Chicago Sun-Times
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January 2012 Archives

Illinois Democratic House hopeful Ilya Sheyman led fourth quarter fund-raising in the north suburban 10th congressional district.

Money raised, as of Dec. 31, 2011:

Ilya Sheyman....... $180,000
Brad Schneider.... 134,000
John Tree............ 101,000

TAMPA, FL.--The Obama team raised $68 million in the last quarter of 2011 and
released its latest list of bundlers on Tuesday--its elite fund-raising corps of people who raised at least $50,000 tapping their networks to get people to donate to a candidate.

The GOP White House hopefuls have refused to make public their major donors--and front-runner Mitt Romney has an elite finance committee, just as President Barack Obama does.

The $68 million total comes from money collected for the Obama 2012 re-election campaign based in Chicago and the Democratic National Committee in Washington. The two groups as a practical matter function mainly as one when it comes to fund-raising to re-elect Obama.

The bundler list, current to Dec. 31, 2011, the latest available is at

From the Obama 2012 campaign: "In the 4th quarter of 2011, $68 million were raised to help reelect President Obama. 583,000 donors gave to the campaign in q4, 200,000 of whom had never given before, even in 2008. The average contribution this quarter was $55, and 98 percent of our contributions were $250 or less."

newt tiger suit.jpg
Sun-Times front page Jan. 31, 2012

Updated with Gingrich reaction...

CLEARWATER, FL.--Newt Gingrich's spokesman shrugged off Tuesday a federal lawsuit filed in Chicago alleging the GOP White House hopeful used the 1982 hit "Eye of the Tiger" the rock group Survivor at events without permission.

Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday, "It is my understanding that the band wants $200,000 because someone played their song.

"That's one expensive concert ticket."

The lawsuit was filed Monday by Chicago-born Frankie Sullivan who wrote the song with Jim Peterik "in the music room of Peterik's west suburban LaGrange home at Sylvester Stallone's request in late 1981, four years after Survivor was formed. Stallone was looking for a theme song for "Rocky III," the Sun-Times reported.

The Chicago Sun-Times story is HERE.

Planning for the May NATO and G-8 meetings in Chicago is ramping up: On Tuesday, two White House advisors--Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, and Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Senior Director for European Affairs--hit Chicago for a series of briefings on the substantive foreign policy issues the global leaders will be discussing. The White House said the trip is also to "ensure the Summits highlight Chicago as the best of America and support our national security goals."

Rhodes and Sherwood-Randall will be meeting with the Host Committee, the large consular corps and local journalists.

Meanwhile, teams from Washington--the "planning task force" --have been working on the physical planning--venues for events, etc. The summits' main meetings will take place in the McCormick Place complex but there will be a variety of related events--including probably head of state spouse programs--at other sites.

More background: Most of the focus so far in Chicago has been on logistics because of the potential for large numbers of protestors and local concerns about the costs that the city may be saddled with--though federal dollars are expected to cover a lot of the bills. Worried about protestors, downtown and Michigan Avenue business owners were warned recently to step up security in May. Mayor Rahm Emanuel--who as President Obama's former chief of staff arranged for Chicago to host the NATO and G-8 sessions-- has tangled with the City Council and outside groups over some of his security plans, seen as overly restrictive.

In April, Emanuel is also bringing to Chicago the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, where former awardees come to the city for an international three-day event called "Speak Up, Speak Out for Freedom and Rights."

Locally, Emanuel created a Chicago G-8 and NATO Host Committee at the non-profit World Business Chicago to be the lead in working with NATO, the G-8, the White House, the State Department and local business, cultural, education, neighborhood and other groups. Chicago has a big diplomatic, or consular corps, one of the largest in the nation with representatives from 76 nations running missions in the city.

How the arrangements are being made, from the White House: "The White House is working in collaboration with NATO and Chicago's Host Committee on the planning of the G-8 and NATO Summits to be held in Chicago this May.

"Over the next several months you'll see officials from Washington, Brussels and Chicago visiting one another's respective cities for consultations in support of the Summits.

"One such visit is occurring today, when Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, and Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Senior Director for European Affairs, will be in Chicago to consult with the Host Committee and local Consular corps. Mr. Rhodes and Ms. Sherwood-Randall will exchange views with these groups on how we can best work together to ensure the Summits highlight Chicago as the best of America and support our national security goals. Mr. Rhodes and Ms. Sherwood-Randall will also speak to a small group of journalists covering the Summits to talk about the significance of hosting the G-8 and NATO Summits to U.S. foreign policy.

"At last year's G-8 Leaders Summit in Deauville, France, President Obama joined other heads of state and government from France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, Russia, and the European Union. During the two-day Summit, the President and other Leaders agreed to closely cooperate on a wide range of key global priorities. We look forward to hosting these leaders in the United States and discussing a similarly wide range of priorities this year.

"Meanwhile, America's relationship with our NATO Allies is a cornerstone of our engagement with the world, and enhances both our security and the democratic values that we share. At a time when we have dealt huge blows to al Qaeda and are winding down our wars abroad, the Chicago Summit will advance goals that the United States shares with NATO: achieving our objectives in Afghanistan; reforming NATO so that it has the capabilities it needs; and strengthening partnerships beyond NATO's borders."

NATO run-up to Chicago summit: In Brussels on Monday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a press conference, "in Chicago we hope to announce the interim capability for our missile defence system.

"In Chicago we will also make clear our enduring commitment to Afghanistan, which remains our top operational priority. Afghanistan is moving in the right direction. Transition to Afghan security lead is on schedule and is making steady progress."

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich take their brawl to Nevada Wednesday for another round -- likely even uglier than the Florida primary here Romney is poised to win Tuesday.

A buoyant, cheerful and loose (for him) Romney all but predicted victory in Tuesday's Florida primary as he assailed Gingrich at a rally here as a "sad" and "flailing" rival.

Under a cloudless sky and warm weather, the frontrunner spoke to a crowd filling Pioneer Park in this pretty, small town near Tampa.

"With a turnout like this, I'm beginning to feel we might win tomorrow, what do you think?" said Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. Every poll shows Romney with a healthy lead over Gingrich, trailed by Rick Santorum and Ron Paul who also plan a vault to Nevada for the Saturday caucus.

Gingrich, the former House speaker, has been unable to build on his South Carolina victory here. He has been complaining on the stump and in interviews about the nastiness -- he calls it Romney's "dishonesty" -- that erupted in Florida.

The days of Gingrich bragging about his positive Iowa campaign seem a distant past, though it was only a few weeks ago.

In Florida, Gingrich was outspent and outmaneuvered by an aggressive Romney operation. Florida's Tea Party movement never picked a favorite and that probably didn't help Gingrich either.

Romney noted Gingrich's complaints and almost seemed to cheerfully taunt him at the Dunedin rally.

"Gosh, you know, I know the speaker is not real happy," Romney said. "Speaker Gingrich is not feeling very excited these days. . . . I know, it's sad.

"He's been flailing around a bit trying to go after me for one thing or the other, you just watch it and you shake your head. It's been kind of painfully revealing to watch. I think the reason that he isn't doing so well is because of those last two debates, don't you think?"

The "real reason" Gingrich struggled in Florida, Romney said -- offering pre-victory analysis -- was Gingrich's consulting work for Freddie Mac.

Nevada, as is Florida, has been crippled by the collapse of the housing market. The Romney team jammed Gingrich on his consulting contract with Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage enterprise. Gingrich's protests that the $1 million went to his firm -- and that he worked for Freddie Mac as a "historian" -- did not neutralize Freddie Mac as an issue.

Romney made it crystal clear Freddie Mac was not going away. Romney warned that the Republicans cannot beat President Barack Obama in November if their nominee had to carry the baggage of the housing crisis.

Noting Florida's status as a crucial November general election battleground state in 2012 -- reprising a role the state played in 2008 and 2000 -- Romney said, "And here in Florida, if you are part of the housing crisis, you're probably not going to get elected president."

CNN's John King asked Gingrich on Monday if he will have a different strategy in Nevada and the other upcoming states.

"I think what you'll see us do is be very explicit about just how liberal he is and just how dishonest he is," Gingrich said.

"And I think you'll see us laying out for the country, you want -- you want RomneyCare and ObamaCare? They're the same person," Gingrich said, ticking off some new issues he will press, including Romney's record while governor in dealing with Catholic hospitals and abortion. Gingrich, citing a New York Post story, said he will also bring up Romney cutting off "kosher food for elderly Jews on Medicare."

DUNEDIN, FL.--While the attention is on the Tuesday Republican primary here, the Obama 2012 re-election team has been organizing in this state for months and already has 11 Florida offices.

Florida is a key battleground in 2012 as it was in 2008, when Obama beat John McCain 51.03 percent to 48.22 percent. And remember 2000, when former President Bush, with the help of hanging chads, beat Al Gore 48.85 per cent to 48.84 percent.

Here are highlights of the Chicago-based Obama campaign on-the-ground organizing in the Sunshine state:

• 194 State of the Union Watch Parties ranging from Key West all the way to Pensacola.

• Held nearly 3,000 trainings, planning sessions, house parties, and phone banks.

• Held 4,500+ one-on-one meetings.

• Opened 11 campaign offices across the state, including in Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Palm Beach County, Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Mitt Romney at rally in Dunedin, Fl. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

DUNEDIN, FL.--A buoyant, cheerful and loose--for him--Mitt Romney all but predicted victory in Tuesday's Florida primary at a rally here as he assailed Newt Gingrich as a "sad" and "flailing" rival.

"With a turnout like this, I'm beginning to feel we might win tomorrow, what do you think?" Romney said. Every poll shows Romney with a healthy lead over Gingrich, trailed by Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

Gingrich, who won the South Carolina primary has been complaining about the nastiness that simmered in South Carolina and erupted in Florida.

"Gosh, you know, I know the Speaker is not real happy, " Romney said. "Speaker Gingrich is not feeling very excited these days. ...I know, it's sad.

"He's been flailing around a bit trying to go after me for one thing or the other, you just watch it and you shake your head. It's been kind of painfully revealing to watch. I think the reason that he isn't doing so well is because of those last two debates, don't you think?"

Gingrich's South Carolina win was fueled by two grand slam debate performances. In Florida--with two debate, in Jacksonville and Tampa--Gingrich was flat and Romney was newly crisp and animated.

Under a cloudless sky and warm weather--Romney did contrast this with the wintery primaries of New Hampshire and Iowa--the frontrunner spoke to a crowd filling Pioneer Park in this pretty small city just north of Clearwater and near Tampa.

He was introduced by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who mocked President Barack Obama's famous 2008 "hope" and "change" slogans.

"Are you ready for some real hope and change in America?" Bondi said.

"I am so sick and tired of suing the federal government. ...That's why we need a president like Mitt Romney who understands what it takes and that the federal government has a very limited role."

"...He is pro-military, he is pro-Israel, and he is pro our Constitution," she said.

A new progressive Democratic leaning SuperPac--called CREDO--announced Monday that Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) will be one of their first targets. Walsh, a freshman, is running in the Illinois north suburban 8th congressional district. Democrats Tammy Duckworth and Raja Krishnamoorthi are locked in a March primary battle.

Earlier, the Democratic House political shop said Walsh is also one of their prime targets.

Mitt zings Newt for name dropping

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Obama Jan. 30 week ahead

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Newt punches back at Mitt blitz

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THE VILLAGES, Fla. -- Newt Gingrich punched chief rival Mitt Romney on Sunday, stung by a Romney team Florida blitz energized -- ironically and of necessity -- by Gingrich's South Carolina primary win.

Gingrich, anxious to buy time if the polls are right and Romney wins the Florida primary on Tuesday, argued that it will take at least four to five months to produce a nominee and maybe more -- right through to the August convention in Tampa.

"I believe the Republican party will not nominate a pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase moderate from Massachusetts," Gingrich said at a press conference outside the gigantic Idlewild Baptist Church near Tampa, where he attended Sunday services.

Florida's GOP primary, fratricidal in its nasty closing days, is being played out in a state hit by the collapse of the housing market and full of seniors anxious about their Medicare benefits.

That's why an ad bashing Romney by a pro-Gingrich SuperPAC asserts Romney made money from a company accused of Medicare fraud (echoing a Democratic slam), and pro-Romney forces have tried to shine a spotlight on Gingrich's claim he made more than $1 million for his company by working as a "historian" for Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage company.

In his stump speech, Gingrich displays as much contempt towards GOP moderates as he does for President Barack Obama. The 2012 election is about "the future of America and the future of the Republican party," he said at the church.

The former House speaker, who never moved back to Georgia after he quit the House -- he lives in suburban Virginia -- who runs a Washington consulting firm and a think tank, casts himself as an outsider fighting the Washington (read that Romney) establishment.

So it is understandable that what seems to get under Gingrich's skin the most is the stepped-up accusation in Florida by the Romneyites that he exaggerates his closeness to former President Ronald Reagan.

In this retirement village in central Florida, about 50 miles north of Orlando -- where as many golf carts as cars fill parking lots -- thousands showed up under a warm, gorgeous sunny sky for a Gingrich rally.

Gingrich told the crowd he is "delighted" that one of Reagan's sons, Michael, the talk show host, will campaign with him on Monday -- as will Herman Cain, who endorsed him Saturday night in Palm Beach at a GOP dinner.

"I am in fact the legitimate heir to the Reagan movement, not some liberal from Massachusetts," Gingrich told the crowd.

He also thanked Sarah Palin for weighing in, though she did not endorse. On Fox News she urged "if for no other reason, rage against the machine, vote for Newt. Annoy a liberal, vote Newt. Keep this vetting process going, keep the debate going."

After getting thumped in South Carolina, Romney and his team stepped up their game, piling more on to a central attack, that Gingrich was an "unreliable Speaker." At the debate Thursday, Romney was finally crisp -- and Gingrich could not repeat his South Carolina grand slams.

ORLANDO--Mitt Romney has a posse of Congressmen showing up at Newt Gingrich's Florida events so reporters can get instant rebuttal or react. "We're being called the proxies with moxie," Rep. Mary Bono Mack (D-Calif.) told the Chicago Sun-Times.

"I find this to be interesting and exciting because I think that our work is having an impact on the campaign and I want Mitt Romney to win this state," said Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.).

Campaigns often use trackers, operatives who show up to record everything the opposition candidate does just in case something turns up that can be used against him or her.

The Romney House team members are engaged in a related but different tactic-- what is sometimes known as truth squad work before or after an event--trying to hammer in a media message fast in the on-going 24/7 news cycle--so that no opposition assertion goes without rebuttal or comment.

"I am a bracketer, and I am simply, respectfully, trying to make sure that people like (reporters) have the Mitt Romney message, which I believe is a better message than the Newt Gingrich message," Bass said.

Others in the group are Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fl.)--who is Bono Mack's husband

There are no counterparts at the Romney events. Alluding to the caution of the more scripted Romney campaign--he rarely has press conferences--Gingrich spokesman R.C. Howard told the Sun-Times, "One of the benefits for us-- having somebody who never makes news, we know we never have to follow him."

LUTZ, FL.--GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich on Sunday called for the creation of a commission to study the ethics of fertility clinics.

He made his comment after taking a question about stem cell research, speaking at a press conference outside the Idlewild Baptist Church here, which celebrated "Sanctity of Life Sunday" at services Gingrich attended with his wife, Calista.

Gingrich, who is courting the anti-abortion vote here--and slamming chief rival Mitt Romney for his one-time support of abortion rights, said "life begins at conception."

He said he is not against in vitro fertilization; the issue has to do with fertility clinic implantations. Does life begin then--or if a pregnancy results.

Gingrich said he was concerned about what happens to embyros in fertility clinics. "I would favor a commission to look seriously at the ethics of how we manage fertility clinics."

"...If you have in vitro fertilization, you are creating life; and therefore, we should look seriously at what should the rules should be for clinics that do that, because they are creating life."

Gingrich uphill climb in Florida

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LUTZ, FL.--White House hope Newt Gingrich starts Sunday at a Baptist mega-church near Tampa, as polls show he has an uphill climb to win or come in a close second in Tuesday's Florida primary. Gingrich has been unable to exploit his South Carolina win here.

The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald/Bay News Time poll:

TAMPA--White House hopeful Mitt Romney is up in Florida, according to a PPP poll released Saturday.

Highlight findings from PPP: "If you want a clue as to why Romney releasing his tax returns hasn't hurt him one little bit in Florida consider this: 68% of Republicans in the state have a favorable opinion of rich people to only 8% with a negative one. Romney's up 47-32 among those who like rich people. Here's a simple reality: in a GOP primary it's an asset to be rich and successful, not a liability. Attacks on Romney along those lines just aren't going to be effective with Republican voters. Additionally only 14% of voters have 'major concerns' about Romney's overseas bank accounts, while 56% have none at all.

-56% of likely voters said they watched Thursday night's debate, and they support Romney 41-35. This is a major departure from what we've found in past polling among debate watchers, who tended to favor Gingrich by large margins. These numbers confirm the conventional wisdom that Thursday night was a rough one for Newt.

-Voters in South Carolina who were most concerned about electability voted for Newt, and our first post-South Carolina Florida poll showed equal numbers of voters seeing Gingrich and Romney as the candidate with the best chance of defeating Barack Obama. Those numbers have shifted in a major way over the last five days with 50% now seeing Romney as most electable to only 23% for Gingrich.

PDF of the entire poll:

TAMPA--President Barack Obama joked about his Al Green impersonation Saturday night-- after Obama last week sang a few bars from Green's hit "Let's Stay Together" during a Jan. 19 fund-raiser at the Apollo Theater,

Obama nailed Green; his campaign put out his riff on a ringtone and digital downloads soared. At the Alfalfa Dinner--a club mainly of Washington business and political powerbrokers-which exists mainly to throw the dinner each year--the president wisecracked, "At least my harshest critics can agree I have a promising future -- as a Al Green impersonator."

Other Obama zingers and his closer, according to excerpts released by the White House:

...It is great to be here tonight, because I have about 45 more minutes on the State of the Union that I'd like to deliver tonight.


You've heard it from the pundits: "Obama is cloistered in the White House." "He's aloof." "He's in the bubble." "He's not connecting." And that's why one of my big goals this year was to get out and be among everyday, ordinary Americans -- like the men and women of the Alfalfa Club.


At least my harshest critics can agree I have a promising future -- as a Al Green impersonator.


It is great to see Jeb Bush, who is accepting a nomination for President tonight. I have to say, though, it's not fair to tease your friends like that.


And Speaker Boehner, it is good to see you at the head table. I know how badly Eric Cantor wanted your seat. But, John, I want you to know: I am eager to work with members of Congress to be entertaining tonight. But if Congress is unwilling to cooperate, I will be funny without them.


I'd like to acknowledge a very good friend of mine -- Warren Buffet's secretary's boss is in the house.


We are reminded on evenings like this that for all our differences, we are bound by something greater. Sometimes we're going to disagree. We're going to do battle, politically, from time to time. That's the nature of our democracy. But let us never forget the extraordinary privilege that we share as Americans, and the responsibility that we all have, as leaders, to the continued success of this country that's made so many of our stories possible.

ORLANDO--White House hopeful Newt Gingrich issued a battle cry against the left in an address to a GOP group here, as he stumps across the state this weekend in advance of the Tuesday Florida primary.

Said Gingrich, "In the greatest tradition of our founding document, I will pledge you, my life, my fortune and my sacred honor, if you help me on Tuesday, if I become your nominee, we will decisively defeat the left at every level, we will begin to govern this country in January and with your help we will liberate the American people and they will once again put us on the road to rebuilding the we love."

Gingrich made his remarks to the Orange County Republican Executive Committee Lincoln Day Dinner.

One of the auction items: a chance to spend a day on the campaign trail with Gingrich.

WASHINGTON--The Democratic National Committee dogged the Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and with the Florida primary on Tuesday, the DNC team in Florida has been working the ground.

The main DNC target remains Mitt Romney, who is advancing in Florida polls as Newt Gingrich looks like he will have a tough time repeating his South Carolina victory last week.

On Saturday, DNC Vice-Chair and Mayor of Minneapolis RT Rybak will hold a media availability immediate following the opening of the new Obama for American office in St. Petersburg.

From the DNC: "at 2:00 PM. DNC Vice-Chair Rybak will be available to discuss the state of the Republican primary in Florida ahead of Tuesday's primary vote and the many questions that have been raised as a result of Mitt Romney's ties to Damon Corporation, a notorious company responsible for $25 million in fraudulent Medicare claims and the recipient of a record $119 million fine as a result of their Medicare fraud."

(White House photo by Pete Souza)

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama met with former President George H.W. Bush and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the Oval Office on Friday--a visit not put on his public schedule later described as "personal" by the White House.

Jeb Bush--the son and brother of presidents--is often mentioned as a presidential contender--but did not jump in the 2012 race. With the Florida primary on Tuesday, Jeb Bush is neutral--denying Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney coveted endorsements.
Former President George W. Bush, who preceded Obama, is also staying neutral. Their father has endorsed Romney.

The Bush father and son Jeb are in town for the annual Alfalfa Club Dinner on Saturday night, according to the Associated Press. Obama will attend with First Lady Michelle and deliver remarks. The AP reported that the senior Bush, 87, used a wheelchair in the White House. The meeting took place around 5 p.m. The Alfalfa Club exists mainly for an annual banquet and its members are current or past Washington powerbrokers or celebrities.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

My column on how Newt Gingrich is taking a page from Saul Alinsky's playbook is HERE

WASHINGTON--Chicago attorney Richard Williamson, a foreign policy advisor to the Mitt Romney campaign--who served in the Reagan White House--said Friday that Newt Gingrich "overstates" his relationship with former President Ronald Reagan.

The issue of who is the stronger Reaganite has emerged in advance of the Tuesday Florida primary.

Williamson is a former UN ambassador and Special Envoy to the Sudan. In a Romney campaign conference call with other former Reagan staffers he said, "it was an honor and a privilege to serve with President Reagan, to know him, and to support his transformational presidency. And we see in Mitt Romney many of the same characteristics of a steady hand, reliability, consistency. And I think that Speaker Gingrich, by exaggerating his role in the Reagan Revolution, evinces an effort to be grandiose and for political reasons, try to overstate the role he played in supporting Ronald Reagan.

"He was a backbencher. He took opportunities to criticize President Reagan's efforts to the four of us, who all were involved in foreign policy matters and defense matters. It was particularly disturbing that he give a major speech in '86 attacking President Reagan's approach to the Soviet Union--to the Evil Empire, to Afghanistan, etc. And Speaker Gingrich exaggerated his critique. He didn't help the Reagan policies in that way. Yes, he voted, as the Republicans in the House overwhelmingly did, but it would be inaccurate to claim that he was a major player and frankly, inaccurate to claim that he was a consistent supporter. And that was my experience and I think it was my colleagues now."

WASHINGTON--GOP White House hopeful Ron Paul moved on to Maine to stump Friday and Saturday--plowing more fertile ground than Florida, where he is trailing in polls leading up to the Tuesday primary.

The Washington Post on Friday ran a story that Paul in the 1990s--contrary to what he has said--signed off on a newsletter with racially charged content.

WASHINGTON--Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton really is quitting and not planning to stick around if President Barack Obama is re-elected. She said Thursday during a Town Hall meeting with State employees if Obama wins a second term, she'll stay on until there is a replacement.

Said Clinton, "I think I have made it clear that, you know, I will certainly stay on until the president nominates someone and that transition can occur. But I think, after 20 years -- and it will be 20 years -- of being on the high wire of American politics, and all of the challenges that come with that, it would be probably a good idea to just find out how tired I am. Everyone always says that when they leave these jobs.

"...And then, you know, the election is, you know, going to, I'm sure, suck up a lot of the attention from following areas that we think are so important: you know, trying to resolve frozen conflicts; trying to, you know, bring food and health care and education to desperately poor people; trying to build up America's reputation and reality in so many places in the world. But the good news is, you know, maybe we can even get more done if they're not paying attention. So just factor that in.

"And I think, from my perspective, I will, you know, just work as hard as I can till the last minute I have the honor of being secretary, and certainly do everything, no matter what I do -- which I have no idea what it will be -- to support all of you. And I am happy to work with Vice President Biden, who does an excellent job and is a huge advocate and supporter for this department and for USAID.

"So it's a little odd for me to be totally out of an election season, since, as secretary of state, I cannot participate. But, you know, I didn't watch any of those debates....:

WASHINGTON--Gov. Pat Quinn--following on President Barack Obama's Tuesday call to raise the dropout age--will ask the Illinois legislature next week to boost the age students have to stay in school from 17 to 18.

"I like the fact that the president said kids have to stay in school until they are 18. Jobs follow brainpower. We have to understand that investing in education, including community colleges, is the key to a nimble economy," Quinn said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Friday morning.

Quinn's office said in a Friday release he will propose hiking the drop-out age this year in his annual State-of-the-State address next week.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama called on every state to require students to stay in high school until they graduate or reach 18.

Some 20 states already have that requirement; Illinois does not. In 2005, Illinois increased the dropout age from 16 years old to 17.

Obama made the proposal because stronger anti-dropout laws keeps students in school longer--thus increasing their lifetime earning potential.

The 2013 Dodge Dart (Chrysler Corp. photo)

WASHINGTON--Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is in New York on Friday for a Democrat Governors Association winter policy conference--which also includes opportunities to stroke DGA donors. Quinn, guesting on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," said the new Dodge Dart will be made in Illinois.

Discussing manufacturing jobs, Quinn said that "Chrysler is announcing next week" the revived Dodge Dart will be manufactured in the giant Chrysler assembly plant in Belvidere, Ill.

The Detroit Free Press reported Thursday that "Chrysler is hiring about 400 to 500 new employees to support the production of the Dodge Dart compact car" in Belvidere and that Chrysler will hold an "event at the Belvidere plant next Thursday to celebrate the decision to produce the Dart at the plant and dedicate a new body shop.

"Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will both attend."

Quinn also said he liked President Barack Obama's proposal, made in the State of the Union address, for students to stay in school until they graduate or reach the age of 18. In Illinois, students have to stay in school only until the age of 17. Quinn did say if he was going to push for a higher dropout age.

"I like the fact that the president said kids have to stay in school until they are 18. Jobs follow brainpower. We have to understand that investing in education, including community colleges, is the key to a nimble economy," Quinn said.

WASHINGTON--White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley last day is coming up: he steps down at the end of this week, returning to Chicago on Friday.

WASHINGTON--Former Sen. Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP presidential nominee on Thursday blistered GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich, saying if he is the nominee President Barack Obama will win by a "landslide" and the House will lose Republican seats. Dole speaks out in advance of the Jan. 31 Florida primary, where polls put Gingrich ahead or tied with Mitt Romney.

The Romney campaign released a strongly worded letter from Dole, who served while Gingrich was House Speaker. He was beat by President Bill Clinton in the 1996 contest. Dole said he was defeated in part by negative ads--featuring Gingrich.

Dole: "I have not been critical of Newt Gingrich but it is now time to take a stand before it is too late. If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices. Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man-band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway.

"Gingrich served as Speaker from 1995 to 1999 and had trouble within his own party. Already in 1997 a number of House members wanted to throw him out as Speaker. But he hung on until after the 1998 elections when the writing was on the wall. His mounting ethics problems caused him to resign in early 1999. I know whereof I speak as I helped establish a line of credit of $150,000 to help Newt pay off the fine for his ethics violations. In the end, he paid the fine with money from other sources.

"Gingrich had a new idea every minute and most of them were off the wall. He loved picking a fight with Bill Clinton because he knew this would get the attention of the press. This and a myriad of other specifics helped to topple Gingrich in 1998.

"In my run for the presidency in 1996 the Democrats greeted me with a number of negative TV ads and in every one of them Newt was in the ad. He was very unpopular and I am not only certain that this did not help me, but that it also cost House seats that year. Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty ice-bucket in his hand--that was a symbol of some sort for him--and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it.

"In my opinion if we want to avoid an Obama landslide in November, Republicans should nominate Governor Romney as our standard bearer. He has the requisite experience in the public and private sectors. He would be a president we could have confidence in."

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama headlines two elite donor fund-raisers in Florida on Thursday, piggybacking political events on top of her "Let's Move" official business announcement in Tampa with Goya Foods.

Mrs. Obama is in Florida in advance of the Jan. 31 GOP presidential primary and on the day GOP rivals debate Thursday evening in Jacksonville. Not quite a split screen, but with Democratic National Committee on the ground and with Mrs. Obama--the Republicans may not get all the free media attention.

About 250 guests are expected at a home in Sarasota with Florida supporters. Tickets begin at $500 and run up to $15,000. The $15,000 donor gets a VIP host committee reception, a photo and tickets for two for the general reception.

About 140 are expected in Palm Beach.Tickets begin at $500 and go up to $25,000.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) who suffered over the weekend--and surgery Tuesday--had another procedure performed on Wednesday. Here is a Thursday morning update from his doctor, Richard Fessler:

"Senator Kirk continues to progress as expected and remains in serious but stable condition this morning with no change in his neurological or physical prognosis. Late yesterday, we performed a common surgical procedure to create more space around the Senator's brain in order to accommodate the expected peaking of swelling. The procedure, which removed two small pieces of tissue previously destroyed and rendered non-functional by the Senator's stroke, was completed successfully and without complication. The procedure is unlikely to have any impact on his physical or neurological prognosis. Upon examination this morning, the Senator was alert, responsive and gave us the thumbs up on request," said Richard Fessler, MD, PhD, neurosurgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and professor of neurological surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Ray LaHood's son detained in Egypt

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WASHINGTON--Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood's son is being detained in Egypt. Sam LaHood heads the International Republican Institute in Egypt

The State Department, in a statement said, "Several U.S. citizens and others are currently not being allowed to depart Egypt in connection with the government's investigation into NGOs. We are disappointed that these restrictions were imposed, and we are working with the Government of Egypt to lift them and allow these Americans to come home as quickly as possible. We hope to have this issue resolved within the next couple of days. Our Embassy in Cairo continues to monitor this matter closely."

Hood is a former Illinois House member from Peoria.

WASHINGTON--Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum debate for the last time before the Jan. 31 Florida primary at 8 p.m. est on CNN, moderated by Wolf Blitzer

The debate at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville is hosted byCNN, the Republican Party of Florida and the Hispanic Leadership Network.

Polling show Gingrich ahead
or in a tie with Romney. From CNN: "The CNN-Time-ORC International poll released Wednesday indicated that 36% of people likely to vote in Tuesday's Florida primary back Romney, while 34% are for Gingrich. Romney's margin is well within the survey's sampling error. The poll had Santorum at 11% and Paul at 9%, with 7% undecided."

White House hopeful Newt Gingrich is surging in Florida ahead of the Jan. 31 primary, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. The GOP rivals face off in a CNN debate Thursday night in Jacksonville.

From Quinnipiac: "Surging since his South Carolina Republican presidential primary win, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wipes out a 12-point lead by Mitt Romney to tie the former Massachusetts governor in Florida, according to a Quinnipiac University poll release today. The final tally is 36 percent for Romney to 34 percent for Gingrich among likely voters in the Florida Republican presidential primary, but Gingrich gets 40 percent to 34 percent for Romney among likely voters surveyed after the South Carolina primary.

"Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum receives 13 percent to 10 percent for Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul."

Updated with response from Krishnamoorthi, Walsh campaigns....

WASHINGTON--Illinois Democratic House hopeful Tammy Duckworth has a 59 percent to 17 percent lead over primary rival Raja Krishnamoorthi, according to a campaign poll released to a variety of news outlets on Wednesday.

The winner in the north suburban 8th congressional district fight goes on to battle freshman Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) in November. Walsh has been targeted by Democrats in the Democratic leaning district and on Wednesday, a Democratic SuperPac--the House Majority Pac--released a poll showing Walsh may face an uphill battle.

Note: I did not see the either of the entire polls and was shown only the poll memos.

The House Majority Pac poll, done by Public Policy Polling concludes, "In Illinois' 8th District, only 32% of voters think Congressman Joe Walsh deserves to be reelected, while 57% think it's time for someone new. Congressional Republicans have a 30/57 favorability rating and only 28% of voters approve of Walsh's job performance while 44% disapprove. Walsh trails a generic Democratic opponent 49-35 and may be the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the country."

The Duckworth poll by Normington, Petts & Associates: 400 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted from Jan. 10-12 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.

Excerpt from poll memo: "She holds a three-to-onemargin with key constituencies: voters who say the will "definitely vote," voters who voted in at least two Democratic primaries out of the last four, voters age 50 and older, liberals and pro-choice voters. In addition to her solid vote support, Duckworth is also the choice of 65% of likely voters when asked
who has the best chance to beat Joe Walsh in November.

"Just 13% opt for Krishnamoorthi.

"After positives messages from both candidates are simulated, Duckworth maintains her 59% support while Krishnamoorthi is able to climb to just 23%. So while we expect the race to tighten somewhat as Krishnamoorthi communicates his message to voters he neither gains significant traction among undecided voters nor is able to cut into Duckworth's support."


React from Walsh spokesman Justin Roth: "Like the New York Times that only gave Congressman Walsh a 12% chance to win the last election, PPP is nothing more than a liberal polling firm that has no credibility.
The election is over 10 months away and Congressman Walsh has not really started campaigning in the district, as he has devoted his time to representing his constituents in the 8th district. Once the campaign begins and voters see the contrast between either of these liberal candidates who will be a rubber stamp for Obama's policies, and an independent voice in Congressman Walsh, the choice will be clear. The Congressman looks forward to a spirited debate on the issues as the campaign begins."

React from Krishnamoorthi campaign:

There are two months before Election Day. Raja has the resources to get his message out and he has the stronger message.

"This campaign has barely begun. If polls two months out predicted elections, Hillary Clinton would be the President, and Rick Perry would be the Republican nominee. Leaders in our district have overwhelmingly endorsed Raja as their choice and I'm confident that when voters get the chance to hear from both candidates, they'll make Raja their nominee. Raja is the only candidate in this race with the economic experience and a detailed plan to turn our economy around by helping to create jobs for the middle class." - Mike Murray, Deputy Campaign Manager

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama hits California next week for campaign fund-raising and guest shots on the Jay Leno and the Ellen DeGeneres shows.

Mrs. Obama's California swing starts Tuesday when she appears on Leno from his Burbank studio to tout the upcoming two-year anniversary next month of her signature "Let's Move" anti-childhoo obesity drive.

From there she heads to a reception in Los Angeles to benefit the re-election campaign.

After a "Let's Move" event in Ingelwood on Wednesday, she guests with Ellen DeGeneres to promote "Let's Move," with the interview broadcast on Feb. 2. Later she headlines another fund-raiser in Los Angeles.

On Thursday, Mrs. Obama heads to battleground Florida as the GOP presidential candidates are camped there in advance of the Jan. 31 primary. There is a CNN GOP debate in Jacksonville on Thursday night and Mrs. Obama may grab some of the free media attention. Mrs. Obama visits GOP strongholds: Tampa for a Latino event connected with her healthy eating drive and then Sarasota and Palm Beach for fund-raisers.

WASHINGTON -- The Obama team's newest slogan, "An America built to last," rolled out this week for President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, is brawny and evocative of a headline on a car ad.

It's a phrase that draws a contrast to the intangible investment products that figured centrally to the economic bubbles that have burst and left us bust. You would laugh out loud, of course, if anyone suggested "mortgage funds, built to last."

Obama used the words "built" or "rebuilt" 13 times as he focused on domestic matters in his third State of the Union speech. The "built to last" theme works in two -- probably more -- ways.

The first is fairly concrete. In his speech, Obama offered a variety of plans to try to stop the flow of jobs out of the U.S. and to bring back manufacturing jobs that have left, most having to do with tax code revisions to give more incentives to stay rather than go.

The other goes to to the allegation of the GOP presidential candidates that under Obama's watch the United States has somehow been diminished.

"Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about," he said. Obama offered proposals on making taxes fairer, education, regulatory reform and green energy to be unveiled in more detail in the next three days -- when he travels to five 2012 battleground states: Iowa, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan.

The greatest threat to Obama's re-election is a poor economy, a bigger challenge right now than Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich. The economy has been on an uptick in recent weeks, but there is no guarantee a slide won't occur before November.

Obama made several pleas to Congress to work together; he's not counting on it, but he reached a rhetorical high in the speech when he talked about the day U.S. special forces carried out the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Partisanship can run its course,"just like it didn't matter that day in the Situation Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates, a man who was George Bush's defense secretary, and Hillary Clinton, a woman who ran against me for president."

WASHINGTON--Shortly after President Obama finished his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, the Republican National Committee produced a video highlighting phrases Obama in his 2012 speech he repeated from his 2011 and 2010 addresses.

From the RNC: "If you thought tonight's speech sounded similar to President Obama's past State of the Union speeches, you were right. After three years of failed policies and broken promises, it's not surprising that Barack Obama can only repeat himself."

I asked RNC communications chief Sean Spicer how the video was produced so fast and he told me, "after three years, we anticipated this."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union speech, called for community colleges and businesses to form partnerships to train students with skills employers in their area explicitly need--programs that community colleges in Chicago have in place.

"Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers - places that teach people skills that local businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing," Obama said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel--who talked about Chicago's experience in a speech before the U.S. Conference of Mayors here last week--and Obama's former chief of staff--said in a statement, "the President gave a great speech tonight. As he outlined his vision for the country, I am pleased that he mentioned strengthening our nation's community colleges as a way of providing our young people a ladder to the middle class. Chicago is leading the way in that effort with our College to Careers Program, linking our community colleges with partners in industry to provide students the skills they need to compete.

Chancellor Cheryl Hyman of City Colleges of Chicago said in a statement, "President Obama tonight called for a national effort to equip Americans with the right job skills and make college more affordable. Community colleges hold a large part of the answer to both challenges.

"Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and City Colleges of Chicago have launched the College to Careers initiative to partner with high-growth industries to align curriculum with market demand. This will ensure we address our nation and region's enduring skills gap and empower students to compete and win the global jobs of today and tomorrow.

"City Colleges of Chicago similarly plays a critical role in reducing the student debt crisis, removing cost as barrier to job training and college degrees. A City Colleges of Chicago student can save up to $40,000 versus comparable coursework elsewhere.

"It is incumbent on community colleges to ensure that students have access to quality programs that prepare them for success, and provide a truly worthwhile return on students' investment in time and resources.

"City Colleges of Chicago remains committed to delivering both access and success through the Reinvention of our entire system so that Chicagoans receive academic credentials of true economic value that help drive our city's economy."
The City Colleges of Chicago includes seven colleges: Richard J. Daley College, Kennedy-King College, Malcolm X College, Olive-Harvey College, Harry S Truman College, Harold Washington College and Wilbur Wright College. The system also oversees the Washburne Culinary Institute, the French Pastry School, two restaurants, five Child Development Centers, the Center for Distance Learning, the Workforce Institute, the public broadcast station WYCC-TV Channel 20 and radio station WKKC-FM 89.3. For more information about City Colleges of Chicago, call: (773) COLLEGE or visit

america built to last .jpg

WASHINGTON--President Obama is announcing in his State of the Union address that he will use his executive power to create two massive new green energy projects.

Obama will order the Defense Department to make the biggest renewable energy purchase in the history of the nation--one gigawatt.

He will also order his administration to build solar and wind energy areas on public lands for 10 gigawatts of projects by the end of 2012.

america built to last .jpg

WASHINGTON--In his State of the Union address, President Obama is calling on every state to require students to stay in high school until they graduate or reach 18.

Some 20 states already have that requirement; Illinois does not.

Illinois requires students to stay in school until the age of 17. That was increased from 16 years old in 2005.

Obama is making the proposal because stronger anti-dropout laws keeps students in school longer--thus increasing their lifetime earning potential.

WASHINGTON-- President Obama in his State of the Union address is announcing the creation of a Financial Crimes unit in the Justice Department to probe banks and financial companies that helped contribute to the mortgage meltdown with risky loans.

He is also asking Congress to increase the penalities for fraud, so fines are not just seen as a business expense.

WASHINGTON--The Obama re-election team is using President Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night as a massive organizing tool.

*To rally the troops, over the weekend, Obama previewed his State of the Union speech at, the campaign website--rather than
In that video, Obama talked about creating a U.S. "economy built to last," which morphed into "An America Built to Last," a central theme of the speech Tuesday night and a slogan you'll be hearing a lot in the days to come.

*Obama urged people to view the speech together; the campaign said Tuesday afternoon 2,700 local watch parties were planned across the country.

*The campaign sent reminder texts before the speech

*The campaign website is running a livestream of the speech.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago held a briefing Tuesday on Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) operated on for a stroke on Monday. He asked for Blackberry, doctors said. The Sun-Times report is HERE.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama's guest list for the State of the Union tonight is heavy on guests from battleground states, underscoring the merging government and political agendas as the Obama team prepares for the November election.

Mrs. Obama will host in her House box astronaut Mark Kelly, the retired Navy captain who is the husband of Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Az.) who is stepping down from Congress this week, a little more than a year after she was shot in the head. Senior White House advisor and close friend Valerie Jarrett will also be in Mrs. Obama's box.

Most of the 20 other guests--mainly female-- come from states that could determine the outcome of the 2012 contest: two from North Carolina; two from Michigan; two from Colorado; one from Pennsylvania; two from Virginia; one from Ohio and one from Florida. California, a deep source of fund-raising dollars--Mrs. Obama will be in California next week for fund-raising--has four guests.

One of the guests is Debbie Bosanek of Nebraska, who has been Warren Buffett's secretary for almost two decades--and who has been used by Buffett as an example of the inequities in the tax system. Buffett pays a lesser tax rate than Bosanek.

On Thursday, Mrs. Obama heads to battleground Florida as the GOP presidential candidates are camped there in advance of the Jan. 31 primary. There is a CNN GOP debate in Jacksonville on Thursday night and Mrs. Obama may grab some of the free media attention. Mrs. Obama visits GOP strongholds: Tampa for a Latino event connected with her healthy eating drive and then Sarasota and Palm Beach for fund-raisers.

Click below for Mrs. Obama's SOTU guest list...

WASHINGTON--In advance of President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address tonight, the
White House Office of Legislative Affairs--the president's lobbyists--put together talking points for members of Congress and their staffs.

The memo stresses Obama's newest slogan, "America, Built to Last" and highlights some of the very broad theme of the speech before the Joint Session of Congress.

Read the talking points for yourself, click below...

WASHINGTON--GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney, stumping in Florida in advance of the Jan. 31 primary there, ripped into President Barack Obama's newest slogan--"America, Built to Last," in a "prebuttal" to his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Obama's team has another slogan it has been using for the past few months, "We Can't Wait," created to buttress Obama's increasing use of executive orders as it became clearer to the administration it would not be able to pass programs with a House controlled by Republicans and a Senate run by Democrats.

Text of Romney "prebuttal" is HERE

The White House and the Obama re-election team is organizing around Obama's third State of the Union speech, on social media and with house parties across the country. On Wednesday, Obama flies to battleground states to underscore the themes of his speech, visiting in three days five battleground states: Iowa, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan.

The travel schedule alone feeds into Republican complaints that the trips are more political than governmental in nature. At this stage, it is harder to make clear distinctions.

In ripping Obama, Romney taunted his slogans.

"He keeps telling people, "We can't wait." To which I say, "Yes, we can."

"Tonight, the President will deliver his State of the Union. But make no mistake: What he's really offering are partisan planks for his re-election campaign.

"The President has been telling people that his agenda will create an economy that's "built to last."

"Well, let's talk about what has lasted.

"What has lasted is unemployment above 8% for 35 straight months. What will last is almost as much debt in four years as all the prior presidents combined. What will last are home values that are too low and foreclosure rates that are too high. And a legacy of debt that will imperil future generations.

"What is critical is that we make today Barack Obama's last State of the Union.

"The President's agenda sounds less like "built to last" and more like doomed to fail. What he's proposing is more of the same: more taxes, more spending, and more regulation. And all of his proposals involve "big" government and "big" price tags.

"Tonight, we'll also be treated to more divisive rhetoric from a desperate campaigner-in-chief. It's shameful for a President to use the State of the Union to divide our nation. And someone ought to tell him: In order for the economy to truly "work for everyone," everyone needs to be working," Romney said.

White House Senior Advisor David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager, made the rounds of the morning shows to amplify the "Built to Last" theme.

On NBC's "Today Show," Plouffe said, "the president is going to lay out tonight, at this make-or-break moment for the middle class here in America, how do we build an economy that's built to last? We saw what happened when we had an economy that was built on bubbles and fraud and, you know, phony financial instruments. We need an economy that's built on American manufacturing, American energy, developing the skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.

So we've had obviously a terrible recession, only rivaled by the Great Depression. We've had over 3 million jobs over the last 22 months -- the manufacturing sector creating jobs for the first time since the `90s; auto industry coming back. So there's some good news out there. But the economy is far too weak. The hole was very deep.

So we've got to really dig in here and determine what kind of economy and kind of America do we want? And we want an economy that's based on everyone doing their fair share, everyone getting a fair shake, and everybody playing by the same set of rules."

WASHINGTON--Karl Rove headlines an Illinois GOP fund-raising lunch Tuesday in Chicago, and the Tammy Duckworth Democratic House campaign is trying to raise money off the event, a classic political fund-raising turn.

Rove has become a more powerful force in politics because of a SuperPac he is associated with--Crossroads GPS. He speaks at the Chicago Club, 81 E. Van Buren.

Duckworth, running in the 8th congressional district, is locked in a primary battle with Raja Krishnamoorthi. The winner will take on Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) in a race that has been targeted by the Democrats for a turnover.

Josh Levin, Duckworth's campaign manager said in an e-mail appeal, "Karl Rove is coming to town. He's headlining a fundraiser tomorrow for the Illinois Republican Party. Tickets will start at $2,500 and the event is expected to raise nearly half a million dollars--all to benefit Illinois Republicans in tough races, including Joe Walsh.

We have to fight back. Will you contribute $10 to stop the Republican money machine from outspending us in November?"

WASHINGTON--After taking a beating, on Tuesday the Romney campaign released tax returns for 2010 and estimates for 2011. The returns are for Mitt Romney and his wife and their foundations and trusts. The main link to read the pdf's for yourself is HERE

Newt Gingrich's work for Freddie Mac has been an issue in the NBC GOP debate Monday night. (I am following the debate on Twitter: @lynnsweet

Read his 15-page agreement between his consulting group and Freddie Mac here.. freddiemacagreement.pdf

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) was at the famed Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago the night before he suffered a stroke on Saturday. On Monday, Kirk underwent surgery; his recovery is expected to take months. Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallasch was there and has the story.

WASHINGTON--GOP White House hopeful Rep. Ron Paul hopeful stepped up his criticism of the Transportation Security Administration after his son, Sen. Rand Paul was not allowed on an airplane Monday after he refused to be patted down after an alarm went off went he went through a screening maching.

"The police state in this country is growing out of control. One of the ultimate embodiments of this is the TSA that gropes and grabs our children, our seniors, and our loved ones and neighbors with disabilities. The TSA does all of this while doing nothing to keep us safe," Paul said in a statement.

"That is why my 'Plan to Restore America,' in additional to cutting $1 trillion dollars in federal spending in one year, eliminates the TSA.

"We must restore the freedom and respect for liberty that once made American the greatest nation in human history. I am deeply committed to doing that as President of the United States."

WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is recovering from a stroke at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after surgery on Monday. He was stricken on Saturday.

On Saturday, Kirk, 52, drove himself to Lake Forest Hospital and was transferred to Northwestern for tests that revealed he suffered an ischemeic stroke, his office said in a statement.

His Monday surgery was to relieve swelling around his brain.

At Lake Forest, "doctors discovered a carotid artery dissection in the right side of his neck. He was transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where further tests revealed that he had suffered an ischemic stroke. Early this morning the Senator underwent surgery to relieve swelling around his brain stemming from the stroke. The surgery was successful. Due to his young age, good health and the nature of the stroke, doctors are very confident in the Senator's recovery over the weeks ahead," the statement said.

Doctors discussed his condition at an 11:30 a.m. cst press conference at Northwestern.

Kirk was sworn in as senator on Nov. 29, 2010, to fill the weeks remaining in President Barack Obama's Illinois senate term. Kirk moved to the Senate after an election battle with then Illinois state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. Kirk, a Highland Park resident, served five terms in the House--first elected in 2000--before moving to the Senate. Kirk is also a Navy Reserve officer.

According to the National Institute of Health
, "Ischemic strokes may be caused by clogged arteries. Fat, cholesterol, and other substances collect on the artery walls, forming a sticky substance called plaque."

Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) said in a statement, "Senator Kirk is one of Illinois' most dedicated and hard-working champions, and it's hard to imagine that anything could slow him down for long. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, staff, and friends right now. All of us in the delegation are pulling for his full and speedy recovery. Senator Kirk is a fighter, and I am confident he will battle through this."

GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney said in a statement, ""I am extremely distressed by the news that my friend Mark Kirk is hospitalized for emergency medical treatment. I wish him a speedy recovery and a swift return to the U.S. Senate chamber, so he can continue his important work for the people of Illinois and all the people of the United States." Kirk endorsed Romney

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a statement, "I was stunned to learn that Mark suffered a stroke. He is young and in good physical condition and I have no doubt he will make a speedy recovery. I have reached out to his staff and offered to do anything I can to help with his Senate duties. Loretta and I will keep Mark and his family in our prayers."

Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) said in a statement, "Our thoughts and prayers are with Senator Kirk and his family today. I would like to thank the medical professionals for their excellent work and their immediate actions to care for the Senator. Danielle and I join with all the people of the 10th district and across the country in wishing the Senator a full and speedy recovery."

Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said on her Twitter, "Sending all of our best wishes to HP resident US Senator Mark Kirk for a speedy recovery."

Also on Twitter, Sen. John McCain said that his "thoughts and prayers" are with his colleague and wished him "a speedy recovery."

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said in a statement, "Like anyone who knows Senator Kirk, I am stunned and saddened to hear about his recent stroke. But if there is one thing I have learned about Mark over the years, it's that he is a fighter and relentless in his efforts to accomplish a goal. Those attributes will serve him well in working toward a rapid recovery. My thoughts and prayers are with him."

Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) said in a statement, ""Like anyone who knows Senator Kirk, I am stunned and saddened to hear about his recent stroke. But if there is one thing I have learned about Mark over the years, it's that he is a fighter and relentless in his efforts to accomplish a goal. Those attributes will serve him well in working toward a rapid recovery. My thoughts and prayers are with him."

I discussed my column on Newt Gingrich and Saul Alinsky this morning on "The Takeaway" with John Hockenberry. I was joined by Alinsky biographer Sanford Horwitt.

WASHINGTON--A year ago, a gunman on a rampage at an Arizona grocery store killed six people and wounded 13, including Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) Giffords is going to resign this week to spend more time on her recovery; before she goes she will attend the State of the Union address on Tuesday night.

Her video script:

"I don't remember much from that horrible day, but I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice," she says in the video. "Thank you for your prayers and for giving me time to recover. I have more work to do on my recovery so to do what is best for Arizona I will step down this week."

At the time of the attack, Giffords had just beat out a tea party candidate and won a third term with less than a 1 percent margin, According to the Associated Press. Giffords chose not to seek another term, though she says in the video, she will return.

"I'm getting better. Every day, my spirit is high," said Giffords. "I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country. Thank you very much."

Two debates before the vote played an important role in Newt Gingrich winning the South Carolina primary on Saturday. Will upcoming two be critical in Florida? Early voting in Flordai has already begun.

Expecting boxing gloves on: With the Florida primary on Jan. 31, the GOP presidential candidates debate again, 9 p.m. Monday on NBC from the University of South Florida in Tampa. On Thursday the quartet meets again in Jacksonville, for a CNN debate from the University of North Florida.

WASHINGTON -- GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich constantly -- the latest time on Sunday -- invokes the name of the late Saul Alinsky -- a Chicago native -- when he wants to assert that President Barack Obama is a "radical."

Gingrich, a historian, demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the work of Alinsky, a legendary community organizer in Chicago's Woodlawn and Back of the Yard neighborhoods and beyond.

With his anti-elitist, anti-establishment populist rhetoric--on display Saturday night in his South Carolina victory speech in which he slammed "elites" in Washington and New York -- Gingrich seems as if he is taking a page from the Alinsky playbook.

"Newt's anti-elitism is so much what Alinsky really was about," Alinsky biographer Sanford D. Horwitt told me Sunday. "Alinsky was about organizing ordinary people so they could get a seat at the table rather than getting crumbs or no crumbs at all when public policies were decided," said Horwitt, the author of Let Them Call Me Rebel: Saul Alinsky: His Life and Legacy.

Alinsky was born in Chicago on Jan. 30, 1909; he lived around Maxwell Street until his family moved to North Lawndale when he was 6. He attended Marshall High School and the University of Chicago. He lived most of his life in Hyde Park. He died on June 12, 1972, in Carmel, Calif.

Horwitt has a Google alert for Alinsky, so it's easy to track how he has become a lightning rod for the right. About 15 to 20 times a day, the "overwhelming majority" of those alerts equate Alinsky with socialism, anti-capitalism and the Obama White House, Horwitt said. "And that has not let up since Obama was elected."

Alinsky's name first surfaced in the 2008 presidential race when Obama was battling Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Clinton, who grew up in Park Ridge, wrote her Wellesley senior thesis on the "Alinsky model" of organizing.

Alinsky's work indirectly touched generations of activists, including Obama, who came to Chicago to become a community organizer.

The demonization of Alinsky started as 2008 GOP nominee John McCain, his running mate, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani and other Republicans invoked his name -- along with Bill Ayers -- to give voters the impression that Obama was allied with terrorists, socialists or worse.

On CNN Sunday, Gingrich said, "One of the reasons I think people in South Carolina voted for me was the belief that I could debate Obama head-to-head, that I could convey conservative values and that I could in an articulate way explain what American exceptionalism was all about and why the values that he believes in, the Saul Alinsky radicalism that is at the heart of Obama, are a disaster."

Horwitt, who obtained Alinsky's FBI files when he researched his book, said "Alinsky was emphatically not a Marxist, he was not a Communist ever. He was a true American populist. And here is a bit of an irony. I think that Newt right now, some of Newt's strongest appeal is his populism."

Gingrich's victory speech, in which he "went after elites in Washington and New York . . . really has a lot of currency, and I think it does not just have currency among Republican primary voters but also on the left," Horwitt said.

". . . Alinsky had no interest in replacing the basic system in this country, political or economic. What he loved about this country is you had the freedom to change a lot of the rules, meaning that you could get a seat at the table for low-income people or even middle-class people," Horwitt said.

In Chicago, Alinsky's flamboyant tactics fighting slumlords and bad schools drew attention. But he operated with important support, even as he battled with the first Mayor Daley. Horwitt points out that Alinsky started his Industrial Areas Foundation in 1940 with a $10,000 grant from Marshall Field III and was backed by two Chicago cardinals -- Samuel Stritch and Albert Meyer.

And what would Alinsky make of the Tea Party movement? Said Horwitt, "I think that Alinsky and some of the Tea Party people really would have common ground."

Gleanings from the South Carolina exit poll, where Newt Gingrich swept most of the categories:

*Ron Paul won the youth vote--ages 18-29.

*Mitt Romney won the most educated vote--those with postgraduate study.

*Romney won the money elites--those earning $200,000 or more.

*Romney won most who identified themselves as moderate.

*Romney won most of those opposed to the Tea Party.

*Gingrich won most of the votes of people who said religion counted; Romney won those who said it did not.

*Rick Santorum won those who said abortion was their most important issue.

*Romney won most of those who said abortion should be legal.

*Gingrich won most of those who said the most important candidate quality was defeating Obama.

*Santorum won most of those who said the most important candidate quality was strong moral quality.
*Paul supporters had the most reservations about supporting Romney if he were the nominee.

*Gingrich had many supporters who decided to back him only in last few days.

*Gingrich backers said the debates were important to them.

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- In a stunning revival, Newt Gingrich won the GOP presidential primary here Saturday with his voters gauging he could defeat President Barack Obama -- while ignoring the claims of an ex-wife that he wanted an "open marriage."

The former U.S. House speaker had a mighty win with 41 percent of the vote, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came in second with 27 percent in a nasty South Carolina contest. The Florida primary vote on Jan. 31 is shaping up to be even more vicious.

The debates -- two in South Carolina in the past week -- were critical to Gingrich's resurrection. Exit polls showed that 64 percent of Gingrich voters said the debates were an important factor in their decision.

"It is not that I am a good debater, it is that I articulate the deepest felt values of the American people," Gingrich said in a rambling victory speech.

Romney showed he could not claim the nomination quickly after the Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina votes. The primary battle will be protracted.

"Three states, three winners, what a great country," said former Sen. Rick Santorum, who came in third with 17 percent. Ron Paul had 13 percent.

Santorum, in a belated decision announced Saturday, beat Romney in Iowa after all. Romney won New Hampshire and now Gingrich -- left for political dead last summer and after the Iowa vote -- leaves South Carolina risen with a decisive win.

The Gingrich turnaround came as he bashed the press in both South Carolina debates.

At Thursday's encounter, Gingrich won points when he roared at the moderator who asked about a late-breaking tawdry charge by an ex-wife that he wanted an "open marriage" while having an affair with the woman who became his third wife.

He kept it up in his victory speech where he excoriated "elites in Washington and New York."

No mind that he lives in the Washington suburbs and never returned to the Georgia district he represented in the House.

"The American people feel that they have elites who have been trying for a half century to force us to quit being American," he said.

Gingrich won most of those who said the most important candidate quality was defeating Obama, according to the exit poll.

The exit poll pointed to potential trouble ahead for Romney especially if the primary contest plays out for months -- since South Carolina voters in a variety of segment groups rejected his candidacy.

In South Carolina, Gingrich stepped up attacks on Romney's tenure at Bain Capital and his claim he was a job creator there -- making arguments that mirrored exactly the Obama team's hits.

Romney's speech after Gingrich's victory was hardly a concession, more of a warning to Gingrich if -- as expected -- he continues to slam him on Bain.

"Those who pick up the weapons of the left today, will find them turned against us tomorrow," Romney aid. "Let me be clear. If Republican leaders want to join this president in demonizing success and disparaging conservative values, then they are not going to be fit to be our nominee."

That puts even more of a spotlight on the two Florida debates coming up before the Jan. 31 primary vote there, Monday in Tampa and Thursday in Jacksonville.

After the CNN debate, Romney adviser Stuart Stevens told me, "having a debate every two weeks is getting to be a bit much. There is a reason you don't have a Super Bowl every week."

But if there was any question whether Romney would debate in Florida -- there were rumblings -- it was answered Saturday when his campaign confirmed he would.

South Carolina Exit Poll is here

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel stopped at the White House on Friday to see President Barack Obama. Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff and friend of departing chief of staff Bill Daley, was in Washington to deliver a speech before the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

City Hall told me, Emanuel "and the president had a productive conversation about a host of topics."

Emanuel's speech before the mayoral group was about bolstering community colleges investment.

"If we modernize our training programs to match the needs of our high-growth industries, our community college system can catapult millions of people into employment and into the middle class, as it has done for generations of Americans," Mayor Emanuel said to conference attendees. "There is no greater investment we can make in the life of our cities than the one we make in the lives of our students."

And for those who didn't hear, Obama channels Al Green at a New York fundraiser Thursday with his take on "Let's Stay Together."

Click below for Emanuel speech text...

President Barack Obama marks three years in office this week; he was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009.

CHARLESTON, S.C .-- A day before the crucial GOP South Carolina presidential primary, Newt Gingrich is on a trajectory to give Mitt Romney a thumping -- but comic Stephen Colbert's rally with Herman Cain here was the biggest draw.

With the Republican field now down to four active candidates -- former Speaker Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul -- if the election is close -- think Iowa's 34-vote spread -- it may be because the ballot will also include candidates who are not running anymore: Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain.

The latest Gallup poll shows Romney's once 23-point lead dropping 10 points in a contest Gallup sees as having "unprecedented volatility. " Clemson University's Palmetto Poll has Gingrich surging at 32 percent to 26 percent for Romney.

The question will be if Gingrich -- coming off strong debate performances on Monday and Thursday, where he deflected questions about an "open marriage" by bashing the media -- has the ability here to leverage his breaks.

On Friday morning, Gingrich canceled an appearance at a Southern Republican Leadership Conference meeting here as few people showed up at the hall. After that, with wife Calista, they toured a children's hospital here -- a photo op with few voters -- capped off by Mrs. Gingrich reading from the children's book she wrote, Sweet Land of Liberty.

Former Rep. Bob Livingston--who served with Gingrich in the House -- and was here as a surrogate for his friend -- analyzed why Gingrich's campaign has had so many ups and downs.

"You can knock him down but he comes back. . . . He's a tough guy, he's Rocky Balboa, he's the Eveready Bunny, you're not going to knock him down. You're not going to wear him out," Livingston told reporters.

Romney has been campaigning in South Carolina with Gov. Nikki Haley and at a North Charleston event with a few hundred people -- more a photo op than a real get-out-the-vote rally -- Romney sang "Happy Birthday" to her. Said Haley, "All I want is President Romney for my birthday."

In the runup to the January, 2008 Democratic South Carolina primary, then Sen. Barack Obama accepted the endorsement of Sen. John Kerry at an outdoor rally at the College of Charleston on Jan. 10, 2008, drawing a crowd of about 4,500, a high mark for the school.

That record was broken on Friday when Colbert stumped for the Cain vote at a College of Charleston rally in the same yard where Obama once stood -- this time mocking the election system -- especially the campaign finance rules that allow massive corporate donations to shadowy groups -- by asking people to vote for Cain -- even though he dropped his presidential bid.

Colbert was raised in Charleston -- though Chicagoans lay a claim on him because he graduated Northwestern University in 1986 -- and drew more than 4,500, according to a school official.

"I want you to vote for Herman Cain because Herman Cain is me," said Colbert. " . . . He possesses the one thing I don't think I will ever have, a place on the ballot."

"Mr. Colbert could not get on the ballot, I could not get off the ballot, that's how this came about," said Cain. [The event was organized by Comedy Central, contacting the college last Tuesday.]

Cain told the crowd he was "not offended" by Colbert appropriating his ballot slot but he did not agree with the scheme.

Said Cain, "I don't want you to waste your vote."

stephan colbert.JPG
Stephen Colbert at the College of Charleston (photo by Lynn Sweet)

CHARLESTON, SC--Comic Stephen Colbert stumped for "president" at a big rally here Friday, mocking the election system by asking people to vote for Herman Cain in the South Carolina primary Saturday--whose name remains on the ballot even though he dropped his presidential bid.

Colbert, a South Carolina native, appeared with Cain at the College of Charleston, at a rally complete with the school marching band. Colbert "launched" his exploratory bid too late to get on the ballot in South Carolina.

But Colbert had a scheme.

"I want you to vote for Herman Cain because Herman Cain is me," said Colbert.

"He possesses the one thing I don't have, a place on the ballot."

Cain told the crowd he was "not offended" by Colbert appropriating his name--people ought to lighten up, he said, but he did not agree with the scheme.

"I don't want you to waste your vote."

And as we know from Iowa--where 34 votes separated Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney--every vote makes a difference.

Comedy Central called the College of Charleston on Tuesday to ask that Colbert be allowed to hold the rally as part of the school "Bully Pulpit" series featuring presidential primary contenders.

Read the detailed analysis of the South Carolina GOP CNN debate HERE.

CNN GOP South Carolina debate.jpg
Photo courtesy CNN

Movie director Spike Lee hosted a fund-raiser at his New York home Thursday for President Obama and Obama told Lee and the guests that his first date with wife Michelle was to see Lee's Do the Right Thing.

Lee's retort to Obama, "I said, good thing you didn't choose Driving Miss Daisy."

Click below for transcript...

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich climbed on his pedestal at Thursday's debate, biting off CNN host John King's head, offended at being asked about a report that he asked his then wife for an "open marriage."

And in a clever maneuver, his campaign released his personal and foundation tax returns while the debate was ongoing, ratcheting up the pressure on chief rival Mitt Romney, a multi, multi-millionaire, to do the same before April.

The release, coming 44 minutes into the two-hour debate -- showed an adjusted gross income of $3,142,066 -- was also an attempt to change the subject from Gingrich's sex life and marital fidelity to Romney's fortune.

Gingrich, who may overtake Romney in Saturday's South Carolina primary, dominated the debate, capping one of the most chaotic, dramatic, newsy and potentially game-changing days in the GOP primary.

Turns out Iowa Republicans goofed and Rick Santorum beat Romney in the caucus by 34 votes. Marianne Gingrich, Gingrich's second wife, told ABC's Nightline that Gingrich, having an affair, asked her if she would allow an "open marriage." Rick Perry dropped out, throwing his support to Gingrich, calling him a "conservative visionary."

King started off the debate asking about the interview Marianne Gingrich gave to ABC's "Nightline" where she said Gingrich in 1999 -- when he was having an affair with Calista, a congressional staffer, now his third wife -- asked her for an "open marriage."

"Would you like to take sometime to respond to that?"

Gingrich said, "No."

After a pause he added, "but I will."

"I think -- I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that," Gingrich said.

Romney has had the most difficult week of his cautious campaign.

A rival calling for the release of tax returns is Politics 101, and Romney's camp allowed the issue to fester, going from No to Maybe to April, after the nominee will probably be chosen already. Romney went from agreeing to release one year to perhaps multiple years.

"If nothing is there," said Gingrich, "why not release it?"

Romney's resistance to disclosure is a gift to Gingrich, but only in the short term, because eventually he will release a return. In the meantime, neither Ron Paul nor Rick Santorum has put out their taxes.

In discussing his income taxes on Tuesday, Romney blundered and showed how out of touch he is when he said the $374,327 he earned in speaking fees was "not very much."

"It's been an educational week," a Romney insider told me.

Santorum has been irritated in past days by Gingrich hinting he should get out of the way. After all, Santorum did better in Iowa and New Hampshire than Gingrich.

But Gingrich has never tasted humble pie. Santorum on the campaign trail in South Carolina talked of his "hubris" and "arrogance" and in the debate all but called him mentally unbalanced.

Gingrich is "worrisome," said Santorum. At any moment "something's going to pop."

Replied Gingrich, "You're right: I think grandiose thoughts. This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things, and we need leadership prepared to take on big projects."

Florida comes next, with a primary vote on Jan. 31 and yet another debate Monday in Tampa. Romney's team figures that even if he does poorly in South Carolina, his defenses are in place in Florida.

CHARLESTON, SC--GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich turned up the heat on Mitt Romney during the debate Thursday night when his campaign release his tax return while the four rivals were standing at their podiums. The release was designed to pound Romney's refusal to release his taxes until April--after most of the early primaries are over.

Below, from Gingrich campaign...

Atlanta, GA - Today, Newt and Callista Gingrich released their 2010 federal income tax return, which they filed jointly with the Internal Revenue Service.

The income tax return shows that for 2010, Speaker and Mrs. Gingrich owed federal taxes of $994,708 on an adjusted gross income of $3,142,066. $613,517 of the tax amount owed had been previously withheld or otherwise paid, and the couple paid the remaining balance due of $382,734 (which included an estimated $1,543 tax penalty) with their filing.

Included in the wage and salary income reported on Speaker and Mrs. Gingrich's tax return is $450,245 in combined wages; $41,625 in income from speaking and board of directors fees; $6,853 in rental income from real estate holdings; $11,892 in ordinary dividends; $5,990 in qualified dividends; and $2,525,683 in income from partnerships and S corporations, including the Lubbers Agency Inc. and Gingrich Holdings, Inc.

For the year 2010, the Speaker and Mrs. Gingrich reported $4,184 in net short-term capital gains and $32,541 in net long-term capital losses. Over the course of the year, the couple also contributed $81,133 to various charities, including the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Link to Gingrich personal income tax return in HERE

Link to Gingrich foundation tax return in HERE

CHARLESTON, SC--GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich ripped into the media in general and CNN debate host John King in particular at the Thursday CNN debate after being asked about an interview his ex-wife gave about his desire to have an "open marriage."

King started off the debate asking about the interviews Marianne Gingrich--his second wife--gave. "As you know, your ex-wife gave an interview to ABC News and another interview with The Washington Post, and this story has now gone viral on the Internet. In it, she says that you came to her in 1999, at a time when you were having an affair. She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage. Would you like to take some
time to respond to that?

Gingrich said, "No." After a pause he added, "but I will."

"I think -- I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that," Gingrich said.

...Every person in here knows personal pain.

CHARLESTON, SC.--The final GOP debate before the Saturday primary in South Carolina starts at 8 p.m. est on CNN and the pressure is on frontrunner Mitt Romney not to make a mistake--potentially compounding the difficult week he's had.

To watch for:

1. Does Romney do a better job of explaining his personal tax "15 per cent rate" situation.

2. Does Romney do damage control over saying that his $374,327 in speaking fees is "not very much."

3. How will Romney react if Gingrich releases his income tax return before or during the debate--and Romney only grudgingly said he would release only the latest year in April--after crucial early state primaries.

4. Does Romney do a better explanation and defense of running Bain Capital, the investment firm.

5. Does Romney underscore his solid family life--without looking as if he is trying to exploit interviews Newt Gingrich's former wife Marianne is giving--out Thursday--about how he wanted an open marriage while having an affair with Calista, his current wife.

Illinois House Ten Democratic hopeful Ilya Sheyman raised $180,000 in the fourth quarter, his campaign said Thursday, with more than $200,000 in cash on hand for the March 20 primary.

Chief rival Brad Schneider has not put out numbers yet; John Tree, who jumped in the contest in November, is reporting $101,000 for the fourth quarter. The winner will face Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.).

click below for Sheyman release....

COLUMBIA, SC.--On Tuesday, GOP White House hopeful Rick Perry, still languishing in the single digits in polls told CNN he hoped in the Saturday South Carolina vote, "Lord willing, we'll do well and continue on." By Thursday, he suspended his campaign and endorsed Newt Gingrich. Gingrich, in Beaumont, SC, said he asked Perry to head up a 10th Amendment enforcement project, to get a law passed to "return power" to citizens and states.

Speaking near Charleston, Perry, who was getting only 4 percent in South Carolina according to a CNN poll, said he concluded there was no "viable path forward for me in this 2012 campaign." In backing Gingrich, Perry said, "He is not perfect, but who among us is."

Perry in dropping out said he "provided right path forward" for party in making a "strategic retreat," will fight for conservative reforms.Perry said Gingrich can capture conservatives.

Since Perry had been getting so little support, it's hard to argue his backers will be game changers on Saturday, unless the contest is close and they migrate en masse to Gingrich. But Rick Santorum also has a draw among the same conservatives who backed Perry.

South Carolina prides itself on actually picking a winner who goes on to become the party nominee--so anti-Romney forces have to struggle between the state's place in primary history or getting together around one candidate to try to stop front-runner Mitt Romney.

Romney issued a terse statement. ""Rick Perry ran a campaign based upon love of country and conservative principles. He has earned a place of prominence as a leader in our party and I salute him for his commitment to making President Obama a one-term president and finally getting our nation's economy back on the right track. The nation owes Governor Perry a debt of gratitude for his years of service to his state and country. I wish Anita and him well."

Gingrich said in a statement, "I am humbled and honored to have the support of my friend Rick Perry. His selflessness is yet another demonstration of his deep sense of citizenship and commitment to the cause of limited government, historic American values and greater freedom for every American.

"Governor Perry will continue to be a leader for the cause of conservatism, especially for more American energy and for implementing the 10th Amendment across the country.

"South Carolinians have a chance this Saturday to nominate a bold Reagan conservative who will offer a dramatic contrast with President Obama this fall in the general election.

"I ask the supporters of Governor Perry to look at my record of balancing the budget, cutting spending, reforming welfare, and enacting pro-growth policies to create millions of new jobs and humbly ask for their vote."

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COLUMBIA, SC.--Just as GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich may be catching up to chief rival and frontrunner Mitt Romney in South Carolina--and Rick Perry dropping out--ABC's Nightline will broadcast Thursday night a stinging interview with former wife Marianne Gingrich. It's a double header tonight: CNN hosts the last debate before the Saturday vote at 8 p.m est.

Marianne, Gingrich's second wife, tells ABC's Rhonda Schwartz and Brian Ross "Gingrich lacks the moral character to serve as President, his second ex-wife Marianne told ABC News, saying his campaign positions on the sanctity of marriage and the importance of family values do not square with what she saw during their 18 years of marriage."

And more, from ABC: "When Gingrich admitted to a six-year affair with a Congressional aide, he asked her if she would share him with the other woman, Callista, who is now married to Gingrich.

"And I just stared at him and he said, 'Callista doesn't care what I do,'" Marianne Gingrich told ABC News. "He wanted an open marriage and I refused."

Marianne described her "shock" at Gingrich's behavior, including how she says she learned he conducted his affair with Callista "in my bedroom in our apartment in Washington."

"He always called me at night," she recalled, "and always ended with 'I love you.' Well, she was listening."

On Wednesday, the Gingrich campaign put out a statement sent to ABC News by Gingrich's daughters by his first wife, defending their father and noting this controversial interview comes out just days before the vote.

Kathy Lubbers.jpg

Right, Newt Gingrich daughter Kathy Lubbers campaigning for him in Ames, Iowa.
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

Below, statement from the daughters:

To: ABC News Leadership
From: Kathy Lubbers, Jackie Cushman
Date: January 18, 2012

The failure of a marriage is a terrible and emotional experience for everyone involved. Anyone who has had that experience understands it is a personal tragedy filled with regrets, and sometimes differing memories of events.

We will not say anything negative about our father's ex-wife. He has said before, privately and publicly, that he regrets any pain he may have caused in the past to people he loves.

ABC News or other campaigns may want to talk about the past, just days before an important primary election. But Newt is going to talk to the people of South Carolina about the future- about job creation, lower taxes, and about who can defeat Barack Obama by providing the sharpest contrast to his damaging, extreme liberalism. We are confident this is the conversation the people of South Carolina are interested in having.

Our father is running for President because of his grandchildren - so they can inherit the America he loves. To do that, President Obama must be defeated. And as the only candidate in the race, including Obama, who has actually helped balance the national budget, create jobs, reform welfare, and cut taxes and spending, Newt felt compelled to run - to serve his country and safeguard his grandchildren's future.


COLUMBIA, SC.---Texas Gov. Rick Perry is dropping his White House bid on Thursday morning in advance of the Saturday South Carolina primay--and the final debate in the Palmetto State, 8 p.m. est on CNN.

*Turns out Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucus, by 34 votes according to a canvas. Would have meant more if on election night Mitt Romney was not deemed the winner by eight votes.

*Newt Gingrich is being thrown a curve ball: ABC's Nightline at 11:30 p.m. est is going to broadcast an interview tonight with Gingrich's second wife. Marianne Gingrich tells ABC's Rhonda Schwartz and Brian Ross "Gingrich lacks the moral character to serve as President, his second ex-wife Marianne told ABC News, saying his campaign positions on the sanctity of marriage and the importance of family values do not square with what she saw during their 18 years of marriage."

axelrod white house office.JPG
David Axelrod in his former White House office (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON -- President Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod, is launching an Institute of Politics at his alma mater, the University of Chicago, to create bipartisan programs bringing big names in politics to campus and internships for students.

"If years from now I run across young people who have participated in this Institute who are now writers and staffers and yes, candidates, we'll have done our job well," Axelrod said in a conference call on Wednesday.

The U. of C. institute will be largely modeled on Harvard University's Institute of Politics, housed in the Kennedy School of Government. Harvard's IOP brings together all kinds of figures involved in politics -- from political journalists to elected and appointed government officials and high level campaign operatives.

As at Harvard, Axelrod said he envisioned quarterly fellowships for political practioneers, programs and internships for U. of C. students.

Axelrod will be the founding director of the Institute starting in 2013; at present he is handling his last official campaign -- Obama's 2012 re-election bid. Axelrod joined the Harvard IOP board last year and will step down at the end of 2012.

A draw of the U. of C. IOP will be bringing political star power to the Hyde Park campus.

The Institute, said Axelrod, "will be making the University of Chicago a top destination for newsmakers and political actors."

To that point -- and to kick off the U. of C. IOP -- Axelrod lined up a Thursday panel to discuss the 2012 presidential election contest at the International House: ABC News George Stephanopolous; Mayor Rahm Emanuel; MSNBC host Rachel Maddow; GOP media consultant Alex Castellanos and New York Times columnist David Brooks, who picked up his undergraduate degree at the U. of C. in 1983. (The program is for students and invited guests.)

Axelrod -- who received his undergraduate degree in 1976 -- is a former Chicago Tribune political writer who switched to working for candidates, making his name at first as a top consultant for Senate, House and local campaigns. To take advantage of being in Chicago, Axelrod said the Institute will also have a focus on "urban politics."

Axelrod is just one of many people in the Obama orbit with deep ties to the U. of C. Obama taught at the law school; First lady Michelle was an executive at the medical center; daughters Malia and Sasha attended the Lab School; senior adviser Valerie Jarrett was on the U. of C. board and Mrs. Obama's former chief of staff, Susan Sher, is now a top honcho at the medical center.

With all those connections -- and with the Obama home not far from campus -- the U. of C. will likely be in the running to eventually house in whole or part the Obama Presidential Library. If and when that happens at the U. of C., Axelrod said, "we would look for ways to create synergy."

That's off in the future. Said Axelrod, "my goal right now is to help, encourage young people who are going to be, you know, the David Axelrods and better in the future."

Members of a U. of C. IOP advisory board include Republican media consultant Michael Murphy; historian Doris Kearns Goodwin; former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Chicago native, political advisor Howard Wolfson, a U. of C. alum who now works for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and who was a strategist for Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign, Obama 2012 campaign top deputy Stephanie Cutter and Brooks.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn hits Washington Thursday and Friday; one meeting is with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss opening up foreign markets to more Illinois exports.

On Thursday, Quinn accepts an award from Americans for the Arts at a US Conference of Mayors winter meeting breakfast. (Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in Washington Friday to deliver a keynote to the group.)

Later Quinn visits with Clinton; Illinois exports are up 32 percent from last quarter.

Quinn is scheduled to guest on Fox News America's Newsroom with Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum at 10:30 AM ET. He wants to discuss, I'm told, "how Illinois is facing down the national recession with less and less federal dollars by leading the nation's largest capital program and providing targeted tax relief for low-income workers."

On Friday Quinn, who is active in the Democratic Governors Association joins DGA chief Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley; Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and labor leaders to discuss jobs and workforce training in Hanover, Md.

GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney is stepping up his attacks on rival Newt Gingrich on Wednesday, hitting him for lack of leadership while Speaker of the House in advance of the Saturday South Carolina primary. While polls suggest Romney could win in South Carolina with multiple names on the ballot--including Republicans who have dropped out--a plurality win with Gingrich or any rival close behind is not the robust victory the Romney team wants. The Romney team wants to show Republicans are really coming around for Romney--not just that no strong anti-Romney has emerged and rivals are splitting the anti-Romney vote.

The Romney team is pressing two anti-Gingrich themes: "unreliable leader" and "undiscliplined." They are using two surrogates --former Rep. Susan Molinari and former Sen. Jim Talent to help make the charge. Molinari was in the House while Gingrich was speaker and her husband, former Rep. Bill Paxon was part of a rump rebellion against him.

Talent, who served with Gingrich while in the House, said in a conference call Wednesday morning that while Gingrich is running as a "reliable conservative leader," he is "not reliable" and can be "destructive" to Republicans. Talent cited as an example Gingrich's disagreement with a budget offered by Rep. Paul Ryan last year, calling it "radical right wing social engineering." Gingrich also teamed with Democrat Nancy Pelosi to back climate change proposals, Talent said.

And to top it off, said Talent, is Gingrich's current attack on Romney for his tenure as head of Bain Capital, mirroring the criticisms of the Democrats.

Molinari, who served in leadership with Gingrich at the time, said one day "Gingrich was an ubber conservative" and then another day punched at the free market. Molinari highlighted that Gingrich was forced to resign as leader.

"We do not want Speaker Gingrich" to help re-elect Obama, she said. The nation needs the "steady conservative hand" of Romney.

I asked if either Talent or Molinari wanted Gingrich to drop out now and Molinari said,"no," and added, "I'd let the Romney people speak to that" and added, "We feel the need to speak out and say" what we know about him.

Molinari said when "Newt is in the room, Newt becomes the focus" when the issue has to be "President Obama's performance in office." Gingrich does not have the "temperment and personality" to beat Obama and to be "commander-in-chief."

To underscore the conference call, the Romney team produced a new web ad calling Gingrich an "undisciplined leader" and Molinari says in it, "I served with Newt Gingrich in Congress. Newt Gingrich had a leadership style that can only be described as leadership by chaos. ....The decisions that he would make today would be different decisions tomorrow. ....And a lot of the problems came from sort of the discipline that he lacked in order to get the job done. ....The last time Newt Gingrich was the head of the Republican Party as Speaker, he became so controversial, he helped reelect a Democratic president. ...I worry about the Republican Party's chances to defeat President Obama if Newt Gingrich is the nominee."

Former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who followed Gingrich, is backing Romney.

Video from the Democratic National Committee

WASHINGTON--President Obama is doing a lot--on the government side and within his campaign--but having a hard time convincing people that he is accomplishing much, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll out Wednesday.

From the Post: "Slightly more than half the respondents -- 52 percent -- say Obama has accomplished "not much" or "little or nothing" as president, while 47 percent offer a positive assessment of his record. Those findings are identical to public attitudes two years ago."

And more:
"This Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone January 12 to 15, 2012, among a random national sample of 1,000 adults, including landline and cell phone-only respondents. The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York."

WASHINGTON--Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former chief of staff, is skipping a reception for mayors hosted by Obama at the White House on Wednesday in connection with the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter meeting here. During the day, Emanuel is presiding over a City Council meeting. Emanuel is speaking to the mayors group on Friday, but not attending much else of the conference. During the summer, Emanuel addressed the organization at a Baltimore meeting--he got a big reception--and also did not attend most of the working sessions.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama marked her 48th birthday on Tuesday with a dinner at BLT Steak, with President Obama and a few close friends.

Mrs. Obama has dined there before. The First Couple dinner party included Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Attorney General Eric Holder and his wife Dr. Sharon Malone. Click over to Obamafoodorama, the site of record when it comes to food, entertainment and food policy in the Obama administration for the menu and other juicy details.

WASHINGTON--Chicago's Ertharin Cousin has been tapped by the United Nations to be the executive director of the World Food Program. The appointment came from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Since 2009, Cousin has been the U.S. ambassador to the Rome-based U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture, appointed to the post by President Barack Obama. The UN position is also based in Rome.

"I am pleased to offer my congratulations to Ambassador Ertharin Cousin on her appointment by the United Nations Secretary General as Executive Director of the World Food Programme," Obama said in a statement.

"I am confident that the United Nations and its members will be well served by Ambassador Cousin's experience and commitment to the World Food Programme's vision of a world in which every citizen has access to the food they need to survive and to thrive. I also offer the thanks of the United States Government for the service of Josette Sheeran, under whose leadership the World Food Programme has become a stronger and ever more critical partner in the fight against world hunger, and for food security."

Cousin is a veteran of local Chicago and national politics, the Obama 2008 campaign, the Clinton State Department and the non-profit and corporate world dealing with food distribution to the needy and the food industry.

During the Clinton administration, Cousin was the White House liason to the State Department between 1994 and 1996.

Cousin was Executive Vice President / Chief Operating Officer with Feeding America from 2004-2006; she served as a board member for International Food and Agriculture Development 1997-2000. She was Senior Vice President Public Affairs and other positions at Albertsons Foods, 1999-2004 and was Vice-President Government and Community Affairs at Jewel Food stores, 1997-1999.

WASHINGTON--White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett on Tuesday defended taking a jab at Republicans while speaking from the pulpit over the weekend at Atlanta's historic church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.

"We all sleep a little better at night knowing Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants are not plotting a terrorist attack against the United States," Jarrett said.

Taking aim at Republicans, Jarrett suggested "Teachers, and firefighters, and policemen," may find their jobs in jeopardy because of lack of Republican congressional support.

On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Mika Brzezinski asked Jarrett if "whether or not that is a bipartisan approach, or do you agree to an extent that Republicans have gotten in the way of jobs that are on the line?"

Jarrett said, "I think it's very clear that the Republicans voted against the American Jobs Act. Each time when the whole act was before Congress, when -- each component part, practically all of them the Republicans voted against.

"And so yes, all across the country right now we have teachers and
firefighters, first responders whose jobs are at risk because we don't
have that act in place. And so it did a great deal of damage, and I
think that the Republicans would agree that they voted against it."

WASHINGTON--SuperPacs are "game changers" in the 2012 election, as the Sunlight Foundation puts it and Congress should pass a law to let the public know--in real time--who the donors are who are trying to influence elections.

According to the Sunlight tally, SuperPacs poured $15 million to date in Iowa and New Hampshire GOP presidential primaries. SuperPacs are new players on the political scene this election cycle, created after the Supreme Court ruled in the 2010 Citizens United case that corporations and unions--banned from donating to federal candidates were free to form political action committees to support or be against specific candidates. These independent expenditures are supposed to be independent of a campaign--but the personnel running them have deep ties to the candidates the SuperPac is backing.

The GOP in Congress stalled an earlier attempt to force timely disclosure. Sunlight wants Congress to pass a bill to "ensure that the money behind corporate, union and shadow group campaign ads will be online, available for public scrutiny, in real time."

What needs to be done:

"Ensure disclosure of donors who fund independent expenditures and electioneering communications made by super PACs or other 501(c) organizations. ...Data must be in searchable, sortable, machine-readable formats and reports must include unique IDs for all filers. ....Require disclaimers (stand-by-your-ad statements) and identification of top funders in the ad. .....Require registered lobbyists to report their spending on independent expenditures and electioneering communications. ....Require all candidates and committees to file electronically with the Federal Election Commission."

"The Sunlight Foundation calls on both Democrats and Republicans to stop serving their self-interest and start acting in the public interest by taking a step in favor of transparency. We propose the Stop Undisclosed Payments in Elections from Ruining Public Accountability in Campaigns Act (a.k.a the SUPERPAC Act) as a step towards addressing the corrupting influence unlimited, secret super PAC money has on our elections and our elected officials," Sunlight said in a statement.

WASHINGTON-- Illinois Democratic House hopeful John Tree, who jumped in the 10th district primary late--in November--raised $101,000 in the past quarter and on Tuesday released a list of endorsements.

Tree, an Air Force Reservist and businessman, faces major competition from Brad Schneider and Ilya Sheyman for the nomination in the north suburban district. The battle is over who will face freshman Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) in November.

Tree has about $80,000 cash-on-hand and pumped about $20,000 of his money into the race. Schneider and Sheyman have not released numbers yet for the quarter ending last Dec. 31.

Tree announced backing from David Wilhelm, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and Pete Couvall, Former Vice-Chairman of the Lake County Democrats and Treasurer of the Waukegan Democrats; David McArtin - Grant Township Democratic Committeeman; Rob Nesvacil - President of Wheeling Township Democrats; Kathleen Sances - Wheeling Township Democratic Committeewoman and Sue Walton - Palatine Township Democratic Committeewoman.

Click below for release....

WASHINGTON--The Obama re-election team is using the Charlotte, N.C. nominating convention to target, woo and deliver NASCAR voters in key battleground states.

Convention organizers announced Tuesday the convention will kick off Labor Day at the giant Charlotte Motor Speedway, making public a plan that has been in the works for months to pitch President Obama to a demographic he will need in November. The speedway has a seating capacity of 140,000, which means that tens of thousands of non-convention delegates can be invited to the event, a massive organizing tool.

A Labor Day kick-off of course is also a hat tip to organized labor, a major part of the Democratic base.

The 2012 Democratic National Convention--usually four days--in modern times its only official function to rubberstamp a nominee already well known--will have official events at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte only two days. One of the days will be used to organize in battlegrounds North Carolina and Virginia--and to recruit volunteers in GOP leaning South Carolina.

In 2008, Obama beat GOP nominee John McCain in North Carolina 49.70 percent to 49.38 percent; in Virginia, Obama beat McCain 52.63 percent to 46.33 percent. In South Carolina, McCain beat Obama 53.87 percent to 44.90 percent.

At the 2008 convention in Denver, Obama accepted the nomination before about 84,000 people at Invesco Field, a football stadium in Denver. The outdoor venue allowed the campaign to involve tens of thousands of non-delegates to a historic event, collect their e-mails and set the stage for further campaign contact and engagement.

Using Obama's acceptance speech as an organizing event, helped him win battleground Colorado in 2008.

The Obama team is reprising the successful strategy in 2012. Obama will deliver his second acceptance speech on Sept. 6 at the Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers with a seating capacity of about 74,000.

"Dedicating Monday, September 3rd to families and the community hosting the convention will help show the world what we can do when we out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world and build an economy that creates opportunity for all," said convention CEO Steve Kerrigan.

Republicans hold their convention Aug. 27-Aug. 30 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fl.

Seven things the Obama re-election team is doing right now to win in November:

*Organizing around President Barack Obama's Jan. 24 State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress. The campaign is organizing watch parties, even putting together a host guide to go step-by-step on how to put together an event. Obama's State of the Union speech is being leveraged by the campaign in order to keep people engaged and to create more data for the digital analysts at the Chicago headquarters to study to see what makes people respond to different web-based requests for actions.

*Organizing around First Lady Michelle Obama's Tuesday 48th birthday, asking folks to sign an on-line card. Again, the point is to create engagement points while letting the campaign reap data from the respondents.

*No matter the flap over Jodi Kantor's new book, "The Obamas," reporting on East Wing/West Wing tensions, Mrs. Obama is one of the campaign's strongest assets. She launched her Twitter account @michelleobama on Jan. 12 and as of Monday, she had 337,884 followers.

*Fund-raising with new designer products. The campaign is already previewing "Runway to Win," which features higher end "Obama inspired" apparel, tote bags and the like, by 23 U.S. leading designers. The "official" launch is Feb. 7 in New York.

While the Obama campaign already has a full line of products--and a print and online catalogue--the designer pitch in part is that their stuff is "limited edition."


*Running an "Obama fellows" -three, 12-week programs-- in cooperation with the Democratic National Committee's Organizing for America. "Organizing Fellows who complete the program will leave with a full understanding of the most effective tools and methods that organizers use to make change in their communities. This program is often a first step in preparing for employment as some Organizing Fellows will go on to full-time jobs with the campaign."

*Vice President Joe Biden is fund-raising this week in Los Angeles and Sacramento.

*Obama is fund-raising Tuesday in New York, with the New York press reporting that Obama returns to the Apollo Theater in Harlem for a concert with stars as well as a $35,800-a-person dinner hosted by Spike Lee.

Comic Stephen Colbert is flirting with jumping in the 2012 presidential race. Last year, he formed a SuperPac--which bankrolled a video blasting GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney tenure at Bain--with humorous twists, of course.

First Lady Michelle Obama turns 48 on Tuesday, and the Obama re-election campaign is using her birthday to help organize the troops for the November elections.

In 2011, Mrs. Obama celebrated her 47th birthday when President Barack Obama took her to a fancy dinner at The Source, a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in the Newseum in Washington.

In 2010 , Mrs. Obama was also taken out by her husband for a 46th birthday dinner, to Restaurant Nora, one of the nicest special-occasion places in Washington.

In 2009, Mrs. Obama was busy getting ready for the inauguration -- the Obama administration is three years old in January--and celebrated her 45th birthday on the inauguration train traveling from Philadelphia to Washington.

The Obama 2012 campaign--a data driven enterprise-- posted a birthday card for Mrs. Obama and asking people to sign it; a technique used to develop supporter or potential supporter engagement, gather updated contact information, find out which app was the most effective, and what parts of the country responded to the appeal.

As Obama notes in a message, "this fall, Michelle and I will have been married 20 years. The next 10 months will be harder than any we've experienced together, and I couldn't do it without her. I know she'd love to hear from you today."

President Obama, First Lady Michelle, Malia and Sasha made a rare visit to church on Sunday, heading to Zion Baptist in Washington--a congregation founded in 1864 by African-Americans-- the day before the nation celebrates the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. At the service, a deacon read from Rev. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

The Obama administration--and the Obama re-elect campaign--are focusing activities on MLK Day. The campaign is asking for supporters to take part in service projects--which is also a way to help organize the troops for the November election.

Obama cabinet and top officials are fanning out to mark MLK Day: Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett keynoted on Sunday at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga.

On Monday, in Chicago, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack will speak to Rainbow PUSH to, according to the White House, "highlight USDA advancements on Civil Rights and the Obama administration's settlement of the Pigford lawsuit."

GOP presidential hopefuls face-off twice in South Carolina before the Jan. 21 primary:

January 16, 2012 - 9:00pm
Myrtle Beach, SC

January 19, 2012 - 8:00pm
Charleston, SC

White House GOP hopeful Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital--how the company made money and how jobs were created and lost--continues to be a central matter in the 2012 race. On Sunday, President Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, appearing on CNN's "State of the Union" hosted by Candy Crowley, focused on how companies like Bain make money compared to a broader question of what an approach should be by a president.

"Saving an industry, as the president did, is different than strip mining companies in order to - in order to profit off of them, which is, in many cases, what Mr. Romney did," Axelrod told Crowley. "The question is, is that the philosophy that you want in the White House?"

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, earlier told CBS he had to make tough choices at times.

"The president took the reins of General Motors and Chrysler, closed factories, closed dealerships, laid off thousands and thousands of workers," Romney said. "He did it to try and save the business. We also had, on occasion, to do things that are tough, to try and save a business."

Click below for CNN transcript...

Recommended reading: Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Alter on the resignation of White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.

Alter: "The resignation of William M. Daley as President Barack Obama's White House chief of staff brings to mind the words of David Wilhelm when he left his post as chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1994: "I'm going back to Chicago where they stab you in the front."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel hits Washington next week for the U. S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting. He keynotes a session on Friday, as does White House senior advisor David Plouffe.

Updated with Paul campaign comment...

WASHINGTON--GOP White House hopeful Rick Perry did not file correctly for the March 20 Illinois presidential primary "beauty contest," and some of rival Rick Santorum's delegate slates are short of signatures, leaving them open to challenges that could knock them off the ballot.

Illinois law requires candidates to file using their home addresses. Perry, the Texas governor whose candidacy may not survive through Illinois, used a post office box in Austin, Texas for an address.

Paul's Illinois petitions used the address of his Virginia campaign headquarters. His campaign said his statement of candidacy used his home address

Newt Gingrich, Paul, Perry, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Buddy Roemer all filed the required 3,000 signatures for the beauty contest. Jon Huntsman skipped Illlinois.

Challenges to nominating petitions are due by Friday.

Nominations are won through the election of delegates, and in Illinois and the winner of the "beauty contest" gets only a symbolic boost if GOP primary voters do not pick their pledged delegates to support them at the nominating convention in Tampa later this year. Delegates are elected by congressional districts.

Rick Santorum did not file delegate slates in four out of the 18 Illinois congressional districts from which delegates are elected. Santorum's delegate slates in 10 districts were filed with far fewer than the 600 signatures needed for the ballot. Perry's campaign filed in only one district.

Jon Zahm, the Santorum campaign Illinois political director, said four years ago there was an "unwritten agreement" between the Republican presidential campaigns not to challenge petitions. He has heard "rumblings of challenges," though none yet have materialized as of Thursday.

Zahm said if challenges surface, "we may be forced to challenge other petitions" because "we believe every candidate had vulnerable districts and vulnerable petitions."

WASHINGTON--The Obama campaign had a very robust 4th quarter, raising $68 million--of that $42 million was donated directly to the Obama 2012 campaign and $24 million to the Democratic National Committee, which is raising money in tandem with OFA.

"Too many Obama supporters genuinely believe that this campaign doesn't really need their donations, or doesn't need them yet, in order to compete and win," campaign manager Jim Messina said in an e-mail

"That's wrong.

"This is not a billion-dollar campaign and it's not going to be. We're not taking a dime from Washington lobbyists or special-interest PACs. All of the money that funds this campaign will come from grassroots supporters like you," he said.

Updated with Schneider campaign statement...

WASHINGTON-- In the north suburban Illinois Tenth House Democratic primary contest, a new poll taken by a group backing Ilya Sheyman shows Sheyman ahead by two points of Brad Schneider but in a statistical tie.

John Tree, who jumped in the race late, is behind. The poll shows the situation before the March 20 Illinois primary very fluid: 49 percent are not sure who they want.

Q1 If the Democratic primary for Congress were held today, and the choices were Ilya Sheyman, Brad Schneider, John Tree, and Vivek Bavda, for whom would you vote?
Ilya Sheyman................................................. 23%
Brad Schneider............................................... 21%
John Tree........................................................ 5%
Vivek Bavda....................................................2%
Not sure..........................................................49%

This poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and on January 3-4, 2012 and was comprised of 410 likely IL-10 Democratic primary voters. The Margin of Error (MOE) is +/- 4.8%.

Statement from the PCCC: "Democratic primary voters overwhelmingly want a bold progressive candidate who will fight for Wall Street accountability and government investment in jobs -- not a conservative Democrat like Brad Schneider. With his people-powered campaign and record as a bold progressive fighter, Ilya Sheyman is winning this race and his lead will only widen as more people are inspired by his message." -- Neil Sroka, Press Secretary, Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Statement from Schneider campaign: "Ilya's spin of a poll conducted for his campaign that shows the race essentially tied is not what we are seeing and hearing from Democrats across the 10th district who are excited about Brad because they know he will stand up for middle class jobs, protect a woman's right to choose, preserve Medicare and Social Security and defend our environment against big polluters. Brad is building the kind of strong, people-motivated campaign that can take on Tea Partiers in Washington like Bob Dold. That's why he's been proud to have the support from Democratic leaders like Melissa Bean, Julie Hamos, and Steny Hoyer in addition to thousands of Illinois 10 Democrats," Jarrod Backous, Campaign Manager

WASHINGTON -- First lady Michelle Obama knows when the stuff about her being an angry black woman got started, and over time she hopes it will go away.

"That's been an image that people have tried to paint of me since, you know, the day Barack announced, that I'm some angry black woman," she told CBS News in an interview broadcast Wednesday.

To deal with it, "I just try to be me. And my hope is that, over time, people get to know me, and they get to judge me for me."

Mrs. Obama's comments came when she discussed for the first time The Obamas, a new book about the first couple by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor. She told CBS News' Gayle King that she had not read the book -- but had been told about some parts of it and was critical of its intimate tone about her views and attitudes that she never discussed with the author.

"Who can write about how I feel? Who? What third person can tell me how I feel, or anybody, for that matter," Mrs. Obama said.

Kantor had access to present and former administration officials and Obama friends, some speaking on the record and others on background. Kantor had a 40-minute interview with the first couple in 2009 about their personal relationship.

The White House pushed back starting Saturday when it turned out that the book had big doses of palace intrigue and was written in a manner that suggested an intimacy that the White House said just did not exist.

Mrs. Obama, who aggressively works to be non-controversial, kept her interview date with King, scheduled before the book was out. Mrs. Obama agreed to the interview with King (Oprah Winfrey's best friend) to help her launch her new CBS morning show.

One episode reported in the book -- which covers the beginning of the Obama presidency to last summer -- is a blowup by then Press Secretary Robert Gibbs after senior adviser Valerie Jarrett signaled that the first lady was not pleased with how a story about her and French first lady Carla Sarkozy was handled.

Kantor also wrote about strained relations between Mrs. Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he was Obama's chief of staff and, in the first years, a West Wing that treated the East Wing as a junior partner.

Of Mrs. Obama and Emanuel, Kantor wrote "Their relationship was distant and awkward from the beginning. She had been skeptical of him when he was selected and now he returned the favor."

Mrs. Obama told King, "Rahm is -- and Amy, his wife -- are some of our dearest friends. Rahm and I have never had a cross word. He's a funny guy."

"You've never had a cross word with Rahm Emanuel?" asked King , perhaps because Emanuel is so combative.

"We have never had a cross word. I mean, I don't have conversations with my husband's staff. I don't go to the meetings. I don't have -- our staffs work together really well."

: Kantor writes about the Obamas on a Martha's Vineyard vacation, where they invited Chicago pals Allison and Susan Davis to join them on a beach set aside for their use. (Davis and Obama worked in the same law firm in Chicago back in the day.) Writes Kantor, Davis started to help pack up to leave "folding towels and such," only to be told by Obama he did not have to do that. Kantor reports Obama told Davis, "When I leave office there are only two things I want. . . . I want a plane and I want a valet."

President Obama came home Wednesday for three fund-raisers and a stop at his Prudential Building 2012 campaign headquarters. He also made a quick stop at his Kenwood home before heading back to the White House. The Chicago Sun-Times Abdon M. Pallasch was in the pool; his story is HERE.

Romney's Wednesday TV blitz

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NASHUA, NH--GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney made the rounds of the morning news shows on Wednesday, taking a victory lap after back-to-back Iowa/New Hampshire presidential vote wins.

As the Republican primary contest turns to South Carolina, Romney told CNN's Soledad O'Brien, he expects stepped up hits from rival Newt Gingrich.

"I know that Speaker Gingrich is going to try and throw everything he can at me. He tried here in New Hampshire. It didn't work. Conservatives and evangelicals got behind me in record numbers," said Romney.

Romney highlighted those two voter segments because they are expected to be influential in the South Carolina vote.

MANCHESTER, NH--The Obama team, no surprise, knocked down GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney's Tuesday primary win here because his vote was not big enough. They need to be careful because Romney is running a very smart campaign--studying, as football coaches do, Obama's playbook.

"He fell far short of meeting expectations," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl.), taunting Romney's 38 percent victory, besting Ron Paul at 24 percent, Jon Huntsman at 17 percent. The two who last week seemed the biggest threat to Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, each pulled only 10 percent.

Romney's election night event was at Southern New Hampshire University, the same place were four years ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted her victory party after a surprise come-from-behind win, stunning the overly-confident Obama team.

Recalling that event, Romney advisor Stuart Stevens tossed it back: "The Obama campaign should maybe win one in New Hampshire before criticizing others for not winning big enough," he told me. (Obama won New Hampshire in the general election.)

The Romney campaign, based in Boston, scrutinized the epic Obama/Clinton contest in New Hampshire. "We studied it very carefully," said Stevens to see what the Obama did right here--and where they stumbled. In Boston, they read all the speeches and watched all the event videos.

Romney heads into South Carolina's Jan. 21 primary and Florida's Jan. 31 primary votes strong because the New Hampshire and Iowa victories also did not yield any coalition to create a strong, anti-Romney alternative candidate.

The New Hampshire Republican primary took on a nasty tone in the closing days, with Romney's rivals-- Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman--hitting his claim that while running Bain Capital, the private-equity firm, he was responsible for creating tens of thousands of jobs. While that trio worked the right, the Obama Team, figuring all along Romney would be the GOP nominee, stepped up their Bain hit on Romney from the left.

From the Romney campaign perspective, the Bain attacks--coming now--makes it old news in November.

They hope.

Anyway, the election results show how far it got Romney's rivals.

For now, that is.

With jobs a central 2012 election issue--and one of Obama's greatest vulnerabilities he has to deal with--the New Hampshire primary may be seen in a few weeks as a mere dress rehearsal for Bain hits on Romney to come.

Stevens said the conflict over Romney and Bain in a way played to their advantage. Voters, he said "like sparks." With Romney well ahead in every poll in New Hampshire for months, the Bain hits--not exactly unanticipated--gave a chance to show Romney was working. "Voters can sense if you are kind of coasting, not fighting," Stevens said.

The totals were not all in as I write this, but the 2012 voters turnout here was tens of thousands fewer than in 2008--evidence of an "enthusiasm gap" on the GOP side which Obama will be able to exploit to his advantage in November.

Romney's Finance Director, Mason Fink, invited the campaigns best fund-raisers and donors from around the country--the National Finance Committee-- to the New Hampshire victory party, part of a series of events for Romney's best donors and "bundlers," people who use their own networks to raise campaign money.

The group included Illinois Romney Campaign finance co-chairs attorney Ty Fahner and business executives Susan Crown (her father Lester is an Obama backer) and Bill Kunkler.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday applauded Bill Daley's tenure as President Obama's chief of staff, the day after Obama announced Daley would be stepping down. Daley replaced Emanuel as chief of staff when Emanuel departed to run for mayor. Chicago Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman has the story HERE.

My column on Daley's earlier-than-expected departure:

White House chief of staff Bill Daley is resigning, President Obama announced on Monday, and will be departing 10 months earlier than expected. Daley will be replaced by Budget Director Jack Lew.

Daley told me he will return to Chicago sometime near the end of the month, after Obama's Jan. 24 State of the Union speech and the federal budget rollout. Daley will become a co-chair of Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, based in Chicago.

President Obama -- who hits Chicago Wednesday for three fund-raising events -- discussed the move in brief comments from the White House, flanked by Daley and Lew.
"I didn't accept Bill's decision right away. In fact, I asked him to take a couple of days to make sure that he was sure about this. But in the end, the pull of the hometown we both love -- a city that's been synonymous with the Daley family for generations -- was too great. Bill told me that he wanted to spend more time with his family, especially his grandchildren, and he felt it was the right decision," Obama said.

Daley offered his resignation letter, dated Jan. 3, after returning from a holiday vacation in Mexico. Daley wrote to Obama, "I have been honored to be a small part of your administration. It is time for me to go back to the city I love."

Daley, a former commerce secretary in the Clinton administration and brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, followed Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the chief of staff job after Emanuel stepped down to run for mayor.

A former JPMorgan Chase Bank executive when Obama tapped him in January 2010, Daley was hired in part to be a bridge between the White House, the business community and the Republicans in Congress -- a job that eventually ceased to exist as relations continued to fray, especially with Republicans.

Daley was not especially close to Obama but shared in common friendships with political strategist David Axelrod and Emanuel.

By clearing out in a few weeks rather than staying through what is expected to be a tough re-election battle, Daley leaves while the Obama administration is on a high note. Axelrod told me Daley steps down after a "long and challenging" year but during a period where "arrows [are] pointing up."

Last year, Daley was put in an uncomfortable position within the White House -- he was the target of internal sniping and infighting that led to a series of Washington stories. Some reports were fed by staffers who preferred Emanuel's frenzied, chaotic micromanagement to Daley's corporate style. Other stories came from Capitol Hill, where Daley had a frosty relationship with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The beginning of the end for Daley started in October, when he gave a candid interview with Politico's Roger Simon, where he blamed Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress. Later in October, Daley told NBC5 Chicago that he was going to stay only through the November 2012, election.
In November, Daley was demoted and Obama tapped Pete Rouse, who was Obama's Illinois Senate chief of staff, to run day-to-day operations. Daley continued to handle the broader management and strategic chores, with Obama in the Situation Room and for the Presidential Daily Brief and, at the end of the day, huddling with Obama for the "Daily Wrap."

NASHUA, NH.--President Barack Obama hits Chicago on Wednesday for three fund-raising events, as a new fund-raising enterprise, the "Chicago Leadership Circle" develops a perk package for donors.

The venture is overseen by the Obama 2012 campaign Illinois Finance co-chairs, Vicki Heyman, John Rogers and Neil Bluhm and provides access to events--many at the Obama 2012 headquarters at the Prudential Building-- for a flat donation of $5,000. A monthly payment option--in $1,000 chunks--is available.

The marketing strategy is this: leverage the flow of political operatives coming to headquarters to involve donors in briefings and other events. The most elite Obama fund-raisers--his National Leadership Council--routinely get briefing sessions at their quarterly meetings with top Obama administration and campaign officials.

The campaign already sends out a string of high profile surrogates on the campaign trail; the council seems a cost-effective strategy to make money off of folks who are coming to Chicago anyway. One of the challenges for Illinois Obama fund-raisers is to widen the circle of donors for 2012--and get 2008 contributors who have not written checks yet jazzed up enough to put down some campaign cash.

"To show our appreciation for your past support, we'd like to invite you to join an exciting new venture: The Obama 2012 Chicago Leadership Circle. As the 2012 campaign moves into full swing, there will be a constant influx of key policy makers and political operatives coming to our city. The Leadership Circle offers you the unique opportunity not only to watch the evolution of the campaign up close, but also to shape the future of our country," the Illinois Finance chairs wrote to potential donors.

Obama is headlining two high end dinners and a concert at the University of Illinois-Chicago forum with CSI: NY star Hill Harper and R & B star Janelle Monae.

Folks who join the "CLC" were going to get free tickets and VIP seating for the rally. Last week, "CLCers" watched the Iowa caucus returns from Obama headquarters. A breakfast with Mayor Rahm Emanuel is also in the works.

The Obama team is also selling--according to one marketing pitch-- "unparalleled networking opportunities -- With Chicago serving as the Obama 2012 campaign headquarters, our city will experience a constant influx of key policy makers and political operatives. The Chicago Leadership Circle offers members an ongoing opportunity to talk with these individuals, as well as with other politically interested Chicagoans who desire a place for networking and smart discussion."

As previously disclosed in earlier reports here, Obama keynotes a $35,800-per couple dinner at the North Side home of media mogul Fred Eychaner, a major donor to Democratic organizations, campaigns and "SuperPacs," the third party groups playing a role in the 2012 campaigns.

There is a reception in Hyde Park at the home of Evonne and Stuart Taylor, who is the managing partner of The Taylor Group, a private equity firm who is CEO of one of its holdings, Analytic Innovations. Donors are being asked for at least $7,000 with $20,000 for a host reception for a couple. Bundlers--people who tap their personal networks to get others to write checks can get in of they raise at least $30,000.

Host Committee members at the Taylor event include Illinois Obama 2012 Finance honcho John Rogers Jr. and pals Cheryl and Eric Whitaker. More host committee names: Les Coney, Alan and Sophia King, Susan McKeever, Jesse Ruiz, Joshua Schwartz, Nigel and Deborah Telman.

Proceeds go to the Obama Victory Fund 2012, run by Obama for America and the Democratic National Committee.

NASHUA, N.H. -- With GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney poised to win Tuesday's primary -- as rivals start to punch harder -- second place is up for grabs as the race moves on to South Carolina and Jon Huntsman needs to find a lifeline to hang on.

For Huntsman, the former Utah governor who was President Barack Obama's ambassador to China, after skipping the Jan. 3 kickoff Iowa vote to concentrate here, single-digit results may doom his campaign.

"We are going to surprise a whole lot of people in this country tomorrow night," Huntsman told a crowd at a town hall in Exeter.

While all the other GOP contenders -- even Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann who dropped out -- have been front-runners at least for a time -- Huntsman never had an up.

Huntsman appealed to independents -- who can vote in the GOP primary here -- as he railed against Romney, not mentioning his name.

"The people in this state, they don't want to be told for whom to vote. And they sure don't want the establishment teeing up the same old people. They want a new generation of leadership," Huntsman said.

Romney edged out former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) by eight votes in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus vote. Santorum hopes his surprise Iowa showing will help in the Granite State -- where Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has a home here, has held a lead in every poll for months.

In the days before the Iowa caucus, Santorum's campaign followed the political dictum, if you want a big crowd, book a small room, spilling out of library meeting spaces.

Overly optimistic, perhaps -- or forgetting the rule -- Santorum held a town-hall meeting outdoors -- in the chill -- with a small crowd on the Rivier College Athletic Field.

Asked about his New Hampshire prospects, Santorum said, "In my dreams, second place. Given the fact that we're not running any media up here and that we've only just spent five days in the last month here campaigning, you know second place would be a dream come true. They asked these questions in Iowa and I just said you know what, we just have to exceed expectations."

Romney -- who has run a cautious campaign -- made a comment on Monday seized on by his GOP rivals and Democrats.

They took a snippet of a quote -- "I like to fire people" -- out of context to make it seem that Romney, a multimillionaire, was out-of-touch and insensitive.

This comes after Romney is being jabbed harder by Democrats and GOP rivals for the jobs he claims he created when he headed Bain Capital from 1984 to 1999. A new SuperPAC backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- Winning Our Future -- is making Romney out to be a "predatory corporate raider" while at Bain.

On Monday, Romney was discussing health insurance and the system in the U.S. where most people have to get their insurance through their employers during a session at the Nashua Chamber of Commerce. If people change jobs, they may have to get a new insurance company.

"I want people to own their own insurance if they wish to," Romney said. ". . . I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means that if you don't like what they do, you could fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. If someone doesn't give me the good service I need, I want to say, 'You know, I'm going to get someone else to provide that service to me.' "

While all the other Republicans take questions from the press, Romney has preserved his front-runner status in part by not being accessible. Because of the flap over his firing remark -- which could escalate if left unchecked -- Romney held his first press availability in a week.

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NASHUA, NH.--Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs apologized Monday for insulting First Lady Michelle Obama during an explosive staff meeting where he also laid into Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. The scene is recounted in a new book, "The Obamas," by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor. Jarrett said the two have "worked through disagreements."
My post on episode in Kantor's book on how when Mrs. Obama worked in Mayor Daley's City Hall in the early 1990s, she was "distressed" by how a small group of "white Irish Catholic" families -- the Daleys, the Hynes and the Madigans -- "locked up" power in Illinois is HERE.
"In any high-pressure work environment there are occasional arguments and disagreements and that is certainly true of the White House. I regret speaking in anger and regret that this disagreement became so public. But those moments pale in comparison to the important issues facing our country and will not overshadow the vital work Valerie and I will do together as part of a team in 2012," Gibbs said in a statement.

Said Jarrett in a statement, "Since 2004, Robert Gibbs and I have worked together on campaigns and in the government, and he has been a valued advisor and Press Secretary to this President and a key member of the Obama team. Like any colleagues, we've shared some laughs and we've shared some words over the years. But we have always worked through any disagreements out of mutual respect and in our shared commitment now and in the future to President Obama."

The blow-up, Kantor wrote, came during a staff meeting on Sept. 16, 2010, after Gibbs just tamped down a report that Mrs. Obama had told French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy that she "can't stand" life in the White House, that it was "hell."

Jarrett said Mrs. Obama was "dissatisfied" with how the situation was handled and Gibbs exploded at Jarrett for getting involved in the matter. He threw the "F" word around, aiming one time at Mrs. Obama.

White House chief of staff Bill Daley, whose resignation was announced by President Obama on Monday, will be a co-chair of his 2012 re-election campaign, based in Chicago.

"He's got a ton of political experience, knowledge and contacts and we look forward to leveraging those assets and working closely together to re-elect the President this year," a member of the Obama team told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Updated with President Obama comments, Daley to co-chair print version at top, earlier at the click.....

White House chief of staff Bill Daley is resigning, President Obama announced on Monday, and will be departing 10 months earlier than expected. Daley will be replaced by Budget Director Jack Lew.

Daley told me he will return to Chicago sometime near the end of the month, after Obama's Jan. 24 State of the Union speech and the federal budget rollout. Daley will become a co-chair of Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, based in Chicago.

President Obama -- who hits Chicago Wednesday for three fund-raising events -- discussed the move in brief comments from the White House, flanked by Daley and Lew.
"I didn't accept Bill's decision right away. In fact, I asked him to take a couple of days to make sure that he was sure about this. But in the end, the pull of the hometown we both love -- a city that's been synonymous with the Daley family for generations -- was too great. Bill told me that he wanted to spend more time with his family, especially his grandchildren, and he felt it was the right decision," Obama said.

Daley offered his resignation letter, dated Jan. 3, after returning from a holiday vacation in Mexico. Daley wrote to Obama, "I have been honored to be a small part of your administration. It is time for me to go back to the city I love."

Daley, a former commerce secretary in the Clinton administration and brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, followed Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the chief of staff job after Emanuel stepped down to run for mayor.

A former JPMorgan Chase Bank executive when Obama tapped him in January 2010, Daley was hired in part to be a bridge between the White House, the business community and the Republicans in Congress -- a job that eventually ceased to exist as relations continued to fray, especially with Republicans.

Daley was not especially close to Obama but shared in common friendships with political strategist David Axelrod and Emanuel.

By clearing out in a few weeks rather than staying through what is expected to be a tough re-election battle, Daley leaves while the Obama administration is on a high note. Axelrod told me Daley steps down after a "long and challenging" year but during a period where "arrows [are] pointing up."

Last year, Daley was put in an uncomfortable position within the White House -- he was the target of internal sniping and infighting that led to a series of Washington stories. Some reports were fed by staffers who preferred Emanuel's frenzied, chaotic micromanagement to Daley's corporate style. Other stories came from Capitol Hill, where Daley had a frosty relationship with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The beginning of the end for Daley started in October, when he gave a candid interview with Politico's Roger Simon, where he blamed Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress. Later in October, Daley told NBC5 Chicago that he was going to stay only through the November 2012, election.
In November, Daley was demoted and Obama tapped Pete Rouse, who was Obama's Illinois Senate chief of staff, to run day-to-day operations. Daley continued to handle the broader management and strategic chores, with Obama in the Situation Room and for the Presidential Daily Brief and, at the end of the day, huddling with Obama for the "Daily Wrap."

NASHUA, NH--Who's on second? With GOP White House Mitt Romney expected to trounce his competition in the Tuesday primary here, the battle is for second--and third.

At the race track, the "win" bet pays no matter if the pony is ahead by only a nose. For Romney--especially after his eight-vote photofinish in Iowa over Santorum--his expected Tuesday GOP presidential primary win here will be subject to Talmudic interpretation.

"If Mitt Romney doesn't get over 50 percent on Tuesday here, being a former governor of the state right next door and having a family home here, then there's something seriously wrong," said Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl.). Reprising the role she took on in Iowa, she traveled to New Hampshire to continue to ding Romney--the candidate the Obama team is expecting to win the GOP nomination.

That's classic raising the bar. Polls show Romney closing the New Hampshire primary in great shape--but not over 50 percent.

Real Clear Politics average of polls on Monday:

38.5 Romney
19.8 Paul
11.5 Huntsman
11.5 Santorum
9.5 Gingrich
1.0 Perry

The final WMUR New Hampshire Primary poll:

41 Romney
17 Paul
11 Huntsman
11 Santorum
8 Gingrich

Suffolk University /7News Tracking

33 Romney
20 Paul
13 Huntsman
10 Santorum
11 Gingrich
01 Perry

"All of the candidates behind Romney have a good chance finishing anywhere between second and fifth place," said Andrew Smith, Director of the UNH Survey Center.

NASHUA, NH--Vice President Joe Biden will teleconference with New Hampshire Obama supporters on Tuesday night, similar to the teleconference President Barack Obama had for the Iowa caucus last week. In New Hampshire, the Obama team has seven offices--more than the six GOP presidential contenders. The campaign here has held over 500 events since April. The point here as in Iowa: the GOP rivals will move on--but the Obama forces will stay.

The Obama Manchester campaign office was humming on Sunday, full of volunteers. Just as in Iowa, the Obama team is using the vote to organize for November. Though Obama has no major challenger on the ballot, his 2012 drive even printed "doorhangers" to remind people to vote.

NASHUA, NH--First Lady Michelle Obama, continuing her two-day-a-week public schedule, hits Democratic strongholds in battleground Virginia this week to fund-raise for President Obama's re-election and to handle some official duties. Mixing political and government business on trips always earns criticism because it means taxpayers shoulder some of the costs. Meanwhile, the Obama Team waits word if and when Mrs. Obama is going to pick up the pace.

On Wednesday, Mrs. Obama will be in Richmond to headline a Democratic National Committee lunch.

After that, according to the White House, Mrs. Obama will appear at Virginia Commonwealth University to deliver a speech where she will announce "a major commitment by the country's top medical colleges and universities to create a new generation of doctors, medical schools, and research facilities to ensure that veterans, service men and women receive the medical care that they deserve.

Later, she will hit Charlottesville to keynote another fund-raising reception.

On Friday, Mrs. Obama travels across the Potomac River to suburban Alexandra to promote her appearence on Nickelodeon's iCarly. Not only did she already tape a segment, she joins the cast at a screening of her episode.

To see Mrs. Obama random dance on iCarly click HERE.

In her "iMeet The First Lady," "Mrs. Obama talks with Carly about her service to America as a member of a military family and thanks her friends for supporting her during her father's deployment. The episode airs on Nickelodeon on Monday, January 16th."

Stars Miranda Cosgrove and the iCarly cast will be joined by Mrs. Obama at Hayfield Secondary School, according to the White House, "a school with a large number of military children. They will screen the episode, participate in iCarly's "Random Dancing" and answer questions from the students."

Mrs. Obama is a very good dancer who enjoys her moves. Last May, she appeared at the Alice Deal Middle School in Tenleytown, a northwest Washington neighborhood, to dance to a Beyonce song as part of her "Let's Move" campaign. Mrs. Obama often associates with stars to plug her agenda.

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WASHINGTON-- When Michelle Obama worked in Mayor Daley's City Hall in the early 1990s, she was "distressed" by how a small group of "white Irish Catholic" families -- the Daleys, the Hynes and the Madigans -- "locked up" power in Illinois.

And as she prepared to become first lady, Mrs. Obama naively wanted to delay a move into the White House for six months, so her daughters could finish the school year. Her initial thought was to "commute" to the White House from her South Side home.

And Marty Nesbitt, one of President Obama's best friends, had been recruited to run for Chicago mayor by African-American leaders -- but never ended up challenging Rahm Emanuel, who was Obama's chief of staff who went on to win City Hall.

Details about Mrs. Obama's initial reluctance to embrace her new life, her time in City Hall, the influence she has in the White House, tensions between Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, Emanuel and former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs -- are in a new book about the first couple by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor.

The Chicago Sun-Times has obtained a copy of The Obamas, to be published Tuesday. Kantor hits Chicago for an East Lake Shore Drive book party on Jan. 16; the next day, Jan. 17, she headlines a 6 p.m. event at the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State.

Mrs. Obama worked in the Daley administration between Sept. 16, 1991, and April 30, 1993, according to City of Chicago personnel records. She was hired by Jarrett, then Daley's deputy chief of staff.

Kantor writes Mrs. Obama "disapproved of how closely Daley held power, surrounding himself with three or four people who seemed to let few outsiders in -- a concern she would echo years later with her own husband.

"...She particularly resented the way power in Illinois was locked up generation after generation by a small group of families, all white Irish Catholic -- the Daleys in Chicago, the Hynes and Madigans statewide."

When Jarrett was forced out of City Hall in 1995 -- even though she was close to Daley -- "the Obamas were horrified, their worst suspicions about the world confirmed."

Jarrett, Gibbs, Obama's top strategist David Axelrod, Mrs. Obama's former chief of staff Susan Sher and Chicago pals Eric Whitaker and Marty Nesbitt "gave me many hours of interview time each," Kantor wrote in her acknowledgements. In all, Kantor got the cooperation of 33 current and former members of the Obama administration and close friends.

Still, with reports about issues in the administration -- and an Emanuel who did not welcome Mrs. Obama's influence -- the Obama White House gave the book a frosty reception.

"The book, an overdramatization of old news, is about a relationship between two people whom the author has not spoken to in years," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. "The author last interviewed the Obamas in 2009 for a magazine piece, and did not interview them for this book. The emotions, thoughts and private moments described in the book, though often seemingly ascribed to the president and first lady, reflect little more than the author's own thoughts. These secondhand accounts are staples of every administration in modern political history and often exaggerated."

Camille Johnston, Mrs. Obama's former communications chief, told the Sun-Times, "We had some disagreements over how certain things would be handled, but in the end we all got back to the place Mrs. Obama had set at the onset: nothing on my agenda is more important than what's on his."

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel clashed with First Lady Michelle Obama and offered to resign in February, 2010--when he was White House chief of staff--after a series of self-serving stories, according to a Huffington Post report about a new book, "The Obamas." Mrs. Obama was not enthused about his chief-of-staff appointment.
The book, by the New York Times Jodi Kantor, will be published Jan. 10.

Kantor, according to HuffPost, reports that "Michelle Obama had "doubts" about the choice of Emanuel as chief of staff. Emanuel, in turn, had been opposed to bringing Valerie Jarrett, the Obamas' longtime mentor, into the White House as a senior adviser."
(Emanuel's reservations about Jarrett had been previously known.)

HuffPost on Kantor book: "Emanuel rejected Michelle Obama's efforts to be part of his 7:30 a.m. staff meeting. The administration did not outfit her with a speechwriter for some time. And the first lady's office grew so isolated from the rest of the presidential orbit that aides there began, as Kantor writes, "referring to the East Wing as 'Guam' -- pleasant but powerless."

HUFFINGTON POST CORRECTION: "An earlier version wrongly stated that Michelle Obama wanted to attend the top-staff 7:30 a.m. White House meeting. Author Jodi Kantor reports that the first lady's chief of staff, Jackie Norris, wanted to attend that meeting and was rebuffed by Rahm Emanuel."

And more on the Kantor book via HuffPost:
"Michelle and Rahm Emanuel had almost no bond; their relationship was distant and awkward from the beginning. She had been skeptical of him when he was selected, and now he returned the favor; he was uneasy about first ladies in general, several aides close to him said, based on clashes with Hillary Clinton in the 1990s that became so severe that she had tried to fire him from her husband's administration," writes Kantor.

And more:
"Kantor reports that then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was often deployed to push back against the first lady, informing her that she couldn't take a private vacation on a state visit, spend large amounts on White House redecoration, or buy expensive clothes.

And more: Michelle Obama, who came to politics skeptically but saw her husband as someone capable of lofty achievements, lashed out against her isolation. She sent emails to Jarrett when she had complaints about news coverage, which Jarrett would forward to others after removing the first lady's name from them. When she couldn't wedge herself into her husband's schedule, she would send her missives to Alyssa Mastromonaco, the president's director of scheduling. The emails, Kantor writes, "were so stern that Mastromonaco showed them around to colleagues, unsure of how to respond to her boss's wife's displeasure."

The Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary is followed by the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary and the latest CNN/Time poll out Friday shows Mitt Romney comfortably ahead, Rick Santorum catching up, rolling up support after his strong showing in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus. Newt Gingrich, who was in the South Carolina lead last month, experienced the most dramatic drop.

Summary: Romney 37%, Santorum 19%, Gingrich 18%, Paul 12%, Perry 5%, Huntsman 1%

Below, from CNN/Time....


1. If the Republican presidential primary were held today, please tell me which of the following people you would be most likely to support. -- former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, or former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (RANDOM ORDER)

Jan. 4-5 Nov. 29 - Dec. 6
2012 2011

Romney 37% 20%
Santorum 19% 4%
Gingrich 18% 43%
Paul 12% 6%
Perry 5% 8%
Huntsman 1% 1%
Someone else (vol.) * *
None/ No one (vol.) * *
Bachmann N/A 6%
No opinion 6% 11%

Newt: Mitt is "timid"

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The new jobless rate came out Friday morning--8.5 percent, the lowest since February, 2009--good news for President Barack Obama. High unemployment is the biggest threat to his re-election, no matter who the GOP nominates to run against him.

From Mitt Romney

"Of course it is good news fewer Americans are out of work, but thirty-five consecutive months of unemployment above 8 percent is no cause for celebration. Under President Obama, we have lost 1.7 million jobs - America deserves better. Eventually our economy will recover, America always does. But President Obama's policies have slowed the recovery and created misery for 24 million Americans who are unemployed, or stuck in part-time jobs when what they really want is full-time work. As President, I will refuse to accept high unemployment as the 'new normal' for our economy."

From Newt Gingrich:

"Three full years into the Obama presidency, and there are still 1.7 million fewer Americans going to work today than there were on Obama's Inauguration day.

"Today's new December unemployment figure doesn't capture the full scale of the tragedy: almost 24 million Americans still unemployed, working part-time for economic reasons, or discouraged from looking for work.

"The Obama experiment has failed, and it is time to look to proven solutions that have successfully empowered job-creators in the past.

"Ronald Reagan enacted historic income tax rate cuts, a stronger and more stable dollar, regulatory reforms, and spending controls. Three years into his recovery, Americans had created about 9.5 million jobs. When we took control of the House in 1995, we moved quickly to balance the budget, reform entitlements, and make the largest capital gains tax cut in history - three years later, 8 million more Americans were going into work every day.

"Now more than ever, America needs a Reagan conservative in the White House."

Statement from the White House, Alan B. Krueger, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers:

Today's employment report provides further evidence that the economy is continuing to heal from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It is critical that we continue the economic policies that are helping us to dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the recession that began at the end of 2007. Most importantly, we need to extend the payroll tax cut and continue to provide emergency unemployment benefits through the end of this year, and take other steps the President has proposed in the American Jobs Act.

"Private sector payrolls increased by 212,000 jobs and overall payroll employment rose by 200,000 jobs in December. The unemployment rate fell 0.2 percentage point to 8.5 percent, the lowest level since February 2009. The drop in unemployment over the month was mostly due to employment growth, not lower labor force participation. The unemployment rate has fallen by 0.9 percentage point in the last 12 months. Despite adverse shocks that have created headwinds for economic growth, the economy has added private sector jobs for 22 straight months, for a total of 3.2 million payroll jobs over that period. In the last 12 months, 1.9 million private sector jobs have been added on net in 2011, more than in any year since 2005. Nonetheless, we need faster growth to put even more Americans back to work.

"Sectors with net job increases in December included transportation and warehousing (+50,200), health care and social assistance (+28,700), retail trade (+27,900), manufacturing (+23,000), leisure and hospitality (+21,000), and construction (+17,000). Local governments lost 14,000 jobs and state government employment was unchanged.

"The monthly employment and unemployment numbers are volatile and employment estimates can be subject to substantial revision. Therefore, as the Administration always stresses, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report."

Tammy Duckworth outpaced rival Raja Krishnamoorthi in fourth quarter fund-raising in their Illinois Democratic House primary fight for the northwest suburban 8th congressional district seat.

Krishnamoorthi and Duckworth are battling for the nomination to run against likely GOP nominee, Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.).

Preliminary numbers provided by the campaigns show to date Duckworth has raised in the neighborhood of "the mid 900s and climbing," her campaign said. Krishnamoorthi has also raised about $1 million to date, his campaign said.

Incomplete numbers provided by the campaigns show Duckworth collected some $470,000 to Krishnamoorthi's estimated $274,000 for the fourth quarter ending Dec. 31.

Neither campaign provided cash-on-hand figures, which will be available later on. Since each rival has raised to date about $1 million, how much cash they have on hand is important, because the heaviest spending will occur in the weeks before the March 20 Illinois primary.


"Duckworth raised over $470,000 in the year's final quarter bringing her total money raised to nearly $1,000,000 since entering the race less than six months ago. More than 6,500 donors have rallied to support Duckworth's campaign, making her one of the top fundraisers in the country for the second quarter in a row.
"Most candidates experience a drop off in fundraising after the first quarter of their campaign, and ever more so when you include the holidays. But Tammy is showing her staying power as she continues to win the support of thousands of people. Tammy is clearly the strongest choice to face Walsh in the November general election," said Kaitlin Fahey, Duckworth's Deputy Campaign Manager."


"We have crossed the $1,000,000 mark for total raised in the campaign. We don't have Q4 or cash on hand numbers yet as we are still receiving checks and still counting everything. But $726,184 was the total raised as of Q3. So whatever the difference is between those 2 numbers (are) the floor for Q4.

"We feel strongly that we will have the resources needed to win in March and have demonstrated that we will be able to raise the resources to prevail against Tea Party Republican Joe Walsh in November." - campaign spokesman Mike Murray


Raja donated about $1,000 of in-kind contributions in Q4, but no cash donations.

He donated $10,000 in cash in both Q2 and Q3, but did not do so in Q4.

President Obama turns out has a third event in Chicago when he returns home on Jan. 11--a concert fund-raiser at the University of Illinois-Chicago featuring actor Hill Harper and R&B star Janelle Monae.

It's a low-dollar event aimed organized by Obama's "Gen44" fund-raising silo, with admission ranging from $44 to $1,000 for seating in the VIP area. Obama hit the UIC campus for a big rally--free back in the day--right after he announced his candidacy for president. The Sun-Times Stella Foster had the scoop in her Thursday column about Harper and Monae.

As previously disclosed in this blog, Obama has two high-end dinners in Chicago on Jan. 11--a $35,800-per couple dinner at the North Side home of media mogul Fred Eychaner, a major donor to Democratic organizations, campaigns and "SuperPacs," the third party groups playing a role in the 2012 campaigns.

There is a reception in Hyde Park at the home of Evonne andStuart Taylor, who is the managing partner of The Taylor Group, a private equity firm who is CEO of one of its holdings, Analytic Innovations. Donors are being asked for at least $7,000 with $20,000 for a host reception for a couple. Bundlers--people who tap their personal networks to get others to write checks can get in of they raise at least $30,000.

Host Committee members at the Taylor event include Illinois Obama 2012 Finance honcho John Rogers Jr. and pals Cheryl and Eric Whitaker. More host committee names: Les Coney, Alan and Sophia King, Susan McKeever, Jesse Ruiz, Joshua Schwartz, Nigel and Deborah Telman.

Proceeds to the Obama Victory Fund 2012, run by Obama for America and the Democratic National Committee.

Updated version

DES MOINES -- President Barack Obama's top re-election advisers Jim Messina and David Axelrod belittled Mitt Romney's eight-vote Iowa caucus win in a conference call Wednesday morning.

Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, taunted Romney's Iowa vote totals noting it was little better than he did when he ran for president the first time four years ago. In Iowa, Romney did not grow his base, leading Axelrod to say, "He's still the 25 percent man. Until he proves that he's not, I don't think we can close the books on this nominating process.

"Had he won a resounding victory. . . . transcended what he had done before, I think you could have argued persuasively that he was bringing that party together and that he was in a position to close this out. I don't think that happened last night. . . . It is very possible that this race will go on for awhile," Axelrod said.

Romney's campaign brushed aside the insult, saying it only speaks to Romney's potential to beat Obama.

Axelrod and Messina, the Obama 2012 campaign manager, made a scant reference to former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) who, after running under the radar for months -- practically ignored at the many debates -- peaked just at the right time and came in second.

Axelrod suggested the same Romney-friendly "SuperPACs" that bankrolled attack ads aimed at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich may move to take down Santorum.

"You can expect they will be unleashing a torrent on Sen. Santorum," Axelrod said.

In December, Axelrod invoked a political lesson from Ald. Dick Mell (33rd) in discussing the then-surging Gingrich and the scrutiny it drew: "Just remember the higher a monkey climbs on a pole, the more you can see his butt."

On Wednesday, Axelrod made reference to that zinger again.

"Now it's Santorum who's climbed up the pole, and as I've said about Speaker Gingrich, America will then judge whether they like the view," Axelrod said. "But you can be sure that Gov. Romney will give them a good view and his SuperPAC will be hard at work to try and take Sen. Santorum apart."

Axelrod said he was told by someone "tangentially" in Romney's circle -- he did not provide any details -- that "Mitt's full of it. He doesn't believe what he is saying."

"Taking two positions on every issue, one more on the left and one more on the far right doesn't make you a centrist, it makes you a charlatan."

Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman said in reaction to all this: "Obama and his liberal allies are desperate to distract from his failed leadership and abysmal jobs record. They are intimidated by Gov. Romney's candidacy because they understand that he is the only Republican who will beat the president and undo the damage caused by his disastrous economic policies."

McCain endorses Mitt Romney

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Bachmann drops out

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By Abdon M. Pallasch
Political Reporter/

DES MOINES - Conservative firebrand Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann dropped her bid for president Wednesday morning following her sixth-place, five-percent showing in the Iowa Caucuses.

"Last night the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice and so I have decided to stand aside," Bachmann told supporters, her husband, family and friends standing at her side. "While I will not be continuing in this race, my faith in the Lord God almighty, this country, and our republic is unshakable."

Bachmann said she had "no regrets" about her campaign and she thanked Iowans for giving her a first-place finish in the Ames Straw poll this summer.

"While congressman by title, a politician I never have been nor will I ever hope to be
because I am not motivated by a quest for vain glory or the promise of political power," Bachmann said.

Her main goal in running for president has been to stop the Obama Administration's health care plan, or as she called it, "President Obama's program of socialized medicine" because she believed it "Endangered the very survival of the United States of America ... The largest expansion of entitlement spending in our country's history. It's repeal is more than just a cliché for me."

Bachmann said she will return to Congress to be the same outspoken voice for conservative family values she always has been.

"I'll continue to fight for you," Bachmann said. "I will fight to protect life from conception till natural death, I will fight for traditional marriage. I will fight for our country's borders."

DES MOINES--Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will endorse Mitt Romney on Wednesday, reports BuzzFeed's Ben Smith, who just moved over to the site from Politico.

Smith reports that Chicago attorney Richard Williamson--a former UN ambassador and a special envoy to Sudan under President George W. Bush--now a Romney foreign policy advisor--was a "key intermediary" in negotiating the endorsement. Read Smith's scoop HERE


DES MOINES--Mitt Romney had a good night on Tuesday; Rick Santorum's was great.

Romney won the Iowa caucus by eight votes slightly besting Santorum with each getting about 25 per cent. Santorum's win was sweeter because he jumped up from the single digits while Romney stayed at about the same through the Iowa campaign.

In his election night speech, Romney gave a pat on the back to Santorum and Ron Paul, who came in third, and blistered President Obama.

From Romney: "All three of us will be campaigning very hard. ...This is a campaign night where America wins."

Obama is "a president who is a nice guy but who may be in over his head. ...This has been a failed presidency. ...I think he gets is inspiration from the social welfare states of Europe"

DES MOINES-- Even as GOP White House hopeful Rick Santorum was delivering his Iowa election night speech Tuesday night--where he was in a tie for first with Mitt Romney--his campaign sent out a fund-raising appeal.
"... I went from longshot to the Iowa Caucus "surprise candidate" overnight," he said.

The Santorum e-mail slammed Romney, though not by name: "It's Now or Never for Conservative voters. We can either unite now behind one candidate and have a conservative standard bearer in 2012, or have the GOP establishment choose another moderate Republican who will have a difficult time defeating Barack Obama in November."

Of his strong come-from-behind Iowa finish Santorum said, "We shocked the world last night in Iowa. We did it with a coalition of conservatives, Tea Party members, and values voters who recognized that my successful conservative record gives the GOP the best chance to defeat Barack Obama."

"...The next test is New Hampshire ... a state Mitt Romney has campaigned in for over four years. This is why I need your immediate support. I'm counting on conservatives around America to respond to this call for help. If we are divided in New Hampshire, we will lose this opportunity to keep the momentum.

"...I will be the most conservative President since Ronald Reagan. I am not going to Washington to blend in and hope people like me. I am running to dismantle the Obama Agenda and lead--like Reagan did.

"..I give Republicans the best option to put a full-spectrum conservative in the White House. Help me make history!

"... I went from longshot to the Iowa Caucus "surprise candidate" overnight. Now conservatives must unite or be defeated. Please donate today and take a stand with my campaign. Join the fight!"

Romney wins Iowa by 8 votes

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DES MOINES - White House hopeful Mitt Romney squeezed out an eight-vote lead to win the Iowa GOP caucus on Tuesday, with Rick Santorum riding a late breaking surge to come in second.

Ron Paul claimed third in the first-in-the-nation presidential vote.

Romney, with 30,015 votes and Santorum with 30,007 each had 25 percent; Paul, with 26,219 votes ended up at 21 percent. Newt Gingrich had 13 percent, with 16,251 votes.

Rick Perry had 12,604 votes, or 10 percent; with the bottom rungs held by Michele Bachmann with 6,073, or 5 percent and Jon Huntsman with 745 votes or 1 percent.


DES MOINES -- The Iowa caucus became a three-way race Tuesday night, with the first-in-the-nation presidential vote finding three contenders bunched together at the top: Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

Incomplete returns put Santorum and Romney in a tie with 25 percent of the vote each with Paul at 21 percent.

Paul said the Iowa caucus yielded "essentially three winners, three top vote getters."

Romney, 64, the former Massachusetts governor who once was considered a moderate, never expected to be competitive in the state, where evangelical voters are influential -- turning out Tuesday in high numbers, according to entrance polls.

In the last two weeks, Romney's fortunes brightened considerably when chief rival former House Speaker Newt Gingrich found his sudden surge stopped with a blitz of negative ads. Romney friendly "SuperPacs," political groups operating under new rules for the first time this cycle, poured money into spots hitting Gingrich.

Gingrich, propelled to the top for a time by strong debate performances, never recovered from the attacks. While Romney never claimed a clear, sustained lead, he ran a cautious campaign basically free of mistakes.

As the campaigning intensified, none of Romney's rivals surfaced as the consensus conservative alternative to Romney, giving him a big break.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry -- who at one time worried the Romney team -- was weakened from the start by poor debate performances. Perry, coming in fifth, said he is considering dropping out. He said he will return to Texas and "determine whether there is a path forward" in the race.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), an Iowa native, could not break through, also hobbled by weak debates.

Paul, 76, a Libertarian-leaning House member from Texas who made personal "liberty" a centerpiece of his bid, found backing from a youthful generation of voters who made his name one of the hottest searches on the Internet.

Santorum, 53, a former Pennsylvania senator, ran a comparatively shoestring campaign casting himself as a consistent conservative. His Iowa campaign was notable for its retail strategy: he spent more days in Iowa than any of his competitors.

The GOP race for the nomination jumps to New Hampshire, where the primary is Jan. 10 with debates set for Jan. 7 and 8.

South Carolina, turf fertile with social conservative and evangelical Republicans, has a Jan. 21 primary, with Florida's primary on Jan. 31.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman skipped Iowa instead focusing on New Hampshire, a state where the primary will contain more moderate GOP and independent voters -- where every poll has given Romney a decisive lead.

The Romney team, while not winning Iowa outright, nonetheless found considerable comfort in Romney's performance.

"The biggest surprise was that events came together," said one Romney adviser. Romney, however may be disappointed in that he ran in Iowa just about the same as he did in 2008 -- with the intervening years doing nothing to grow his percentage here.

Paul and Romney competed in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, losing to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Romney came in second with 25 percent of the vote and Paul ran fifth in 2008. But Huckabee soon faded and Sen. John McCain claimed the nomination.

Romney's team is optimistic because they have the strongest national operation. Gingrich and Perry failed to even make the primary ballot in Virginia; Paul and Santorum have limited financial resources.

Romney started running ads in Florida on Tuesday.

"This goes to the strength of Mitt Romney's organization, putting Iowa aside," said Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom. "We are running ads in three states, New Hampshire, South Carolina and now Florida."

The Sun-Times has learned that Romney will be in Florida on Jan. 12 to start his push in a state with a more diverse GOP electorate. Romney has a high-end fund-raiser at the Palm Beach home of business tycoon Steve Ross and his wife, Kara, with donations ranging from $2,500 to $50,000 to co-host the event.

Gingrich, who came in fourth with about 13 percent, praised Santorum for waging a "great, positive, campaign" while blasting Paul. "The fact is his views on foreign policy I think are stunningly dangerous for the survival of the United States."

Four years ago, President Barack Obama's battle for the Democratic nomination was considerably bolstered by his victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards in Iowa. While Obama faces no challenge for re-nomination, his team has been organizing in Iowa -- a November battleground state -- for months.

On Tuesday evening, Obama traveled to a Washington, D.C., hotel for a teleconference for Iowa Democratic caucus-goers, intended to rev up the troops for the fall fight ahead.

Obama, reminiscing about Iowa said, "We actually were just remembering the incredible energy and excitement and the spirit of common purpose that those Iowa caucuses represent. It was an example of how the campaign was not about one person, but it was about all of us coming together to try to deliver the kind of change that had been talked about a long time in Washington, but all too often hadn't been delivered on."

All the Republicans blistered Obama during the run-up to the caucus. On Tuesday, just before the 7 p.m. opening of the caucus sessions around the state, Gingrich said, "This is not a time for another amateur. We've had three years of an amateur."

Bachmann accused Obama of "socialism," telling voters Obama "continues to treat us as if we are a third world banana republic." Speculation was rampant Tuesday over whether Bachmann would drop out or limp through more contests.

DES MOINES--Newt Gingrich, who came in fourth in the Tuesday Iowa GOP caucus, praised Rick Santorum for waging a "great, positive, campaign," blasted Ron Paul's isolationist foreign policy and slammed Mitt Romney as a "Massachusetts moderate."

Gingrich on Paul, who came in third, according to incomplete returns: "The fact is his views on foreign policy I think are stunningly dangerous for the survival of the United States."

Romney, is in a tie for first with Santorum, with incomplete returns giving an edge to Santorum.

Gingrich on Romney: The race will determine whether the Republican party wants a "Reagan conservative....or do we want a Massachusetts moderate who in fact will be pretty good at managing the decay but has given no evidence in his years in Massachusetts of any ability to change the culture or change the political structure or change the government."

Perry may drop out of GOP race

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DES MOINES--Texas Gov. Rick Perry, coming in fifth in Tuesday's Iowa caucus, said he is considering dropping his presidential bid. He told supporters he will return to Texas and "determine whether there is a path forward" in the race.

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Barack Obama's 2008 Iowa election headquarters in Des Moines on Jan. 3, 2012. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

DES MOINES---President Obama talks to Iowa Democrats who will also caucus on Tuesday evening--though most of the attention is on the GOP contest. Obama's comments will come via teleconference as his re-election team has been organizing in Iowa for months.

Obama's team has eight Iowa campaign offices; made some 350,000 calls to supporters with 1,200 grass roots events.

From an Obama 2012 staffer: "Our focus in Iowa four years ago was on turn-out, but with a non-competitive primary contest, we are using the caucuses as an opportunity to expand the unrivaled organization we have built this year."

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Tread-mill work stations at the Google Hangout, Des Moines (photo by Lynn Sweet)

DES MOINES--Google is using the Iowa caucus to launch new election products for the 2012 campaign cycle, hosting the "Google Hangout" at the convention center here.

Google is rolling on "the digital campaign trail as we move towards election day," Google spokesman Samantha Smith said Tuesday.

The main Google Politics and Elections site

Google's news and YouTube activity tracker

Caucus night results

Politics and Elections toolkit

DES MOINES--While the GOP presidential rivals beat up President Barack Obama in Iowa in advance of the Tuesday night caucus, the Obama team is pushing back. On Tuesday, the Obama for President campaign released a video of Obama campaigning in Iowa in Jan., 2008 with the headline, "promises kept."

From Obama 2012: "Four years ago today, President Obama laid out 4 key promises to Americans; promises that have been kept.

"From ending the war in Iraq to making healthcare affordable for all Americans, providing a middle class tax cut and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, these are the changes that Iowans sought for our nation in 2008.

"During that unlikely victory speech to a room of Iowans, the President offered solutions to these decades-long challenges, and under historically difficult circumstances, he delivered."

DES MOINES -- White House hopeful Ron Paul is ending his long Iowa campaign on a roll, positioned to do well in Tuesday's first-in-the-nation vote. If he wins, it may jeopardize the future importance of Iowa in the presidential election cycle.

Not used to crowds, Paul told a packed Marriott hotel room here on Monday, "this is almost like a real rally."

No matter that most of the seats in the front were taken by out-of state political tourists or high school and college students on campaign study trips. They got a dose of Paul, a Texas House member, who was introduced by his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

"Anybody here want government to mind its own business?'' the senator said.

His father picked up on the theme. Said Ron Paul, "There's one issue that has made America great, and the issue that you can answer all your questions on is individual liberty," he said.

Campaigning for Tuesday's caucus vote has produced roller-coaster polls, because no GOP rival emerged as a solid, sustained favorite. Paul, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) seem poised for a win, place or show -- with predictions all over the place as to the order.

"It's the first real test of actual voters. Voters have been searching for the ideal candidate," said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, in an interview. "I think they have now come to the conclusion nobody is perfect. But we have to choose the one we think is the strongest."

Iowa has an outsized influence in the presidential nominating process; the number of Republicans expected to caucus in the entire state is about that of the Chicago suburb of Naperville, which has a population of 141,853. Predictions range from 100,000 to 150,000 showing up

Romney is in good shape Tuesday night if he comes in one, two or three -- provided that Santorum and Paul are ahead of him. Romney is on a trajectory to win the Republican presidential nomination under a variety of scenarios.

Newt Gingrich, Romney's main rival, has been hit with negative ads produced by Romney-allied forces -- the so-called "SuperPacs." Gingrich told CNN on Monday night, "I don't think I am going to win."

Gingrich has been complaining about the attack ads, though it's hard to figure that he did not see them coming. Did he think that because he proclaimed he was going to run a positive campaign that somehow his opposition was going to give him -- and his sitting-target record -- a pass?

Santorum has surged after months of retail campaigning in each of Iowa's 99 counties selling his social conservative views. Paul has caught on with a dedicated base of conservatives who like his isolationist, anti-war and anti-government views.

But on many issues, Paul is on the fringe. He was seen as so anti-Israel that the Republican Jewish Coalition refused to invite him to a presidential forum in Washington a few weeks ago that featured every other GOP presidential contender.

He doesn't see the point for laws against sexual harassment and thinks its your problem if you have AIDS, no matter how you got the disease. He had a role in a newsletter with articles seen as racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic.

"You can dismiss Ron Paul, but you got to pay attention to what he is saying," said David Yepsen, the former Des Moines Register political columnist who is now the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

"He has tapped into something among young people. I think he has tapped into ... the isolationist spirit that exists in the Midwest. People here are sick of those wars, and they want the troops to come home," Yepsen said.

The recent Iowa record is mixed. In 2008, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee won Iowa -- he was a favorite of evangelicals and social conservatives -- but Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) claimed the GOP nomination.

Paul is just unelectable. A Paul win could make the GOP Iowa electorate seem so out of step with the rest of the nation that is would raise the question of their future role in choosing presidential nominees.

Herman Cain is back

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DES MOINES--Failed GOP White House hopeful Herman Cain, who dropped out after a woman who said she was his mistress went public is staging a comeback of sorts, he announced on Monday--on the eve of the Iowa caucus.

"Our mission continues, and we're on fire for 2012 and beyond!," Cain said in an e-mail, highlighting a list of media interviews he has booked. Cain is looking to regain some spotlight in a week heavy with Republican presidential politics--that he is no longer a part of.

"....I will soon be announcing a major new initiative. This is a crusade so critical to the long term health of our American economy that we simply must prevail. The first major announcement will be live on the Sean Hannity show, next Wednesday night between 9pm and 10pm ET," Cain said.

DES MOINES--Democrats continue to count on Mitt Romney as the eventual nominee--if he wins Iowa Tuesday or comes in behind weaker rivals Ron Paul and Rick Santorum and New Hampshire on Jan. 10 it will be tough for any of his six rivals to deny him an early clinch.

Team Obama is here playing hard one story--that Romney is not a job creator. With jobs a central issue to the 2012 election--and with President Barack Obama having to deal with a high jobless rate during his tenure--beating back Romney's boasts on the campaign trail he can create jobs is a priority at this time for Democrats.

That's why the Team Obama is shining a spotlight on Romney's tenure at Bain Capital and the companies it bought, operated, sold and closed. This week in Iowa, the face on the story in one Randy Johnson--brought into Iowa by the Democratic National Committee and the Steelworkers.

Johnson lost his job at an American Pad and Paper plant in Indiana; Bain purchased it in 1992 and closed it during a strike, laying off, according to the DNC some 250 workers. Bain still made $100 million.

Johnson has been chasing Romney in Iowa. The DNC has him Monday night at a press conference after Romney wraps up his Iowa campaign tonight at a rally in Clive, Iowa to talk about Romney's "job killing record." The DNCers also got him booked on MSNBC and CNN.


"President Obama and his liberal cronies know that if they have to face Mitt Romney in the general election, they are going to lose. President Obama is the greatest job-killing president in modern history and he is desperate to distract from his abysmal economic record with dishonest, negative attacks."


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GOP presidential contender Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) at podium at rally; son Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in turtleneck at left. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

DES MOINES---GOP White House hopeful Ron Paul--poised to win, place or show in the Tuesday Iowa caucus--seemed please to find himself facing a packed room here on Monday.

"This is almost like a real rally," Paul said facing the crowd at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Des Moines.

What he did not know is that almost every one of the 100 or so seats in front of him was filled with folks not from Iowa--political tourists and high school and college students here to observe the first-in-the nation vote for president.

Vanderbilt University in Nashville had 20 students in prime seats.There were kids from Truman State in Missouri, Taylor High School in Cincinnati, a high school in Minneapolis and from the Chicago area, students from Benedictine University in Lisle. There was an academic from the University of Texas, Austin and some friends from Wisconsin who just came to soak in all the politics.

Benedictine's Phillip Hardy, an assistant professor of political science told me he brought four political science students and one studying journalism.

There were Iowans in the crowd of several hundred--but at least a third were from out-of-state, here for the political show.

DES MOINES--GOP White House hopeful Michele Bachmann needs not to come in last in Tuesday's Iowa caucus if she wants to continue in the race for the 2012 nomination and polling shows her in bad shape. Her Iowa spot stresses her Iowa roots and implicitly compares her to British former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, (no, not Meryl Streep) via the title: "Michele Bachmann for President: America's Iron Lady."

Defination of Iron Lady, from Wikipedia:
"Iron Lady is a nickname that has frequently been used to describe female heads of government around the world."

Not to be confused with the new movie about Thatcher staring Streep, "Iron Lady."

DES MOINES--The Mitt Romney presidential campaign released an upbeat web video Monday, the day before the first in the nation Iowa caucus vote. Meanwhile, paid television commercials blitz Iowa airwaves--with spots by third party Romney allies slamming chief rival Newt Gingrich.

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Newt Gingrich and wife Callista in Ames, Iowa (photo by Lynn Sweet)

AMES, IOWA -- Newt Gingrich -- seeing his poll numbers plunge with devastating negative ad attacks -- started to hit back Sunday, taking aim at chief GOP rival Mitt Romney for voting for Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic presidential primary.

Gingrich, the former House Speaker, had been running a positive campaign, calling it an "experiment" on Sunday while on the stump here.

The "experiment" has not worked.

No matter how much people say they want upbeat campaigns, Gingrich's quick fall shows negative ads work. That's why they exist.

Iowa holds the first-in-the nation vote Tuesday, and Gingrich -- who a few weeks ago was a front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination -- didn't even make the top three in the Des Moines Register final poll released Saturday night. The contest here -- according to the survey -- is winding up between Romney, Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Most of the anti-Gingrich ads have been bankrolled by pro-Romney "SuperPacs." One of them, "Restore Our Future," has already spent more than $4 million to help Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.

While the Register poll shows Gingrich is the "most knowledgeable" of the seven major contenders, he was the most "ego-driven" and the one with the poorest score when it comes to "relating to ordinary Iowans."

"The negative ads have had a huge destructive impact on him" in Iowa, said Frank Luntz, a specialist in the use and impact of political language. "But they have not destroyed him nationwide.

"He has a simple challenge. Figure out the antidote before he gets to South Carolina. If he does, he is a big time contender. If he doesn't, he's done."

I talked with Luntz at a sports bar here -- near the Iowa State University campus -- where Gingrich stopped for a "meet and greet" on Sunday. Gingrich was with his wife, Callista, and his oldest daughter, Kathy Lubbers, a Miami business consultant.

"Even if people want to see a positive campaign, you are still influenced by the negatives," Lubbers told me. Referring to the Register poll, she added, "the good news is 41 percent of Iowans are saying they haven't made up their mind, they are still fluid."

If Gingrich is trounced in Iowa, his comeback play would seem to be with the large number of socially conservative voters in South Carolina, with a Jan. 21 primary.

New Hampshire's primary is Jan. 10 and Romney has held a commanding lead there in every poll.

R.C. Hammond, Gingrich's communications chief, told me that Gingrich now is going to jet to New Hampshire from Iowa -- and not just jump ahead to seemingly more fertile ground in South Carolina.

Look for a new phase of the "experiment," Hammond said. "Look for us to go out and point out the obvious."

The Gingrich team on Sunday started to hit Romney for voting for Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic presidential primary when the former U.S. Senator for Massachusetts was in a primary with Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown.

That plays into the most central rap against Romney -- that he is not a real conservative, that he converted for the campaign and in essence he is a "Massachusetts moderate." In the context of the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, that is not a compliment.

The Tsongas vote has been raised before -- when Romney ran the first time for president in the 2008 GOP primary.

In 2007, Romney explained his Tsongas support in an ABC News interview, noting that President George H.W. Bush faced no real opposition for re-nomination.

"In Massachusetts, if you register as an independent, you can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary. ...When there was no real contest in the Republican primary, I'd vote in the Democrat primary, vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for the Republican," Romney said.

I take it that the Gingrich team will use New Hampshire as an "experiment" to see if they can drive down Romney's numbers. What the Gingrich forces don't have are "SuperPacs" poised to help him right away in New Hampshire.

Said Gingrich in Ames, "a narrow win for him (in New Hampshire) will be the equivalent of a defeat."

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Newt and Callista Gingrich campaigning in Ames, Iowa. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

AMES, IA.--GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich's oldest daughter told me Sunday her father's three marriages will not be a turn-off to voters in the Tuesday caucus vote, where social conservatives may dominate.

Kathy Lubbers, 48, a business consultant from Miami was stumping with her father--and his third wife, Callista--at a sports bar near the Iowa State University campus.
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(photo right, Kathy Lubbers (photo by Lynn Sweet)

I asked her if she was deployed to deal with the "thrice married" matter.

"No. I'm deployed on 'He's my father and I think he would be the best person for president,"' Lubbers told me.
"...I'm not so sure Iowans really are as concerned on the 'thrice married' as they are about who is going to help them lead America out of the wilderness."

DES MOINES--Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad tells a wicked joke about Illinois and its culture of corruption.

Cracked Branstad without naming names but you know who he is talking about:

"Two prisoners were standing in a chow line in prison. One says to the other, 'You know, the food was a lot better when you were the governor."

Branstad offered his quip in a conversation with three reporters during a New Year's Eve party for the large media contingent here for the Tuesday Iowa caucus vote. The event was sponsored by a variety of Des Moines and Iowa area companies.

Branstad is in his second stint as Iowa governor, in the state Capitol between 1983 and 1999 and elected again in 2010. He never was in office when two former Illinois governors-- George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich served. Ryan is in a federal prison and Blagojevich starts his 14-year sentence on federal charges in March.

DES MOINES--GOP White House hopeful Jon Huntsman--who is very wealthy-- is trying a new fund-raising gimmick: he announced Sunday he will "match" contributions "dollar for dollar" from individuals with his own money.

Huntsman--who did not campaign in Iowa for the first-in-the-nation Tuesday cacus vote has instead focused on New Hampshire--where he stumped Sunday while most of his rivals were in the Hawkeye state.

Federal law allows a candidate to pour his or her own money into a campaign in unlimited amounts--while individuals face donor caps.

Asking for "matches" is a fund-raising tactic used in the political and non-profit worlds.

"from now until midnight Wednesday, Mary Kaye and I will personally match - dollar for dollar - every new donation our campaign receives," Huntsman wrote in an e-mail.

"In just a few minutes, I will be holding a town hall in Deerfield, New Hampshire - our third event of the day, and 143rd event in the state. With only nine days to go until New Hampshire's primary, it is critical that we have the resources - both on the ground and on TV - to compete with Mitt Romney.

"That is why I am giving you the opportunity to double the impact of your donation. Whether you contribute $10, $100, $1000 or the maximum amount of $2,500, Mary Kaye and I will personally match every dollar you donate."

Huntsman, of course, may have been planning to pour in his own money anyway--at least this way he is trying to leverage his cash.

DES MOINES--The Obama team is setting up a war room operation here to run through the Tuesday night caucus and the day after in order to mainly hit Mitt Romney, the GOP contender who would be most troublesome to President Barack Obama winning a second term.

On Sunday, Democrats will showcase at an afternoon press conference a man who was laid off after Romney's Bain Capital bought the plant where he had been employed in order to show, the Democratic National Committee says, "Romney's decades-long record of putting profits before people.

From the DNC: "Randy Johnson worked at an American Pad and Paper (AMPAD) plant in Indiana that was bought by Bain Capital in 1992. After Bain took over they laid off workers, cut wages, slashed health care benefits and eliminated the retirement plan. The workers at the plant went on strike. Rather than negotiate with the workers, Bain closed the factory and laid off the 250 workers that were left. A few years after Bain bought AMPAD, they piled on debt and plunged it in to bankruptcy, closing more plants and laying off hundreds more workers. Despite the devastation to families and communities, Bain Capital made $100 million off the transaction."

Background on war room effort from the DNC and Iowa Democratic Party: " Sunday, January 1st through Wednesday, January 4th, the Democratic National Committee and Iowa Democratic Party will host a "War Room" at the Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel located at 401 Locust Street, across the skywalk from Polk County Convention Center and caucus media center in Des Moines.

"The war room will serve as the central location from which the Democratic Party will coordinate communications and media operations as Republicans compete in Iowa on January 3rd. Democratic surrogates like DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, IDP Chair Sue Dvorsky, DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse, and DNC National Press Secretary Melanie Roussell will be based out of the war room and will be holding daily press availabilities and doing radio and print interviews from this location. On-the-record spokespeople will be available for the duration, as well as coffee and refreshments."

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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