ‘I ride inside,’ ” writes Crider, who says his group is unaffiliated politically.

In this rollercoaster campaign season, the story also seems to have resonated with those who accuse Mitt Romney of being out of touch.

“He doesn’t really seem to have any empathy, which I think is a crucial characteristic in somebody who is running for president of the United States,” protester – and dog owner – Batya Miller says outside the Westminster dog show. “I think that both the actual act of putting the dog on top of the car and then not understanding what is wrong with that indicates some lack of feeling.”

Shortly after the story ran in the Globe in 2007, Romney addressed the issue at a campaign stop in Pittsburgh.

“You know, PETA has not been my fan over the years,” Romney said at the time, referring to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “PETA has been after me for having a rodeo at the Olympics and were very, very upset about that. PETA was after me when I went quail hunting in Georgia. And PETA is not happy that my dog likes fresh air.”

For the crowd outside the dog show Tuesday, that explanation is evidence of Romney’s weakness as a candidate.

“I think this is an illustration of Mitt Romney’s odd judgment. It fits into the storyline of him being not all there and being not quite in tune with American values,” says Tate Hausman, his pug Sake sticking out of his backpack. Mr. Hausman says he learned about the protest from liberal advocacy group MoveOn.Org.

Although the Facebook group is not endorsing a candidate over Romney, most of the protesters say they support President Obama – some citing the way he treats first dog Bo.

The Obama campaign bought a banner ad that pops up when people Google the phrase Westminster Dog Show. The campaign’s new page on its website, Pet Lovers for Obama, which was created for the dog show, is an apparent allusion to Seamus.

The “Dogs against Romney” press release before the protest Tuesday promised dogs, but only a handful of protesters brought their pets, and members of the media outnumbered both dogs and the protesters.

The Democrats, meanwhile, are not the only ones pushing the issue. On Newt Gingrich’s website, he features a page called “Pets with Newt 2012,” and invites his supporters to send in pictures of their animals.

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