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.”

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’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.

Washington Extra – Etch A Sketch

Ah, if life were only like an Etch A Sketch, a little shake would allow us to erase those mistakes and messy parts. But to invoke the magical toy to explain Mitt Romney’s presidential hopes might have been a mistake, one worth erasing with a shake.

It seems that every Romney win is followed by a Romney gaffe. This time, after his Illinois victory last night, it was not the candidate who stepped in it, but rather his adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, who wanted to talk about what Romney would be like in a general election against President Obama.

“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again,” Fehrnstrom told CNN.

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.

Rick Santorum makes appeal to women, new campaign strategy?

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum hailed the influence of strong, independent women on Tuesday night, a turnaround from his past statements that critics have called sexist or anti-women.

In a concession speech given just as rival Mitt Romney won the Republican presidential primaries of Arizona and Michigan, Santorum took the chance to tell voters “a little more about who Rick Santorum is” and sang the praises of his 93-year-old grandmother, his wife Karen, a former lawyer who gave up work to raise their family, and their daughter Elizabeth who campaigns for her dad on her own.

“I grew up with a very strong mom, someone who was a professional person who taught me a lot of things about… balancing work and family, and doing it well, and doing it with a big heart and commitment,” he said.

Economy should be focus of 2012 election, GOP governors say

By Samson Reiny

As the battle for the Republican presidential nomination rages on between front-runner Mitt Romney and a resurgent Rick Santorum, governors from their party today said that economic recovery – not social issues – would be the main concern among voters heading to the ballot box in November.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, speaking after the National Governor’s Association’s annual meeting at the White House, said the divergent fiscal beliefs between Republicans and Democrats would be decisive for voters this election season.

“This president, President Obama, believes in a larger centralized government,” Jindal said, underscoring three straight years of trillion-plus dollar deficits undertaken under the current administration. “You’re going to contrast that with the Republican philosophy of limited government, of lower spending, of balancing our budgets, of growing the private sector economy.”

Why Romney’s parents are buried in Brighton, Michigan

Kalamazoo, Michigan – Sometimes one story leads to another for Mitt Romney.

At Western Michigan University, the Republican presidential candidate told a packed house his parents, George and Lenore Romney, had campaigned in the same conference room when George ran for Michigan governor and Lenore ran for a U.S. Senate seat decades ago.

This reminded him that his campaign bus had taken him past Brighton, Michigan, where his parents are buried, on the way to Kalamazoo.

Santorum explains “phony theology” comment

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum says he wasn’t questioning Barack Obama’s faith on Saturday when he said the Democratic president’s agenda was based on “some phony theology.”

Santorum explained his comments during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, saying he was questioning the president’s world view — not his faith.

“I accept the fact that the president’s Christian,” Santorum said. “I just said that when you have a world view that elevates the earth above man says that, you know, we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the earth by things that are frankly just not scientifically proven.”

Santorum: backer’s contraceptives comment was bad joke

“It was a stupid joke,” Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum says about a wealthy backer’s “aspirins for contraceptives” comment.

Whatever it was, Santorum — a staunch social conservative – said he’s not going to be responsible for what his supporters say.

“I’m not going to play that game,” the former Pennsylvania senator told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren Thursday night when asked about what Foster Friess said earlier in the day.