Tales from the Trail

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.

Michael Gamble, a pastor from McKinney, said he was moved by Santorum’s talk to the religious leaders about his family. “Today (Santorum) completely won me over,” he said. “I think he represents the Kingdom of God.”

This Roman Catholic father of seven and social conservative may also have the gift of impeccable timing. Santorum’s second surge – his first coming right before the Iowa caucuses which he won – takes place in the midst of a polarizing debate over religious freedom and access to birth control. Santorum has the gift of the gab when it comes to issues like that.

Washington Extra – Looking for love

Is three a crowd?

Republican candidates wooing voters are hoping for a “Yes” in three nominating contests tonight.

Mitt Romney went looking for votes in Loveland, hoping Colorado will give him an early Valentine.

The walls were lined with stuffed animals including a bobcat and raccoon and the candidate kept ‘em waiting.

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.

Romney goes after Obama on healthcare, contraception

Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney on Monday joined a battle over a part of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law that has outraged Catholic bishops.

Under new provisions outlined by Obama’s administration, Catholic hospitals, schools and charities will be required to provide health insurance for their employees covering contraception even if though it violates the church’s teachings.

Catholic bishops’ complaints about the law have filtered onto the Republican campaign trail to find a challenger to Obama in the presidential election next Nov. 6.

Washington Extra – God awful

As welcomes go, this might be one of the most colorful (and perplexing) in recent memory. One week before he is to help host Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden took a double jab at China’s economic growth prospects and its one-child policy.

“Because of that God-awful one-child policy they have, what happens now is in the next 20 years they’re going to have such an inverse proportion of the number of people working to the number of people retired that there is no way they can sustain that growth,” Biden said.

The apparently unscripted remarks came during a speech about college affordability in Florida. He was trying to make the case that the United States remains the world’s largest economy and is “better positioned than any other country in the world to lead the 21st century.”

Obama – “I deserve a second term”

President Barack Obama said on Sunday he deserves to be re-elected despite having said three years ago that he’d be a one-term president if he didn’t turn the economy around.

“I deserve a second term, but we’re not done,” Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer in an interview broadcast before the Super Bowl game. Obama listed his administration’s economic achievements but said they weren’t finished.

“We’ve made progress, and the key right now is just, make sure that we don’t start turning in a new direction, that could throw that progress off,” Obama said.

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.

First lady likes Obama’s voice; rates Romney singing ‘beautiful’

Michelle Obama might have been one of the few people in the United States who knew President Barack Obama could actually carry a tune before he surprised an Apollo Theater audience this month.

In her debut appearance on NBC “The Tonight Show” as first lady, Mrs. Obama told host Jay Leno that her husband sings to her all the time.  She said she even knew what song it would be when she heard about his singing a line from Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Mrs. Obama gave a very tiny demonstration before conceding that the president was the better singer. Obama said her husband has a beautiful voice.

Asked about the performance turned in by Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney singing “America the Beautiful” on the campaign trail in Florida, Mrs. Obama said “its beautiful.”