Tales from the Trail

Santorum courts Texas conservatives

By Judy Wiley

Roughly  1,000 supporters filled the Fairview Farms Corral Barn in Plano, Texas and spilled out the door  of the party hall where they’d come to see the man in the day’s political spotlight — Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum.

Those who stood outside in the cold could only hear bits and pieces of Santorum’s talk, but that didn’t stop them from cheering after he raised his voice to declare, “Now is the time for America to rise up and say, “Enough!”

They took up a chant of “We pick Rick,” after he asked, “Are you going to give me the opportunity?”

Santorum’s  visit  to The Lone Star State opened  14 miles away in McKinney at a forum with  local pastors. Between the Bella Donna Chapel  and the barn at Fairview Farms, there was a stop at a Plano hotel ballroom where some 300 supporters turned out to “meet-and-greet” Santorum.

The Wednesday night rally at the Corral Barn  capped a  Texas campaign swing, with an exuberant Santorum buoyed  by  his three-state sweep in Tuesday’s GOP  nominating contests.

Washington Extra – A great gift

At the Bella Donna Chapel in McKinney, Texas today, a resurrected Rick Santorum reveled in his underdog role in this riveting Republican primary season.

“Nobody ever thinks I can win anything,” Santorum told a gathering of pastors. “The gift of being underestimated is a great gift.”

Santorum may not have robbed Mitt Romney of his top dog status with a triple primary win on Tuesday. But days after being dismissed as an also-ran, he now gets some serious consideration from key constituents.

More grief for “The Mitt” with backing from The Donald?

Mitt Romney, Donald Trump said in a surprise endorsement from Las Vegas this afternoon, would make a “tough” and “smart” president who wouldn’t “allow bad things to continue to happen to this country we all love.”

But it wasn’t clear that backing from Trump, a real estate mogul who cultivates an aura of glitz and glamour, would help Romney, the former private equity executive who has a net worth estimated at some $270 million and fights charges by critics that he is out of touch with the concerns of average Americans.

Democrats pounced on the opportunity to draw parallels between Romney and the television personality, claiming in a video that alluded to Trump’s starring role on the reality television program, “The Apprentice,” that Romney nabbed Trump’s endorsement because “they both like firing people.”

Washington Extra – Combat ready?

The Obama administration is known to be methodical when it comes to its messaging. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s declaration that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan might end next year seems to have caught people here and overseas by surprise.

Today, everyone from Panetta to White House spokesman Jay Carney to NATO allies tried to tamp down notions that a major policy shift was underway. But many were still scratching their head about whether there is now a new U.S. timetable for winding down a war that is over a decade old.

One senior NATO official summed up the potential for confusion with a mind-bending quote: “He (Panetta) said the combat role will come to an end but he also said combat will continue. And that’s exactly what I’m saying.”

Gingrich to get Trump recommendation – media reports

The “major announcement”  Donald Trump will make   Thursday afternoon  in Las Vegas is that he is endorsing the presidential bid of  former House Speaker Newt Gingrich,  according to media reports.

The CBS affiliate in Las Vegas, KLAS  TV reports  sources confirmed  what Trump would say.  Earlier a Trump spokesman said only that the impending announcement would pertain to the campaign.

Trump’s announcement will come two days before the Republican  caucuses in  Nevada, the next state in the party’s presidential nominating contest.

First lady likes Obama’s voice; rates Romney singing ‘beautiful’

Michelle Obama might have been one of the few people in the United States who knew President Barack Obama could actually carry a tune before he surprised an Apollo Theater audience this month.

In her debut appearance on NBC “The Tonight Show” as first lady, Mrs. Obama told host Jay Leno that her husband sings to her all the time.  She said she even knew what song it would be when she heard about his singing a line from Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Mrs. Obama gave a very tiny demonstration before conceding that the president was the better singer. Obama said her husband has a beautiful voice.

Asked about the performance turned in by Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney singing “America the Beautiful” on the campaign trail in Florida, Mrs. Obama said “its beautiful.”

Washington Extra – Driver’s seat

The day the Congressional Budget Office forecast that the United States is headed for its fourth straight year with a $1 trillion-plus budget deficit, President Obama touted the benefits of big government spending.

His venue? The Washington auto show. His tools? Shiny new American cars, preferably those from General Motors and Chrysler. Those were the two companies that received billions in a 2009 taxpayer funded bailout that has obviously paid off, both for the automakers and the Obama administration.

The president got behind the wheels of muscle cars, SUVs, trucks, and fuel efficient and electric models and proclaimed “The U.S. auto industry is back.” But he couldn’t just leave it at that, for there were more political points to score. He did so by taking a veiled swipe at his most likely opponent in the November election – Mitt Romney – for having opposed the bailout that helped bring Detroit back from the brink.

Obama tells high-tech worker: Send me your resume

By Samson Reiny

President Barack Obama, whose chances for re-election may rest on his ability to show U.S. voters he is doing all he can to reduce unemployment, offered on Monday to personally pass along the resume of an unemployed engineer to potential employers.

Fielding a question from a woman on a Google+ online chat session who asked why the government continues to grant H1 visas even as her semi conductor engineer husband cannot find a job after three years of searching, Obama said the difficulty was surprising to him because he often hears business leaders in that field talk of a scarcity of skilled workers.

“If you send me your husband’s resume I’d be interested in finding out exactly what’s happening there,” he said, offering to forward the resume “to some of these companies that are telling me they can’t find enough engineers in this field.”

Hard to believe there’s room for TV programs in Florida

For those voters in Florida who have felt overwhelmed by political advertisements this primary season — you have been.

By January 25, Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney and his supporters had aired almost 13,000 advertisements on broadcast television in the state, compared with only about 200 spots from Romney’s main rival, Newt Gingrich, and outside groups supporting his presidential aspirations, according to data from Kantar Media/CMAG with analysis by the Wesleyan University media project.

And that was six days before Florida holds its primary on Tuesday.

With the blizzard of ads, Romney has seen his place in the polls leap upward in Florida. He went from trailing Gingrich by 5-9 percent in polls of the state taken a week ago, to leading by an average of 12.5 percent. A week ago, Gingrich was fresh off his upset victory in on Jan. 21 in South Carolina, where he defeated Romney by 12 percentage points.

Washington Extra – Coy in California

California prides itself on setting trends for the nation. This week, it may be the state that bucks the trend if it decides to abstain from a multi-state and federal settlement with the big banks on mortgage abuses.

States must say by the end of this week whether they are in or out of the deal and California is very much in doubt. Attorney General Kamala Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party, is concerned the banks may get off too easily. Just last week, her people were calling the settlement “inadequate.”

But can she afford to walk away from more than $10 billion that homeowners could collect in her state, where the housing crisis has ravaged communities from Stockton to San Diego? And would she be able to get more for them if she went it alone?