Tales from the Trail

Skipping Super PAC, Santorum backer Friess spends on his own

By Alina Selyukh and Alexander Cohen

Republican Rick Santorum’s main financial backer has gone rogue on the pro-Santorum “Super PAC” with his own, personal spending in support of the U.S. presidential hopeful.

Wyoming millionaire investor Foster Friess has given $1.6 million to the independent political action committee (PAC) backing Santorum – the Red, White and Blue Fund – as its largest donor.

Now he has bypassed the Super PAC and spent $1,176 on a pro-Santorum radio ad entirely on his own, according to a report with the Federal Election Commission posted online on Thursday.

The radio spot went up in Friess’ hometown of Rice Lake in Wisconsin, a state that’s hosting the next contest in the race for the Republican party nomination.

“It’s not a Super PAC, it’s just me doing an independent expenditure,” Friess told Reuters. “I wanted to tell my hometown folks what I know about Rick Santorum and my lawyers said I should report it.”

Who’s out of touch? Biden takes aim at Romney on economy

Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday accused Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney of disregarding the importance of the manufacturing sector as a source of jobs for middle class Americans and said the former Massachusetts governor had offered “consistently wrong” remedies for the U.S. economy.

In a campaign speech in Davenport, Iowa, a key battleground state in the general election, Biden also said Romney showed a lot of “chutzpah” by suggesting President Barack Obama was “out of touch” with ordinary Americans.

“Out of touch? Romney?” Biden said to laughter from his audience at an Iowa factory. “I mean, pretty remarkable, pretty remarkable.”

Romney’s small dollar disconnect

After his win in Illinois on Tuesday, Mitt Romney is looking to convince Republicans around the country that he’s their ultimate nominee.

But despite his lead in the delegate count, Romney continues to lag behind his rivals in raising money from so-called small-dollar donors, supporters who donate less than $200. Donations from people who contributed less than $200 — often viewed as a gauge of popular appeal — are filed as “unitemized” donations with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

FEC filings on Tuesday showed Romney’s campaign has so far raised $7.5 million from small donors, which comprises only 10 percent of his fundraising. That proportion has roughly remained the same throughout the campaign.

Will Romney’s “dog problem” hound him forever?

Given the widespread publicity that Mitt Romney’s “dog problem” continues to receive – it was on the front page of the Washington Post just last week – it’s no surprise that a polling group decided to see if the issue could resonate at the ballot box, or merely be the crate-gate scandal that launched a thousand late-night jokes.

The story, discovered by the Boston Globe in 2007, goes something like this. In 1983 Romney, then a 36-year-old rising star in the private equity world, loaded up the family station wagon with five sons and luggage for a long trek from Boston to Ontario, Canada. Seamus, the family’s Irish Setter, was put into his dog crate, which was then strapped to the top of the car. Romney’s plan was to make the 12-hour drive with customary pinpoint precision, stopping just once for gas, snacks and ablutions. But Seamus, whether terrified or over-excited, at some point soiled himself, as the boys discovered when they saw brown liquid running down the car window. Romney, the efficiency expert, quickly pulled into a nearby gas station to hose down the car, and the dog, calm down the kids, and get back on the road.

The ancient tale has spawned dozens of newspaper articles and television segments, especially as Romney has become 2012’s presumptive GOP nominee. It has also created its own protest movement, Dogs Against Romney, which has close to 42,000 followers on Facebook.

Republican presidential primaries leaving African American voters cold

Some Republicans have talked about building a broader coalition as they fight Democratic President Barack Obama’s bid for re-election this year. But so far at least, they seem to be making no inroads in attracting black voters to back the party’s candidates in the primary race for the nomination to oppose the first African-American U.S. president in November.

The two Southern states that held Republican primaries on March 13, Alabama and Mississippi, are among those with the largest black populations – as a percentage of the total – of any in the United States. Mississippi, which is 37 percent black, is number one, and Alabama, at 26.2 percent, is sixth.

But according to CNN’s exit polls, only two percent of the voters in each state on Tuesday were black, a number so low that their support for any of the Republican presidential candidates registered as N/A — too small to register a preference. As John Nichols points out in The Nation, the results have been similar in other states that have held primaries so far. South Carolina, for example, is 27.9 percent black but had a 1 percent black voter turnout in the Republican primary, and in Michigan, which is 14.2 percent black, 2 percent of voters in the Republican primary were black.

Newt’s home field advantage was among the weakest

Newt Gingrich faces some do-or-die primary contests in Dixie, his supposed home turf, over the next few days. Alabama and Mississippi hold their respective Republican primaries on Tuesday with Gingrich, the former U.S. House Speaker, and former Senator Rick Santorum expected to compete for, and potentially split, the conservative/evangelical vote.

Gingrich, though, didn’t do that well on his actual home turf – Georgia – during the Super Tuesday contests. Sure, the former history and geography professor at the University of West Georgia and 20-year representative of the state’s 6th Congressional district won 47.2 percent of the Republican vote in the Peachtree State. But according to political scientist Eric Ostermeier, that was one of the worst home-state primary performances by a Republican in decades.

Ostermeier, from the Humphrey School’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, writes the blog Smart Politics, which plumbs the political data for noteworthy facts and trends.

Romney’s religion still an issue for many Republicans

Mitt Romney might be looking to open up an unassailable lead over rival Rick Santorum in the 10 “Super Tuesday” nominating contests, but he still faces questions among many of his fellow Republicans about his Mormon religion, according to recent NBC/Marist poll results.

NBC/Marist found that large numbers of Republicans voters — a range of 37 to 44 percent — in two of the states holding primaries on March 6 – Ohio and Virginia – and others that voted last week - Michigan and Arizona  – do not believe that Mormons are Christians, or are unsure whether they are.

The percentages were the same in Virginia, Ohio and Michigan, where 44 percent of likely Republican primary voters said they did not believe that Mormons are Christians or were not sure, and 56 percent said they do believe a Mormon is a Christian, according to the polls. Polling was done in all of the states before they held their primaries.

The 99 percent comes out to protest Romney in Seattle

Republican Mitt Romney has rarely faced a critical mass of protesters during his months-long campaign for the White House. But then, he doesn’t often visit the Left Coast. And protesters were out in force in Seattle on Thursday night when Romney held a fundraiser at a civic center in Bellevue, Washington, near Seattle, attended by the local political establishment and well-heeled locals.

The complex holding the event also contained the upscale “Shops at the Bravern” mall. After the event fund-raisers could have slipped out to pick up a few items at Hermes, Louis Vuitton or Jimmy Choo.

About 100 protesters turned up for a spirited but peaceful demonstration with signs, props and inventive chants, including some of those who have participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement. A cardboard cutout of the candidate was on the scene, holding a sign that said “Of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent.” Various protesters were dressed as buildings to illustrate Romney’s “corporations are people” meme.

Pro-Gingrich Super PAC hits Romney in new ad

Winning Our Future, the Super PAC supporting Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, is back at it again — animated advertising, that is.

The Super PAC has been on something of a TV hiatus since Gingrich’s stunning South Carolina win in late January, in part because it appeared to be running out of money. The group has been almost exclusively funded by Las Vegas Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who we now know wrote a new “substantial” check to the group a few days ago.

The money is in part funding three new ads, one of which brings back the cartoon rendering of Romney and Obama we met in the Super PAC’s first animated creation in January.

Santorum, Paul voters turn out at one Phoenix poll

Mitt Romney may be leading in the polls in Arizona, but a clutch of voters who turned out early on a blustery morning at a school in central Phoenix favored Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

“Some of the other candidates might be too much of a Slick Rick. Santorum plays the game the way I like it,” said Sarah Moran, who works in business development. “He comes across as a little bit more real and in touch than Romney.”

Citing his support for Israel, contractor Rand Vogel said he voted for Santorum — and said he did not trust Romney.