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.

Santorum seeks “strong showing” in two caucuses and a primary

Mitt Romney may have secured frontrunner status in the race for the Republican presidential nominee to take on Democrat Barack Obama in the general election –  but don’t count Rick Santorum out.

The former Pennsylavania senator has not won a Republican  nominating contest since he edged Romney in the Iowa caucuses. And the  “frontrunner” title briefly held by other  Romney rivals  has eluded Santorum.

But he’s still  standing and apparently planning on  sticking around for a bit longer –  even if he doesn’t pick up a triple win in two  caucuses (Colorado,  Minnesota)  and a primary (Missouri) on Tuesday.

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.

Washington Extra – Proposals to nowhere

A line kept cropping up in our stories from Washington today, something along the lines of “unlikely to be passed in Congress.”

President Obama went out to Falls Church, Virginia to tout his $5 billion to $10 billion plan to help homeowners refinance. The proposal, sketched out in last week’s State of the Union address, could provide relief to many locked into high rates by their homes’ sagging value. But it doesn’t look like it will overcome Republican opposition.

Democrats also introduced today the “Paying a Fair Share Act of 2012,” longhand for the “Buffett Rule” that Obama also raised in his address last week. The idea is that millionaires would pay a minimum 30 percent effective tax rate. It has almost no chance of passage in a Republican-controlled House that has sworn off tax increases.

Why did Romney quote Thomas Paine?

When White House seeker Mitt Romney told Obama to get out the way in his Florida primary victory speech on Tuesday, he evoked the words of Thomas Paine, an early American revolutionary who is in many ways a far cry from the archetypal role model for modern-day conservatives.

After beating his Republican rivals by a wide margin, an exuberant Romney told a crowd of cheering supporters: “In another era of American crisis, Thomas Paine is reported to have said, ‘Lead, follow, or get out of the way.’ Mr. President, you were elected to lead, you chose to follow, and now it’s time for you to get out of the way!”

There is debate over whether the quote can accurately be attributed to Paine, but Romney’s intention is clear. Since the beginning of his campaign, Romney has been courting adherents of the grassroots conservative Tea Party movement, many of them constitutional purists who glorify the founding fathers. But Paine doesn’t fit in neatly with some of the other 18th century political leaders who pushed for American independence from England.

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.

Bush recipe for wooing Hispanic voters

Republicans need to think of immigration as an economic issue — not just a border security issue, former Florida governor Jeb Bush wrote in a Washington Post opinion article on Wednesday, laying out a strategy for wooing Hispanic voters.

Bush, whose op-ed comes ahead of next Tuesday’s Florida primary, calls Hispanics “the most powerful swing voters,” predicting they’ll represent the margin of victory in the fifteen states likely to decide the 2012 presidential race.

“Although Democrats hold the edge, Republicans have an opportunity” to regain the momentum, Bush says.