Tales from the Trail

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.

“It’s good to remember the fact that there were some folks who were willing to let this industry die,” Obama said.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

U.S. set for 4th year of $1 trillion-plus deficit-CBO

The United States is headed for a fourth straight year with a $1 trillion-plus budget deficit, congressional forecasters said, giving Republicans ammunition to hammer President Obama’s spending record. The CBO report is the opening salvo in the 2012 debate over the appropriate size of the federal government in coming years and whether the wealthy should shoulder more of the burden in fixing a fiscal mess highlighted by a national debt that has topped $15 trillion and is racing higher.

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.

Florida Republicans speak out on immigration

Following another night of Republican primary candidates battling it out over the topic of immigration, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, speaking at a Hispanic Leadership conference in Miami on Friday, struck a conciliatory tone.

“We must admit that there are those among us that have used rhetoric that is harsh and intolerable and inexcusable,” he told the audience. “And we must admit — myself included — that sometimes we’ve been too slow to condemn that language for what it is.”

Rubio’s 20-minute speech, dedicated almost exclusively to the theme of immigration, reached far beyond the narrow Latino confines of Cuban Miami and was, at its heart, a challenge to his Republican colleagues. “I have challenged the Republican nominees and all Republicans to not just be the anti-illegal immigration party,” he said. “That’s not who we are, that’s not who we should be. We should be the pro-legal immigration party.”

Washington Extra – Timed release

Right before Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich tangle in tonight’s debate, we are supposed to get details of Gingrich’s work for troubled mortgage giant Freddie Mac from his former consulting firm.

The disclosure could shed light on what work Gingrich did in exchange for $ 1.6 million in consulting fees. What it for his historical acumen, as he has claimed, or his influence in Washington, as rivals for the Republican presidential nomination charge?

It could be interesting fodder for the debate if it comes out by 9 pm EST. Or it might just disappear in the heavy news flowing from the debate, which suggests the former consulting firm is doing Gingrich a favor by coming out at this strategic time.

Romney presses Gingrich on Freddie Mac fees

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is turning the tables on Newt Gingrich, putting the squeeze on the former House Speaker to disclose details of his financial relationship with Freddie Mac.

The Romney camp scheduled a conference call Monday morning to talk to reporters about Gingrich’s work as a “historian” (quote marks supplied by the campaign) for the government-owned mortgage finance giant.

Romney campaign surrogates former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Will Weatherford, Speaker Designate of the Florida House of Representatives, will be on the conference call — with the call code name “Definitely Not a Lobbyist.”

Hey, wavering Republicans – file by Halloween, or turn into a pumpkin

A January 31 Florida primary would offer a big treat for anyone tired of the ‘will she/won’t he’ speculation about possible new entries to the Republican presidential field — a hard deadline, on Halloween.

Florida officials say the state is expected to move up its primary to the January date, which means that candidates have until Oct. 31 — Halloween — to file paperwork to get their names on the ballot in the vote-rich state.

Florida is the fourth-most populous state, with more than 18 million people, and it is by far the largest of the “swing states” not strongly aligned with either political party, where U.S. elections are typically decided.