Tales from the Trail

Obama and Romney wrangle over welfare policy

The Obama administration’s July change to a 1996 bipartisan welfare-to-work law has devolved into a mudslinging contest on the campaign trail.

In a 30-second television advertisement released on Monday, Mitt Romney’s campaign asserted that President Obama “has a long history of opposing work for welfare.” Romney initially launched the welfare attack in Obama’s home state of Illinois last week in a coordinated stump speech and television ad accusing the president of loosening work requirements built into the law, which proponents say moved millions off of welfare.

The plan, put forth by the Health and Human Services Department, allows states to seek waivers from the work requirements baked into the law. The states need to prove the success of their models by moving at least 20 percent more people off of welfare to work or they lose their waivers.

The Obama campaign responded last week with a 30-second television spot – “Blatant” – denying Romney’s claim that the waivers end the welfare law’s work requirements. That ad was set to air in seven hotly contested states, the campaign said, including Iowa, where Obama kicked-off a three-day bus tour on Monday, and was timed to run in states where Romney and Ryan are campaigning — Florida and Iowa, respectively.

Deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, in a conference call with reporters, harshly condemned the Romney campaign’s attack, the latest in a campaign season marked by out-of-context attack lines.

Blunt says to keep an eye on Virginia

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican who is Mitt Romney’s point person in Congress, doesn’t think Ohio or Florida will be the main states to watch on election night. He will have his eyes on Virginia.

In an interview at the annual Reuters Washington Summit, Blunt was asked which state was the one to monitor in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election between President Barack Obama and Romney.

“Virginia,” he said. “If I was watching one state on election night, it would be a state I’d [watch].”

Santorum swears while chewing out reporter

Republican hopeful Rick Santorum cursed during an angry exchange with a New York Times reporter on Sunday, casting a shadow on the image he’s crafted as a social conservative and Christian candidate, and giving fodder to critics who are calling it the “the latest tantorum” meltdown.

At a rally in Wisconsin, a reporter questioned Santorum about calling his rival, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, “the worst Republican” to run against Democratic President Barack Obama. In an earlier speech Santorum equated health care legislation enacted during Romney’s governorship of Massachusetts with Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul.

Visibly annoyed, Santorum asked the reporter, “What speech did you listen to?” and told him to “stop lying.” After accusing the reporter and the media in general of disregarding the truth, Santorum cursed before shaking his head and walking away.

Romney uses Mormon faith to deflect attention from wealth

Romney rarely has spoken about his religion during the primary campaign, conscious perhaps of polls showing that as many as half of white evangelicals believe the Mormon religion is not a Christian faith. In one of the few times he has highlighted his church, he made Rick Perry seem intolerant for refusing to disavow Pastor Robert Jeffress’s assertion that Mormonism is a “cult.”

Now Romney is talking about Mormonism in order to head off the perception that he’s an out-of-touch rich guy  — a view reinforced by his attempt to silence Perry’s attacks on his healthcare record by offering him a $10,000 bet during Saturday’s Republican presidential debate. Given his personal wealth, estimated at $250 million, Romney needs to avoid any more moments that make him look like Judge Elihu Smails, the country club president from “Caddyshack” who tried to use his money and background to purge the club of undesirables like the brash outsider Al Czervik, played by Rodney Dangerfield (and, yes, Caddyshack culminated in a bet between the two).

Today at a lumber mill in northern New Hampshire, Romney hearkened back to his ten years spent moonlighting as a Mormon pastor while living in Boston. That work included counseling those who had lost their jobs or were in dire financial circumstances. “What struck me, not having grown up in poverty, was revealing and important to me,” he said.

Notes from Freedom, New Hampshire

(View an in-depth look at scenes from Iowa and New Hampshire in a downloadable pdf format here and a look ahead to the primaries here)

MANY STILL WAITING FOR THE RIGHT REPUBLICAN

It’s no secret that many Republican voters — the ones who are even paying attention at all — are not crazy about this year’s crop of presidential candidates. Surveys have showed the enthusiasm level running low.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul has passionate followers, though, and drew a sizable crowd in iconically-named Freedom, New Hampshire, population 1,489, on Friday.

GOP presidential field – looking Perry promising?

With polls showing President Barack Obama beating any current 2012 Republican presidential hopeful, some party leaders are casting around for additional contenders, especially those who are well-known and might appeal more to the party’s most conservative wing.

One name that has come up repeatedly is Texas Governor Rick Perry, a conservative Republican and rising star in the Tea Party movement who fueled speculation last year that he might run for the White House by going on a national tour to publicize his book “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington,” which takes aim at what he sees an intrusive and expansive federal government.

Perry has in the past emphatically said he will not run, but he more recently has seemed to be leaving the door slightly open by saying for now he is focused on Texas’ legislative session, which ends on May 30.

Will Obama be a $1 billion man? Democrats say not so fast

A persistent theme of President Barack Obama’s nascent re-election bid has been an expectation that the Democratic incumbent – who amassed a $750 million war chest when he won the White House in 2008 — will break his record this time and become the first candidate to raise $1 billion in campaign funds for 2012. 

The logic behind that figure? One bit of reasoning is that Obama and his then-rival Hillary Clinton together raised far more than $1 billion in 2008, showing there are plenty of Democratic wallets out there waiting to be opened this time.

Democratic Party officials have issued repeated dire warnings about Republicans’ fund-raising prowess, especially in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision that allowed unlimited spending by corporations, labor unions and other groups. Democrats say secret donations allowed under Citizens United helped fuel the Republicans’ huge success in the 2010 mid-terms.

Giuliani ponders 2012 presidential run

rudy

Add Rudy Giuliani to the list of Republicans who may be eyeing a run for the White House in 2012 — but isn’t quite ready to say for certain.

Still,  the lawyer, businessman and former New York mayor tells CNBC it is definitely something he will be considering.

“I will take a look at 2012. It’s really a question of, can I play a useful role? Would I have a chance of getting the nomination? Those are things that I’ll have to evaluate as the year goes along,” Giuliani said in an interview Thursday.

from Reuters Investigates:

Following the money in O’Donnell’s campaign

Mark Hosenball has been in Delaware and Pennsylvania reporting on the midterm election campaign for our special report "Conservative donors let Christine O'Donnell sink."

If that's not enough O'Donnell for you, here's his report from a bastion of conservative thinking in Delaware:

By Mark Hosenball

Republican Delaware senate candidate Christine O'Donnell may be the darling of both national and local Tea Party groups. But she's not particularly beloved at one of Delaware's most august and esteemed conservative organizations.

Feingold trails in new Reuters-Ipsos poll

USALiberal stalwart Russ Feingold trails his Republican challenger by 7 percentage points in a new Reuters-Ipsos poll of Wisconsin’s Senate race released on Tuesday.

With less than a month to go before the Nov. 2 elections, Republican Ron Johnson leads Feingold, a Democrat, 51 percent to 44 percent among likely voters.

That’s good news for Republicans, who are counting on a Wisconsin victory to help win control of the Senate. Not so good for Democrats, who could see the three-term incumbent swept out of office due to worries about the economy.