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February 2012 Archives

CBS analysis of exit poll data HERE looks at how Romney won his native state

CNN complete exit poll tables HERE show how most Democrats who voted in the GOP primary went for Rick Santorum. His call for Democrats to invade the primary to vote for him got some traction.

ABC News looks at the Democratic Michigan invasion HERE.

Newt Gingrich is making a long shot bet he can revive his candidacy next Tuesday after Mitt Romney's Michigan and Arizona victories, which once again made him the solid front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination.

The race for the GOP presidential nomination jumps to Super Tuesday on March 6, with 10 states holding caucus or primary votes.

Gingrich and Ron Paul sat out Arizona, where Mitt Romney won all 29 delegates, and Michigan, which he clinched over Rick Santorum.

To remember about Super Tuesday: In the beginning, middle and end of the march to the nomination what counts is accumulating 1,144 delegates.

Nine of the SuperTuesday states will award delegates proportionally, that is, by winner of each congressional district--just as Michigan will do with its 30 pledged delegates.

The challenges ahead:

maintaining viability

Romney had to put up with days of critical commentary about how he was struggling in Michigan, the state where he was raised. With a Georgia primary on Tuesday, Gingrich now has to deal with similar home state expectations.

Gingrich "has to win in his own home state or he can't stay in," said analyst Frank Luntz. At stake for Gingrich, said Luntz, is to prove he is "nationally viable" if he can't clinch Georgia.

"Of course it's a comeback strategy," Gingrich told FOX News Bill O'Reilly.

Ohio is the biggest Tuesday prize, with 63 delegates, and Gingrich is going to run a 30-minute speech on energy independence -- and his pledge to bring down the price of gas to $2.50 a gallon -- in various Ohio markets from Thursday to Monday.

Gingrich has remained in play in part because of the backing of a SuperPac named Winning Our Future and the group will continue to throw Gingrich a lifeline in most of the SuperTuesday states by running anti-Romney ads.

remaining in play

Paul's window for actually winning the GOP nomination at the Tampa convention has closed unless lightening strikes -- a few times. He is the only one who has not won even one state.

finding the right message

Santorum veered to hot button social issues in recent days, which exit polls showed helped him win the religious, Tea Party and anti-abortion votes, a coalition that may not be strong enough to shut down Romney.

The biggest problems for Santorum are that there are no more debates where he can have a game-changing play and he may not have the resources to combat what is expected to be a torrent of anti-Santorum shots coming out of the Romney camp.

running to the center

Romney has to continue to win delegates without making himself a weak nominee by running to the far right in order to beat Santorum. The November battle to beat President Barack Obama will center on key battleground states where the independent vote will be crucial.

Romney does best when he stays on his course. In rare session with his traveling press corps on Tuesday, he made a joke at his own expense, referring to his string of recent gaffes:

Said Romney, "I'm very pleased with the campaign, its organization. The candidate sometimes makes some mistakes and so I'm trying to do better and work harder and make sure that we get our message across."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel returns to Washington on Friday to talk about the changes--controversial in Chicago-- he is pushing for the Chicago Public Schools in a forum with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa--and the superintendents from the nations three biggest cities.

The session is sponsored by the Department of Education and takes place at American University in northwest Washington. Andrea Mitchell, host of MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," is the moderator.

The latest: Emanuel wants to revamp 17 low-performing schools and the way he wants to do it is drawing criticism from Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, with whom he has clashed.

Arizona, Michigan exit polls

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The Republican National Committee released a new web video on Tuesday morning--primary day in Michigan--slamming President Barack Obama on the economy. The RNC makes the video to distract from the bitter battle between GOP presidential rivals Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum and to try to soften up Obama for the November election.

From the RNC: "The Republican National Committee (RNC) is out with a new web video "Obama's Failed Promises In Michigan" as Republicans across Michigan cast ballots for a replacement to Barack Obama this fall. After four years of failed promises from reducing the price at the pump to growing the economy to cutting the deficit in half, the people of Michigan are ready for new leadership in the White House."

It's primary day in Michigan and Arizona and the Democratic National Committee--still focusing more on Mitt Romney than Rick Santorum--argues in a Tuesday morning memo from communications chief Brad Woodhouse that the bitter battle in Michigan has badly damaged the Romney brand and put him in bed with Tea Party Republicans. Woodhouse helpfully tells Republicans that Romney has moved so far to the right (Santorum was there already) that it will make it harder for him to appeal to swing voters in November.

From: Brad Woodhouse, Democratic National Committee

To: Interested Parties

Date: February 28, 2012

RE: Victory in Michigan, Arizona Primaries Will Come at a Cost for Mitt Romney

As Republican voters in Michigan and Arizona head to the polls for today's primaries, Mitt Romney is already declaring victory in both states - telling Chris Wallace in a Fox News Sunday interview that he's "planning on winning here in Michigan and also in Arizona," and that his Michigan win will be "huge" after "having come from so far behind."

But that's exactly the problem: having been born and raised in Michigan, where his own father served as a popular three-term governor and where Romney beat John McCain by nearly 10 percent in the 2008 GOP primary just four years ago, Romney should have had Michigan locked up from the very beginning. Yet he's struggling to win his own home state, at times falling behind Rick Santorum - who is battling Romney in trying to appeal to the far right fringe and has gone as far as criticizing the President for encouraging young Americans to pursue higher education. It's clear that regardless of what happens on Tuesday night, voters will see that for Mitt Romney - who has vastly outspent his Republican opponents and who keeps running farther to the right and alienating independent, moderate and working-class voters along the way - a win in Michigan and Arizona will come at a significant cost.


Between Mitt Romney's home state advantage in Michigan and the fact that he and his Super PAC allies have outspent Rick Santorum and his allies there nearly 2-to-1, you'd think the battle for Michigan's 30 Republican delegates would have been "no contest" from the very beginning. But that's not the case for Romney, who has recently been running neck-and-neck with Rick Santorum in Michigan.

That's because Mitt Romney has badly damaged himself with the working and middle-class voters who make up Michigan's electorate. They still remember that just a few years ago, Romney argued that we should "let Detroit go bankrupt" - if Mitt Romney had gotten his way, GM's & Chrysler's doors would be closed today and the American auto industry would likely no longer exist. Both Michigan's and the U.S. economy would have been devastated. But thankfully, President Obama did not let that happen. He took decisive action to rescue the auto industry and save more than 1.4 million American jobs it supports - now, Detroit is building the cars of the future and America's auto industry has since added more than 200,000 jobs. It's no thanks to Mitt Romney, who would have rather left the auto industry for dead - a position he shares with Rick Santorum, who has also come out strongly against the auto rescue package - and if Romney makes it to the general election, Michiganders will be quick to remind him of his betrayal.


Michigan isn't the only state where Mitt Romney has harmed his general election prospects in an effort to woo right-wing GOP primary voters. In Arizona, this week's PPP poll shows Romney with a large 17-point lead over Santorum - leading him 43% to 26%. But this advantage has come at a high cost for Mitt Romney. Not only have he and his allies outspent Santorum and his allies 12-to-1 in the state, but Romney has also confirmed he would be the most extreme nominee on immigration - far outside the mainstream of both Arizonans and the nation.

Shamelessly attempting to curry favor with Tea Party Republicans before Tuesday's primary, Mitt Romney has fully embraced Arizona's divisive and extreme anti-immigrant law - calling it a "model" for the nation, even though it lets law enforcement randomly check documents and detain people without cause. He has promised to veto the DREAM Act and dismissed it as a "handout," even though it would let young immigrants who came here as children earn a path to citizenship by going to college or serving in the military. And Romney has embraced the inhumane policy of encouraging "self-deportation," despite the fact that it would separate families who have contributed to their communities for a generation. These extreme positions are going to haunt him should he make it to November.


Mitt Romney may pick up two victories on Tuesday night, but his out-of-touch positions and pandering to the right wing are causing him to pay dearly among independent, moderate and blue-collar voters who Romney cannot afford to lose in the general election. Just look at the numbers - after losing five out of nine GOP contests, a new POLITICO/George Washington University battleground poll found that just a meager 33% of independents now view Romney positively, while 51% view him negatively. Meanwhile, Rick Santorum fares slightly better than Romney among independent voters - but a whopping 28% of them still say they have no opinion of Santorum or have never even heard of him. Once they discover that Santorum is squarely interested in issues that divide Americans - he's even called public schools outdated "factories" that should be dismantled - they're likely to go running in the other direction.

The fact is that while President Obama has been fighting to create jobs and restore basic economic security for all hardworking Americans, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum both simply want to let Wall Street write its own rules again. They don't have a single plan to help working families get ahead, and they've both proposed budget and tax plans that would explode the deficit over the next decade and force deep cuts to programs critical to middle-class security. For all his talk about balancing the budget, Romney's economic plan would actually blow a $5 trillion hole in the deficit over the next decade and give tax cuts that would mostly benefit millionaires and billionaires. So while the GOP field continues to showcase nothing but the same failed policies of the past - from one state to the next - the choice that voters have to make on November 6th gets clearer by the day.

Mitt Romney's campaign complained that rival Rick Santorum's team was running robo calls in Michigan asking Democrats to vote for Santorum. The direct appeal to Democrats to invade the GOP primary came late in the game, as polls showed Romney and Santorum heading to a photo-finish in the state Romney was raised. Santorum said the robo-call was "very positive."

What is a robo call: A tape recorded message--sometimes by the candidate or a famous supporter--sent via a telephone call that starts automatically as soon as the person answers the phone. Campaigns use them because that can be targeted to very specific audiences.

On Tuesday morning, Romney communications chief Andrea Saul sent around a clip from FOX News "Hannity" show where Sean Hannity presses Santorum about the calls.

"In case you missed it, you can watch Sen. Santorum's lousy defense of using deceptive robo-calls and taking a page out of the Democrat's playbook here:," Saul said in her note.

SEAN HANNITY: "And joining me on in this primary eve from Michigan is presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. I'm not sure if you were able to hear Governor Romney. He complained about a robo call that he says your campaign is running. I believe this is the one he was talking about. I want to give you a chance to respond."

RoboCall Audio: "On Tuesday join Democrats who are going to send a loud message to Massachusetts' Mitt Romney by voting for Rick Santorum for President. This call is supported by hard working Democratic men and women and paid for by Rick Santorum for President."

HANNITY: "He said it was a low moment in the campaign, and I figured I would give you a chance to respond."

SANTORUM: "Oh, you mean when he runs a robo call of my voice from four years ago saying good things about him, that's not a low moment? And when I run a call basically saying - calling Democrats that are eligible to vote here to vote for us, that's a low point -- encouraging people to come and vote for us, because we talk about our manufacturing plan and what we are going to do to create jobs, it's a very positive robo call, talking about what we are doing to create jobs here in Michigan. Of course, you know, it's interesting that we criticize me for attracting democrats because one of the things that Governor Romney's people say is oh, he can't attract Democrats. Well, guess what? We will wait and see. I think we can. And that's one of the things that's got them nervous. We've got a lot of folks in this state that are looking at our plan and looking at the ideas we have to get the manufacturing sector of this economy growing again here in Michigan that are very excited about maybe having Rick Santorum on that ticket."

Media Matters is a Democratic friendly media tracking organization which devotes a lot of energy to monitoring FOX News, an outlet where many Republicans appear. In the presidential primary season, a survey by Media Matters released on Monday shows White House hopeful Newt Gingrich has logged the most time.

From Media Matters:

"Media Matters tracked every one of the 604 appearances the Republican hopefuls made on Fox News and Fox Business between June 1 and January 22 -- a full 77 hours and 24 minutes of television time. (We also tracked appearances by potential candidates who ultimately did not enter the race. For data that includes these appearances, see the bottom of this report.)

"Broken down by candidate, the data paint a picture of a network eager to involve itself in the Republican primary, promoting the campaigns of both frontrunners and longshots. (A gray bar indicates a candidate who dropped out of the race. We ceased tracking these candidates' Fox News appearances when they made their intentions known.)

"Gingrich (12 hours and 14 minutes over 85 appearances), Rick Santorum (nine hours and 23 minutes over 85 appearances), Herman Cain (11 hours and six minutes over 73 appearances), Michele Bachmann (nine hours and three minutes over 73 appearances), and Ron Paul (about eight hours and 40 minutes over 81 appearances) led the pack in total time and number of appearances.

"Where did the candidates go most often? Broken down by program, the data show a few standouts: On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Hannity, Fox & Friends, Your World with Neil Cavuto, and Fox News Sunday. Together, these shows comprised 58 percent of all time spent hosting the candidates and 51 percent of all appearances."


Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Monday the GOP White House hopefuls were "at war with Islam" during an interview on CNN's Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien.

Durbin said, "And understand, just go back to history a little bit to 9/11, President George W. Bush, I sure had my differences with him, but I thought he got it right, and he stuck with it through his presidency. He said our war is not with the religion of Islam. Our war is with those who would distort it and turn it into terrorism. And I think that was a bright spot kind of a guiding principle. It was adopted by President Obama. Now, listen to these Republican candidates for president. They're at war with Islam."

CNN Contributor Will Cain counters, "Senator Durbin, I haven't heard one thing that backs up what you suggest. Just give me an example, how are they at war with Islam?

Referencing the Quran burnings, Durbin replies, "Newt Gingrich saying that the president is guilty of appeasement.... What you listen to is incendiary rhetoric coming out in a very delicate situation. Lives are at stake here. The president is showing leadership. The president is stepping up, trying to calm a situation. These three candidates are coming on television doing the opposite."

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan on threats to President Barack Obama and more during his annual Saviors Day address at Chicago's United Center: the Sun-Times story is HERE.

Michigan, Arizona vote Tuesday: Here's a bit of a snapshot of what's going the day before the election....

*Mitt Romney's camp is in good shape in Arizona, improving in Michigan. If Romney loses Michigan, his quest for the nomination is threatened. Boston Globe Michigan over-view story on what is at stake in Michigan for Romney is HERE.

*The Democratic National Committee continues hammering Romney for his call to let the auto industry go into a
structured bankruptcy rather than take the Obama approach of a bail-out. A new web video is titled " "Let Detroit Go
Bankrupt" and includes people on the street interviews with Michigan voters
. DNC Vice Chair and Mayor of Minneapolis R.T. Rybak is in Michigan today for counter-programming.

*Days after a GOP debate in Mesa, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer endorsed Romney on Sunday. Romney continues to get the establishment endorsement--as chief rival Rick Santorum plays to the base not impressed by the GOP establishment pick.

*Newt Gingrich is in Tennessee on Monday and Tuesday.

Obama Feb. 27, 2012 week ahead

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tenth dems.JPG
Illinois Democratic Tenth District primary candidates: Vivek Bavda, Brad Schneider, Ilya Sheyman, John Tree (photo by Lynn Sweet)

DEERFIELD, IL.---The four Democrats running in the Illinois tenth district primary displayed no substantial policy differences at a forum Saturday and none showed much appetite for tearing into Rep. Bob Dold, the freshman Republican with a bulls eye on his back.

The session, hosted by WCPT, Chicago's Progressive Talk Station and Tenth Dems, the powerhouse local political organization so liberal it has buttons saying so, drew a packed house at the Deerfield Hyatt.


Brad Schneider, Ilya Sheyman, John Tree and Vivek Bavda meet again on Sunday for another forum, this one at the Highland Park Country Club, 1201 Park Ave. West, in the North Shore suburb. Despite the name, the club is public, so anyone can come.

The Sunday event is cosponsored by the Leagues of Women Voters of Highland Park/Highwood, Lake Forest/Lake Bluff/Deerfield, Glencoe, Glenview and the Union League Club.

Illinois Democrats remapped the north and northwest suburban tenth district in 2011 to tilt Democratic in the November election. The district includes Cook and Lake County suburbs: it hugs Lake Michigan, taking in Glencoe, Highland Park, Waukegan, Zion and Winthrop Harbor and stretching west to include Northbrook, Buffalo Grove, Libertyville and Round Lake Beach.

National Democrats are poised to dump a lot of money in the district once the March 20 Illinois primary yields a nominee and freshman Dold, from Kenilworth, will have gobs of GOP money from around the country to watch his back. Schneider lives in Deerfield; Sheyman, Waukegan; Tree, Long Grove and Bavda, Mundelein.

The stakes are high

Lauren Beth Gash, the chair of Tenth Dems, shooed a Republican tracker she spotted away. Both parties use trackers--operatives with cameras or some kind of recording device--who go to events if they can get in--to gather information to be used to impale the competition.

By measure of buttons and stickers, the audience of Democratic activists in Deerfield seemed largely in the Schneider and Sheyman camps--logical, since those are the two running the biggest campaigns. Tree, a latecomer in the race, had a contingent too.

But by the buzz I heard roaming the hall--filled with veterans of valiant but failed tenth House Democratic campaigns--Abner Mikva was the last Democrat to win this turf and that was in 1978--many came to kick the Sheyman, Schneider and Tree tires.


*Biggest sparks came when Sheyman hit Schneider for a series of contributions he made to the Republican House and Senate campaigns of now Sen. Mark Kirk. (Kirk is recovering from a stroke at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.)

Contributions to Republicans, Sheyman said--noting the GOP controls the House and most recently has been trying to weaken access to contraception--"have consequences " for "the overall agenda."

Those contributions have been an issue Schneider has been dealing with since the beginning of the contest.

"The vast majority of my contributions have been to Democrats," Schneider said, highlighting his work in the campaigns of former Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) in a neighboring district. (Bean was narrowly beat by Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) in 2010.)

*Tree, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, said he was for cuts in military spending and because he is in the military he said he would have the ability to make the case in Congress--and be immune to Republican accusations of being weak on defense.

"If you're not in the military and you're a Democrat and you call for a cut in defense spending, the Republicans will hand you your head on a platter," Tree said.

*Sheyman, Schneider and Tree talked in generalities about some standard Democratic/Obama White House talking point agenda items--for example, spending for infrastructure and ending Bush-era tax cuts, seemingly oblivious to the partisan gridlock that has hit Congress.

Bavda injected a dose of reality, noting that it takes a filibuster-proof 60 votes to get anything passed in the Senate--a very difficult hurdle to clear.

Said Bavda, "All those great things my colleagues mention, have no chance of making it through a filibuster."


Gash writes to amplifies about the buttons Tenth Dems offer in reply to what I wrote:

"FYI, we made political buttons that say "Liberal,' because some of our members requested them. We also have buttons that say "Democrat," "Obama" in Hebrew, "Cuatro Anos Mas," "Obama 2012," and many other items like bumper stickers and crystal donkey pins.. Some of our members call themselves liberals, while other members call themselves centrists, moderates, progressives, Independents, and even conservatives (really -- they think that the Republicans are just too intrusive). The "Liberal" button is just one of dozens that we've made."

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is in Washington for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association and Democratic Governors Association sessions. He will be in Washington through Monday for a mix of policy and politics--and three White House visits. Quinn spoke directly with President Barack Obama about the auto industry recovery.

ON FRIDAY: Quinn and other Democratic governors met with Obama at the White House. Quinn talked to Obama about the auto industry, a big topic of discussion before the Tuesday Republican presidential primary in Michigan. In Illinois, the Chrysler plant in Belvidere just expanded and the Ford plant on Chicago's South Side is bustling.

The White House and the Obama re-election campaign have focused a lot of attention on Obama's bailout of the auto industry; on Tuesday--Michigan primary day-- Obama speaks to the United Auto Workers conference in Washington. The GOP presidential candidates oppose Obama's bailout and Democrats have been blasting Mitt Romney for his position that the auto makers should have gone through a structured bankruptcy instead of getting the direct federal assistance.

The debrief from a Quinn spokesman: "Quinn discussed Chrysler and Ford's recent growth in Illinois with the President. Just days before the Michigan primary where the auto industry recovery has been a source of debate for Republicans, the governor thanked President Obama for "saving the auto industry."

"Gov. Quinn told the president he was grateful for what he did to rescue the auto industry, which has resulted in both Chrysler and Ford growing their workforces in Illinois and helping the state's economy.

"Gov. Quinn took the oath of office just eight days after the President in January, 2009. Since then, Chrysler has gone from employing 200 workers at its Belvidere plant to more than 4,200 workers as of this coming summer. Ford had one shift of workers, and is now adding its third shift of workers."

"As for the general election, the Gov said President Obama appears "ready to go" for whoever comes his way. The governor said the president is "very much a competitor."

Quinn with attend the annual White House black-tie dinner for the NGA in the State Dining Room with Obama and First Lady Michelle and Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill.

ON MONDAY: Quinn is back at the White House, where Obama and Biden will host a meeting an NGA meeting National Governors Association in the State Dining Room.

The First Lady and Dr. Biden will also deliver remarks on their "Joining Forces" program for military families; Quinn has long been involved with veterans and Illinois military. The White House said Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden will, "speak to the country's governors and spouses about military spouse employment and what they can do in their own states to improve job portability for military spouses.

QUINN MEETINGS WITH CABINET SECRETARIES: Quinn is also scheduled to meet with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood, Secretary of Commerce John Bryson, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

IN ADDITION: Quinn is doing events with the DGA, where he chairs the labor committee; in the past he has chaired the fund-raising committee.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL WAS IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK: What I reported exclusively on Wednesday: Emanuel had meetings with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.I was told by City Hall that the May NATO/G-8 meetings in Chicago were on his agenda on this trip."

WASHINGTON--Members of Chicago's NATO/G-8 Host Committee are traveling to NATO Headquarters in Brussels next month to bring them a "Taste of Chicago" in advance of the May summits in the city.

The idea is to showcase Chicago during a "Summit Kickoff" for NATO, to be held March 22. The event is being planned by the Chicago Host Committee and the U.S. NATO mission, headed by Ivo Daalder, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO.

The activities include: the opening of a Chicago exhibit at NATO headquarters; "authentic Chicago specialties" to be served at a reception and in the NATO cafeteria (Steamed hot dogs? Italian beef? Deep dish pizza?) and a U.S. military band on site to play Chicago themed songs.

A dinner for NATO officials will be prepared by Stefanie Izard, the executive chef at Girl and the Goat with a performance by Chicago's Lonnie Brooks Blues Band.

The delegation--to number about ten--will be led by Lori Healey, executive director of the host committee. This will be Healey's second visit to Belgium to lay groundwork for the summits.

In January, Healey, Don Welch, with Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, Michelle Boone with the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and other officials made an advance trip to Belgium to plan for the March event. World Business Chicago paid for the trip.

Next week, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will be in Washington for meetings, including a session at the State Department with representatives from NATO's member counries; the opening of a seminar organized by NATO's Allied Command Transformation and a "town hall" session with students at the National Defense University.

WASHINGTON--Mitt Romney delivered an economic speech in Detroit on Friday, and the Obama campaign said in reaction it was just "lip service" to the middle class. Read Ben LaBolt's comment in full below.

Romney's speech comes in advance of Tuesday's primary in Michigan, the state where he was raised--and where his father was once governor. Read the text of the speech HERE. The choice of venue may have created a problem of optics: Romney's speech before the Detroit Economic Club was in Ford Field--which seats nearly 70,000--but had only several hundred people seated on the field.

below, from Obama campaign....


"Mitt Romney today stood in the midst of a monument to an industry he would have let go bankrupt leading to the elimination of 1.4 million American jobs. Rather than introducing a plan that would restore economic security for the middle class, Mitt Romney has proposed a fiscally irresponsible plan that would increase the deficit by $5 trillion over the next decade, provide millionaires with tax breaks 800 percent larger than those for the middle class, hollow out retirement security and allow the wealthiest who earn their income off of investments to pay a lower tax rate than middle class Americans. The President has provided every working American with a tax break, and has put forward a plan to boost competitiveness, create jobs, ensure everyone pays their fair share and reduce the deficit by $4 trillion. The lip service Mitt Romney paid to the middle class today was as empty as the stadium he stood in." -- Ben LaBolt, Press Secretary


Romney Detroit Economic Speech. Text

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WASHINGTON--Comic Bill Maher is donating $1 million to a SuperPac backing President Barack Obama, Priorities USA.

From the Associated Press: "Maher announced during a Yahoo-webcast special, "CrazyStupidPolitics," that he was giving $1 million to Priorities USA Action, a super political action committee backing the president. Even as he made his sizeable pledge, Maher mocked the committee's "tongue-twister name," joking that it was dreamed up by Borat, the English-addled Eastern European comic creation of Sacha Baron Cohen."

From Maher's Twitter: "Thank u everybody who's hit me up after the show, and a great San Jose audience. Obama donation was a surprise to Yahoo too fyi!"

My columns on Priorities USA are HERE and HERE

WASHINGTON--Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Grammy winner John Legend headline a March 20 major donor Obama re-election fund-raiser in Chicago.

The fund-raiser--on Illinois primary day-- features what is billed as a "private perfomance" by Legend with a discussion afterwards led by former Obama White House domestic policy chief Melody Barnes.

The admission is a $5,000 per person contribution with the host tab $25,000, either raised or donated.

The event is at the Near North Side home of Michael Sacks and his wife, Cari. He is CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management L.P.; Vice-Chairman of World Business Chicago and a member of the board of the company that owns the Chicago Sun-Times.

Other co-hosts are:

• Eric Lefkofsky and his wife, Liz. He is the co-founder and executive chairman of Groupon and a World Business Chicago board member.

• John Rogers, Ariel Investments Chairman, CEO & Chief Investment Officer; a close friend of Obama and First Lady Michelle and a major fund-raiser for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

• Penny Sebring and Chuck Lewis. Lewis is Chairman of the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation and retired Merrill Lynch & Co. vice chairman. Sebring is a Senior Research Associate at the University of Chicago and Founding Co-Director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

• Liz Thompson.

Obama fund-raisers are working Chicago area big donors: On March 16, President Barack Obama returns home for fund-raising: a lunch at the Palmer House Hilton has a sliding scale:

$2,500.00 Lunch Guest, $10,000.00 Preferred Seating, Campaign Discussion and Preferred Seating, $25,000.00 Host, Table Captain, $35,800.00 Luncheon Chair.

The proceeds from both events go to the Obama Victory Fund 2012, a joint fundraising committee authorized by Obama for America and the Democratic National Committee.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will be in Washington on Friday; he will join other Democratic governors for a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House.


The Obama 2012 marketing/fund-raising team, keeping the product line fresh, added a variety of IPhone covers with various Obama logos and branding on it. The item goes for $40--really a $40 donation, the IPhone is the premium the buyer gets in return.

WASHINGTON--With the Michigan primary looming on Tuesday, the Obama 2012 campaign is up with a paid ad touting President Barack Obama's record in rescuing the auto industry. The ad is the second of the campaign and the first spot where the Obama team is not reacting to an attack--just putting out the ad and the message it wants when it wants.

"Made in America. For generations of Michigan autoworkers it's more than a slogan. It's a way of life," a male announcer says in a voiceover.

The brawny spot hits Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul for opposing the auto bailout--and specifically nicks Romney for his position that the federal government should have let "Detroit Go Bankrupt."

The Republicans defended their views during an extended portion of the Wednesday night debate on CNN--and took swipes at the United Auto Workers union while they were at it.

In 2008, Obama won Michigan 57.43 percent over John McCain, who got 40.96 percent. Democrats John Kerry won Michigan in 2004 and Al Gore won in 2000.

Earlier, the campaign's first paid ad running in some primary states spoke to Obama's energy message--but it was a rebuttal to an Americans for Prosperity Solyandra hit.

WASHINGTON -- One day last January, Chicago's John Rogers was here and met with Bill Burton, the former White House deputy press secretary who now runs a SuperPAC supporting President Barack Obama's re-election.

Burton was pitching Rogers to contribute to Priorities USA, the SuperPAC created by Burton and Sean Sweeney -- who was the chief of staff for Rahm Emanuel when he was Obama's White House chief of staff.

Rogers, the chairman, CEO, and chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, didn't donate to Burton on the spot -- but a short time later that day he sent a messenger to deliver his $50,000 check to Burton's office.

Rogers has a unique and important place in the Obama circle. He is very close to the president, first lady Michelle, her brother Craig Robinson (they played basketball together at Princeton) and Valerie Jarrett, a White House senior adviser.

He was a major fund-raiser for the Obama 2008 campaign and is reprising that role in 2012 for the re-election drive. On top of that, Rogers now is helping with Priorities USA.

Rogers was the biggest donor in January to Priorities USA. Earlier this month, Obama, in a switch, had his campaign manager, Jim Messina, tell major Obama donors they should donate to Priorities.

The 2012 presidential campaign is marked by the rise and the enormous influence of SuperPACs, political action committees created as a result of 2010 federal court rulings. SuperPACs are not allowed to coordinate with a campaign. They can take unlimited donations from a person, unlike a federal campaign, where an individual can give only $2,500 for a primary and $2,500 for the general election.

In this cycle, SuperPACs created to bolster the candidacies of GOP contenders Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have been critical to their candidacies.

At the same time, another Republican SuperPAC, American Crossroads, has a mission to take aim at Obama until the Republicans have a nominee. With the torrent of GOP money, Rogers opened his checkbook.

"Burton made such a credible case of why it is important for us to have an even playing field, I was happy to help with whatever I could afford," Rogers told me in an interview.

Another Chicagoan, Fred Eychaner, a businessman and major Democratic donor -- Obama headlined a fund-raiser last month at Eychaner's North Side home -- was one of Priorities USA major donors, giving the group $500,000 in 2011.

Eychaner was unavailable for comment.

Major Chicago area donors to American Crossroads in 2011 include $300,00 from Kenneth Griffin, chief executive of Citadel LLC, a hedge fund; $250,000 from Janet Duchossois, an Oak Brook member of the racetrack family who is with the privately held Duchossois Group, and $100,000 from Sam Zell, whose holdings include the Tribune Co.

Griffin also hedges his political bets. He was a fund-raiser for both Obama and the GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain, in 2008. This cycle, Griffin has left the Obama camp. I asked a spokesman for a comment and was referred to a statement he gave to Bloomberg News last November, where he said he was backing Romney in 2012.

An analysis of presidential SuperPAC Federal Election Commission filings by Maplight, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, research organization that specializes in money and politics shows that in 2011, Chicago area donors gave:

 $500,250 to Priorities USA (two donors, most from Eychaner).

 $247,000 to Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney SuperPAC, from four contributors: $100,000 from Griffin, $95,000 each from Kristen Hertel and her husband, Goldman Sachs investment banker Muneer Satter and $50,000 from Zell.

 $10,000 to Endorse Liberty, a pro-Paul SuperPAC.

The $10,000 came from the Revolution SuperPAC, headquartered at 3149 Dundee Rd. in Northbrook and run by a man named Gary Franchi Jr., who referred me to his Facebook page for information. He is a 1995 graduate of Glenbrook South High School and described himself on Facebook as "a filmmaker, broadcaster, national grass-roots organizer."

from the White House:

"Following up on their February 20 phone call, the President sent a letter to President Karzai to continue their discussion on a range of issues related to our long-term partnership. In the letter, delivered by Ambassador Crocker this afternoon in Kabul, the President also expressed our regret and apologies over the incident in which religious materials were unintentionally mishandled at Bagram Airbase." - Tommy Vietor, NSC Spokesman

WASHINGTON-- Nothing is off limits, not even President Barack Obama crooning a few bars of "Sweet Home Chicago."

As Obama hits Miami in the battleground state of Florida for an economics speech and fund-raising on Thursday, the Republican National Committee slams him on the rise of gas prices in a video targeted to a Miami audience.

NEW POLITICAL PAID MEDIA ALERT: The RNC is doing an ad buy for this video--not on cable to broadcast television, but on YouTube. The RNC bought a day-long ad buy "targeted to viewers watching news and politics content on YouTube in the Miami area."

The RNC video uses Obama singing a bit of "Sweet Home Chicago" at the White House Blues Night on Tuesday, taking a clip of that and morphing it into "Obama's Got America Singin' the Blues."

"Good morning, welcome to Miami Mr. President. Fifteen seconds is all it takes for the RNC to sing a different tune than the President. The online ad highlights how gas prices have increased from $1.85 to $3.59 in three years under Obama.

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel has booked meetings with a variety of cabinet officials on Wednesday, though none of this was on his official schedule--not even the trip here. My view: If the mayor travels on official business on the taxpayer tab, the trip should be noted on the public schedule--even if the meetings are closed. Emanuel seems to model a lot of his City Hall operation on the White House--he was chief of staff to President Barack Obama. When Obama travels--his trips are announced.

Now, to substance. City Hall finally dislodged some information on what Emanuel is doing here: He had or is having meetings with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

I was told by City Hall that the May NATO/G-8 meetings in Chicago were on his agenda on this trip.

The GOP presidential candidates face-off on CNN at 8 p.m. est Wednesday night in Mesa, Ariz. Rick Santorum is defending remarks he made about "Satan" in advance of the debate--the only one before voting in Arizona, Michigan and the March 10 Super Tuesday vote.

Click below for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Ash Wednesday messages for 2012, 2011 and 2010.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama work out routine while on the road includes jumping rope in her hotel room--3,500 jumps each morning. She discussed her drill in an interview out Wednesday with SIRIUS XM host Joe Madison. Hat tip to Obamafoodorama for flagging the interview.

Joe Madison: "Talk about how the Obamas live what they preach when it comes to...[the 'Let's Move' initiative] do you work out when you are on the road?"

Mrs. Obama: "....I brought a jump rope and in my hotel room, I got up this morning and I jump roped. I did seven sets of 500, so by the time I finished I had done about 3500 jumps...I had my cardio in, took a shower, got ready, got dressed and I'm here.

"Even before coming to the White House, we were always physically active....I would get up in the morning, my mom would come over if Barack was traveling and he wasn't home so that I could get up. I got up at 4:30 am in the morning to go the gym and get that done before the girls got up so by the time I got back they were just getting up to get ready for school. But I prioritized that. I...said I would sleep a little bit less [and] go to bed early, but if I don't get that done in the beginning of the day, the day just gets go to work and work takes over. Then you are tired, you come home...then you stop prioritizing yourself. So I thought, I've got to get up and prioritize my own health before I do anything else--work, [or] taking care of my kids....

"The President is the same way...he works out every single day, even on his busiest days, even when he's on the road he goes down to the gym. There's got to be a treadmill, there's a treadmill on Air Force One...if he's got a long distance flight....because he needs that now....that's the way he burns off a lot of stress. So it's critical."

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama talks about a post White House role she is has in mind for herself--for the first time I can recall--in an interview aired Wednesday with Joe Madison on his SIRIUS XM channel 128 radio talk show.

Mrs. Obama revealed she is already exploring ways to continue leading a drive for healthy eating and against childhood obesity after she leaves the White House. She told Madison she plans on using proceeds from a book about the White House kitchen garden on the South Lawn--to be released in a few months--to create a funding stream for her signature projects.

Madison taped the interview with Mrs. Obama on Feb. 11, when she was on a tour of Florida, Iowa, Texas and Arkansas to mark the second anniversary of her "Let's Move" drive to end childhood obesity in a generation. Hat tip to Obamafoodorama for flagging the Madison interview.

Madison: ..."After your years in the White House and I hope it's no time soon [that you leave], is this something that Michelle Obama [as] former first lady will continue beyond her years in the White House?"

Mrs. Obama: "Absolutely...this is a cause that can't be solved in a few years. It'll take generations for us to change the way our children see food and how they raise their kids and how communities...[will be]... structured...I'm writing a book that is going to focus on the White House kitchen garden and the proceeds of that are going to be used to deal with this issue, to look at community gardens, and I'm already looking for ways to keep the conversation going long after I'm out of this position So, yes, I am committed to continuing to focus on this issue, to shine a light on it, to lift it up because it's not going to go away with just a few tours and....a couple of years in office."

WASHINGTON--Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in Washington on Wednesday for meetings. City Hall tells me they have to do with the upcoming NATO/G-8 meetings in Chicago on May and on "education."

WASHINGTON--The Obama campaign announced its 35 national co-chairs on Wednesday and the complete list shows strategic hands at work: very heavy on folks from battleground states.

Chicagoans on the list: The Obama campaign is tapping six from Chicago to be national co-chairs: Bill Daley, Sen. Dick Durbin, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Penny Pritzker, Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Alan Solow.

Daley was announced as a co-chair after he submitted is resignation as President Barack Obama's chief of staff. Emanuel, who was Obama's first chief of staff, business woman Pritzker and attorney Solow-- past Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations-- already serve as advisors to the campaign.

Illinois Democrats Durbin and Schakowsky as were Pritzker and Solow were among Obama's earliest backers when he launched his 2008 White House bid.

Below, from the Obama campaign....


CHICAGO - Obama for America announced today the campaign's National Co-Chairs, a diverse group of leaders from around the country committed to re-electing President Obama. They will serve as ambassadors for the President, advise the campaign on key issues, and help engage and mobilize voters in all 50 states.

"The President's National Co-Chairs will be tremendous assets on the ground as we build the biggest grassroots campaign in history," said Jim Messina, Obama for America Campaign Manager. "They each share the President's vision for a future where every American can have a fair shot at success, where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded."

Our National Co-Chairs' varied backgrounds and experiences will prove invaluable as they connect with the President's supporters and advocate on his behalf on the campaign trail. They are proud of the President's record and leadership in rebuilding the economy after the worst economic crisis in generations and helping restore security to middle-class families through cutting taxes, investing in education, expanding manufacturing, increasing America's energy independence, ensuring that everyone has access to affordable health care, and making sure that everyone - from Wall Street to Main Street - plays by the same rules.

· Lynnette Acosta - OFA volunteer leader from Florida
· Marc Benioff - CEO of
· Senator Michael Bennet - U.S. Senator from Colorado
· Mayor Julian Castro - Mayor of San Antonio
· Governor Lincoln Chafee - Governor of Rhode Island
· Ann Cherry - Retired teacher and OFA volunteer leader from North Carolina
· Representative Judy Chu - Representing the 32nd District of California
· Representative Emanuel Cleaver - Representing the 5th District of Missouri
· Bill Daley - Former White House Chief of Staff to President Obama, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce
· Maria Elena Durazo - Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO
· Senator Dick Durbin - U.S. Senator from Illinois
· Mayor Rahm Emanuel - Mayor of Chicago
· Senator Russ Feingold - Former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin
· Representative Charles A. Gonzalez - Representing the 20th District of Texas
· Loretta Harper - High School Counselor and OFA volunteer leader from Nevada
· Attorney General Kamala Harris - Attorney General of California
· Sai Iyer - Student at Virginia Commonwealth University and OFA volunteer leader from Virginia
· Caroline Kennedy - Author/President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation
· Eva Longoria - Actress and Philanthropist
· Felesia Martin - OFA volunteer leader from Wisconsin
· Bishop Vashti McKenzie - African Methodist Episcopal Bishop
· Attorney General Tom Miller - Attorney General of Iowa
· Kalpen Modi - Actor/Former White House Associate Director for the Office of Public Engagement
· Admiral John Nathman - Retired U.S. Navy Admiral
· Governor Deval Patrick - Governor of Massachusetts
· Secretary Federico Pena - Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and U.S. Secretary of Energy
· Elaine Price - Retired Ohio resident and OFA volunteer leader from Ohio
· Penny Pritzker - Founder and CEO of PSP Capital Partners
· John Register - U.S. Army Veteran and Paralympian
· Representative Jan Schakowsky - Representing the 9th District of Illinois
· Senator Jeanne Shaheen - U.S. Senator from New Hampshire
· Joe Solmonese - President of the Human Rights Campaign
· Alan Solow - Partner at DLA Piper LLP and past Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
· Governor Ted Strickland - Former Governor of Ohio
· Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa - Mayor of Los Angeles

WASHINGTON---The Obama campaign is tapping six from Chicago to be national co-chairs: Bill Daley, Sen. Dick Durbin, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Penny Pritzker, Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Alan Solow.

Daley was announced as a co-chair after he submitted is resignation as President Barack Obama's chief of staff. Emanuel, who was Obama's first chief of staff, business woman Pritzker and attorney Solow already serve as advisors to the campaign.

Illinois Democrats Durbin and Schakowsky as were Pritzker and Solow were among Obama's earliest backers when he launched his 2008 White House bid.

National co-chairs will serve as campaign surrogates helping fund-raise; they will also help to engage and mobilize voters. The campaign will have about 30 co-chairs.

Not on the list--Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., (D-Ill.) who was a co-chair of Obama's 2008 campaign. Jackson is locked in a re-election primary battle with former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) where Obama is backing Jackson.

Full set list:

"In Performance at The White House: Red, White and Blues"
B.B King, Trombone Shorty, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Mick Jagger, Shemekia Copeland, Susan Tedeschi, Gary Clark, Jr., Keb' Mo', Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes

Set List

1. "Let the Good Times Roll" (Ensemble)
2. "The Thrill Is Gone" (B.B King)
3. "St. James Infirmary" (Trombone Shorty)
4. "Let Me Love You Baby" (Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck)
5. "Brush With The Blues" instrumental (Jeff Beck)
6. "I Can't Turn You Loose" (Mick Jagger)
7. "Commit A Crime" (Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck)
8. "Miss You" (Mick Jagger, Shemekia Copeland, and Susan Tedeschi,)
9. "Beat Up Guitar" (Shemekia Copeland, Gary Clark, Jr.)
10. "Catfish Blues" (Gary Clark, Jr.)
11. "In The Evening (When The Sun Goes Down)" (Gary Clark, Jr.)
12. "Henry" ( Keb' Mo')
13. "I'd Rather Go Blind" (Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes)
14. "Five Long years" (Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Gary Clark, Mick Jagger)
15. "Sweet Home Chicago" (Ensemble)

WASHINGTON--Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Patty Murray, Barbara Boxer and Kirsten Gillibrand spoke out loudly last week after a House hearing on contraception--presided over by a male GOP chairman-- featured an all-male lineup on its first panel.

"We can't lose sight that this is, at the most fundamental level, a debate about women's preventative health," New Hampshire's Shaheen said from the Senate floor, followed by the other women. "Women deserve a voice in this debate, because after all, in the end this is about our health and it is about a health care decision that is between women, their families, their doctors and their own faith," she said.

There's more protests coming with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday leading the latest charge.

Pelosi announced that Democrats will hold a hearing Thursday featuring the woman, Sandra Fluke, a law student, who was not allowed to be part of that panel.

Some Republicans--including the presidential candidates-- are trying to frame getting contraception for women covered through the new Obama health care law as an issue of religious liberty.

But the reality is--as women who use birth control know--there is a lot more to the story.

The contraception wars are heating up, as something I thought was a long settled issue becomes part of the presidential campaign. Fanning the flames: last week Rick Santorum SuperPac fund-raising patron Foster Friess was preaching abstinence, or, as he said women to avoid pregnancy need to "put aspirin between their knees."

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chair Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) titled a hearing last week "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" The first panel he called was comprised of religious leaders and academics from religious-affiliated universities.

Issa et al bought themselves some grief by not realizing the messaging, optics and substance blunder of holding a hearing--no matter the title--related to contraception without women playing a prominent role.

As Pelosi said Friday, "Imagine having a panel on women's health, and they don't have any women on the panel. Duh. What is it that men don't understand about women's health and how central the issue of family planning is to that, not just if you're having families, but if you need those kinds of prescription drugs for your general health, which was the testimony they would have heard this morning if they had allowed a woman on the panel.

"I think the fact that they did not allow a woman on the panel is symbolic of the whole debate, as to who is making these decisions about women's health and who should be covered."

Issa called the hearing as a result of new coverage put in place as a result of the Obama health care law. Starting in August, women in the U.S. will get free birth control from their health insurance.

The exceptions are women who work for a religious organization--such as the Catholic Church--allowed to opt out of mandatory coverage.

President Obama earlier this month had to backtrack --and broaden the new coverage regulation in order to allow other kinds of religious employers--such as a hospital or non-profit--to not provide the coverage. In the compromise--an accounting device--those women workers still get the free coverage--directly through their health insurance carriers.

Said Murray, from the Senate floor, the revived controversy "was like stepping into a time machine and going back fifty years."

Or about the era of Mad Men.

WASHINGTON--A week before the Arizona and Michigan primaries, polls show Mitt Romney in good shape in Arizona and tied with Rick Santorum in Michigan, his homestate. Santurum's surge turned him into a target for the Obama team and Mitt Romney

The Obama team is finally paying attention to Santorum; on Tuesday, Obama campaign policy director James Kvaal took aim at the economic policies of both Santorum and Romney.

Romney spokesman Andrea Saul said, "Republican primary voters have a clear choice. Mitt Romney spent his career helping turn around companies, the Olympics, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. At the same time, Congressman/Senator Rick Santorum spent his career in Washington, voting repeatedly to increase the debt ceiling and his own pay. If business as usual in Washington is the problem, Rick Santorum can't be part of the solution."

Click below for Obama campaign, Romney memos on Santorum.

WASHINGTON--GOP Illinois House members Adam Kinzinger and Don Manzullo are pitted against each other in the March primary, with Kinzinger running in a lot of new turf thanks to redistricting. Tonight, the two face off in a 16th congressional district debate in Wateska. Kinzinger has a new ad out pitching himself as a "new breed" of conservative lawmaker.

His ad hits Manzullo for backing the Obama administration's "cash for clunkers" program, one part of the Obama team efforts to bail out the U.S. car industry. The 16th district includes Belvidere, which has a giant Chrysler assembly plant. A few weeks ago, Chrysler announced that the revived Dodge Dart will be manufactured in the giant Belvidere plant.

In a Monday conference call, I asked Kinzinger if attacking the clunker program will help him in Belvidere--and he said it would.

Both Kinzinger and Manzullo are very conservative. Kinzinger said the Tea Party is split in this primary.

WASHINGTON--In rare bi-partisan agreement, some Illinois and Republicans and Democrats in agree that the pending House transportation bill shortchanges public transit in the Chicago area--that's the CTA, RTA, Metra, PACE and Amtrak.

Click below for remarks from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Reps. Bob Dold and Judy Biggert, Illinois Republicans and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.)

FlotusDC - Gen44.jpg


WASHINGTON--Back from a long Presidents Day weekend in Aspen, First Lady Michelle Obama is headlining a major donor fund-raiser lunch here Tuesday before hosting a Blues evening at the White House.

Mrs. Obama is heading to Cincinnati and Louisville on Thursday for more fund-raising in critical battleground turf. On Wednesday, Mrs. Obama will be on a conference call for "Women for Obama," where she will speak to some 1,000 house parties across the nation.

The Tuesday high dollar fund-raiser--which was not on Mrs. Obama's original schedule-- is for an Obama "Women and Technology" event, an Obama 2012 spokesman said. The lunch is at the Mayflower Hotel with the tab ranging from $5,000 to $20,300 for those who want seating or picture perks. The base price is $1,000. Mrs. Obama's last fund-raising swing--which was put on her schedule--was at the end of January in California.

The White House sent out notice of the fund-raiser after this column was posted--a few minutes before Mrs. Obama's comments to the donors.

Some 360 guests are expected to attend this event Special guests include Kathleen Kennedy, former White House Domestic Policy Chief Melody Barnes, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

The hosts include Carol and Tom Wheeler and Kathy Brown. According to bios on, Carol Wheeler was the 2008 the Obama campaign's outreach coordinator to the Irish-American community. Tom Wheeler, who ran the cable industry trade association was a member of the Obama-Biden Transition Project's Agency Review Working Group responsible for the science, technology, space and arts agencies.

Brown is a Verizon Senior Vice President for Public Policy Development and Corporate Responsibility.

Proceeds from the event go to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee authorized by Obama for America 2012 campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Here is the tiered package:

x $5,000.00 Event Host Includes Photo Reception and Priority Seating at the Luncheon for one
x $20,000.00 Event Chair Includes Event Chair Greet, Photo Reception and Premium Seating for two at the Luncheon
x $20,100.00 Event Chair + 1 Includes Event Chair Greet, Photo Reception and Premium Seating for two at the Luncheon + one Additional Luncheon Seat
x $20,200.00 Event Chair + 2 Includes Event Chair Greet, Photo Reception and Premium Seating for two at the Luncheon + two Additional Luncheon Seats
x $20,300.00 Event Chair + 3 Includes Event Chair Greet, Photo Reception and Premium Seating for two at the Luncheon + three Additional Luncheon Seats

There is so much concern about riots when Chicago hosts the NATO and G-8 meetings in May--even police horses are getting riot gear. Sun-Times City Hall Reporter Fran Spielman has the story HERE.

GOP Arizona debate Wednesday on CNN

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WASHINGTON--CNN's John King reprises his role as debate moderator on Wednesday, when the four GOP presidential rivals face off in another debate at 8 p.m. EST from Mesa, Arizona. The last debate seems ages ago--Jan. 26 in Florida.

This is the last debate before next Tuesday's Arizona and Michigan primaries, the March 3 caucus in Washington State and "Super Tuesday" on March 6, when ten states hold a primary or caucus.

From CNN: "All four of the leading Republican presidential contenders will participate in Wednesday's debate: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. In addition to questions posed to the candidates by King and Arizona Republicans in the audience, the network will solicit questions and comments submitted in real-time from, the CNN Politics fan page on Facebook and by using the #CNNDebate hashtag on Twitter."

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is facing a tough challenge from former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.) in the Illinois Second District Democratic Illinois primary on March 20. Chicago Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallasch has an overview story HERE on the contest.

WASHINGTON--Purple Strategies, a public affairs firm, is expanding to Chicago, adding to its team Chris Mather, the former communications chief for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The bi-partisan Purple Strategies is headquartered in Alexandria, Va., a Washington suburb with a branch in Houston; Mather will open the Chicago office.

Mather, who left City Hall in December, is a veteran of national and Illinois campaigns and was communications director for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack before joining the Emanuel administration.

Purple has a footprint in the Chicago area, working with United Airlines, McDonalds and BP. A subsidiary of the company, Citizen2, which specializes in branding --Coca Cola is a client--already has a Chicago presence, staffed with three alums from Leo Burnett, the advertising agency.

Purple is a fast growing public affairs firm. Its founders include Democrat Steve McMahon and Republican Alex Castellanos, who are also familiar faces on television; Castellanos is a CNN contributor and McMahon is a frequent guest on a variety of political shows.

"Chris offered us a wonderful opportunity to expand and extend our line in Chicago, our brand in Chicago," said McMahon.

"...Her experience is perfect. She has deep connections throughout the city and Mayor Emanuel told me she would be an unbelievably good hire," said McMahon who has known Emanuel for some 25 years.

Emanuel said in a statement, "This is a big win for Purple Strategies. Chris was one of my first hires as Mayor and I know first-hand what she can do and the talent she brings. Her experience across the city makes her an invaluable asset and any client would be lucky to have her at the table."

WASHINGTON--President Obama hits Florida this week for more high-end fund-raising. Last week, a string of big money fund-raisers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle brought in about $8 million for the Obama 2012 Victory Fund--a combined operation of the Chicago based re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

As in California and Washington State--and other fund-raising swings--Obama has wrapped official business around the political stops. In Miami, Obama will deliver a speech on the economy at the University of Miami. On last week's swing, Obama stopped for official business in Milwaukee and at a Boeing plant in Washington State.

On Thursday, Obama has an event at the Biltmore Hotel in Miami with contributions ranging from $1,000 to the maximum, $35,800, another hosted by Coral Gables developer Chris Korge, a major "bundler"--someone who uses his personal connections to raise money--where the tab starts at $15,000 to $35,800. Obama flies up to Orlando for dinner at the home of basketball star Vince Carter, held the day before the NBA All Star game in Orlando.

Obama returns to Chicago March 16 for fund-raising, his first return since Jan.11, when he headlined three fund-raisers in his hometown.

Watch Clinton's First Lady: Hillary on PBS. See more from American Experience.

A PBS Bill Clinton documentary premieres over two nights on Monday and Tuesday. The total viewing time is four hours. Rahm Emanuel, who was with Clinton from his 1992 campaign in Little Rock, Ark., through his impeachment, was not one of the Clinton-era figures interviewed for the project. PBS said Emanuel was not approached because at the time the documentary was being made, he was President Barack Obama's Chief of Staff. The documentary makers had several other people at his level from the Clinton White House, so they did not approach the now mayor of Chicago.

WASHINGTON--Days before the Illinois primary, President Barack Obama returns to Chicago on March 16 on a fund-raising swing. One high end event is a lunch at the Palmer House Hilton in the Loop.

"Lawyers for Obama invite you to join President Barack Obama for a lunch with supporters like you in Chicago," reads the invite. The tab is $35,800 to be a lunch chair; $25,000 to be a host with "campaign discussion and preferred seating" ; $10,000 for just preferred seating and $2,500 just for the lunch.

Obama returns just before the March 20 Illinois primary.

The proceeds go to the Obama Victory Fund 2012: that's the combined Obama 2012 campaign headquartered in Chicago and the Democratic National Committee.

April Harley, the Illinois specialist on the Obama finance team, is quarterbacking the event. The Obama 2012 campaign Illinois Finance co-chairs are Vicki Heyman, John Rogers and Neil Bluhm

Obama was last in Chicago on Jan. 11, for a series of fund-raising events: a concert fund-raiser at the University of Illinois-Chicago featuring actor Hill Harper and R&B star Janelle Monae and two high-end events--a $35,800-per couple dinner at the North Side home of businessman Fred Eychaner, a major donor to Democratic organizations, campaigns and "SuperPacs," and 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.

The Obama fund-raisers have created several perks to woo Chicago donors, one being the "Chicago Leadership Circle" formed earlier this year. For a flat donation of $5,000 or a monthly payment option--in $1,000 chunks--a donor can get a access to a variety of events.

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--already 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.

Obama Feb. 20, 2012 week ahead

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WASHINGTON-- First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha are in Aspen on a Presidents Day weekend vacation, according to the Aspen Daily News. The paper is reporting that they are staying at the home of Chicago's Jim and Susan Crown.

Last year, Mrs. Obama and her daughters spent the Presidents Day long weekend in Vail and Beaver Creek, Colorado.

Jim Crown is the president of Henry Crown and Company and a major fund-raiser for Obama, in 2008 and again for his 2012 re-election.

Mrs. Obama was in Aspen last July for a high-dollar fund-raiser at Crown's home.

Sen. Mark Kirk condition update

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WASHINGTON--The House and Senate on Friday agreed to continue the Social Security payroll tax break through all of 2012, sending a measure to President Barack Obama to sign. That break started under Obama in 2011 and goes to everyone who gets a paycheck. It's your money you get to keep.

The House approved the bill 293-132, and the Senate went along, 60-36. The legislation also includes what is nicknamed a "doc fix,' preventing a 27 percent decrease in payment rates to physicians who treat Medicare patients and makes changed in unemployment insurance benefits.

Obama for months had been pushing the GOP House to extend his Social Security payroll tax break that was effective in 2011. The Obama team launched a mini-campaign, framing the break in terms of what it would mean for a lot of people who get a paycheck, figuring a $40 weekly savings was "typical."

Anyone who receives a paycheck got a break in 2011 by paying less Social Security tax. For someone who earns $106,000, the cut was worth about $2,000; for a $50,000 earner, about $1,000.

FOOTNOTE: White House hopeful Mitt Romney got in some trouble when he said at an Oct. 11 Republican debate at Dartmouth University in New Hampshire that Obama's payroll tax breaks are just a "temporary little Band-Aids."

Memo from the Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee regarding unemployment insurance changes in the legislation:

Myths vs. Facts
Conference Agreement on Unemployment Insurance

MYTH: Agreement puts in place new job search requirements so those receiving
unemployment benefits at both the state and federal level actually look for a

FACT: Federal regulations currently require that all UI recipients be able and
available for work and every state now requires UI recipients to actively seek

MYTH: Agreement allows blanket drug testing of recipients of unemployment

FACT: Under current law, states can already disqualify individuals from UI when
they are fired for cause for substance abuse, and states can disqualify
individuals who refuse to take, or fail, a drug test from a prospective
employer. The agreement limits any drug testing to only those losing their jobs
because of unlawful use of a controlled substance and those seeking employment
in occupations generally requiring a drug test as regulated by the Secretary of

MYTH: Agreement reduces the maximum number of weeks to 63 this year.

FACT: Agreement retains the maximum level (99 weeks) of Unemployment Insurance
through May, reduces the maximum to 79 through August for all but a few states
and to 73 in September - all depending on a state's unemployment rate.

MYTH: Eliminates the "Extended Benefits" program, which allowed states to
receive an additional 20 weeks of federal benefits.

FACT: Extended Benefits program remains in effect through the remainder of the
year, although states will continue to become ineligible for the program
(because of the three-year look-back requirement) as the year continues. Many
states will continue to receive EB in the coming months, with 18 states
remaining eligible for the program into May. Importantly, if a state loses
access to EB between March and the end of May, unemployed workers can receive an
additional 10 weeks in Tier 4 of EUC.

MYTH: The vast majority of states currently receive 93-plus weeks of benefits.

FACT: Currently, fewer than half<>
(22) of states are eligible for 93-plus weeks of unemployment insurance, with
just 18 states getting the full maximum of 99 weeks.

WASHINGTON--GOP White House hopeful Rick Santorum said a comment by a major donor about contraception--that women should put an aspirin between their legs to avoid sex and getting pregnant in the first place--"was a stupid joke." Santorum distanced himself from Foster Friess during a Thursday night interview on Greta Van Susteren's Fox News "On the Record" show.

Santorum also accused the media of "trying to play gotcha" on the matter.

Friday marks a week since contraception has exploded on the 2012 White House election scene. A week ago, President Barack Obama was forced to backtrack some on a new rule requiring all employers to offer health insurance with free contraception coverage for women. Obama last Friday allowed religious employers--such as hospitals and non-profits, to opt out--though their insurance carriers would still offer the benefit to women.

On Thursday, during an afternoon interview with Andrea Mitchell on her MSNBC show, Foster Friess, a major donor to a SuperPac backing Santorum said, "And this contraceptive thing, my gosh, it's so -- it's such inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptions. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn't that costly."

Friess' comments touched off a storm and by the time of Van Susteren's late night show, Santorum found himself answering questions about a key supporter--and his views on birth control--which he had said was "harmful" to women.

"Well, I mean, it's -- look, I'm not going to be responsible for everybody who's -- you know, anybody -- any supporter of mine and what they say. I mean, that's -- that's -- that's -- I'm not going to play that game," Santorum told Van Susteren.

"I mean, the bottom line is my position is very clear. I've had a -- a consistent record on this of supporting women's right to have contraception. I've supported funding for it.

"So -- I mean, this is a -- this is a -- in my opinion, this is an attack on someone's religious beliefs because I have a very strong belief, as does my family, in agreement with the Catholic church, somehow or another, that that's -- that's a -- that's something that people should be afraid of, shouldn't be afraid of it.

"If you look at my record in the public, I've been clear about -- about that issue. I've had a consistent and long voting record on it. And I think this is the media trying to play -- you know, trying to play gotcha. It's -- it's absurd."

Van Susteren pressed Santorum. "All right, well, let me -- let me understand. All right there -- let me just sort it out. There are two issues. One is the creepy supporter, you know, the guy who says something really creepy about you and who's -- is a -- who's a huge fund-raiser for your campaign. Will you at least, you know, correct him about -- I mean, I think most women don't think it's particular funny, his comment," she said.

Replied Santorum, "Yes. No, look, I mean, Foster is known in political circles as telling a lot of jokes, and some of them are not particularly funny, which this one was not. He's not creepy. He's a good man. He's a great philanthropist. He's a very successful businessman.

You know, he told a -- he told a bad, off-color joke, and he shouldn't have done it. But that's -- you know, that's -- that's his business. It certainly doesn't, in my opinion, reflect on the campaign or me because he wasn't doing it as part of our campaign."

Santorum added later, "It was a stupid -- it was a stupid joke."

Turning to birth control, Van Susteren asked Santorum about his 2006 comment that contraception was "harmful to women."

"What I was talking about, generally speaking, in that interview, was that the idea -- the whole concept of sexual liberation, sexual freedom has had its down sides, and certainly birth control is part of that with a dramatic increase in sexually transmitted diseases, dramatic increase in out of wedlock births, a dramatic increase in the number of abortions," he said.

WASHINGTON---President Barack Obama's re-election drive raised $29.1 million in January, according to new figures released Friday--as campaigns start reporting monthly totals with the Federal Election Commission.

The campaign highlighted the percentage of small donors, stating in a tweet at 5:59 a.m. est Friday, "Of January donations to #Obama2012, 98% were $250 or less. Thanks to everyone who pitched in."

Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle have all been on fund-raising swings in January collecting millions of dollars through headlining major donor events for a combined Obama 2012 and Democratic National Committee 2012 fund.

Since launching the drive for a second term in April, 2011 in Chicago, Obama has raised about $250 million in the combined funds from some 1.3 million donors. In the last quarter of 2011, Obama's team raised about $68 million.

Obama hit the West Coast this week for a heavy fund-raising schedule, with high-end events in Los Angeles and San Francisco on Thursday and Friday in Seattle. California is Obama's top donor state.

Obama raises money with the help of 444 "bundlers," people who use their own networks to help raise cash.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, "at least $9 out of every $25 raised by the DNC and the Obama campaign from April through the end of 2011 came from these elite fundraisers."

Mitt Romney, the best funded Republican candidate, refuses to release the names of members of his National Finance Committee beyond the 16 bundlers he has who are also federal lobbyists. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich also refuse to identify their bundlers; Ron Paul does not use them. The law requires disclosure of bundlers who are federal lobbyists; Obama does not take contributions from lobbyists.

In San Francisco Thursday night, Obama talked about the "change" slogan he ran on in 2008.

"I know these last three years have been tough. I know the change that we fought for in 2008 has come in fits and starts and sometimes it hasn't come as fast as folks wanted. We've had setbacks. I've made mistakes. After all that's happened in Washington, I know it's tempting sometimes to believe that maybe what we imagined isn't possible. But remember what we used to say during the campaign, that real change, big change is hard and it takes time. And it takes more than a single term. And it takes more than a single President. What it requires is ordinary citizens who come together with a shared vision and who are committed and persistent and just stay at it and keep fighting and keep pushing, and inching this country closer and closer and closer to our highest ideals.

"And I said in 2008 I'm not a perfect man and I will not be a perfect president. But I promised you then that I would always tell you what I thought, I would always tell you where I stood, and I would wake up every single day fighting for you as hard as I know how. And I have kept that promise.

"And so if you're willing to stand with me and keep pushing and keep fighting and keep believing and, yes, keep hoping, then change will come. If you're willing to work even harder than you were in 2008, then we're going to finish what we started. Stand with me. Walk with me. Organize with me. Hope with me. And we will remind the world just why it is that America is the greatest nation on Earth."

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WASHINGTON--Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is heading to Wisconsin next month to headline a fund-raiser for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Democrat Barrett is a potential candidate if the recall election bid against GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker advances.

Huffington Post obtained the invite for the March 28 event in Milwaukee; tickets range from $400 to $2,500.

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

WASHINGTON--GOP White House hopeful Rick Santorum's SuperPac patron Foster Friess cost Santorum a lot on Thursday--when he told Andrea Mitchell on her MSNBC show that the "gals" back in his day used aspirin as birth control--putting it between their legs. I am not making this up, take a look at the video above.

The conversational hook was on Santorum's statements that contraception use is not right.

WASHINGTON--Democratic Illinois House hopeful Brad Schneider is ahead of his three rivals, in their tenth congressional district primary contest, according to a poll from his campaign. The survey puts Schneider at 29 percent, Ilya Sheyman at 14 percent, John Tree at 4 percent and Vivek Bavda at 2 percent. The Democratic March 20 primary winner in the north suburban district takes on freshman Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.).

Click below for the entire polling memo from the Schneider campaign; I did not see the entire poll, just the memo.

Click below for statement from Sheyman campaign.


Click below for statement from Schneider campaign

WASHINGTON--Man, don't get between a woman and her contraceptives.

For the Republicans, the optics of having five men--three clerics, two religious educators lead off a Thursday House hearing on contraception insurance sends a message, one that may not help them come November when they try to woo women voters.

Add on top of that, more scrutiny of GOP White House front-runner Rick Santorum reveals his view that he believes birth control is just wrong.

House Government Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is running a hearing titled "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?"

The hook is the new insurance coverage for birth control. Under Obama, all women, no matter their employer, will get free contraception coverage starting this August. Obama on Friday--addressing concerns raised by Catholic bishops and others, revised the new rule--a result of the Obama health care plan. Under the change accepted by some Catholic leaders but not the bishops-- women who work for a religious employer--such as a hospital or non-profit--will get the benefit directly from the insurance company.

The Issa viewpoint comes across in the title of the hearing and a statement out in advance of the testimony. Said Issa, "While some Americans may not feel that government mandates forcing them to pay for contraception are an infringement on their religious beliefs, others consider it to be an assault against their freedom of conscience. A government policy that encroaches on the conscientious objections of religious groups concerns all Americans who value the protections of the First Amendment. Today, the committee will hear testimony from leaders of different faiths. They are concerned that government, under this Administration, is encroaching on their First Amendment rights.

"The Administration's actions have forced us to confront a more fundamental question about the proper role of government in our lives," Issa said.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia) both objected to the hearing--and the male line-up for the kickoff panel, though two women were part of the second panel.

Said Maloney in a statement, "Of course this hearing is about rights - contraception and birth control. It's about the fact that women want to have access to basic health services family planning through their health insurance plan. But some would prevent that from happening - by using lawsuits and ballot initiatives in dozens of states to roll back the fundamental rights of women to a time when the government thought what happened in the bedroom was their business and contraceptives were illegal Tens of millions of us who are following these hearings lived through those times - and I can tell you with certainty - we will not be forced back to that dark and primitive era."

WASHINGTON--Though President Barack Obama and Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, chief of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, tangled last week over religious employers offering contraception coverage, the president is sending a delegation to the Vatican for Dolan's elevation.

Santorum stepping up Michigan game

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WASHINGTON--Polls show GOP White House hopeful Rick Santorum has a good chance of winning the Michigan primary at the end of the month, polls show, an upending prospect for chief rival Mitt Romney, a Michigan native--and son of a Michigan governor.

Santorum--who will be outspent by millions of dollars by Romney's campaign and the superpacs backing him--produced a humorous spot about Romney throwing mud all over Santorum. In Detroit today, Santorum delivers a speech before the Detroit Economic Club.

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WASHINGTON-- First Lady Michelle Obama is surprising White House tourists this morning--and greeting her visitors in person, along with First Dog Bo.

Watch on live stream at

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Rep. Luis Gutierrez on the House floor (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) ripped GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich from the House floor on Thursday, wielding humor as he tore into his fellow Catholic for accusing President Barack Obama of waging war on the Catholic church.

At issue: Under Obama, all women, no matter their employer, will get free contraception coverage starting this August. Obama on Friday--addressing concerns raised by Catholic bishops and others, revised the new rule--a result of the Obama health care plan. Under the change, women who work for religious employers--such as a hospital or non-profit--will get the benefit directly from the insurance company.

GOP White House candidates blasted Obama for the contraception coverage, arguing it was a matter of religious liberty rather than birth control. Gingrich, a thrice married Catholic convert, who had an affair with a House staffer while Speaker, strongly blasted Obama on the contraception coverage, giving Gutierrez the opening he used on Thursday morning. Gutierrez is an unabashed self-described "pro-choice Catholic."

"So I'm pleased to announce today that if Newt Gingrich can speak for all Catholics, I'm going to start speaking for all tall people," Gutierrez said.

"That's right: Five-foot six Congressman Luis Gutierrez, President of the National Association of Extremely Tall Americans.

"I'm no expert on being tall. But then again, Newt doesn't really seem expert on the rules of the Catholic Church either, so what's stopping me?"

Gutierrez delivered his speech as the House Oversight Committee was holding a hearing on the new contraception coverage benefit; the hearing was designed to give a platform for opponents of the new coverage a platform to make their objections.

Watch Gutierrez remarks on C-SPAN video HERE.

Below, text as prepared of Gutierrez remarks..

One of the many things I love about America is that we are a country of second chances.

You can fail and still have a chance to get ahead in our nation of opportunity.

There was a time that it looked like Steve Jobs might not make it. He was forced out of his company and Apple looked like it might become an historical footnote - until Apple realized its mistake and asked Steve Jobs to return and put them back on top.

Our current basketball sensation, Jeremy Lin, knows a thing or two about second chances. He was undrafted by the NBA and was cut twice before landing with the New York Knicks. Other than my hometown Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose - Lin is the most exciting story in sports.

America is about second - or third, or even fourth chances.

Which brings me, of course -- to Newt Gingrich.

Now some might say that Gingrich being considered at all for President of the United States is a second chance.

After all, his reign as Speaker of the House did not end well. It didn't end with good policy for America, good politics for Republicans, or good feelings about his personal reputation.

Yet, he is hanging on in the race to be our Commander in Chief.

But that's not the second chance I'm talking about today.

I'm talking about Newt Gingrich's reaction to President Obama's efforts to provide contraceptive coverage to all American women.

Mr. Gingrich has been trumpeting his outrage from Meet the Press to CPAC to any town hall that will have him.

He said President Obama, quote, "has basically declared war on the Catholic Church."

To be clear -- "President Obama has basically declared war on the Catholic Church."

That's the second chance I want to talk about:

Newt Gingrich as spokesperson for the Catholic Church.

Newt Gingrich as the right man to stand up as a protector of the values of the Catholic Church.

If "Newt Gingrich: Catholic Spokesperson" is not a generous, forgiving second chance, then I don't think one has ever existed in America.

Now I'm a Catholic.

And as a pro-choice legislator who strongly believes that no American woman should be denied contraceptive coverage based on where she works, I don't always see eye-to-eye with my church. So I don't pretend to be its spokesman, or someone who can speak for all Catholics. Good people can disagree on these tough issues.

But apparently Newt Gingrich is well-positioned to decide when our President has declared "war" on the Catholic faith. He isn't reluctant to speak on their behalf, even with a personal history - and let me just carefully go out on a limb here -- that seems to be at odds with some of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Frankly, I think his personal life is his business. But when he wants to dictate morality to the rest of America, when he accuses our President of engaging in "religious persecution," when he demands that his personal values be shared by all American women -- he makes his personal life part of our public discourse.

I support the President's call for equity for all American women. I salute him for standing up for fairness in contraceptive coverage in all health plans. I support his efforts to find a compromise that respects every American's religious beliefs. He did something hard for a leader: he listened to his critics and worked to find common, moderate ground. I applaud him.

And I applaud the American people for reminding us that everyone gets a second chance.

Even a chance for Newt Gingrich to stand up for America's Catholics.

If Newt can speak for Catholics, then it's true: in America, anything is possible.

Just consider what could happen:

Maybe Charlie Sheen can become the spokesperson for the temperance movement. And Lou Dobbs can be the face of immigrants' rights. LeBron James can be in charge of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce. And the cast of Jersey Shore can lead a national campaign for Mensa and manners.

If Newt can do it, why can't they?

In fact, if Newt can do it, why can't I?

This is me with Senator Bill Bradley. He's six foot five. I'm five foot six. He has noticed the difference, and is giving me a friendly kiss on top of my head.

So I'm pleased to announce today that if Newt Gingrich can speak for all Catholics, I'm going to start speaking for all tall people.

That's right: Five-foot six Congressman Luis Gutierrez, President of the National Association of Extremely Tall Americans.

I'm no expert on being tall. But then again, Newt doesn't really seem expert on the rules of the Catholic Church either, so what's stopping me?

Thank you Mr. Speaker.

WASHINGTON--"Obama Girl" Amber Lee Ettinger is back with a new video, this time urging President Barack Obama "you better step up" if he wants her vote. Ettinger burst to fame in 2007 with her "Obama Girl" video, where Ettinger played a woman with a very big crush on Obama.

In the new video, released this week on YouTube's new PoliPop channel, Ettinger is in a takeoff of "Grease" with a bit of "Glee" thrown in titled "Glease."

"I better bone up if I ain't gonna lose," croons a singing and dancing man playing Obama--who looks more like Bill Burton, who runs the Priorities USA Obama allied superpac.

SERIOUS OBSERVATION: The spoof does highlight the work the Obama team has to do--and is doing-- to make sure the 2008 voters--who became hooked on the message of "hope" and "change"--stay with Obama in 2012.

In Milwaukee on Wednesday, Obama framed the stay-with-me argument this way: "But here's what I want everybody to remember. Over the last 23 months, businesses have added nearly 3.7 million new jobs. Manufacturing is coming back. Companies are starting to bring jobs back. The economy is getting stronger. The recovery is speeding up. We're moving in the right direction. And now we have to do everything in our power to keep our foot on the gas. And the last thing we can afford to do is go back to the same policies that got us into this mess."

FLASHBACK: I had a chance to meet the "Obama Girl," actress and model Amber Lee Ettinger in July, 2007.

(photo courtesy Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--While the main NATO/G-8 summit meetings in May will be held at the McCormick Place campus, a variety of other events--receptions, official dinners, spouse activities--will be also be taking place in the city. Secret Service and State Department officials have been combing Chicago's iconic venues and are about to finalize their decisions. Think Field Museum, Art Institute, Navy Pier, other museums, etc.

Meanwhile, the State Department is finalizing the deal (actually a government purchase order) to take-over McCormick Place for the summits.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama urged states Wednesday to make it easier for military spouses --who are in professions where they need a state license--to get jobs. The key: reducing hoops for inter-state transfer or recognition of licenses. Mrs. Obama, always cautious, cited during a Pentagon speech, a report with suggestions on how to get rid of licensing red tape.

"The report contains tips and ideas, not edicts and decrees. But the point is that there are solutions here," Mrs. Obama said.

Excerpt from Obama speech at the Pentagon: " Every state is different. So this report simply provides a roadmap of best practices that leaders across the country can use as a resource as they explore ways that their state can better support these military families.

"The report contains tips and ideas, not edicts and decrees. But the point is that there are solutions here. This is a solvable problem. So today we are setting a national goal -- by the year 2014, we want all 50 states to have passed their own legislation to address these licensing issues.

"And we know it's an ambitious goal. We know it won't be easy to achieve, but we also know that our nation's military families have waited long enough.

WASHINGTON--Top Asian-American Democratic political figures are co-hosting a fund-raiser here Wednesday for Democratic House hopeful Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth is locked in a primary battle with Raja Krishnamoorthi for the Illinois eighth congressional district, anchored in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The winner takes on Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) in what will be one of the most-watched contests this November.

PDF of the invitation is below:

President Obama is in Milwaukee and Chicago Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallasch has the story about the president and embattled GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, subject of a recall campaign. Obama's troops and allies have been organizing in this battleground state around Walker's anti-union moves, which triggered a series of recall campaigns. The Pallasch story is HERE.


WASHINGTON--President Obama hits California on Wednesday for a series of high-dollar fund-raisers, one where the Foo Fighters will play. One event is at the home of Colleen and Bradley Bell--producers of The Bold and The Beautiful. Bradley Bell has deep Chicago ties: his father, Bill was a soap opera pioneer and his mother is Lee Phillip, a long-time star on the Chicago television scene.

Variety's Ted Johnson, whose Wilshire and Washington blog covers the intersection of politics and Hollywood, reports that when Obama hit Los Angeles later today, he will be dealing with Hollywood executives who are not happy about how anti-piracy measures have been handled. Still, the money is flowing at a good pace for now--First Lady Michelle Obama scooped up big money when she hit Los Angeles on Jan. 31. California is the biggest donor state for the Obama re-election drive.

Johnson writes: "When President Obama treks to Los Angeles -- again -- on Feb. 15, he'll be looking to convey the sense of a winner: Improved poll numbers and a brightening economy, as well as the bandwagon effect of a smattering of stars coming out in support. The Foo Fighters will be playing for him, and Will Ferrell is among the co-hosts of a high-dollar event at a posh Beverly Hills estate."

"...But even as the campaign tries to reignite enthusiasm of the last election cycle, there remains some dismay among the highest echelons of studio and media executives over the way the White House responded in mid-January to a pair of anti-piracy bills in Congress, stopped in their tracks after the administration criticized parts of the legislation amid an Internet-fueled e-mail storm of protest that flooded Capitol Hill to oppose the measures.

"...Last week, Barbra Streisand posted a statement bemoaning Republican rivals' rhetoric and praising Obama's progress on the economy. "Because of the President's policies, our economy is on the road to recovery, and it's time we start celebrating the truth," she wrote. There was no mention of piracy or SOPA.

"Hollywood undoubtedly leans left. But it doesn't march in lockstep, particularly when it comes to its own issues."

WASHINGTON--Democrats are tapping Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to be the chair of the convention in Charlotte, N.C. this September where President Barack Obama will be nominated for a second term. Villaraigosa is also the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Convention planners also announced hotel assignments for the state delegations: Illinois was assigned the Holiday Inn City Center, a geographically desirable location. Consider: the U.S. Virgin Islands delegates will stay at the Country Inn and Suites Airport and Wyoming gets the Sleep Inn Airport

From the DNC: "Mayor Villaraigosa has dedicated his career to civic engagement and empowering people at the grassroots," said Democratic National Committee Chair Wasserman Schultz. "And that's exactly what we need to be successful at this convention--input and engagement from Americans across the country."

More from the DNC: "The DNCC announced in late January changes in format and venue that will allow tens of thousands more people to be engaged in the convention. Convention week will open with a family-friendly Labor Day event at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Monday, September 3, that will be open to people from across the region and around the country. Delegates will vote on Mayor Villaraigosa's nomination at the convention's opening session and he will preside over convention proceedings at Time Warner Cable Arena, on Tuesday, September 4, and Wednesday, September 5. And on Thursday September 6, the President will accept the nomination at Bank of America Stadium, where once again, the public will be invited to attend."

WASHINGTON-- President Barack Obama on Tuesday morning--at the top of a speech--reminded men that today is Valentine's Day and they should "go big" to stay out of trouble. On Tuesday evening, the First Couple left the White House at about 7 p.m. EST and traveled to Alexandria, Va., a suburb for dinner at the Vermillion restaurant.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama returns to battleground Wisconsin on Wednesday, hitting Milwaukee during a turbulent time in Wisconsin--and a recall in play for the GOP governor, Scott Walker. Craig Gilbert, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Washington Bureau Chief previews the Obama visit in his "The Wisconsin Voter" blog.

Gilbert excerpt
: "President Obama's trip to Milwaukee on Wednesday is his first to Wisconsin since the labor wars erupted a year ago, and comes at a time when the state has more wild cards in its political deck than perhaps any other presidential battleground. ...

...Walker will join Obama at Master Lock Wednesday, two incumbents of different parties with a common interest in a brightening jobs picture."

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Vice President Joe Biden in the briefing room, Feb. 14, 2012 (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Vice President Joe Biden popped into the White House briefing room on Tuesday afternoon, a short stop on a tour with his in-laws.

The stop--maybe all of 90 seconds--happened after White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wrapped up his briefing and there were just a few reporters sticking around---including me, because the cell reception in the basement, where the Sun-Times has work space, is so lousy. (But the reporters who share the space with me are the best.)

Biden said the folks with him was Jimmy Snow and Kim Snow, who he said was his "wife's younger sister." Everyman should marry into a family with five sisters, he said.

WASHINGTON--Starting in August, women in the U.S. will get free birth control from their health insurance.

The exceptions are women who work for a religious organization--such as the Catholic Church--allowed to opt out of mandatory coverage.

Many people are aware President Obama last Friday had to backtrack some--and broaden the new coverage regulation in order to allow other kinds of religious employers--such as a hospital or non-profit--to not provide the coverage. In the compromise, those women workers still get the free coverage--directly through their health insurance carriers.

That compromise was good enough for many Catholic organizations--not the Catholic bishops--and now, not good enough for a handful of Senators who want to ban the coverage for any kind of religious employer and--taking it MUCH FURTHER--allow any employer not to cover contraception if it violates the employer's moral or religious beliefs.

How about letting a woman decide if she wants to use birth control?

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. -- much mentioned as a possible GOP vice presidential candidate and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have an amendment that would allow any employer to deny birth control coverage if it runs counter to their religious or moral beliefs.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has an amendment--tacked on to the Transportation Bill, for heaven's sake-- to let health insurers have the right to ban coverage on conscience grounds.

"The amendment offered by Sen. Blunt would allow your boss to make your private medical decisions for you and decide what kind of health care coverage you received," said Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY's List. "That is simply un-American. The core of our democracy is individual liberty - that means making our own choices to be healthy and successful.

"This amendment goes so far beyond birth control - employers and corporations could decide to deny any kind of coverage to workers for any reason they wanted. Women and men everywhere should be outraged at this attack on American values. This country was built on individual freedom to reach the American dream - and that means making our own economic and family decisions.

"If Missouri knew that instead of the promised focus on jobs, this was the kind of leadership they could expect from Roy Blunt and the Republicans, you can bet election day 2010 would have looked a lot different. This battle only underscores the need to send more pro-choice Democratic women to Washington so we can fight these attacks on our liberty at the source. Democratic women in Congress are standing up to the right and their regressive agenda - and EMILY's List is ready to send them reinforcements in November."

Chicago police are getting new helmet face shields for the May NATO/G-8 summits in Chicago, reports Chicago Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman HERE. Are the 3,057 face masks enough?

Santorum surging, polls show

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WASHINGTON--Rick Santorum is surging, Newt Gingrich fading, suggesting that the anti-Mitt Romney vote is focusing on Santorum--for now. Gingrich is off fund-raising in California--no primary there till June--while the Romney forces know it will be humiliating to loose the upcoming Michigan primary--a state where Mitt's father, George, was once governor.

National polls showing Santorum ahead: Pew Research, Gallup and CBS/New York Times.

WASHINGTON--President Obama's proposed fiscal 2013 budget, released on Monday, contains $8 billion for a "Community College to Career Fund" to train student for jobs in their communities. The Obama plan dovetails with programs pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel--Obama's former White House chief of staff--for the City Colleges of Chicago.

Click below for details....

Obama Feb. 12, 2012 week ahead

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Chicago Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman takes us inside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's inner circles HERE. David Axelrod remains one of his closest confidants; Emanuel tells Spielman they talk three or four times a week and most of their conversations are about President Obama's re-election.

"That's much to my chagrin. I would like to talk about me," Emanuel told Spielman.

Others in the Emanuel inner political circle via Spielman: "John Kupper, the former Axelrod partner who worked on all of Emanuel's campaigns and helped him seize Democratic control of the U.S. House; Bill Daley, who succeeded Emanuel as White House chief of staff, and political consultant Peter Giangreco.

"Emanuel even keeps the phone lines burning to three Washington D.C. heavyweights: political consultants James Carville and Paul Begala and Bruce Reed, chief-of-staff to Vice-President Joe Biden, with whom Emanuel co-authored a book."

Maine GOP voters caucus today: results come out on Saturday night. Results of a straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington come out later today.

WASHINGTON--A day after President Barack Obama revised rules about who pays for women to get free contraception coverage in her employers' health insurance plan--in the wake of complaints from the Catholic Church--the Democratic National Committee released a video backing Obama's moves.

Why Obama backed down: Lynn Sweet column

The Obama re-election team believes that female voters--including Catholics--put a high value on getting birth control costs paid for through their health plans. Three GOP presidential contenders--Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich--have made Obama's compromise for religious employers into an issue of religious liberty rather than contraception coverage. Under the revised deal, religious employers--hospitals and non-profits, for example--do not have to pay for birth control coverage for female workers; instead the insurance companies will deal with the women directly.

WASHINGTON--White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett is back in Chicago, to keynote the Equality Illinois gala on Saturday night, an event drawing a who's who of Illinois political figures.

From Equality Illinois: "Continuing its more than decade-long tradition as the largest LGBT black-tie gala in the Midwest Equality Illinois hosts its 2012 Justice for All Benefit Gala February 11, 2012.

"...This year, Chicago's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ally community is celebrating the news that the federal appeals court struck down Proposition 8, California's ban on marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

"The audience is both affluent and influential. Past political guests, awardees and honorees include Governor Pat Quinn, Governor Jim Edgar and Mrs. Edgar, Secretary of State Jesse White, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and Bloomington Mayor Judy Markiewicz, as well as then-Senator Barack Obama."

WASHINGTON -- Why did President Barack Obama back down?

Obama made an unnecessary stumble in his quest to provide health insurance covering contraception for women because he underestimated the swift and vociferous reaction of the Catholic Church.

Under attack by Catholic bishops, Obama on Friday revised a federal rule announced just weeks ago -- Jan. 20 -- mandating religious employers to offer contraceptive coverage for women in their insurance plans. Under the revision, women working for a religious employer -- such as a hospital or a nonprofit -- will still get the insurance benefit -- just not directly from the employer.

The obvious question is, why didn't he do this in the first place and avoid the controversy?

One part of the answer is that the safety net advocates for the rule installed -- which they thought would buy Obama time to deal with church concerns -- was impractical.

Under the original proposal by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, nonprofit employers who "based on religious beliefs" didn't want to provide contraception coverage were given until Aug. 1, 2013 -- well past the November election -- to comply.

On Friday, Obama sped up that timetable. A senior administration official told me, "We thought we would take the year grace period to figure it out. [Obama] always intended to achieve full coverage for women and respect religious freedom. At the time that Kathleen Sebelius announced her decision a few weeks ago, she tried to make it clear that there was still work to do. Unfortunately, in this climate, that point got lost."

Another part of the answer is that Obama did not anticipate that he would create a big problem for allies -- especially in battleground states he needs to win in November.

I'm told his wake-up call on that came when former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine -- a close friend and early backer of Obama's 2008 presidential bid and former Democratic National Committee chairman who is now running for a Senate seat -- broke with Obama over the rule.

In past days a lot of stories have been written about the considerable White House internal debate over how to handle the new contraception coverage rules being put in place as part of Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Three Chicago figures -- former Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, and Tina Tchen, in her role as executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, not wearing her other hat as first lady Michelle Obama's chief of staff -- were among the key players in the long-running discussions about what everyone always knew was a volatile issue.

The Obama team disagreed over strategy and tactics, breaking along -- though not exclusively -- gender lines.

Everyone always agreed -- and this point should not be lost -- about the policy goals: providing women with contraceptive coverage without co-pays or deductibles, no matter the employer.

Daley, Vice President Joe Biden -- with deep experience with Catholic politics -- and a deputy national security adviser, Denis McDonough, who has Obama's ear on Catholic matters, saw the coverage rule first proposed by Sebelius last August as boxing in the administration.

Their warnings proved accurate.

The narrowly drawn rule did inflame some Catholic leaders and allowed critics -- including GOP presidential candidates -- to make it a matter of religious liberty rather than contraception.

The resulting flap risks alienating independent Catholic swing voters -- who backed Obama in 2008 and whom he needs again in 2012.

Obama will also need an outpouring of female support to win a second term.

Sebelius, Jarrett -- who is also chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls -- Tchen and women's groups with whom they consulted did not see the coverage mandate as too narrow.

They knew paying for contraceptives was a concern for lower-income younger women. They had science on their side: Contraception coverage was recommended by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science.

And polling showed that contraception was wildly popular among female Catholics.

Another part of the answer of why Obama backed down is that the women's groups, the dependable White House allies, did not all have their acts entirely together to react quickly.

That's in part because last week, when the trouble heated up, the groups were running what was a successful campaign to force the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation to back down and reverse its decision to ban funding for Planned Parenthood breast-cancer screenings.

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Romney's Florida election night campaign National Finance Committee operation (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON---GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney is trying to avoid scrutiny by being secretive about his fund-raising; where he goes to raise money and who are the individuals who help him the most.

Romney has refused to reveal the names of his "bundlers" -- people who tap their extensive personal networks to raise money.

I know Romney has a National Finance Committee stocked with bundlers because I've seen his NFC members -- easy to spot with special name tags -- getting the VIP treatment at Romney election night events in New Hampshire and Florida.

Obama voluntarily reveals his bundlers, people who help him raise $50,000 or more, with the disclosures leading at times to controversy and headaches for his administration and political operation.

For example, Obama bundler George B. Kaiser's family foundation invested in Solyndra, the failed California solar energy firm which received a federal loan of about half a billion dollars. Earlier this week, the Obama 2012 campaign returned about $300,000 raised by two Chicago brothers--one of them was a bundler--because a third brother was a fugitive in Mexico.

A Center for Public Integrity investigation found "at least 68 of 350 Obama bundlers for the 2012 election or their spouses have served in the administration, ranging from seats on advisory boards that tackle critical national issues such as economic growth, to ceremonial posts such as serving on the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts."

At least 250 of the Obama bundlers have been to the White House since Obama took office, the center also found.

That's the point of disclosure. The public deserves the information, for better or worse. While the names of donors are made public, there is no law to force the disclosre of the names of the people who actually corral the big givers.

"If we can't follow the bundlers, we can't follow the money," said Bill Allison, the editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, the non-partisan government transparency watchdog group.

Tonight, in Washington, donors who pay $10,000 can join Romney and his top advisors for energy, financial institutions and markets, defense, health, education, etc. at a "policy roundtable meeting" at the J.W. Marriott here.

The event is co-hosted by seven "Industry Finance Chairs" -some lobbyists or players in policy formulation.

The Democratic National Committee is pouncing on this fund-raiser, holding a press conference outside the hotel to blast Romney collecting $10,000 checks and "condemning" Romney "proposals written by and for industry insiders."

Romney press secretary Andrea Saul sidestepped the issue about voluntarily disclosing bundlers when I asked her why Romney refuses to make public their names.

"We disclose all of the information about our donors as required by law and anyone who is interested can review it publicly," she said.

Said Sunlight's Allison, "bundlers have become critical parts of the campaign apparatus. They raise money, they introduce candidates to networks of donors, they solicit donors and make pitches on behalf of the candidates to them. ....Most importantly, bundlers get tremendous access to the winning candidate, and often benefit from policy decisions."

WASHINGTON--The Obama campaign released its new official #Obama2012 campaign playlist on Thursday, featuring 29 tunes from a diverse list of artists, including Chicago's Wilco, Jennifer Hudson and The Impressons and the pride of Champaign-Urbana and the University of Illinois, REO Speedwagon.

Obama's list spans musical tastes and generations, with oldie standards including Earth, Wind and Fire's "Got to Get You in My Life" to Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," which Obama crooned a few bars of to much acclaim recently, to hits by James Taylor and Bruce Springsteen.

Candidate rally songs are in the news as analysts are stepping up to decode them--as sort of musical/political Rorschach tests--to figure out what they say about the contender.

The Washington Post on Thursday has a story about Mitt Romney and other GOP hopefuls campaign songs--his main one is "Born Free" by Kid Rock. Read the Post story by David A. Fahrenthold HERE.

The Sun-Times Allison Horton reported last month about a federal lawsuit filed in Chicago by a firm owned by Frank M. Sullivan, the co-writer of Survivor's 1982 hit, "Eye of the Tiger." The suit by Rude Music in Palatine, owned by Sullivan, was filed against Newt Gingrich's 2012 campaign, Gingrich and the American Conservative Union after the defendants used "Eye of the Tiger" without permission. Chicago attorney Annette McGarry is representing Rude Music. Read Horton's Sun-Times story HERE.


1. Different People - No Doubt
2. Got to Get You in My Life - Earth, Wind & Fire
3. Green Onions- Booker T & The MG's
4. I Got You - Wilco
5. Keep on Pushing - The Impressions
6. Keep Reachin' Up - Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators
7. Love You I Do - Jennifer Hudson
8. No Nostalgia - AgesAndAges
9. Raise Up - Ledisi
10. Stand Up - Sugarland
11. This - Darius Rucker
12. We Used To Wait - Arcade Fire
13. You've Got the Love - Florence and the Machine
14. Your Smiling Face - James Taylor
15. REO Speedwagon - Roll with the Changes
16. "Everyday America" - Sugarland
17. "Learn to Live" - Darius Rucker
18. "Let's Stay Together" - Al Green
19. "Mr. Blue Sky" - Electric Light Orchestra
20. "My Town" - Montgomery Gentry
21. "The best thing about me is you" - Ricky Martin ft. Joss Stone
22. "You are the Best Thing" - Ray Lamontagne
1. Keep Marchin' - Raphael Saadiq
2. Tonight's The Kind of Night - Noah and the Whale
3. "We Take Care of our Own" - Bruce Springsteen
4. Keep Me In Mind - Zac Brown Band
5. The Weight - Aretha Franklin
6. Even Better Than The Real Thing - U2
7. Home - Dierks Bentley

WASHINGTON--Chicago civil rights lawyer Bob Howard--a fixture on the local scene years and years before anyone ever heard of Barack Obama--stars in a video reminding 2008 voters why they need to back Obama again in 2012. A video of this sort seems designed to guard against an enthusiasm gap and to deal with disillusioned Obama backers--especially with progressive voters.

The video focus is on Obama's opposition to the Iraq war--and his 2002 speech against it in Chicago, which Howard was at--with a shot of Howard in the only video clip of the speech that exists. Howard puts on the same shirt he wore at the 2002 rally for this 2012 campaign video.

WASHINGTON-The Super Bowl of conservative politics is CPAC--the Conservative Political Action Conference and this year it runs Thursday and Friday here with GOP White House hopefuls Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich speaking on Friday. Ron Paul cancelled his Thursday speech, sending his son, Sen. Rand Paul to sub for him.

From CPAC: "Based on this year's theme, "We STILL Hold These Truths", CPAC 2012 will feature grassroots training and strategizing to strengthen the conservative movement and ensure conservatives have the resources and tools necessary to defeat the Obama agenda in November. You can now view the full CPAC 2012 Agenda at

"CPAC 2012 features an all-star line-up that also includes former Governors Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Andrew Breitbart, Herman Cain, Ann Coulter, Senators Jim DeMint and Marco Rubio, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Laura Ingraham, Congressmen Jim Jordan, Steve King, Paul Ryan and Allen West, Michael Medved, former Senator Rick Santorum, Governors Bobby Jindal, Bob McDonnell, Rick Perry, Rick Scott and Scott Walker and many more.

The American Conservative Union is America's oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization and was founded in 1964. The ACU has hosted CPAC in the Nation's Capital since 1973."

Below, memo from Obama 2012 campaign pollster Joel Benenson........

FR: Joel Benenson, OFA Pollster

RE: Republicans Increasingly Dispirited and Discouraged about Their Candidates

Ø Tuesday's results in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota confirm a trend that has been evident in each of the Republican nominating contests this year:

ü Republican voters are dissatisfied with their candidates - resulting in low turnouts,

ü Republican voters are increasingly dissatisfied with the frontrunner, Mitt Romney,

ü Romney's effort to woo conservative voters is hurting him with independents.

Republican voters are dissatisfied with their candidates - resulting in low turnouts

Ø Republicans' consistently low turnout shows that they are voting with their feet and staying home, rather than participating in Republican primaries.

ü Last night, Republican turnout plummeted 57% in Missouri, 21% in Minnesota and 6% in Colorado.

Ø Tuesday's results continue a pattern, coming on the heels of depressed Republican turnout in the key contests of Nevada and Florida.

ü Although it was Romney's best showing to date, turnout in the Nevada caucuses was down by more than 11,000 voters overall, leaving Romney with 27% fewer total votes than he received in 2008.

ü In Florida, voter turnout was down 14%.

Ø Earlier contests in Iowa and New Hampshire saw slightly improved voter turnout, but those numbers were driven largely by an uptick in the votes of Independents, many of whom were drawn to the Republican primary because of the absence of any Democratic race..

ü Among self-identified Republicans, entrance polls indicate that turnout was down around 11% in Iowa, while in New Hampshire registered Republican turnout was down 10%.

Ø The only state thus far with a significant rise in Republican turnout was South Carolina, where Romney was trounced by Newt Gingrich.

Republican voters are increasingly dissatisfied with the frontrunner, Mitt Romney

Ø As Romney's camp continues to promote the idea that he is consolidating the Republican primary vote and as Republican leaders coalesce behind him, it is striking that even among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters, slightly more say that they like him less (39%) the more they hear about him than like him more (37%).

Ø The Florida primary, which Romney's camp has said cements his status as the frontrunner, demonstrated the tepid support he has even within his own base.

ü 31% of Romney's own voters say they are dissatisfied with the Republican field and would like to see a new entrant, showing that even among those voting for him, there is little enthusiasm or confidence that he is the best the party can do.

Ø The grinding, negative nature of Romney's candidacy, which has relied heavily on attacks on his opponents, has served to erode his standing and GOP enthusiasm overall. As Republican discontent with their presidential nominees heightens, the supposed enthusiasm advantage among Republican voters has been thrown into reverse.

ü According to a new PPP poll released today, 85% of Democrats are "very" or "somewhat" excited to vote compared with just 78% of Republicans.

· In a January CNN poll, 26% of registered Republicans said they were "extremely" enthusiastic about voting for President, a 12-point drop since October.

Romney's effort to woo conservative voters is hurting him with independents

Ø Romney's shifting positions, in quest of conservative votes, have raised concern among independent voters. And Tuesday's vote demonstrated that even the base Republicans he has so aggressively sought are rejecting his appeals.

ü Romney's approach so far - which is to wield his financial advantage and his super PAC coffers to sully his opponents and their records - is the type of negative strategy that Independent voters reject.

ü And Romney's continued demonstrations that he is out of touch with working and middle class Americans, their struggles and their aspirations, have taken a significant toll on his standing with Independents.

Ÿ This reveals a Romney campaign that is astonishingly disconnected from the electorate. Voters, unsurprisingly, are sensing that - just 7% of all adults say that Romney understands their problems well.

Ÿ He dropped 18 points to 23% favorability among Independent voters between early and late January, according to ABC / Washington Post polling.

Ø Not surprisingly, Romney has fared poorly among those Independents who have turned out.

ü In Iowa, he lost to Ron Paul by 24% among Independents and Romney lost to Paul among Independents in his adopted home state - New Hampshire.

ü In both Iowa and New Hampshire, just as was the case in Nevada, Romney received fewer total voters in 2012 than he did in 2008.

Ø Romney's tactics and the tenor of the Republican contest is driving an increasingly negative view of him and the entire Republican field.

ü Among voters overall, as evidenced by this week's ABC / Washington Post poll, the survey found that by 2-to-1, voters say that the more they hear about Romney, the less they like about him.

ü And the A January Pew poll uncovered a dismal view of the Republican field among all voters, with only 25% of voters reporting positive views of the GOP candidates.

ü Similarly, an ABC / Washington Post poll shows only 36% of voters saying they approve of most of what the Republican candidates have been saying.



WASHINGTON--GOP White House hopeful Rick Santorum--fresh from his wins in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado-on Wednesday said in a fund-raising appeal he needs money for, among other reasons, to fight attacks he anticipates from the "moderate establishment" --code for Mitt Romney's team.

Romney's campaign has switched from bashing Newt Gingrich to Santorum--at least for now.

Wrote Santorum, "What a night! We did it again! We shocked the moderate establishment and pulled off what the media elites said was impossible by winning three HUGE contests that we were told we couldn't win."

Click below to read entire appeal....

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) took to the House floor on Wednesday to slam GOP White House hopeful Newt Gingrich for accusing President Obama of being a "food stamp president." The real food stamp president, said Gutierrez, was former President George W. Bush

Great Tuesday night for Rick Santorum, winning Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado--even if it did not change the delegate count for now--bad night for Mitt Romney, horrible night for Newt Gingrich, just another evening for Ron Paul.

from ABC's "The Note"

Even before any of the votes had been tallied last night, Rick Santorum told supporters earlier in the day, "I feel great that Minnesota is going to change the direction of this race tonight."

He got his win in Minnesota, and add two more in Missouri and Colorado to that equation and the former Pennsylvania senator just might be right.

Last night's results amounted to kick-start to the Pennsylvania senator's campaign and a serious rebuke to Mitt Romney.

Huffington Post
Jon Ward

WASHINGTON -- It was a very bad night for Mitt Romney Tuesday, no matter which way you sliced it, another harsh blow undermining his argument that he is the strongest Republican candidate for president.

It happened in Iowa on Jan. 3. It happened Jan. 22 in South Carolina. And on Tuesday night, Romney was again rejected by a large portion of the Republican electorate, this time in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) won Missouri and Minnesota by large margins, capturing 55 percent of the vote in Missouri to Romney's 25 percent, and winning Minnesota -- a state Romney won in the 2008 primary -- with with 45 percent of the vote. Romney came in third there with only 17 percent of the vote, finishing behind Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who got 27 percent. Santorum won all 114 of Missouri's counties.

WASHINGTON--Chicago's Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn--vilified during Barack Obama's 2008 election and beyond as former Weather underground leaders--served dinner to Daily Caller founder Tucker Carlson and his guests Sunday, after the founder of the conservative website bought time with the couple at an Illinois Humanities Council auction.

The couple, the Daily Caller reports, is disappointed in their Hyde Park/Kenwood neighbor, President Obama with Ayers saying he found some "unity" with Republican White House hopeful Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Ayers said "bull----" to the claim that has been making the rounds in some circles for years that he helped write Obama's memoir and Dohrn denied a rumor from 2008 that the couple babysat for the Obama girls.

Daily Caller editor Jamie Weinstein has a detailed account of the improbable dinner partners.

Excerpt: "At an extravagant penthouse apartment in downtown Chicago, The Daily Caller dined with former terrorists Sunday night.

"That's not a sentence one often has the opportunity to write, but on Super Bowl Sunday former Weather Underground leaders and Obama friends Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn feted TheDC to an elaborate gourmet meal at the home of a very rich friend to fulfill the obligations of a charity auction won by Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson.

"When the Daily Caller posse arrived -- a group that included Carlson and his brother Buckley, Daily Caller columnist and Weekly Standard senior writer Matt Labash, online media mogul Andrew Breitbart, a Daily Caller contest winner and this reporter -- it soon became clear that there were many more in attendance than expected. Ayers and Dohrn had enlisted friends such as University of Chicago history professor Adam Green and apartment owner Lisa Yun Lee, among others, to serve dinner, while the two principal hosts sporadically joined the table for conversation."

Read the entire article HERE


WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama plays tug of war with NBC's Jimmy Fallon, taping a segment to be broadcast on Tuesday night to promote the second anniversary of her "Let's Move" program.

Fallon and Mrs. Obama shot the rope pull in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Jan. 25. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Dr. Judith Palfrey (photo courtesy Obamafoodorama/Eddie Gehman Kohan)

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WASHINGTON--Judith Palfrey, the executive director of First Lady Michelle Obama's signature "Let's Move" project quietly left the White House payroll at the end of December--just months after taking the job in September, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Mrs. Obama marks the second anniversary of "Let's Move" --a drive to end childhood obesity in a generation--this week with an enormous publicity blitz, marked Tuesday night with a taped appearance on the Jimmy Fallon show.

On Thursday, Mrs. Obama starts a three day national tour, stopping in Iowa, Arkansas, Texas and Florida to highlight healthy eating, exercise and helping military families.

Palfrey was the second director of "Let's Move," replacing Robin Schepper; the White House announced her appointment on Sept. 2. A pediatrician, Palfrey is a Harvard graduate with a medical degree from Columbia. She is married with three children.

After her exit in December, Palfrey was given a "fellowship" at the Partnership for a Healthier America, the Washington D.C. based non-profit organization founded in conjunction with "Let's Move."

A White House official said that "Let's Move" is now being led by senior staff:

*Sam Kass, a Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives, a Chicago native and White House chef.

*Jocelyn Frye, Mrs. Obama's top domestic policy advisor.

*Julie Moreno, a Public Health Advisor for Childhood Obesity, assigned to the Domestic Policy Council from the Surgeon General's Office.

*Kristina Schake, Mrs. Obama's communications chief.

Schake told the Sun-Times, "Judy is now based in Boston to be closer to her family and not commute to Washington every week.

"She is spearheading an important new initiative to mobilize health professionals and engage the research community in support of Let's Move! through a fellowship with the Partnership for a Healthier America. Although she is no longer working out of our office, from her new position she is helping to expand efforts to eliminate childhood obesity in communities across the country."

updated 1:45 pm est with new dollar figures

WASHINGTON--The Obama presidential campaign decided to return up to $300,000 in contributions after the New York Times broke the news that the money was collected mainly by two Chicago brothers whose third brother fled the U.S rather than face drug and fraud charges.

The donations were collected for the Obama 2012 campaign and the Democratic National Committee by Alberto Rojas Cardona, his brother Carlos, two sisters and a sister-in-law and a handful of others.

The New York Times reported late Monday that the fundraisers are the brothers of Mexico casino owner Juan Jose Rojas Cardona--known as Pepe--who skipped bail in Iowa in 1994. The New York Times story said that Juan Jose Rojas Cardona "has since been linked to violence and corruption in Mexico. A State Department cable in 2009 said he was suspected of orchestrating the assassination of a business rival and making illegal campaign donations to Mexican officials."

The Cardona family have not been political players in Illinois until now; they quickly worked their way up to elite levels of fund-raising.

Alberto Rojas Cardona was one of the elite Obama fund-raisers--known as "bundlers" who tap their extensive personal networks for campaign contributions. According to a bundler list released by the Obama campaign, Alberto Rojas Cardona helped raise between $200,000 and $500,000--though as of Tuesday morning his name was scratched from the web site.

The campaign said the family bundled about $200,000; up to another $100,000 came from other donors brought in by the Cardonas. The campaign on Tuesday afternoon was in the process of finalizing the total.

Asked by the Sun-Times for an explanation on Tuesday morning, a senior Obama campaign official said, as soon as questions were raised by the New York Times, "we took a look at the contributions and we decided to refund them in full from all members of the family as well as from donors that they brought into the campaign."

The campaign has to date some 1.3 million donors; larger donations and some fund-raising activity is subject to vetting by the campaign staff. Asked why the campaign vetters did not pick up on the Cardona family, the senior official said, "it was very difficult to track down full information on this one. Obviously the New York Times put investigative resources into doing so. We don't necessarily have, our vetters don't necessarily have that same ability to pursue that in the case of our 1.3 million donors. As soon as the questions were raised, we refunded the contributions."

The New York Times also reported that Carlos Rojas Cardona, "arranged for the former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party to seek a pardon from the governor for Pepe Cardona, according to prosecutors in that state. None was forthcoming."

The refunds went to donors Aracely Rojas, V. Carlos Rojas Cardona, Alberto Rojas Cardona, Leticia Rojas Cardona and Areli Rojas Cardona.

WASHINGTON--As Republicans vote in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri on Tuesday, the Mitt Romney campaign ramped up its argument that there is no mathematical path for rivals Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul to win the 1,144 delegates needed for the presidential nomination. This comes as some polls suggest Santorum may win in Minnesota.

Rich Beeson, Romney's Political Director looks at the states ahead and concludes: "Speaker Gingrich's and Senator Santorum's campaigns have resource challenges. The remaining February states may not be kind to them, and their hopes for a comeback in March may be very difficult and based on an incomplete understanding of the delegate selection rules. Even "success" in a few states will not mean collecting enough delegates to win the nomination.

"In contrast, Governor Romney will be competing across the country and collecting delegates in state after state, even if other candidates pick up some wins. This is exactly the sort of methodical, long-haul campaign we planned for, and we are well on the way to victory."

Click below for complete memo....

blog birthday cake.jpeg

WASHINGTON--It just seems like one long night--but 9,852 posts later--the Lynn Sweet blog is six years old today. Thanks to all--tipsters especially--for your help.

For the occasion: an updated BlogRoll at right.

Get my latest blog headlines on Twitter, follow me @lynnsweet

DOB: Feb. 7, 2006 at 22:33:25

Item one was about a fight between two well known senators.....

By now you know that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) have tangled big time.

McCain accused Obama of "self-interested partsian posturing", questioning in a Monday letter if Obama was sincerely seeking bipartisan détente on a lobbying and ethics reform bill.

Republican National Committee video

runway to win.png

WASHINGTON--The Obama fund-raising team is rolling Tuesday in New York another fund-raising initiative, "Runway to Win," which features higher end "Obama inspired" apparel, tote bags and the like, by 23 U.S. leading designers. The goods have been available on the web site for weeks and are really premiums given out in exchange for campaign contributions.

While the Obama campaign already has a full line of products--and a print and online catalogue--the designer goods are aimed at a different market segment.

Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus slammed the "Runway" project saying in a statement,
"President Obama will need to sell a lot of scarves and make-up to try and cover up the three years of his failed economic policiesWhile his campaign is trying to put chic back in Chicago, 12 million Americans are out of work, struggling to get by because of Obama's weak economic leadership."

"Instead of trying to curry favor with the rich and famous, President Obama should focus on regular Americans who are being hurt every day by his inability to get our economy back on track. But, with his job on the line, it is clear from his priorities that he cares about one thing: saving his own job, at the expense of the American people."

Deputy Campaign Manager Julianna Smoot post in January about the Runway project: "Since we launched this campaign last April, we've heard from 23 of the country's best-known designers, who asked how they can pitch in and show they're behind President Obama. So we gave them a simple but powerful mission--express through design why they support the President--and they ran with it."

WASHINGTON--President Obama's reversal on Super Pac fund-raising--he now will encourage donations to Priorities USA, a Super Pac run by two former Obama White House staffers--made in a late night Monday phone call to his National Finance Committee--was slammed Tuesday morning by the Republican National Committee.

"Yet again, Barack Obama has proven he will literally do anything to win an election, including changing positions on the type of campaign spending he called nothing short of a 'threat to our democracy,'" said Joe Pounder, the Republican National Committee's research director. "In less than 24 hours, Obama has gone from decrying super PACs in the morning to opening up the door to their money during a conference call with his big money donors in the middle of the night."

My Monday night post on the Obama fund-raising switch is HERE.

Flashback to June 19, 2008, when Obama backed down from taking public financing for his campaign....

WASHINGTON--Presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) riding on a wave of unprecedented and seemingly unlimited fund-raising capacity, announced Thursday he will reject public financing for his general election bid against Sen. John McCain (R-Az.). At one time Obama said he wanted to try to negotiate a deal with whoever would be his GOP rival to stop the fund-raising race and agree to both running their bids with public funds.

WASHINGTON--In a switch, the Obama re-election team gave a green light Monday night to donors to contribute to a Super Pac allied with the president and run by two former Obama White House staffers, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

"We will not play by two sets of rules," said Obama campaign manger Jim Messina of the decision to support Priorities USA. He told supporters in an e-mail released after a conference call to the campaigns best fund-raisers--the National Finance Committee-- that giving to the Super PAC "can help neutralize the avalanche of special-interest spending to defeat President Obama."

In the conference call to the National Finance Committee, Messina laid out the new ground rules going forward to encourage donors to give to Priorities USA, the Super Pac formed last year by Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney after they left the Obama White House.

Sweeney and Burton created the Super Pac to help bolster Obama's bid for a second term, but until now the Obama team had never done anything to help them raise money.

The assistance will come in the form of high profile figures in the Obama orbit taking part in fund-raising or prospecting events--with the exception of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle. The surrogates to appear at Priorities USA events will include senior White House and campaign aides and cabinet members, the Obama campaign said, though they will not make a direct ask for a contribution.

"While campaign officials may be appearing at events to amplify our message, these folks won't be soliciting contributions for Priorities USA," Messina said in a post on the campaign web site. The distinction is a legal one without much of a practical difference: donors--or potential donors--will get face time, even if a check is written at a difference time and place.

Some White House figures already are part of a campaign "speakers series."

Messina said in his post the policy was changed in the wake of the millions being spent by Republican Super Pacs to defeat Obama.

"Over the last few months, Super PACs affiliated with Republican presidential candidates have spent more than $40 million on television and radio, almost all of it for negative ads," Messina wrote.

"Last week, filings showed that the Super PAC affiliated with Mitt Romney's campaign raised $30 million in 2011 from fewer than 200 contributors, most of them from the financial sector. Governor Romney personally helped raise money for this group, which is run by some of his closest allies.

"Meanwhile, other Super PACs established for the sole purpose of defeating the President--along with "nonprofits" that also aren't required to disclose the sources of their funding--have raised more than $50 million. In the aggregate, these groups are expected to spend half a billion dollars, above and beyond what the Republican nominee and party are expected to commit to try to defeat the President.

"With so much at stake, we can't allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm," wrote Messina.

Chicago businessman Fred Eychaner has been a major donor to Priorities USA, giving $500,000 last year.

Obama has a full calendar of upcoming fund-raising events to benefit his Obama 2012 campaign and the Democratic National Committee:

Feb. 9, a dinner in Washington aimed at lesbian, gay and transgender donors.
Feb. 10, a round table at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington.
Feb. 15, two events in Los Angeles.
Feb. 16, events in San Francisco.
Feb. 17, events in Seattle.
Feb. 23, three events in Florida, two near Miami and the third in Orlando at the home of basketball star Vince Carter, held the day before the NBA All Star game in Orlando.

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WASHINGTON--Clint Eastwood's evocative Super Bowl ad-- "Halftime in America"--made for Chrysler, with no pictures of cars--was not intended to covertly boost President Barack Obama, the actor said Monday.

Eastwood told Fox News O'Reilly Factor producer Ron Mitchell:

"I just want to say that the spin stops with you guys, and there is no spin in that ad. On this I am certain.

"l am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message about just about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK.

"I am not supporting any politician at this time.

"Chrysler to their credit didn't even have cars in the ad.

"Anything they gave me for it went for charity.

"If any Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of that ad, go for it."

Fox News contributor Karl Rove said Monday he was "offended" by the ad and accused the Obama's "political minions" of "using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the Obama team had nothing to do with the ad at the Monday briefing.

Q Did the White House or the campaign have any role in the creation of that ad, or advising on that ad, or consulting on the ad?


Q Were you pleased with the ad?

MR. CARNEY: It was news to me when I saw it. Look, I think --

Q Do you consider it an in-kind contribution from Clint Eastwood?

MR. CARNEY: I mean, the answer to your question, Roger, is no. The ad points out, I think, what is significant -- a company that has rebounded obviously wants to sell more cars, and that's what advertising is about. But it does point out a simple fact, which is that the automobile industry in this country was on its back, and potentially poised to liquidate three years ago, and this President made decisions that were not very popular at the time that were guided by two important principles: One, that he should do what he could to ensure that 1 million jobs would not be lost; and two, that the American automobile industry should be able to thrive globally if the right conditions were created, and that included the kinds of reforms and restructuring that Chrysler and GM undertook in exchange for the assistance from the American taxpayer.

He was not willing to allow -- did not believe it was necessary to allow the American automobile industry to collapse and disappear. And so he made the decisions he made, and believes they were the right decisions.

The Republican National Committee memo about delegate selection in the Tuesday vote in Colorado, Minnesota and below.....


73 Mitt Romney

29 Newt Gingrich

8 Ron Paul

3 Rick Santorum

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden hit Florida this week, as this key battleground state has been and continues to be lavished with attention from the White House and the Obama re-election forces in official and political events.

The Obama team 2012 organizers set up shop early in Florida and were dug in as most attention turned to the run up to the Republican primary last week. The president, first lady and vice president have all been in Florida since December for political and government events.

At this stage, the travel schedules of the president, vice president and Mrs. Obama and other administration figures are set --to a degree-- with an eye towards the November election and battleground 2012 states.

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

GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney won last Tuesday's Florida primary; his ground game overwhelmed his three rivals. Still, Romney only had five full time staffers in Florida and they have been shifted to other states for now. If Romney gets the nomination--as is likely--his Florida effort will be bolstered because the Republican convention is in Tampa next August.

According to the Obama campaign, as of last week there were 194 State of the Union Watch Parties ranging from Key West all the way to Pensacola; nearly 3,000 trainings, planning sessions, house parties, and phone banks and more than 4,500 one-on-one meetings.

The campaign also opened 11 campaign offices across the state--in key markets--including Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Palm Beach County, Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

The Obama team has a major asset in Democratic National Committee Chairman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents a south Florida district.

Obama unveiled his proposals to bolster tourism at Disney World outside of Orlando last month. He returns to Florida on Feb. 22 and 23 for official and three fund-raising events in Coral Gables and Orlando.

Orlando is the home of the 2012 NBA All-Stars game; basketball star Vince Carter hosts the Orlando fund-raiser the day before the game.

On Monday, Biden landed in Tallahassee for one official and two campaign events. The government event is aimed at students and their parents who foot the bill for college. Biden and Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter discuss soaring college costs at Florida State University. In December, Biden talked about the collegiate price tag at a high school in Neptune Beach.

Biden has two fund-raisers in Tallahassee on Monday afternoon, a high-end event at the home of attorney Don Hinkle and the other in the Challenger Center, where tickets run from $44 to $1,000.

Mrs. Obama, in two Florida swings in a month, is touching all the major demographic groups: Hispanics, evangelicals, and women.

On Jan. 26, Mrs. Obama was in Tampa for a Latino event connected with her signature "Let's Move" healthy eating drive and in Sarasota and Palm Beach for fund-raisers.

This week, Mrs. Obama is marking the second anniversary of "Let's Move" in a four state swing, touching down in Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, and Florida, where she will be on Friday and Saturday.

In southern Florida, Mrs. Obama is holding a townhall in Homestead and then head to Orlando to have dinner with a family. She travels north of Orlando to a mega-church in Longwood the next day for a big faith based event connected with "Let's Move." She caps the day at Disney World for an event with athletes.

Last Tuesday--Jan. 31--Romney celebrated his victory at the convention center in Tampa. Last Friday, Feb. 3, about a dozen Hispanics in the Obama administration came to Tampa for a White House hosted Hispanic Community Action Summit at The University of Tampa.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle will host a dinner Feb. 29 at the White House to honor representatives of troops who served in Iraq and their families.

The First Couple dinner comes as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the Pentagon told it was still too risky to throw a parade for soldiers as long as some military remain.

The White House said the dinner is "an expression of the nation's gratitude for the achievements and enormous sacrifices of the brave Americans who served in the Iraq War and of the families who supported them --- will include men and women in uniform from all ranks, services, states and backgrounds, representative of the many thousands of Americans who served in Iraq. The White House has been working with military and civilian leaders from the Department of Defense on this tribute, and will release more details regarding the dinner when they are available."

WASHINGTON--Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns hosted fund-raisers in Indianapolis over the weekend, to tap into the pockets of folks in town for Super Bowl XLVI. The Obama Saturday night event featured Bears Coach Lovie Smith.

President Obama did not use this election year Super Bowl to throw a White House bash as he did in 2011, with the family watching the game without inviting celebs and pols.

"Looking forward to catching some of the big game tonight. Wish the Bears weren't watching it from home, too. -bo" Obama said on his campaign Twitter account.

Last year, First Lady Michelle was criticized, mainly from right wing critics, because of the White House Super Bowl menu, which included bratwurst, kielbasa, cheeseburgers and deep-dish pizza. Mrs. Obama--who marks the second anniversary of her "Let's Move''health eating campaign this week--never has nixed junk food, she just preaches moderation.

The Indianapolis Star and Politico's Mike Allen reported that the draws for Obama donors also included Obama campaign manager Jim Messina and Reggie Love, Obama's former personal assistant who played football and basketball at Duke University. Donation ranged from $250 to $2,500 to be a co-host.

The Star reported that Romney's campaign was holding an event Saturday "at the Indianapolis Colts Grille. Special guests include New York Jets owner Woody Johnson; Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan; Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder; and Tagg Romney, Romney's eldest son.

"Tickets for the Romney event range from $100 for an individual younger than 40 to $2,500 for an individual to attend a VIP reception. People who raise $10,000 get one more thing: the right to call themselves an "event co-chair."

WASHINGTON--After victories last week in Florida and Nevada, GOP White House frontrunner Mitt Romney continues his rumble with chief rival Newt Gingrich as they head into more votes Tuesday in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri and Saturday in Maine.

Colorado, Minnesota and Maine are caucus states; Missouri holds a "beauty contest" vote with delegates not selected until March 17.

To recap Nevada: Romney won a decisive victory. Gingrich held a rare election night press conference in Nevada to vow again to stay in the contest until the August GOP convention in Tampa. Quitting the race, Gingrich said, is a Romney "fantasy."

The official Nevada certified results, according to the Nevada Republican Party:

Romney 50.0%
Gingrich 21.1%
Paul 18.7%
Santorum 9.9%

The Romney team highlighted in a victory memo that Romney would have won big "even without" Mormon voters, who made up about a quarter of caucus voters.

Nevada memo from the Romney team:

Mitt Romney won among conservatives, Tea Party members, women, men, low income, high income, etc.

Mitt Romney won a majority of "very conservative" voters (51%). He defeated Newt Gingrich (40-31%) among strong Tea Party voters. He won 48% of the vote among evangelicals (48 - 27%) over Newt Gingrich.

Like Florida, Mitt Romney won handily among voters who said electability was the most important quality in a candidate.

Like Florida, Mitt Romney won handily among voters who said the economy is the top issue.

LDS voters make up 26% of the caucus votes. Even without the LDS votes, Mitt Romney still would have won decisively (by 17 points).

While Mitt Romney won a majority of the LDS vote, he won among Protestants, Catholics and everybody else by wide margins.

Obama Feb. 6 week ahead

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CNN Political Director Mark Preston is reporting that Donald Trump will endorse GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney on Thursday. This comes after some speculation on Wednesday that Trump may back Newt Gingrich. Trump will make the announcement in Las Vegas in advance of the Saturday caucus.


Click below for Obama campaign memo from Stephanie Cutter followed by a reply and a memo from Andrea Saul and Amanda Henneberg of the Romney campaign....

Chicago Sun-Times Abdon M. Pallasch reports on Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, in Chicago on Tuesday discussing the May NATO and G-8 summits in the city.

His story is HERE.

Excerpt: "The agenda for 50 countries coming to Chicago in May for the NATO and G-8 summits includes Afghanistan, arming NATO for the future, and partnering with more countries around the globe, White House officials said Tuesday.

"The officials met with Chicago's consul generals, who are trying to set up events around town so that, for instance, Italian officials can meet Italian-American Chicagoans and Eastern European officials can meet with the large ethnic populations from those countries here.

"The agenda for the G-8 -- the countries with the largest economies -- is a bit looser than the NATO agenda and is still being negotiated, said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communication."

Mitt wins Catholic vote in Florida

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TAMPA, FL.--Florida primary winner Mitt Romney, a Mormon, won the Catholic vote in Florida-over Catholic rivals, according to the exit poll.

The exit poll showed the Republican primary electorate was 58 percent Protestant, 32 percent Catholic and 7 percent Jewish.

Romney was backed by 42 percent of the Protestants compared to 36 percent for Gingrich; he was supported by 56 percent of Catholics to 30 percent for Gingrich.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Mitt Romney grabbed a Florida GOP primary victory Tuesday with a strong ground game, vastly improved debate performances, a stepped-up attack on Newt Gingrich's Freddie Mac ties and a psychological operation designed to get under the former speaker's skin.

With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, thumped Gingrich 46 percent to 32 percent, with former Sen. Rick Santorum at 13 percent and Rep. Ron Paul at 7 percent.

Buoyant at his victory rally in the convention center here, flanked by his wife, Ann, and four of his five sons, Romney alluded to the bitterness of the closing days of the Florida campaign in his victory speech and said the fight will only make Republicans stronger in November to take on President Barack Obama.

"As this primary unfolds, our opponents in the other party have been watching. And they like to comfort themselves with the thought that a competitive campaign will leave us divided and weak," Romney said.

"But I've got some news for them: A competitive primary does not divide us; it prepares us. And we will win.

"And when we gather here in Tampa seven months from now for our convention, ours will be a united party with a winning ticket for America."

Gingrich in Orlando primary night -- standing behind a podium with a sign that said "46 states to go" -- said he'll be nominated in Tampa, though the path for him to get 1,144 delegates grew narrower with Romney's win, earning him 50 Florida delegates.

"It is now clear that this will be a two-person race between the conservative leader, Newt Gingrich, and the Massachusetts moderate," Gingrich said.

Romney's landslide will make it harder for Gingrich to raise money. There is no debate until Feb. 22 in Arizona for Gingrich to try to repeat his debate knockouts that helped him clinch the South Carolina primary.

As in Florida, Nevada is suffering from a housing market collapse, and Gingrich has yet to come up with a better answer than "historian" for what he and his firm did to earn $1.6 million from Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage firm.

Exit polls showed that Romney's strong Florida debates -- contrasted with Gingrich's lackluster showing -- mattered; 86 percent said the debates were a factor in their decision.

A gender gap -- make that chasm -- opened in Florida, perhaps a delayed reaction to a former Gingrich wife saying in an interview just before the South Carolina vote he asked for an "open marriage'' while he was having an affair. Romney won 51 percent of females, compared to 29 percent for Gingrich.

By Florida the Romney team activated a "Psyops" or psychological operation against Gingrich aided by a number of present and former congressmen who served under Gingrich when he was Speaker and who knew how to push his buttons.

A Romney spot launched on Friday was potent, featuring simply a clip of then-NBC anchor Tom Brokaw's newscast about Gingrich's ethics scandal while Speaker.

The Romney Florida operation learned from the 2008 primary here, where Sen. John McCain beat Romney by five points. The seeds for the 2012 Romney Sunshine State win were planted in June, when the campaign opened a Florida headquarters in Tampa to start work on a ground game that overwhelmingly delivered on Tuesday.

With the large number of Florida voters casting early and absentee ballots this year-- some 600,000 -- a Romney staffer told me that projections showed that Gingrich woke up Tuesday already in the hole.

The Romney team made a huge effort -- not matched by any of their rivals -- to identify their voters and lock in their early vote -- immunizing themselves, to some degree, from the last-minute attacks that marked the nasty closing days of the campaign. They started contacting 470,000 Florida Republicans who regularly vote early in mid-December -- when Romney's rivals only had the resources to concentrate in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina

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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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