Chicago Sun-Times
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March 2012 Archives

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday will take part in an Obama administration National Summit on Preventing Youth Violence--as Chicago police are grappling with the crime surge in the city.

Among the participants: Attorney General Eric Holder, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Mary Lou Leary, White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama hits Los Angeles on Saturday for Nickelodeon's Kid's Choice Awards, where she will present an award to teen singing star Taylor Swift and highlight her own work to combat childhood obesity. Mrs. Obama is traveling on a government--political--vacation swing with daughters Malia, 13 and Sasha, 10--who fit right in the Nickelodeon demographic.

Will Smith is hosting the 2012 Kids' Choice Awards. Mrs Obama presents "The Big Help Award" to Swift "for her work with tornado and flood survivors," the White House said.

More from the White House: "As part of her initiative to solve the problem of childhood obesity, the First Lady's Let's Move! initiative and Nickelodeon have teamed up to get kids moving by turning off the television for three hours during Nickelodeon's Worldwide Day of Play. As part of her Joining Forces initiative to recognize, honor and serve military families, Mrs. Obama joined the cast of Nickelodeon's hit series iCarly in the episode, "iMeet The First Lady." The show's lead character, Carly Shay is the daughter of an Air Force Colonel currently serving overseas."

WASHINGTON--GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney seems poised for a Tuesday Wisconsin primary win. He won the endorsement Friday of top GOP budgeteer Rep. Paul Ryan--a Wisconsin lawmaker-- and is stumping with him around the state on Saturday.

The March 20 Illinois primary--with Romney scoring a decisive win in the popular vote and delegates--was a turning point in that the narrative changed with the victories: Romney is going to be the GOP nominee, it's just a matter of time.

An NBC poll has Romney seven points ahead of chief rival Rick Santorum.

Ryan on Romney: "Who's going to be the best president? Who has the best chance of winning the presidency? I think that's Romney. Here's why: I spent a good deal of time with Mitt Romney and his staff over the last number of weeks going through the kind of problems we have in this country. The fiscal problems, the economic problems. And just what it's going to take to get this country back on track next year with a new president, new Senate and a House. And I'm convinced he's got what it takes to do this."

From the Romney campaign: "On Saturday, Governor Romney will address the Wisconsin Faith & Freedom Coalition Presidential Kick-Off in Pewaukee before holding a Town Hall with Congressman Ryan in Muskego. Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan will also drop by a phone bank for Governor Walker before Governor Romney addresses the Waukesha County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner."

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama hits San Francisco on Friday for a high-dollar late afternoon fund-raiser at the California Academy of Sciences and some government business, launching the new Coast Guard Cutter Stratton in Alameda. On a western swing, she worked in vacationing with her daughters Malia and Sasha, checking out Mount Rushmore and Las Vegas this week.

President Barack Obama is in Vermont and Maine Friday for four fund-raisers (see details below). Vice President Joe Biden headlined funders in Chicago and Milwaukee on Thursday.

Obama pro fund-raiser Erik Stowe is handling the San Francisco event with a sliding price:

☐$35,800 Family Co-Host
☐$5,000 includes Photo Reception and General Admission
☐$1000 VIP General Admission
☐$500 General Admission

The proceeds in the Michelle Obama and Biden fund-raisers go to Obama Victory Fund 2012, a joint fundraising committee authorized by Obama for America, the Democratic National Committee, and the State Democratic Parties in the most important battleground states.

Here is how the money is divided, per the campaign: "The allocation for funds raised under this Agreement shall be as follows: The first $5,000 of a contribution to OVF 2012 will be allocated to Obama for America (with the first $2,500 designated for the primary election, and the next $2,500 for the general election).

"The next $30,800 of a contribution will be allocated to the Democratic National Committee. Any additional amounts from a contributor will be divided among the State Democratic Party Committees as follows, up to $10,000 per committee and subject to the biennial aggregate limits: FL (17%); OH (16%); PA (13%); CO (11%); NC (11%); VA (11%); NV (6%); WI (6%); IA (5%); and NH (4%)"


President Obama will attend four events today: two in Burlington Vermont, and two in Portland, Maine.

On background from a campaign official: "On Friday, President Obama will attend campaign events in Vermont and in Maine. In the afternoon, he will deliver remarks at a fundraising luncheon with approximately 100 supporters at the Sheraton Burlington in Burlington, Vermont. Tickets for this event start at $7,500 per person. Following the luncheon, he will deliver remarks at the University of Vermont in Burlington. There will be approximately 4,500 supporters at this event which will feature a musical performance by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. There were student/activist tickets available for $44, with general admission tickets starting at $100 per person."

"Later Friday, the President will travel to Portland, Maine where he will deliver remarks at a fundraising reception attended by approximately 1,800 people at the Southern Maine Community College. There were limited Gen44 tickets available for $44, with general admission tickets starting at $100. Finally, in the evening, President Obama will attend a fundraising dinner with approximately 130 supporters at the Portland Museum of Art. Tickets for that event start at $5,000 per person."

Vice President Joe Biden headlined two fund-raisers in Chicago on Thursday; one of them allowed press coverage, at the Lincoln Park home of developer Elzie Higgenbottom. Biden paid props to former Mayor Richard M. Daley and former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.

Sun-Times Political Writer Abdon M. Pallasch has the report HERE

Pallasch was the pool reporter....Click below for his pool report....

WASHINGTON--House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) "deserves a great deal of credit" for wearing a hoodie on the House floor --in deliberate violation of dress rules--in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin.

Rush was gaveled out of order on Wednesday by the presiding officer, Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), and escorted out of the chamber as Harper said--as if it happens every day--"Members need to remove their hoods or leave the floor."

Rush was admonished after he started speaking in the well of the House and took off his suit coat--revealing the hoodie under it--and put the hood over his head. Rush knowingly broke House rules to make the point that wearing a hoodie does not make a black man a hoodlum.

Pelosi was asked about Rush's hoodie-in-the-House during a press conference.

"I think that Bobby Rush deserves a great deal of credit for the courage he had to go to the floor in a hoodie knowing that he would be put -- told that he was out of order, and he quickly left the floor.

"He didn't -- he wasn't contentious about it. But he made his point. He called attention to a situation in our country that needs to be addressed in a way that a man in a suit and tie might not be able to do," she said.

Pelosi said while members need to serve with "dignity," she added, "I'm more concerned about what they say on the floor and the policies that they put forth... that are relevant to the lives of the American people. This, I think, falls into the fairly irrelevant."

Rush created an iconic image--hooded and in sunglasses-- in the well of the House. A minister, he said the well to him represents an "altar" for "the American people."

He told me he hopes his act will inspire young people grappling with the troubling circumstance surrounding the murder of Martin, who was wearing a hoodie--and the reluctance of the police to arrest the suspect, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer.

"Sometimes you have to step outside what is acceptable and make a statement about a lack of justice," Rush said.

Rush said he wears hoodies all the time--and had one in his locker in the House gym that said "Illinois"--but got another because he did not want to wear a team hoodie when he spoke.

WASHINGTON--Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's NATO Host Committee raised a whopping $36.5 million for the May NATO summit from 34 corporate donors--many based in Chicago or the surrounding area. That's on top of $19.1 million in federal money that has been in the pipeline to help cover the massive security costs.

The fund-raising drive--involving asks for more than $1 million--was quarterbacked by Emanuel's longtime professional fund-raiser, Anne Olaimey, working for the host committee.

The Host Committee also unveiled its official website, which includes the list of donors;
( ) however, the amounts each company donated will not be revealed until June, according to Jen Martinez, a spokesman for the committee.

Donors: UPS; Walgreens; Wal-Mart; AECOM; Allstate; Corning; DLA Piper; Edelman; Grosvenor Capital Management LP; McDonald's; John Buck Co.; Joseph Freed Associates; Honeywell; ITW; JP Morgan; Raytheon; Citi; Duke Energy: FedEx; Health Care Service Corp.; Baxter; BMO Harris Bank; Chevron; CBOE; United Airlines; GE; Motorola Solutions; Pepsico; Caterpillar; CME Group; Exelon; Abbott; AT&T and Boeing Corp.

From the Host Committee: "This website is a tool to help keep residents, visitors and summit participants informed about events leading up to and surrounding the NATO Summit," said Lori Healey, Executive Director of the Host Committee. "We hope the site will also serve as an educational resource for individuals interested in learning more about NATO."

"....The site also features a guest blog by White House Deputy National
Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes who will be
providing a unique insider's look behind the summits.

"...Additional information on NATO can be found by linking to the NATO
website at, or by visiting the NATOChannel at"

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha, on a Spring Break vacation, Wednesday visited the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota and touched down in Las Vegas after that. On Friday Mrs. Obama hits San Francisco for a fund-raiser to benefit the Obama re-election drive.

Keeping track of Mrs. Obama on this West Coast swing happens through a mix of guidance from the White House and--here is the reality--local news reports from where they are vacationing, since the visits are private, according to the White House. Mrs. Obama's whereabouts, however, do become public because you cannot land a big U.S. government jet and travel around in a 10-car motorcade--as they did in South Dakota--and not get noticed by local residents and reporters.

The Obama daughters are on vacation from their Sidwell Friends school until Monday. Malia, 13, was in Mexico--in Oaxaca, an arts and craft center, know for rugs, wood carvings and black and green pottery--on a school trip. The White House put out a rare statement that she was safe after an earthquake hit the area.

Over the Presidents Day weekend in February, Mrs. Obama took her girls skiing in Colorado.

Regarding Mount Rushmore: The late night gags could be about the Obama women checking out a place for a fifth president to be carved on the mountain. President Barack Obama got some grief from his perma-critics after he told CBS' Sixty Minutes earlier in the year, "I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president -- with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln -- just in terms of what we've gotten done in modern history."

Mrs. Obama and daughters at Mount Rushmore: Rapid City, SD Journal report HERE. At Las Vegas, The ABC News report is HERE. The Obamafoodorama story is HERE.

From the Rapid City Journal: After visiting Mount Rushmore, "Then they showed a bit of a sweet tooth by stopping at the Turtle Town old-fashioned fudge and ice-cream shop in Keystone, where manager Deb Splinter served them ice cream and other treats.

".....The Obamas arrived at the shop at about 3:45 p.m., following a visit to Mount Rushmore that restricted access to parts of the memorial and required visitors during that period to go through security checkpoint where one officer wore a U.S. Secret Service shirt. The Obamas had flown into Ellsworth Air Force Base earlier in the day and rode in a gray Suburban that was part of a motorcade of about 10 vehicles."

Click below for Mrs. Obama's upcoming official government and political events

WASHINGTON--Vice President Joe Biden hits Milwaukee and Chicago on Thursday for fund-raisers, touching down in Wisconsin in advance of the Tuesday primary there.

Biden has two events in Chicago at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. One of the fund-raisers is at the Lincoln Park home of real estate developer Elzie Higginbottom, with the ask between $2,500 and $10,000. The other is a $10,000-a-couple fund-raiser at the Gold Coast home of Greg Hansen.

If it's Wisconsin, and it's Friday, it's a fish fry.....GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney stumps at a fish fry in Milwaukee on Friday as he zips around Wisconsin over the week-end. Romney delivers a speech on the economy at Lawrence University in Appleton. Rick Santorums' campaign is sending him to a fish fry and bowling in Weston, Wi.

But I digress... In Chicago on Thursday, with Biden's visit coming at afternoon rush hour, the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (the OEMC to you) issued a traffic advisory. "Expect delays on Lake Shore Drive and the Chicago land expressway systems during the afternoon rush hour. The Chicago Blackhawks also host the St. Louis Blues at the United Center for a 7:30 p.m. game. Expect additional traffic in the area."

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

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

A new CNN poll released Wednesday delivers a big dose of upbeat news for President Barack Obama: He holds a big national lead over probable GOP rival Mitt Romney and--this is important--Obama's approval rating are over 50 percent for the first time since May.

From CNN "President Barack Obama holds a double-digit lead over former Gov. Mitt Romney in a head-to-head general election matchup, a new CNN/ORC national poll shows. In a hypothetical race, 54% of Americans polled said they would vote for Obama while 43% said they preferred Romney. In the same poll, Obama's approval rating inched above the 50% mark for the first time since May, with 51% of respondents saying they approve of the job he's doing and 45% disapproving. Meanwhile, 48% of respondents said they have favorable view of the Democratic Party. The Republican Party's favorable rating dropped to 35%, with nearly six in 10 Americans saying they have an unfavorable view of the GOP."

The poll: 1,014 adults, conducted March 24-25, margin of error, plus, minus 3 per cent

A week after they were nominated in the March 20 Illinois primary, the candidates in the top Illinois House Democratic races hit Washington on Tuesday for a fund-raiser headlined by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team and co-hosted by Illinois congressional Democrats.

Tammy Duckworth, Brad Schneider, Bill Foster, Brad Harriman and Cheri Bustos for Congress benefited from the fund-raiser, with tickets ranging from $250 to $5,000 for Political Action Committee "hosts."

All but Bustos attended the reception, at the Capitol Hill headquarters of the Democratic political operation. The Illinois five are part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red to Blue" program, making them a high priority nationally. Democrats see the Illinois House potential pick-ups as key to Democrats taking control of the House.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama has hosted Passover seders at the White House for the past three years, and while a fourth has not yet been confirmed--much less whether the Maxwell House Haggadah will be used--the Jewish Outreach operation at the White House is on seder duty.

The first Passover Seder is the evening of April 6 and this afternoon White House pastry chef Bill Yosses--last spotted at the planting Monday of First Lady Michelle Obama's spring garden--will team with famed Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan for a program at the Jewish Museum of Maryland featuring "an adaptation of haroset from Arkansas" and Nathan's "original matzo chremsel recipe." Livestreamed at 3 p.m est at

Click below for recipes.....

WASHINGTON--Vice President Joe Biden is in battleground Iowa on Wednesday to deliver--based on the excerpts released by the Obama re-election team--a series of jabs at probable GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Biden, in Davenport, will accuse Romney of being ""consistently wrong," well, on everything.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee is doing a pre-Biden speech hit with a morning conference call with RNC chair Reince Priebus and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

And in a new video--really a press release with pictures--the RNC ribs President Barack Obama over the tough second day of Supreme Court questioning over the challenge to his health care law.

More meanwhile: The Romney campaign is staying with the "hot mic" episode with President Obama in Seoul talking about Russia's incoming president Vladimir Putin. Romney wrote a column in Foreign Policy Magazine titled, "Bowing to the Kremlin: Why Obama's "Hot Mic" Diplomacy is Endangering America."

Click below for excerpts of Biden's speech....

WASHINGTON--The U.S. Supreme Court hears for the second day arguments over the Obama health care law. C-SPAN is providing extensive audio coverage.

Listen to the audio from Monday session HERE.

Link to Supreme Court site with briefs, etc. on the case is HERE

Division of Time:
1 hour: U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli
30 minutes: 26 states (Paul Clement)
30 minutes: National Federation of Independent Business (Michael Carvin)

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Michelle Obama with students and White House chef and food policy advisor Sam Kass planting the White House spring garden on March 26, 2012. (Photos by Lynn Sweet)

follow on Twitter: @lynnsweet

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CBS News

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WASHINGTON--Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel headlines a fund-raiser for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett on Wednesday--as Barrett is deciding whether to announce whether he will run for governor.

The tab for the Emanuel fund-raiser, in Milwaukee, runs from $400 to $2,500. Barrett is running for re-election on April 3--and has said he will say before then whether he will jump in the recall contest launched to dump Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker.

Jake Tapper at ABC News reports on candid comments caught by an open microphone President Barack Obama made to outgoing Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on Monday: after the election, Obama would have "more flexibility" on tough issues. Newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to give him "space" Obama told Medvedev. Obama meets with Putin in a few weeks at the G-8 summit in Camp David. Obama has said a reason the G-8 was moved from Chicago to his presidential retreat was to run a more intimate meeting--and get to know Putin.

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney was the punching bag at the Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner Saturday, where Rick Perry, who flopped as a GOP presidential candidate, was the hit with a hilarious routine.

The Texas governor reminded the audience, "with all my gaffes, people forgot I once led the Republican primary. It was the three most exhilarating hours of my life. Awesome."

On having to quit his White House bid, Perry said, "Here is the hardest part for me. It was the weakest Republican field in history, and they kicked my butt."

And on Romney, now the GOP front-runner -- who was not at the dinner -- Perry laid it on: "I like Mitt Romney as much as one really good-looking man can like a really good-looking man and not break Texas law."

Perry recalled sharing a debate stage with Romney.

"I keep waiting for Mitt to say, 'Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?' "

The annual dinner -- a white-tie and gown affair -- was the 127th for the media club, featuring members in skits mocking Republicans and Democrats. (Disclosure: I am a member and had a bit part.) The departure of former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley -- now back in Chicago -- was lamented in one of the parodies.

Perry spoke for the Republicans; Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, did stand-up for the Democrats, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pinch-hit for President Barack Obama, in Korea for a nuclear summit.

Zinged Panetta, a former congressman who switched parties earlier in his career, "Much like Mitt Romney, I used to be a moderate Republican. You can find them in the Smithsonian."

Wasserman Schultz's zinger played off of Romney's flip flops.

"It looks like Mitt Romney finally has this thing wrapped up. And you know what you call a Republican primary where Mitt stands alone? A two-man race," she said.

Wearing a knock-out slinky form-fitting dress, Wasserman Schultz said she found what she called her "silver linings" -- two of them -- following a double mastectomy for her breast cancer.

"I say, hell yes they're fake. The real ones tried to kill me. Although the fake ones feel very real. At least that's what the TSA agents tell me."

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama, on what is shaping up as a sunny Monday, presides over the fourth planting of her spring garden this afternoon.

Obamafoodorama is reporting that the publication of Mrs. Obama's book on her garden--announced at the third planting last year--has been delayed until the end of May.

My column on how Mrs. Obama and the Obama re-election team is exploiting the garden politically is HERE.

President Barack Obama has made many speeches and he named his favorites in reply to an on-line question from a Korean student during his visit to the Republic for a nuclear security summit. They are:

2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, the speech that skyrocketed him to fame, setting the stage for Obama to be elected president just four years later. Obama said the speech "focused on the fact that what unites the American people is far stronger than the issues that divide us."

2008 race relations speech in Philadelphia, delivered when his campaign was threatened by inflammatory remarks of his now former pastor the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. now retired from the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Obama said the speech "addressed how we must understand our own difficult history, while also bridging our racial and ethnic divisions."

2009 Nobel Peace Prize speech in Oslo. Obama said that speech "spoke about how people and nations from across the world have a responsibility to understand the causes of war, and to work for a just and lasting peace that makes life worth living."

WASHINGTON--White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett and Tony Blinken, National Security Advisor to Vice Presiden Joe Biden keynote a Monday session of the annual J Street Conference.

Chicago business executive Jim Klutznick will be stepping up to lead the Israel advocacy organization.

From "The four-day conference will bring together 2500 political and opinion leaders, policymakers and activists to put advocacy for a two-state solution back on the foreign policy agenda. Participants from across the United States, Israel and Europe will convene under the banner of "Making History" to chart the future of the pro-Israel movement together."

WASHINGTON--Former President Bill Clinton hits Chicago to keynote the opening night of the Nobel Peace Laureates summit in Chicago on April 23, which kick offs with a gala at the Field Museum.

Some 700 guests are expected at the dinner to launch the three day event, which will include a series of moderated discussions led by:

• Chris Jansing, anchor and host of "Jansing and Co.," MSNBC
• Jim Frederick, managing editor, TIME International
• Jim Wooten, senior correspondent, ABC News
• Doug Brinkley, contributing editor, Vanity Fair, Los Angeles Times Book Review and American Heritage

Sean Penn, the actor and human rights activist, will receive the "2012 Peace Summit Award" at the event "for his work to rebuild and aid the victims of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, as well as his ongoing advocacy for peace and human rights protection worldwide."

The names of the laureates participating in the 12th World Summit in Chicago are HERE

Updated with text of Debbie Wasserman Schultz speech

WASHINGTON--Texas Gov. Rick Perry was a big hit at the Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner Saturday, mocking his failed GOP presidential bid while aiming zingers at Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

In a hilarious routine, Perry reminded the audience, "with all my gaffes, people forgot I once led the Republican primary. It was the three most exhilarating hours of my life. Awesome."

Perry spoke for the Republicans at the club's 127th annual dinner; Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee for the Democrats and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stood in for President Barack Obama. (Click below for text of Wasserman Schultz speech)

On having to quit his White House bid, Perry said, "Here is the hardest part for me. It was the weakest Republican field in history, and they kicked my butt."

And on Romney, now the GOP front-runner, Perry laid it on: "I like Mitt Romney as much as one really good-looking man can like a really good-looking man and not break Texas law."

Perry noted that Obama skipped the Gridiron Dinner because he was in Korea--visiting on the trip the demilitarized zone known as the DMZ. Making fun of his penchant for gaffes and lampooning birthers, Perry wondered by Obama had to go to the DMZ.

"Would somebody tell me why do you have to go all the way to Korea to get a driver's license? It must be something to do with that birth certificate thing."

Perry recalled how his presidential campaign was short-circuited by poor debate performances and how he did not catch a break.

"I keep waiting for Mitt to say, 'Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?'"

"My problem is saying stuff that isn't right. Mitt's problem is saying stuff that is."

"My gaffes start countering each other, they are canceling each other out. Some have said that my debating style is similar to that other Texas Cicero," former President Bush.

"The only difference between George and me is I say 'oops.'"

He said Bush is very "hands on" in planning his presidential library in Texas. "My favorite part [of his presidential library] is the petting zoo."

Perry said he enjoyed needling Santorum during the campaign.

"Rick tell me again, which one of the Village People are you? You the policeman or the Indian."

"I do wish I was still in the race," he said, recalling that he is a governor from a big state, a military pilot with a degree in animal husbandry from Texas A&M.

"Animal husbandry. That sounds what Rick Santorum thinks gay marriage leads to."

Perry said after his campaign experience his motto is, "If you can't make fun of yourself, well, there's always Herman Cain."

WASHINGTON--Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recalled a former Chicago congressman--Rep. Frank Annunzio--making him an offer he could not refuse during a humorous speech Saturday at the Gridiron Club and Foundation annual dinner.

Panetta zinged GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney in his remarks: "Much like Mitt Romney, I used to be a moderate Republican. You can find them in the Smithsonian. "

Panetta was a keynoter, standing in for President Barack Obama who was in the Republic of Korea for a nuclear security summit. (click HERE for report on Obama's Gridiron video, where he takes a poke at former GOP White House hopeful Rick Perry.)

Panetta is a former House member from California who served as a chief of staff for former President Bill Clinton and as CIA chief for Obama before moving over to Defense.

Poking fun at the number of older members of the Gridiron, Panetta said, "this is our nations largest collection of the veterans of the Spanish American War. When I say remember the Maine, a lot of you really do."

He has been around so long, Panetta said, that he remembers when "people used to vote for you because of earmarks...and when Newt Gingrich's only concern about space was where was his seat going to be on Air Force One."

When he was first elected to Congress, Panetta recalled a conversation he had on the House floor with Annunzio, who represented a North Side Chicago district.

Annunzio came up to him and said, "Panetta, that Italian."

"I said, 'yes it is."'

"You are going to be a member of the Italian caucus," Annunzio declared.

"I said of course I would. I was not going to say no to an Italian from Chicago."

"He said, 'Great. We don't do much on issues but we eat good."'

Panetta said he was proud to be an Italian-American secretary of defense.

"I am the only guy who has got the heritage to be able to sit at a table, look my enemies in the eye and say, 'I am going to make you an offer you can't refuse.'

As Clinton chief of staff he reminded the audience that he fired one-time Clinton pollster Dick Morris "because he put his foot into somebody else's mouth," recalling a toe-sucking incident with a prostitute.

As CIA director, Panetta said his "proudest moment" was the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

The U.S. found out about him from "tapping Rupert Murdoch's phone," Panetta joked.

Then Panetta talked about a drone that "reportedly crash landed after the operator lost the signal."

"I now have directed that we switch all drones from AT&T to Verizon."

Turning to GOP hopeful Rick Santorum, Panetta noted they were both Catholics.

"He is running as the Opus Dei candidate. For me, I can't imagine him as the Secretary of Defense. He is already waging a Trojan War. I'm sorry, he is waging a war on Trojans."

Panetta closed with another quip: If there is one thing I regret about the evening, it is "that none of you had the proper clearance to really hear my jokes."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama took a gentle shot at former GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry in a video he taped for the Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner on Saturday night, recalling that famous debate when the Texas Governor could not remember the third of three cabinet agencies he wanted to close.

Obama did not attend; he was in the Republic of Korea for a nuclear security summit. He sent a short video played near the beginning of what is a long evening, what with a satirical show and three speeches.

This year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta represented the White House; Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz spoke for the Democrats and Perry for the Republicans.

Obama, looking straight into the camera said, "Every year, the Gridiron dinner is a chance for politicians to say some truly outrageous things. For those of us not involved in the Republican primary, that's a rare opportunity.

"So while I know some people have suggested I scheduled a trip to South Korea just to get out of this dinner, that is simply absurd. I mean, what better way to spend six hours on a Saturday night?

"Of course, I wanted to make sure I sent the right replacement. Knowing that I'll probably be the butt of many of your jokes, I chose my Secretary of Defense. Besides, at 73, Leon will inject the element of youthful energy the Gridiron needs.

"On a more serious note, I want to thank the members of the Gridiron for making our democracy stronger and more free. Enjoy the rest of your evening, especially tonight's three speakers: Secretary Panetta, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and ... uh ... the third speaker?"

Obama spoke at the 2011 dinner and at the 2006 dinner, when he was an Illinois senator.

He met Mitt Romney--his likely 2012 rival-- for the first time when they both spoke at the Gridiron 2004 winter dinner, just a few weeks after Obama won the Illinois Senate seat.

In 2011, Obama reflected on the then recently re-ignited birther debate in his remarks, referencing the birthers who would not believe he was born in the USA as he started his speech.

The band started playing "Hail to the Chief," the traditional presidential musical introduction when Obama interrupted and asked "Can we go with that song we talked about?"

With that, the band switched to the Bruce Springsteen hit "Born in the U.S.A."

Former President Bill Clinton pinch hit for Obama at the Gridiron in 2010; Vice President Joe Biden stood in for the president at the 2009 dinner.

In 2007, Romney, making his first run for the White House and Rahm Emanuel, now the Chicago mayor and then the Democratic House caucus chair were the featured speakers.

In 2006, then Sen. Obama was paired with then vice presidential spouse Lynne Cheney at the dinner, with President George W. Bush speaking at the end.

In 2004 Obama riffed about his celebrity at the Gridiron, saying everything changed for him after he keynoted the Democratic convention earlier that year and rocketed to fame.

"It's like I was shot out of a cannon. I am so overexposed, I make Paris Hilton look like a recluse. "

Here is what I wrote about Romney and Obama after the 2004 Winter Gridiron Dinner:

"Both men are mentioned as possible 2008 contenders, and that provided much grist for their respective funny shticks. Obama and Romney, the dueling stars, were very, very good. Romney was better, mainly because he also sang (a ditty to the tune of "Charley and the MTA") and he came with a witty visual presentation.

"Romney had a few zingers aimed at Obama. Obama, he said, is not seeking the limelight" after all. Obama has said that again and again"-- then Romney named some of the many national shows Obama has been on just in the past few weeks.

"Obama, who went on first, said everything changed for him after he keynoted the Democratic convention.

"It's like I was shot out of a cannon. I am so overexposed, I make Paris Hilton look like a recluse.

"After all the attention -- People magazine, GQ, Vanity Fair, Letterman -- I figure there's nowhere to go from here but down. So tonight, I announce my retirement from the United States Senate. I had a good run."

"He said he was not letting all the attention go to his head. He joked that he was hanging out with Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson at a Los Angeles restaurant when Barbra Steisand called him on his cell phone. And he counseled her, 'you can't just get caught up in the hype."'

"Of course, all the hype, said Obama, generates wacky tabloid coverage." And with that he hoisted a poster, a mock cover of the National Enquirer with the headline: Obama's shocking secret. He's Strom Thurmond's 'love child."'

"It is tough, kidded Obama, to live up to all the expectations. There are people in Kenya, his father's homeland, who expect his election to mean the United States will fund new roads, new bridges and new schools.

"Joked Obama, "I had to explain to them how it works. First comes the invasion, and then billions in aid."

WASHINGTON--The departure of former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley was lamented in one of the parodies at the Gridiron Club and Foundation dinner on Saturday night.

The 127th annual dinner of the club--disclosure, I am a member--featured Defense Secretary Leon Panetta representing the White House, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaking for the Republicans and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, delivering the Democratic address.

Panetta headlined in place of President Barack Obama--who landed in South Korea on Saturday for a summit on nuclear security and non-proliferation as well as bi-lateral meetings with the leaders of Russia, Turkey and China.

The speeches are in addition to skits by clubs members--many in elaborate costumes--who lampoon Democratic and Republican figures in the news.

A song about Daley, now back in Chicago--to the tune of "Won't you come home Bill Bailey"--asked, "Why'd you go home, Bill Daley? Why'd you go home? Guess you ran out of time. You came to fix Obama's Biz-ness-man blues. But he paid you no mind. Once the campaign got started He moved far left. He practik-ly joined Occ-u-py. We know you not to blame....Bill Daley won't you please come back?"

With the dinner coming during the GOP presidential primary, rivals Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were gently mocked.

Santorum was spoofed in a song to the tune of "Onward Christian Soldiers." Gingrich's moon landing plans were poked at in "Fly Newt to the Moon," a take-off on the Frank Sinatra classic. The smash Broadway hit, "The Book of Mormon" was the inspiration for a Romney song, a Gridiron version of "I Believe."

The 650 guests at the dinner include media executives, journalists, White House officials, cabinet members, military leaders, ten ambassadors, five governors, three senators, eight House members, and three mayors, including Chicago's Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel was a guest of the Chicago Sun-Times.

West Wing Week

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(White House video)

WASHINGTON--On March 23, 2010..two years ago today...President Obama signed his new health care law Republicans and critics deride as "Obamacare." The Supreme Court will hear a challenge of the law next week.

House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi said Thursday the health law is "ironclad" constitutional.

"No it is not constitutional," said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Mn.) on FOX and friends on Friday morning.

The Republican National Committee released a taunting video (above) on Friday.

Mitt Romney's campaign also put out hits on "Obamacare," as a major issue Romney is battling is the health care law he signed while Massachusetts governor.

Biden taking swings at Mitt

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WASHINGTON--Vice President Joe Biden makes the second of a series of four pure campaign speeches on Friday, in the battleground state of Florida--where he defends the Obama administration policies and a central issue to Florida's issues--Social Security and Medicare. Biden also takes swings at GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney who, after his decisive Illinois win on Tuesday is the solid frontrunner for the nomination.

click below for speech excerpts....

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama plants her spring White House garden on Monday, and in this election year is inviting guests from crucial battleground states President Barack Obama needs to win in November.

This is the fourth year of the wildly popular garden; the first time it has been turned into a blatant political tool.

As in past years, students from Washington D.C. will be invited to the planting. New on the invite list for 2012; kids from Iowa, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania who, the White House said, "wrote her letters about their gardens." Each state except New York are battlegrounds.

Mrs. Obama's travels over the past months have been mainly to battleground states. Mrs. Obama also used the occasion of the January State of the Union to target battleground states, by inviting guests to her box in the House chamber from states that could determine the outcome of the 2012 contest: two from North Carolina; two from Michigan; two from Colorado; one from Pennsylvania; two from Virginia; one from Ohio and one from Florida.

By inviting children to the telegenic garden planting from crucial states, the Obama re-election team increases the chance of local media coverage of an upbeat event with the popular Mrs. Obama.

You want Harold? You got him

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Mitt Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom exposed Romney to hits from rival Rick Santorum as well as from Democrats after he said in an interview that after the primary--in the general election, Romney would hit the "reset" button. Fehrnstrom provided Romney's critics vivid and damaging imagery by comparing the Romney campaign to the Etch A Sketch toy--which makes a drawing disappear when you shake it up.

Below, from the Democratic National Committee...

The Eric in the reference is Eric Fehrnstrom, a top Mitt Romney campaign advisor; Brad is Brad Woodhouse, the Democratic National Committee communications chief.

Here's the problem Mr. Romney: after you have said you would get rid planned parenthood, supported legislation to deny women affordable access to contraception, called the Dream Act a handout you would veto, said "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt and called yourself "severely conservative" a "real conservative" a "John Adams conservative" and a "social conservative" a whole boatload of Etch-A-Sketches won't erase all that. You sir, are unshakably extreme.

Thanks again Eric.

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Amy Rule, at NATO headquarters in Brussels welcomes the NATO summit to Chicago at the opening of an exhibit about the city. (NATO photo)

NATO Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen talks about Chicago

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Amy Rule, wife of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel threw a spotlight on Chicago Thursday at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium--at the opening of a kick-off highlighting the city in advance of the May summit.

The theme at the exhibit: "For every taste, there is one Chicago."

"We want you to come early and stay late and enjoy the great state of Illinois," Quinn said at the ceremony showcasing the city.

More than 50 world leaders will attend a NATO summit in Chicago in May at McCormick Place.

"We have a lot to look forward to in Chicago," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the opening of an exhibit that celebrated, as Rasmussen said Thursday,"the tastes, the sights and the sounds of this exciting city."

Illinois Gov. Quinn talks about Illinois National Guard units in Afghanistan with NATO forces--and places to see in Illinois.

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WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama will take the spouses of global leaders in Chicago for the NATO summit next May to her native South Side for a visit to the Gary Comer Youth Center, not far from where she was raised, the White House is announcing Wednesday.

It is traditional for the first ladies of a host county to plan a program for spouses; Mrs. Obama entertained spouses of global leaders when the G-20 met in Pittsburgh for a summit in 2009.

In Chicago, however, Mrs. Obama wants to throw a spotlight near her old community-- with a May 20 visit to the youth center, 7200 S. Ingleside. Mrs. Obama often speaks of growing up in a small apartment at 7436 S. Euclid.

President Obama will host what is being billed as a "working dinner" with the NATO leaders on May 20 at Soldier Field, not far from the McCormick Place complex which is the headquarters for the the summit.

Mrs. Obama will also be throwing a spouse dinner that night--with one possible location the Symphony Center complex associated with the Chicago Symphony.

The White House said McCormick Place "will be the venue for Leader, Ministerial, and Senior Official events, as well as house the international press file center for the duration of the Summit on May 19-21."

Meanwhile, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, an exhibit on Chicago opens on Thursday, with a delegation from Chicago on hand led by Amy Rule, the wife of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is marking her first major public event with the trip to Belgium.

The kick-off the the Chicago exhibit will feature, besides Rule--who will make her speaking debut--NATO Secretary General Andres Rasmussen; Ambassador Ivo Daalder, United States Permanent Representative to NATO; Gov. Pat Quinn; Don Welch, the President & CEO of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau and Lori Healey, the Executive Director of the Chicago NATO Host committee.

Lynn Sweet, Mike Flannery and Kerry Lester discuss the Illinois primary with FOX News anchor Bret Baier. Taped on Tuesday morning.

Heavy support from Chicago suburbs and counties around the city helped Mitt Romney win the GOP popular vote in the Illinois primary Tuesday, according to a state exit poll.

While chief rival Rick Santorum won exurban and rural areas in Illinois, those Republican voters did not turn out in big enough numbers for the former Pennsylvania governor.

Romney's team knew that the suburbs were key -- and scheduled a series of stops in the northwest suburbs in the closing days of the Illinois campaign. "You saw our schedule, we had a plan and we executed it successfully," said one Romney aide.

Romney won 57 percent of the vote in Cook County suburbs, compared to 27 percent for Santorum, 8 percent for Ron Paul and 7 percent for Newt Gingrich, according to the exit poll.

The Illinois exit poll provided a vivid snapshot of Republicans in the Land of Lincoln: who they are and what they believe in -- at least on Tuesday.

Or, numbers aside, another way to analyze the Romney win was from the gut.

"In Illinois, Republicans are hungry for a winner," said David Loveday, a veteran GOP strategist at the Romney election night event at the Renaissance Hotel Convention Center in Schaumburg.

When asked "on most political matters" what they consider themselves, 29 percent of Illinois GOP primary voters described themselves as moderate, 34 percent said somewhat conservative and 30 percent very conservative.

Romney won 54 percent of the somewhat conservative vote to 34 percent for Santorum. The difference was in the smaller very conservative vote, which Santorum won with 49 percent to 36 percent for Romney.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor -- one time seen as a moderate -- has had to prove and reprove that he is a conservative during the campaign.

With more than half the Republicans voting conservative, "Illinois conservatives believe Mitt's the man," said Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who stumped across the state with Romney. "He has the conservative credentials."

While Romney won the somewhat conservative vote, his potential appeal as a November nominee against President Barack Obama comes from his reach, at least in Illinois, where Romney ran away with the moderate vote, 49 percent to 26 percent for Santorum.

Romney won people who saw themselves as independents -- 40 percent compared to 31 percent for Santorum.

While the evangelical vote was very important in other states, such as Alabama and Mississippi, in Illinois, only 43 percent said they were "born again" compared with 57 percent who said they were not. Santorum, who stumped in Illinois churches, won 47 percent of the evangelical vote to 27 percent for Romney.

Social issues did not play a major role in the Illinois vote -- 56 percent said the economy was their major issue, 12 percent said abortion and only 4 percent said illegal immigration.

As in other states, Romney won voters with higher incomes and more education. Santorum did best with voters without a college degree who made less than $50,000.

Romney and his SuperPAC allies massively outspent Santorum on ads -- running even on Tuesday, Election Day. Some 59 percent said the ads were not important in determining their vote.


"We believe the joke was inappropriate." - Olivia Alair, Campaign Press Secretary to the First Lady


Actor Robert DeNiro triggered a controversy for the Obama re-election campaign with racially-tinged remarks made Monday at a fund-raiser in New York headlined by First Lady Michelle Obama.

DeNiro's remarks--as noted in the pool report:

"Speaking behind a glass lectern on a small riser, Mr. De Niro started by deadpanning: "Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?" The crowd roared and someone yelled "no!" as De Niro asked, "Too soon, right?"


below, from the Gingrich campaign.....

Gingrich Adviser Responds to Robert DeNiro's "First Lady" Comments

Atlanta, GA - Newt 2012 senior adviser Dr. Kiron Skinner issued the following statement in response to the comments made by actor Robert DeNiro at a fundraiser for Barack Obama last night.

"Racial comments and jokes degrade the political process. They have no place in this presidential campaign season. Robert DeNiro and other celebrities supporting President Barack Obama don't seem to think so. At a star-studded fundraiser in New York City last night, the actor declared that it is too soon for a white first lady. The crowd approved. The media and many others would decry an equivalent comment by a conservative or a Republican supporter of a presidential candidate.

"As a senior adviser in Speaker Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign and as an African American woman, I stand against comments like DeNiro's."

Dr. Kiron Skinner is a national co-chair of the Women with Newt Coalition and is a Hoover Institution Research Fellow and Director of the Center for International Relations and Politics at Carnegie Mellon University.

Actor Robert DeNiro triggered a controversy for the Obama re-election campaign with racially-tinged remarks made Monday at a fund-raiser in New York headlined by First Lady Michelle Obama.

DeNiro's remarks--as noted in the pool report:

"Speaking behind a glass lectern on a small riser, Mr. De Niro started by deadpanning: "Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?" The crowd roared and someone yelled "no!" as De Niro asked, "Too soon, right?"


below, from the Gingrich campaign.....

Gingrich Adviser Responds to Robert DeNiro's "First Lady" Comments

Atlanta, GA - Newt 2012 senior adviser Dr. Kiron Skinner issued the following statement in response to the comments made by actor Robert DeNiro at a fundraiser for Barack Obama last night.

"Racial comments and jokes degrade the political process. They have no place in this presidential campaign season. Robert DeNiro and other celebrities supporting President Barack Obama don't seem to think so. At a star-studded fundraiser in New York City last night, the actor declared that it is too soon for a white first lady. The crowd approved. The media and many others would decry an equivalent comment by a conservative or a Republican supporter of a presidential candidate.

"As a senior adviser in Speaker Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign and as an African American woman, I stand against comments like DeNiro's."

Dr. Kiron Skinner is a national co-chair of the Women with Newt Coalition and is a Hoover Institution Research Fellow and Director of the Center for International Relations and Politics at Carnegie Mellon University.

The polls are now open in Illinois....

Latest surveys on GOP presidential contenders are HERE, from Real Clear Politics.

The latest Illinois math, with Nate Silver at 538 running the numbers is HERE.

Polling guru Mark Blumenthal at Huffington Post analyzes Illinois HERE.

By Dave McKinney, Lynn Sweet and Abdon M. Pallasch

CHICAGO--The day before the Illinois primary, Mitt Romney visited President Barack Obama's neighborhood Monday to slam the president's economic policies, while Rick Santorum ventured to Ronald Reagan's birthplace to put a fine point on his brand of conservatism.

The political symbolism, tailored to Illinois Republicans, developed as the rivals stumped around the state Monday.

The Romney team is hoping a solid showing in Illinois -- in the popular vote and the more important delegate races -- will vastly devalue any Santorum threat of a brokered or contested presidential nominating convention in Tampa.

Romney stayed personally above the fray, never mentioning Santorum, as he delivered a critical economic speech at the University of Chicago -- blocks from Obama's own backyard at 50th and Greenwood and across the The Midway from where the president taught at the Law School.

Santorum, meanwhile was blistered across Illinois by the Romney forces in two ads -- one paid for by the campaign and another by the SuperPac backing Romney, Restore Our Future.

The former Pennsylvania senator kept his focus on developing the same kind of "insurgent campaign" that ushered Reagan into power in 1980, after Reagan took on and lost to the GOP establishment in a 1976 presidential bid.

Santorum hit three Downstate stops, but it was in Dixon -- in northwest Illinois, where Reagan was born -- that he invoked the former president's memory. The stop was part of an effort to rev up the conservatives outside of the Chicago metro area who Santorum needs if he is to have a chance at an Election Day stunner over Romney.

"I need you to rise up and speak loudly from the place of freedom here in Dixon, Ill.," Santorum told about 500 evangelicals, Roman Catholics and Tea Party enthusiasts at his rally."Let the voice of Reagan be heard across this land."

Over at the U. of C., Romney invoked the name of the late legendary conservative economist Milton Friedman, who long taught at the Hyde Park school.

Friedman, Romney said, "knew what President Obama still has not learned, even after three years and hundreds of billions of dollars in spending: The government does not create prosperity; free markets and free people do."

Obama in recent speeches has talked about the potential of the U.S. even as the nation is recovering from the economic downturn. Romney joined Obama in talking about America¹s business success stories -- with a different vision of how to get there.

The former Massachusetts governor said, "We once built the interstate highway system and the Hoover Dam. Today, we can't even build a pipeline," a reference to the U.S/Canadian project the Obama administration has stalled.

"A regulator would have shut down the Wright Brothers for their 'dust pollution,' Romney said, getting a chuckle. "And the government would have banned Thomas Edison's light bulb. Oh yeah, Obama's regulators actually did just that," he said to applause -- though the origins to the light bulb ban Romney mentioned were in the Bush -- not Obama White House.

Romney also stumped in Peoria and Springfield and on Tuesday hits Chicago and Wheaton for fund-raisers, spending election night in Schaumburg while Santorum will be in Pennsylvania.

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Google graphic

By Abdon M. Pallasch and Lynn Sweet
CHICAGO---GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney came to the University of Chicago -- the home of the late legendary conservative economist Milton Friedman -- to say that Friedman was right: the free market must not be chained.

"Milton Friedman knew what President Obama still has not learned, even after three years and hundreds of billions of dollars in spending: The government does not create prosperity; free markets and free people do," Romney told a room full of students and fans.

Exactly two months ago in this same room, President Obama's senior Advisor David Axelrod launched his Institute of Politics that he will chair "after he re-elects Obama," he has said. Obama taught law at the University of Chicago.

Romney's main pledges were the Republican staples of lower taxes and less regulation.

"Instead of expanding the government, I will shrink it," he said. "Instead of raising taxes, I'm going to cut them. Instead of adding more regulations, I will reduce them."

He will cut government spending on good and bad programs alike, including Planned Parenthood, he said.

"..Subsidies to Planned Parenthood: I an going to eliminate those subsidies and those programs are going to have to stand on their own," Romney said.

Romney is locked in a tight race with Rick Santorum in Tuesday's Republican presidential primary election.

A new poll shows Romney expanding his lead over Santorum. Because Santorum could not field delegates in four of Illinois' 18 congressional districts, Romney is expected to win more delegates Tuesday even if he loses the non-binding "beauty contest" vote. He is also expected to take just about all of Illinois' super-delegates.

Romney has been calling Santorum "an economic lightweight." He came to the University of Chicago Monday to burnish his business bona fides, talking about small business owners who say government regulation stands in their way.

"For every regulation, there are unintended consequences, underestimated costs and unwanted influence from special interests," Romney said. "And, of course, the bureaucratic impulse is to make more rules, never to reduce them. All those regulations erode our freedom and stifle prosperity. When the heavy hand of government replaces the invisible hand of the market, economic freedom is the inevitable victim. We once built the interstate highway system and the Hoover Dam. Today, we can't even build a pipeline."

He was referring to the Keystone Pipeline President Obama put the kibosh on until more environmental studies could be performed.

He said students should be advocating for less government spending because they will ultimately pay the bills.

"They ought to be frightening to death to people your age, who wonder what your tax rates are going to be," Romney said.

"I need you to vote tomorrow, by the way, if you like anything you heard."

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Sara Paretsky and her dog, Callie (Photo by Lynn Sweet)

CHICAGO--I wedged my rented Impala--black this time--into a space on Blackstone and headed south towards International House, on my way to cover a Mitt Romney speech at the University of Chicago.

As I walk down a block with magnificent houses and apartment buildings I spot a figure--"I know her," I say to myself-- though it has been years since I have seen her in person.

"Sara?" I call out.

I was right.

I'm in front of Sara Paretsky's house, she is, of course, the best selling crime author, the writer whose V.I Warshawski works the sweet streets of Chicago. Warshawski's--and Paretsky's-- latest is titled "Break-Down."

Romney's motorcade just pulled up down the block so I asked the obvious--well knowing Paretsky was Democratically inclined--what did she think of Romney?

"Maybe I'll just cruise down with my dog on the top of my car to see him," she told me.

That would be Callie, Paretsky's golden retriever.

Paretsky was making a reference to the story that will not die about Romney, recounted many times, one of the latest by the Washington Post's Philip Rucker, on March 14.

Writes Rucker, "It happened more than a quarter century ago, at the start of a Romney family summer vacation. But the tale of Seamus, the Irish setter who got sick while riding 12 hours on the roof of Mitt Romney's faux-wood-paneled station wagon, is ballooning into a narrative of epic proportions.

"It has come to characterize the candidate -- and not in the favorable way Tagg Romney hoped for when he first talked in 2007 about his family's annual road trips."

CHICAGO---Mitt Romney is headed to a "blowout" victory in the Tuesday Illinois primary, according to a PPP poll, winning over swing conservatives who have been voting for Rick Santorum in other states. The poll reflects a popular vote--and does not address how many delegates on the ballot will be elected for Santorum and Romney.

From PPP: "Mitt Romney is headed for a blowout victory in Illinois on Tuesday. He leads with 45% to 30% for Rick Santorum, 12% for Newt Gingrich, and 10% for Ron Paul.

"Romney's particularly strong among voters who live in suburban areas (50-29) and with
those who live in urban areas (46-23). But he's even running slightly ahead of Santorum,
38-36, with folks who identify as living in rural parts and that strength with a group of
voters he hasn't tended to do that well with is why he's looking at such a lopsided margin
of victory.

"Romney tends to win moderates in most states and Santorum usually win voters
describing themselves as 'very conservative.' The swing group in the Republican
electorate is those identifying as just 'somewhat conservative.' Romney is winning those
folks by a whooping 60-20 margin in Illinois. Romney's also benefiting from a 52-28
advantage with seniors.

"PPP surveyed 506 likely Republican primary voters on March 17th and 18th. The margin
of error for the survey is +/-4.4%. This poll was not paid for or authorized by any
campaign or political organization. PPP surveys are conducted through automated
telephone interviews."

CHICAGO--Rick Santorum was pressed about the late Penn State coach Joe Paterno, child sex abuse, the Catholic church and pornograpy during a Sunday interview with Chicago talk show host Bruce DuMont on his WLS-AM show. The Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallasch has the spicy report HERE.

From the Pallasch report: DuMont "asked Santorum to compare his criticism of President Obama for "favoring pornographers over children" for allegedly not targeting child pornography with his lack of criticism of Penn State icon Joe Paterno in that school's child sex abuse scandal or the Catholic church's child sex abuse scandal.

"Santorum, a Penn State alum and a Catholic, said he found the questions "insulting."

Santorum has a heavy media schedule on Monday, the day before the Illinois primary.

CHICAGO--President Barack Obama's re-election team raised $45 million in February, with the announcement of the new total coming Monday morning via Obama's campaign Twitter account.

Obama, Vice President Biden, First Lady Michelle and other figures have headlined fund-raisers for major donors last month to help raise millions; the Obama team, as always--since the campaign opened in 2007--like to emphasize the small donors and they did again Monday.

"In February, 348,000 people donated to raise over $45 million for this campaign. Thank you, " said the Obama Twitter account. The campaign produced a video to show what the money is used for: "calls, office openings, and youth summits," naming just a few activities.

Since April 2011--when Obama filed for re-election with the FEC, "a total of 1.64 million people have pitched in to own a piece of this campaign," the campaign said, adding via Twitter, "97.7% of February's contributions were $250 or less, for an average donation of $59.04. ...105,000 of the people who donated in February were giving to support this organization for the very first time."


$29.1 million raised in January for Obama team

February for GOPers

$11.5 million, Mitt Romney
9 million, Rick Santorum
3.3 million, Ron Paul
No numbers yet for Newt Gingrich

CHICAGO--Mitt Romney delivers a speech on the economy Monday--the day before the Illinois primary--and hours before his address James Kvaal, the Obama campaign policy chief, said in a memo, "despite all the speeches, Americans still have serious questions about Romney's economic policies."

The Democratic National Committee, to underscore the message from the Chicago based campaign, arranged for Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, both Illinois Democrats, to hold a press conference this morning outside the U. of C. International House at 59th and Dorchester, to blast Romney's economic policies before he speaks.

Romney is expected on Monday to continue the call--first made Sunday--for Obama to fire his "gas hike trio," the secretaries of Energy, Interior and the EPA administrator.

Romney's campaign chose the U. of C. location because it is closely associated with Obama--who taught at the law school. First Lady Michelle was an executive at the university medical center, their daughters attended the Lab School and many present and former administration officials such as Valerie Jarrett, Arne Duncan, David Axelrod, Susan Sher, Austan Goolsbee and Sam Kass have deep ties to the school.

Moreover, the Romney campaign said, the site was selected because the U.of C. is or has been the home of some of the nation' leading conservative economists.

Romney over the weekend stepped up attacks on Obama for rising gas prices--going so far to suggest--incorrectly--that Obama somehow favored more costs at the pump, which is not true.

Kvaal, in the memo, writes Romney's "rhetoric on energy is dishonest and misleading. He says that if he were President gas prices would go down because we'd be drilling in the Gulf. Since implementing new safety guidelines following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, this administration has issued 400 permits for oil and gas activity in the Gulf. We've also offered millions of acres for oil and gas and opened up exploration in the Arctic. And under President Obama, domestic oil and natural gas production have gone up every year. Last year, oil production reached an 8-year high, natural gas production reached an all-time high, and both are projected to continue to rise.

"But drilling alone won't make gas prices go down. The President has pursued an all of the above energy strategy that is decreasing our dependence on foreign oil so that we will become less vulnerable to price spikes on the international oil market. Our dependence on foreign oil is at a 16-year low. His historic new fuel-economy standards will save consumers about $8,000 during the life of their vehicle.

"Mitt Romney opposed raising fuel economy standards, and he wants to continue charging taxpayers $4 billion a year to subsidize oil and gas companies that are making record profits. And in Massachusetts, he increased a tax on gasoline by 400 percent, hurting every motorist in the state.

"With only 2 percent of the world's reserves, the United States cannot meaningfully impact the worldwide price of oil. Instead of laughing off clean energy, Mitt Romney should support investments in it so the United States doesn't cede to China the market and the jobs that come with it."


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Mitt Romney at Vernon Hills town hall. State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, (l) of Romney; Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) (r). (Sun-Times photo by Tom Cruze)

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum tangled over who was the "economic heavyweight" on Sunday as they blitz Illinois Monday, the day before the primary here.

Romney won the primary in Puerto Rico on Sunday, and, with his wife, Ann, thanked the commonwealth at the top of a packed town hall at the Sullivan Community Center in northwest suburban Vernon Hills, arriving after stops in Moline and Rockford.

Santorum spent the day in Louisiana, sending to Chicago as surrogates The Duggar family, the reality TV stars. Perhaps foreshadowing his expectations for the Illinois primary, Santorum sent out a tweet he will be in Gettysburg, Pa., Tuesday night.

The Romney campaign will headquarter in suburban Schaumburg for the primary returns in a state where -- if Romney has a commanding win in delegates and in the popular vote -- he can tamp down talk of a brokered or contested GOP nominating convention at Tampa.

On Monday, Romney delivers an economic speech at the University of Chicago and campaigns in Springfield while Santorum will focus on Downstate stops.

Romney and Santorum both appeared on Sunday talk shows. Romney repeated what he said in Rosemont on Friday -- and in a commercial the campaign is running in Illinois -- that both President Barack Obama and Santorum were "economic lightweights."

He also ramped up his attack on Obama over rising gas prices -- picking up on an issue Newt Gingrich has made the centerpiece of his bid. Gingrich is not a factor in the Illinois primary.

On the stump and on Fox News, Romney called on Obama to fire his Energy and Interior secretaries and the Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

Santorum and David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, both took on Romney over the "economic lightweight" taunt.

On ABC's "This Week," Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, said of the former Massaschusetts governor, "If Mitt Romney's an economic heavyweight, we're in trouble."

Axelrod on CBS' "Face the Nation said of Romney, "If he thinks he's an economic heavyweight, he must be looking in a funhouse mirror, because that is not the record of an economic heavyweight."

In Vernon Hills, Romney sidestepped a question of how he would make good on his vow to, if president, repeal Obama's health-care law if Democrats continued to control the Senate.

Romney offered no clues to how he would deal with the political reality Obama is confronted with -- a divided Congress. Instead, he urged the election of Republicans to Congress.

At the Vernon Hills event, Romney said his "thoughts and prayers" were with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) who is recovering from a stroke, with the mention coming to an audience who knew Kirk well from when he represented the area as a House member.

Santorum starts Tuesday with a delegate deficit, filing for only 44 of 54 slots for elected delegates. On CNN, Santorum was asked how he could tout his record as a manager if he could not run a full slate in Illinois. The campaigns of Romney, Gingrich and Ron Paul all are running full slates.

"We didn't have any of the resources that any of these other candidates had," Santorum said, though Gingrich and Paul were running shoestring campaigns in Illinois at the time.

Illinois is Obama's home state and Romney was urged at the Vernon Hills town hall by one man not to concede it to Obama if he wins the nomination. Another man fine-tuned the request, asking him not to concede Chicago.

Quipped Romney about the Chicago mayor, "I am sure Rahm Emanuel will be there helping me."

Obama March 19 week ahead

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CNN's Candy Crowley pressed Rick Santorum on her Sunday show on why he failed to run a full slate of delegates in the Tuesday Illinois primary, putting him behind on the get-go and raising questions about his effectiveness as a manager.

The campaigns of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul all mastered the intricate rules for getting delegates on the Illinois ballot. The Santorum campaign filed for only 44 of the 54 elected delegate slots.

Santorum blamed lack of resources for an answer--though the Gingrich and Paul Illinois campaigns were also operating on a shoestring at filing time. Santorum also tried to reframe the question and pivot to why Romney--with all his campaign resources--has not been able to get his nomination "cemented away."

Crowley: So when we look at Illinois, you are ineligible for 10 of the 69 delegates that are at stake on Tuesday, because you didn't file enough signatures.

Santorum: ...We didn't have any of the resources that any of these other candidates had, and yet because of our organizational ability, our ability to take limited resources and turn them into votes and winning 10 states, that's amazing, with the fact that we've been outspent over 10 :1 just in our campaign and with the super PAC, more than 10:1.

And here we are. The real question you should ask, Candy, is Governor Romney, why with tens and hundreds of millions of dollars hasn't he been able to do anything to get this nomination even close to cemented away.

WASHINGTON--President Obama, First Lady Michelle, and Sasha went to services on Sunday morning at St. John's Episcopal Church. The Obama family rarely attends public church services in Washington. The family walked to the church, about a short block from the White House.

Here is the count of public church attendance by the Obama in Washington up to July, 2011:

The eighth time was July 17, 2011 when the entire family attended services at St. John's.

The seventh time was April 24, 2011, when President Obama, First Lady Michelle, Malia and Sasha headed to Easter services on Sunday morning at Shiloh Baptist Church.

The sixth time was Sept. 19, 2010 when the Obama family walked across Lafayette Square from the White House to St. John's Episcopal Church.

For Easter 2010, the Obama family worshiped at Allen Chapel AME, the fifth time Obama attended church in Washington.

For Easter 2009, the Obama family attended services at St. John's Episcopal Church.

Rick Santorum campaigns at Louisiana churches on Sunday and attends a LSU/Mississipi baseball game. The Duggar Family, the reality TV show stars are his top surrogates in Illinois on Sunday, appearing at two Chicago evangelical churches: the Moody Bible Church and New Life Community Church.

On Monday, Santurm stumps in Rockford, Dixon--childhood home of Ronald Reagan--Moline and Peoria.

Mitt Romney is now talking about high gas prices--a subject Newt Gingrich was able to inject into the 2012 presidential campaign even as his own candidacy floundered. Last week, Obama delivered a speech on gas prices noting that the U.S. is drilling at record rates. On Sunday, Romney blamed Obama for high gas prices and called for him to fire Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Lisa Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

UPDATE: Romney is wrong to suggest that Obama wants high gas prices, which he did Sunday. Obama in his recent gas price speech--and his press conference earlier this month--talked about wanting pump prices to go down. Obama also noted that prices have climbed under prior administrations. The Washington Post has a long, detailed Fact Check on the assertion Romney and other Republicans are making that Obama wants high gas prices and concludes it is not true. Read it HERE.

By Lynn Sweet and Dave McKinney
Sun-Times Washington and Springfield Bureau Chiefs

CHICAGO--For Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, it's about picking up delegates in the Tuesday Illinois primary, not clinching the popular vote.

Romney, facing a tougher battle in Illinois than he expected, is showcasing his conservative credentials -- because the GOP battle in Illinois between Santorum and Romney is over the conservative vote.

On Saturday, the Romney campaign posted a video of Santorum praising Romney as a conservative during Romney's 2008 White House bid.

The Sun-Times has learned that Romney will deliver a speech on "economic freedom" Monday at the University of Chicago -- where President Barack Obama taught and where First Lady Michelle Obama worked at the Medical Center.

The U. of C. location was selected with Obama in mind to contrast Romney's economic policies with the president at a school that has produced some of the nation's leading conservative economists.

The Romney campaign also is announcing Sunday the endorsement of Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) a respected conservative with ties to the religious right in Illinois.

On Sunday, the former Massachusetts governor holds a town hall in Vernon Hills -- in an area that could be a Santorum delegate stronghold -- not far from where he attended his senior year in high school in Mundelein.

Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) is expected in Chicago on Monday to do a media blitz on behalf of Romney.
For his part, Santorum spent Saturday in Effingham, Mount Vernon and Herrin -- cities in southern Illinois congressional districts with potential for electing Santorum delegates.

In Effingham, Santorum appealed to his conservative base, telling voters to "outvote your friends up in the Chicago area." Romney is expected to do well among moderates in Chicago and the suburbs.

To underscore Santorum's appeal to conservatives, reality TV stars, the Duggar family, will attend services at the Moody Bible Church in Chicago. On Monday Santorum will seek to identify himself with Illinois' native son, President Ronald Reagan, by visiting his childhood home in Dixon.

At stake in the Tuesday primary are 54 delegates. Santorum starts with a delegate deficit, filing for only 44 of the 54 slots. The Illinois popular vote--also called a beauty contest--has no impact on the selection of delegates. Romney is expected to do well in the popular vote--with most of the moderates in the state from Chicago and the suburbs around the city.

CHICAGO--The day before the Illinois primary, Mitt Romney will deliver a policy speech at the University of Chicago--where President Barack Obama once taught in the law school.

The Romney campaign on Saturday was crowd building for the event with robo-calls inviting people to the U of C International House on 59th Street on noon Monday. Romney also has an event in Peoria that day.

In another Chicago area event, Romney holds a town hall meeting in Vernon Hills on Sunday night--with the campaign using robocalls to build an audience for the event.

CHICAGO--The Duggar Family, the reality TV stars who are backing Rick Santorum, visit his Elgin, Ill. headquarters on Monday to plug Santorum the day before the Illinois primary.

From the Santorum Illinois campaign...

Duggar Family Coming to Elgin Office Sunday at 5 PM
March 17, 2012
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of the hit TV show "19 and Counting" are bringing their awesome family to the Rick Santorum office at 1710 N.Randall Road, Suite 170 for a rally. The family will help work the phone bank here to get the vote out and will share their reasons why Rick Santorum should be the next President of the United States.

Open to the public and media. 5 PM to 7 PM

click below for Santorum Monday Illinois schedule...

Amy Rule, wife of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, will speak in public in her official role for the first time on Thursday--at NATO headquarters in Brussels to mark the May NATO summit in Chicago.

This is the highest profile yet for Rule--who has tried very hard to stay out of the spotlight since Emanuel became mayor in May, 2011.

Rule is part of a Chicago delegation jetting to Brussels for the opening ceremony of an exhibit about Chicago at NATO headquarters. Gov. Pat Quinn is also going.

from NATO: "The NATO Secretary General, Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, will take part in the opening ceremony of an exhibition at NATO Headquarters celebrating the city of Chicago, on Thursday 22 March 2012.

"10:00 - Opening Remarks by the NATO Secretary General preceeded by Ambassador Ivo Daalder, United States Permanent Representative to NATO.
The Governor of Illinois, Mr. Patrick Joseph Quinn, the spouse of the Mayor of Chicago, Ms. Amy Rule, the President & CEO of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, Mr. Don Welch, and the Executive Director of the Chicago NATO Host committee, Ms. Lori Healey, will also deliver remarks."

By Lynn Sweet, Abdon M. Pallasch and Dave McKinney

CHICAGO--Mitt Romney -- facing more of a primary battle than he expected in Illinois -- is turning up the heat on chief rival Rick Santorum in advance of the Tuesday vote as both men stumped Friday in the northwest suburbs.

Romney is adding Illinois campaign stops over the weekend and released a new ad Friday slamming Santorum as an "economic lightweight" -- piling on top of anti-Santorum spots running in Illinois bankrolled by the SuperPAC backing Romney.

Santorum stumped at two Arlington Heights events while Romney headlined a breakfast in Rosemont, with their fight mirroring internal Illinois Republican battles. Newt Gingrich hit the Chicago suburbs Wednesday and Thursday -- but has faded as a factor in Illinois.

Romney has the support of most of the Illinois Republican establishment -- many who are moderates -- while Santorum's backers are the outsider conservative activists who helped the GOP win Illinois congressional seats in 2010.

"For the next several days, you can shake up this race like no state could shake it up," Santorum yelled at a raucus rally of sign-waving evangelicals and Catholics at Christian Liberty Academy Friday night in Arlington Heights.

Santorum added, "We're being outspent 10 to 1. And it's a state they say that just fits Romney, that it's just a moderate Republican state" where "conservatives don't have much of an opportunity in Illinois to speak. . . . You could make up for all of that frustration."

Romney did not refer to Santorum -- or President Barack Obama -- by name when he greeted backers invited by his campaign at Pancakes Eggcetera in Rosemont. But he alluded to them both in a short talk stressing his experience as a business executive.

"We are not going to be successful in replacing an economic lightweight if we nominate an economic lightweight," Romney said, underscoring a message aimed against Santorum for several days in paid and free media. "I am an economic heavyweight, and I know how to fix this economy," Romney said.

The Washington Post reported that in Illinois, Romney's campaign fund and the pro-Romney SuperPAC Restore Our Future had poured in $3.5 million, with Santorum and the SuperPAC backing him, Red White & Blue Fund, spending $517,000.

At an Arlington Heights restaurant, Santorum talked about his Illinois roots: he attended Carmel High School in Mundelein, an all-male Catholic school, his senior year after his parents were transferred to the Veterans Administration facility in North Chicago.

"I worked here a couple of summers, got some of my first jobs here," Santorum said, including shining shoes at a Lake Forest country club.

Illinois GOP voters cast two presidential ballot on Tuesday: a popular vote, or "beauty" contest and elections for the 54 delegates. Santorum starts with a delegate deficit, filing for only 44 of 54 Illinois slots.

CHICAGO--Mitt Romney on Saturday night is in Collinsville and Sunday hits three major Illinois media markets with stops in Moline, Rockford and Vernon Hills, the Lake County suburb outside of Chicago. Rick Santorum is on a downstate Illinois swing Saturday with the rivals in-state as Illinois heads to the Tuesday presidential primary.

And-- personal indulgence coming--I want to note that Vernon Hills was the first beat I ever covered--way back when-- for the now long defunct Libertyville Independent-Register newspaper. Romney holds a town hall in the Vernon Hills Sullivan Community Center-- named for a woman I covered, Dolores Sullivan, who founded the Vernon Hills Park District. Her husband, John, way back when, was a Vernon Hills trustee.


CHICAGO--Rick Santorum was sunbathing in Puerto Rico--on a lounge chair by a pool, taking a break from campaigning--when someone spotted him and took a photo--with the picture of the shirtless presidential candidate landing on-line.

Santorum said he probably should lose 15 or 20 pounds in a Friday interview on Chicago radio station WIND.

Santorum tells WIND, "I apologize to all of us, because I'm sure it's not a pretty sight."

In contrast, Mitt Romney is trim and slim--he wears his 501 Levis well--fitting in pants with a 34 waist and a 34 leg. My report on Mitt and his Levis is HERE.

CHICAGO--With an Illinois primary Tuesday, Mitt Romney's campaign released a video Saturday featuring a testimonial from chief rival Rick Santorum vouching for Romney's conservative credentials--in 2008.

CHICAGO--President Obama headlined five fund-raisers on Friday--two in hometown Chicago and three more in Atlanta with Tyler Perry and Cee Lo Green.

Obama, I have learned, raised about $2 million in Chicago and $3 million from the Atlanta events.

mitt levi 1.jpeg Mitt Romney (from behind) campaigning at Pancakes Eggcetera in Rosemont on Friday. (Sun-Times photo by Brian Jackson)

Mitt Romney often wears jeans and the GOP presidential hopeful, who turned 65 last Monday, is very trim, the Chicago Sun-Times can report: On Friday Romney stumped in Rosemont in well worn classic 501 Levis--with a 34 waist and 34 leg.

Romney was wearing what appeared to be the straight leg "original fit" style-- not the baggy denims--derided as "mom jeans"-- that earned President Barack Obama scorn a few years ago.

Asked by NBC News' Meredith Vieira about the jeans he wore to throw out the first pitch at the 2009 All-Star baseball game, Obama said at the time, "Those jeans are comfortable,'' "For those of you who want your president to look great in his tight jeans, I'm sorry, I'm not the guy."

Maybe Romney is.

The super-rich Romney has struggled to relate to everyday folks--his recent comment, "I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners," was seen as but one of many gaffes that cast him as out-of-touch.

But Romney's choice of the modestly price jeans make a statement that every man--and his significant other--can relate to.

The 501 Levis is one of the most popular and enduring Levi Strauss styles. Romney appeared to be wearing an the off-the-shelf version that sells for about $50.

mitt levi 2.jpeg
Mitt Romney in his 501 Levis campaigning at Pancakes Eggcetera in Rosemont on Friday. (Sun-Times photo by Brian Jackson)

President Obama returned home for two fund-raisers on Friday, taking aim at GOP rivals stumping in Illinois in advance of the Tuesday primary as contenders who hardly measured up to another president from Illinois--a Republican, Abe Lincoln.

In his speech, Obama said he wants the U.S. to be as competitive as other nations. "I don't want to ride on a road in Germany and see a better road than Lake Shore Drive," the famous roadway that runs along, mostly, Lake Michigan.

Obama headlined two events in Chicago on Friday before flying to Atlanta for three more events, a day that will raise millions of dollars for the combined Democratic National Committee/Obama 2012 re-election drive.

The first Obama event--a "Lawyers for Obama" luncheon at the Palmer House Hilton was open to press coverage; a roundtable for major donors after that was not. The roundtable feature Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn, former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, strategist David Axelrod, business executive Penny Pritzker and former Senate president Emil Jones.

At the start of the luncheon, Axelrod introduced a video released Thursday night the Obama campaign is calling a "documentary," which recounts the accomplishments of the Obama administration.

Obama was introduced by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who was his seatmate when they both served in the Illinois Senate.

"Now, you might have noticed that we have some guests in Illinois this week," Obama said at the luncheon. Without mentioning their names, he was referring to Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum--campaigning in the Chicago northwest suburbs today, and Newt Gingrich, in the area on Wednesday and Thursday.

"Apparently things haven't quite wrapped up on the other side. So, so there is actually some interest in the primary that we have here on Tuesday. And -- and my message to all the candidates is, welcome to the land of Lincoln.

"Because I'm thinking, maybe some Lincoln will rub off on them while they are here," Obama said, recounting that Lincoln--even during the Civil War, was able to build a trans-continental railroad and establish land grant colleges."

Obama, continuing to aim his remarks at his GOP rivals, said Lincoln "understood that we are a people that take great pride in our self-reliance and our independence, but that we are also one nation and one people, and that we rise or fall together.

"So I hope that while my counterparts on the other side enjoy the outstanding hospitality of the people of Illinois and spend some money here to promote our economy --- I hope they also take a little bit of time to reflect on this great man, the first Republican president."

Obama addressed what is sometimes called the "enthusiasm gap," the challenge in the 2012 campaign to recreate the "hope and change" euphoria that swept through many of his supporters in 2008.

The crowd--supportive but reserved--the room was full of lawyers--shared his "vision," Obama said, recalling the heady days of 2008.

"That's the change we believed in. That's why you got involved. You didn't get involved because the odds were that a guy named Barack Hussein Obama was going to be president," Obama said.

"Yes you can," someone shouted out--recasting a famous 2008 slogan.
"And we knew it wasn't going to be easy or that it would come quickly. We knew it was going to be hard. But as you just saw in that video, just -- just think about what happened over the last three years because of what you did in 2008.

Because of your efforts, your commitment not to me, but to the country and to each other, we started to see what change looked like."

Obama filled Grant Park the night he was elected in 2008. Recalling that he said, "As much as 2008 was exciting, and -- as much as all of us, I think, saw that night at Grant Park as -- as the culmination of something, it was actually just the beginning of what we're fighting for. "

FOOTNOTE: According to Mark Knoller of CBS News--the unofficial statistics keeper of presidents, the Chicago fund-raisers were the 104th and the 105th since Obama filed for re-election with the Federal Election Commission on April 4, 2011.
At this point, former President George W. Bush had done 54. By the end of Friday, Obama will have headlined 108 fund-raisers.

romney.jpg Mitt Romney campaigning in Rosemont on Friday morning.
(Photo by Lynn Sweet)

CHICAGO--As the Illinois Republican primary heats up, Mitt Romney is adding Illinois campaign stops: he will be in southern Illinois Saturday night and in Illinois Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, election day, the Sun-Times has learned.

Earlier in the primary season, Romney was seen as having a lock on Illinois--but is putting in more time in the state as chief rival Rick Santorum has grown stronger. Santorum starts out in Illinois with a delegate deficit: his campaign filed for only 44 of the available 54 delegate slots.

Romney was in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont on Friday morning for a breakfast event before jetting off to Puerto Rico, where there is a Sunday vote. Meanwhile, his campaign released an Illinois ad on Friday which slams

One of Romney's top surrogates, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appears for Romney in Elmhurst on Friday afternoon. Later Friday Santorum has events in Arlington Heights.

Romney has long scheduled fund-raisers in Chicago and the suburbs on Tuesday--as well as a fund-raiser in Peoria on Monday that has been on the calendar for some time.

CHICAGO--Mitt Romney's campaign on Friday announced a new ad in Illinois--in advance of the Tuesday primary--slamming chief rival Rick Santorum and invoking the name of Illinois native, former President Ronald Reagan.

Romney stumped at a restaurant in northwest suburban Rosemont early on Friday morning, not mentioning Santorum by name--but making a reference to him when he said President Obama was an economic light weight and the Republicans should not nominate an economic lightweight for president.

Meanwhile, the SuperPac backing Romney, Restore Our Future, is running a heavy ad buy in Illinois, with hits on Santorum--as a Washington insider, deficit riser--and even once voting in the Senate with Hillary Clinton when she was a senator.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie campaigns for Romney in Elmhurst later today.

below, from the Romney campaign...


Boston, MA - Romney for President today released a new television in Illinois titled "Wrong Choice." Rick Santorum's weakness is the economy and his economic plan has been criticized as the worst of all the GOP candidates. Mitt Romney has proposed the boldest plan since Ronald Reagan and has the leadership experience to lead our country.

To Watch "Wrong Choice" Please See:

Ad Facts: Script For "Wrong Choice" (TV:30)

VOICEOVER: "Who can turn around the economy and defeat Barack Obama?"

VIDEO TEXT: "Who Can Turn Around The Economy, Defeat Barack Obama?"

VOICEOVER: "Not Rick Santorum."

VIDEO TEXT: "Not Rick Santorum"

VOICEOVER: "Santorum's 'real weakness is the economy.'"

VIDEO TEXT: "Santorum's 'Real Weakness Is The Economy.'"

· MarketWatch Headline: "Santorum's Real Weakness Is The Economy" ("Santorum's Real Weakness Is The Economy," MarketWatch, 2/29/12)

VOICOEVER: "He's never run a business or a state."

VIDEO TEXT: "Santorum's Never Run A Business, Never Run A State"

VOICOEVER: "His plan: 'economic illiteracy,' 'inexcusable,' 'the worst idea' of any GOP candidate."

· Tax Foundation's Will McBride: Santorum's proposal "may be the worst idea of any of the Republican candidates. ... No other candidate has proposed such a grossly unfair system." (Bernie Becker, "Some Conservatives See Santorum's Tax Plan As 'Welfare In Disguise'," The Hill, 1/7/12)

· AEI's Kevin Hassett: Santorum's Plan "Is Just The Height Of Economic Illiteracy. It's Inexcusable.'" ("Rick Loses Market Value," The Daily, 2/17/12)

VIDEO TEXT: "Santorum's Plan 'Economic Illiteracy,' 'Inexcusable.'"

VIDEO TEXT: "'The Worst Idea' Of Any GOP Candidate"

VOICOEVER: "Rick Santorum: Another economic lightweight."

VIDEO TEXT: "Rick Santorum: Another Economic Lightweight"

VOICEOVER: "Mitt Romney: Ready to 'lead the nation to a new era.'"

VIDEO TEXT: "Mitt Romney Ready To 'Lead The Nation To A New Era."

· Cincinnati Enquirer: "Romney is best suited to represent the GOP mainstream, advance a thoughtful conservative agenda, offer a strong alternative to President Obama and lead the nation into a new era of progress if elected this fall." (Editorial, "Romney Deserves Ohio's Support," Cincinnati Enquirer, 3/4/12)

VOICEOVER: "With 'the boldest GOP agenda since Reagan.'"

VIDEO TEXT: "With 'The Boldest GOP Agenda Since Reagan'"

· AEI's James Pethokoukis: "If Romney Does Become The Republican Nominee, He Would Certainly Be Running On The Boldest GOP Agenda Since Reagan '80, Maybe Ever." (James Pethokoukis, "New Romney Tax Plan Goes The Full Reagan," AEI's The American, 2/22/12)

MITT ROMNEY: "I'm Mitt Romney, and I approve this message."


President Barack Obama comes home Friday to haul millions of dollars into his re-election warchest at two events, both at the Palmer House Hilton:

Lunch event 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.

At a smaller roundtable, top price, $35,800 featuring:

Penny Pritzker,CEO of PSP Capital Partners Pat Quinn, Governor of Illinois Emil Jones Jr., former President of the Illinois State Senate, David Axelrod, Senior Strategist to Obama re-election campaign Bill Daley, former White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago

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.


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 Illinois Primary is Tuesday and President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum all hit the state on Friday: lots of split screen coverage today.

Obama: Two high dollar fund-raisers at the Palmer House

Romney: Quick breakfast event at a Rosemont restaurant at 7:30 a.m. The Democratic National Committee has a 7 a.m. press conference outside the same place to bash Romney as "wrong for women, wrong for Illinois" featuring Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)

Santorum: The Mundelein, Ill. Carmel High School graduate has two afternoon events in Arlington Heights.

Newt Gingrich stumped in the northwest suburbs Thursday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has nothing on his public schedule, but he will be attending President Obama's Chicago fund-raiser. He is one of the featured players at a round table with major major donors held after the larger fund-raising lunch at the Palmer House.

The Obama re-election team will release the David Guggenheim 17-minute campaign-style "Road Traveled" documentary later on Thursday--after work time--so people can be home, watch it, and pass it along.

From the campaign Twitter:
RT @BarackObama: After the film, @Mitch_Stewart will take your questions about it for @DavidAxelrod. Ask yours using #RoadTraveled.

WASHINGTON--Vice President Joe Biden hits battleground Ohio on Thursday for the first of a series of pure campaign speeches. This is the first event of the year handled totally by the campaign--and not the White House.

From Obama headquarters in Chicago: "The event is the first of what will be a series of remarks that the Vice President will deliver in the coming weeks about the economy and the middle class that will frame the issues that will be at the core of the general election and the choice America will make in November about the future we want for this country."

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is to report to prison in Colorado today. On Wednesday he delivered a farewell press conference. For all the details, click to the Sun-Times package HERE.

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday he does not want to close Planned Parenthood, just strip it of federal money. Romney's comments were the subject of Democratic attacks after he said he wanted to "get rid" of the organization.

"Planned Parenthood is a private organization. What I want to get rid of is the federal funding of Planned Parenthood," Romney said in an interview.

With the lllinois primary Tuesday, Romney hits Rosemont on Friday morning--adding the stop Wednesday--and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stumps for him later that day at Elmhurst College -- at the same time President Barack Obama headlines a re-election fundraiser at the Palmer House.

Romney returns to Illinois on Monday and Tuesday.

Meanwhile, also on Wednesday, Romney -- in New York for fund-raisers -- held a telephone town hall with what his campaign said were "thousands" of likely Illinois Romney voters. On that call -- and in the Sun-Times interview -- he called chief rival Rick Santorum an economic "lightweight."

The Obama re-election team, aiming at women in general -- and suburban Chicago women specifically, a crucial vote in the state -- had Illinois Democrats Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Rep.Mike Quigley lead a national conference call the day after Romney, in Missouri, gave the Democrats an opening.

Discussing reducing the debt in a St. Louis TV interview, Romney said, "Is the program so critical, it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And on that basis of course you get rid of Obamacare, that's the easy one. Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that.The subsidy for Amtrak, I'd eliminate that. The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities."

Schakowsky, who acknowledged that a president could not force Planned Parenthood to close, said Romney is an "extreme candidate" on women's issues.

"As Republican voters in my home state of Illinois head to the polls for next Tuesday's GOP primary, we know that Mitt Romney is going to come here to the Chicago suburbs and try to appeal to moderate Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, especially women," she said.

On other matters, Romney:

*Asked which iconic Chicago food he prefers -- ribs, deep dish pizza or Chicagostyle hot dogs -- said deep dish pizza.

*Said he would clinch the Republican nomination before the Tampa convention and took a swipe at Newt Gingrich and his SuperPac benefactor, billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson -- though not by name.

"Because of the way delegates are proportioned, it is a longer process this time around and because candidates get money from billionaires putting money into SuperPacs, candidates can last a lot longer. So it is a longer process but I believe we will get the 1,144 delegates we need before the convention," Romney said.

*Asked about the role of GOP moderates in Illinois and the party, as Republican presidential candidates run to the right, Romney said, "We are a big-tent party, we welcome folks from all political persuasions. But I am a conservative businessman, my record is as a conservative governor and the positions and principles I have described are conservative."

Declined to pledge to make public the names of his "bundlers," people who use their networks to raise major contributions. Obama, Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP nominee, and former President George W. Bush voluntarily revealed bundlers.

"I am not aware of the policies of campaigns in that regard. We again will follow what the law tells us to do.
In regards to other policies, you need to get in touch with our campaign on that," Romney said.

*On Gingrich calling him a "weak front-runner" Tuesday:"Well, if I am a weak front-runner, what does that make him?"

*Asked about how Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, would do in a Romney White House, he said: "Well, I met Mayor Emanuel more than once and he is an intelligent, hardworking individual and I would expect to work with him as I would with the mayors of other great cities."

WASHINGTON--Mitt Romney is adding a stop in Illinois, a Friday breakfast in Rosemont, in the run-up to the Tuesday Illinois primary. Later that day, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie headlines an event at Elmhurst College for Romney.

Romney beefs up his Illinois schedule after holding a telephone town hall in Illinois on Wednesday while state Treasurer Dan Rutherford--chief of Romney's Illinois campaign--and former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) did a four-city Illinois fly-around to tout Romney delegates.

Romney spends Monday and Tuesday and Illinois and, I head, may add a weekend Illinois stop.

Romney on Friday:
7:25 AM CST
Pancakes Eggcetera 9463 W Higgins Rd

Christie on Friday:
Noon CST
Elmhurst College - Founder's Lounge
190 Prospect Avenue

Newt Gingrich drew a small crowd Wednesday afternoon at a rally in suburban Rosemont, spending two days in the Chicago area in advance of the Tuesday Illinois primary. Chicago Sun-Times political reporter Abdon M. Pallash has the report HERE. Mitt Romney just added a Friday Illinois quick stop to his schedule--a breakfast also in Rosemont.

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House invited a cadre of top fund-raisers from Chicago to the Wednesday State Dinner honoring British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha.

The guest list also included George Clooney and Warren Buffett and his daughter Susie--and a woman from Ohio--a key battleground state in November-- who wrote to First Lady Michelle Obama about being the mother of four children in the military.

Check out the menu HERE.

Here is the who's who from Chicago (the first name is the invitee; the second name is the escort):

Mr. Neil G. Bluhm, Chicago, IL
Ms. Leslie Bluhm

Mr. Wally Brewster, Jr., Chicago, IL
Mr. Robert Satawake

Mr. Jim Crown, Chicago, IL
Mrs. Paula Hannaway Crown

Mr. Fred Eychaner, Chicago, IL

Mr. Rajiv Kumar Fernando, Chicago, IL
Ms. Jennifer Lynn Pelaez, New York, New York

The Honorable Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor

Mr. Chuck Lewis, Evanston, IL
Ms. Penny Sebring

Mr. Martin Hughes Nesbitt, Chicago, IL
Ms. Anita Kay Blanchard

Ambassador Louis Susman, United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom
Mrs. Marjorie Susman

Mr. Stuart Taylor II, Chicago, IL
Mrs. Evonne Taylor

The Honorable Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff, Office of the First Lady

Mrs. Deborah Wais, Chicago, IL
Mr. Marshall Wais

Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, Chicago, IL
Dr. Cheryl Whitaker


WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle host their sixth State Dinner on Wednesday night, for British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha featuring produce from the White House garden.

Below, the menu. The White House has stopped listing the names of wines served at State Dinners.

First Course

Crisped Halibut with Potato Crust
Shaved Brussels Sprouts, Applewood Smoked Bacon

Second Course

Spring Garden Lettuces,
Shallot Dressing, Shaved Breakfast Radish,
Cucumbers and Avocados

Main Course

Bison Wellington,
Red Wine Reduction, French Beans, Cipollini Onion


Warm Meyer Lemon Steamed Pudding
with Idaho Huckleberry Sauce
and Newtown Pippin Apples

An American wine will be paired with each course.

WASHINGTON--While Rick Santorum gets his props for winning the popular votes in Alabama and Mississippi, Mitt Romney won more delegates in the four Tuesday contests than any of his rivals.

After Tuesday votes in Mississippi, Alabama, Hawaii and American Samoa:
41 Romney
35 Santorum
24 Gingrich
1 Paul

source: ABC NEWS

follow on Twitter: @lynnsweet

michelle samantha.jpg
Photo courtesy of Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obamafoodorama

From Obamafoodorama: "Mrs. Samantha Cameron was newly arrived in Washington, DC, on Tuesday afternoon when she joined First Lady Michelle Obama for a mini-Olympics event at the Bender Arena Sports Center at American University. The two watched as Olympians and Paralympians played games with local fifth graders in the huge gym, which was devoid of spectators...except for the students' parents. Above, they share a laugh with US Womens Soccer stars Lori Lindsey and Becky Sauerbrunn."

WASHINGTON--President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, back from an NCAA game in Dayton, spend a jammed Wednesday together capped by a state dinner (well, the Queen is the official head of state, but the White House is calling it a state dinner anyway...)

The history of the "Special Relationship" from the British perspective is HERE.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will make a statement on Wednesday--at 5:02 p.m. CST, his last before reporting to a federal prison in Colorado.

According to his publicist, Glenn Selig, Blagojevich will not be taking any questions.

Blagojevich will speak from his home in Ravenswood Manor.

WASHINGTON--Jonathan Alter has been covering Rahm Emanuel since 1992, through two White Houses, Congress and back to Chicago's City Hall. Alter, in "Meet the New Boss" in The Atlantic, brings a unique perspective of a national writer who grew up on Chicago's North Side; his mother, the late Joanne Alter, was a crusading commissioner at what was then called the Metropolitan Sanitary District.

Excerpt: "My parents met Rahm before I did, and disagreed with each other about him. My mother, the late Joanne Alter, was a feminist reformer who went to the first Mayor Daley in 1972 and told him that it was the 20th century and he must let women into the Democratic Party. Daley, clever about neutralizing opposition, slated her for a position near the bottom of the ticket, commissioner of the Water Reclamation District, and she became the first woman elected to public office in Cook County. Later, she turned down a young Rahm Emanuel for a job on one of her campaigns because she thought he was arrogant and obnoxious, the kind of guy, she said, who was always looking over your shoulder to see if someone more important was in the room (although she would have loved his present-day focus on cleaning up the riverbanks of the Chicago River, one of her pet causes).

"My father, Jim Alter, a retired Chicago businessman, has long admired Rahm's political skills. He was impressed that his congressman managed to both offer outstanding constituent services and rise in just four years to the House leadership. It didn't hurt when Rahm arranged for a local documentary to be made about World War II veterans in his district that featured my father's exploits as a combat aviator."

WASHINGTON--Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has recovered so much from his stroke that Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.)--who visited him on Sunday night --said he is mentally sharp enough to cast "knowledgeable" votes.

"Senator Mark Kirk is coming back," Shimkus said in a column he wrote after seeing Kirk.

When Shimkus visited with Kirk at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, "Mark was sitting up with a smile on his face. His short hair reminded me of Sgt. Carter from the TV show Gomer Pyle, USMC," Shimkus wrote.

Shimkus' report is the first to give a sense of Kirk's condition--and his progress towards returning to the Senate-- following his January stroke.

Kirk, a Navy reserve officer, told Shimkus about his "tough" physical therapy sessions and how prayer has helped him through this ordeal.

Shimkus said Kirk told him "that nothing he has done has been as difficult as this road to recovery. Every day, Mark pushes himself through tough physical therapy sessions, on a treadmill and walking the hallways. Some days are better than others but his progress is consistent, and he knows we are cheering him on.

"Mentally he is sharp. I believe he could cast knowledgeable votes today. But he is in a critical time to continue to focus on improvement and strengthening his body and soul for the important work he looks forward to resuming.

"We did talk about faith and he pointed again to the window ledge where his Bible sits. He mentioned the daily visit of the rehab center chaplain and time spent in prayer. How quickly I and many others have dropped Mark off our prayer lists. I would ask that we all continue to pray for his speedy recovery," Shimkus wrote.

The two talked about the main Illinois issues of the day: the refusal of the federal government to grant emergency assistance to five counties in tornado ravaged southern Illinois, the transportation bill and Tuesday's Illinois primary.

And when Shimkus said goodbye, Kirk gave him a "strong handshake."

Click below for full Shimkus column on Sen. Mark Kirk's road to recovery....

Chicagoan Louis Sussman, the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, is in Washington for the official visit of British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife, Samantha. Obama met with Cameron in July, 2008, in London while an Illinois senator during his campaign swing in Europe. Sussman was one of the official greeters at Andrews Air Force Base.

WASHINGTON--As the Obama re-election team puts increasing focus on ten battleground states, the campaign is opening a new financial front to raise millions for state Democratic parties in these crucial states.

First Lady Michelle Obama will be in Minneapolis on Monday for a fund-raiser to benefit the Obama 2012 campaign and the Democratic National Committee and the state Democratic parties in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The tab for her event ranges from $250 general admission to $1,000 for "preferred seating" to $5,000 for a guest photo and cocktail reception to $25,000 raised or donated.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the ailing Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), recovering from a stroke, and the Illinois congressional have urged President Barack Obama to come through for his adopted home state and provide disaster assistance to five southern Illinois counties.

Durbin and representatives from Kirk's office said in a statement they "will meet with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator (FEMA) Craig Fugate and, TOMORROW, March 14, 2012 at 11:15 AM EDT. The meeting will take place in room S-321 of the Capitol. Durbin called for the meeting following FEMA's announcement on Sunday that aid would be denied in order to discuss the State of Illinois' appeal of this decision. Members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn are expected to join the meeting by phone."

WASHINGTON--Two goals of the Newt Gingrich organization are to prevent Gingrich from being written off as not viable if he does not do well in the Alabama and Mississippi contests today and to try to derail the narrative--promoted by the Mitt Romney campaign and by independent observers--that Romney has a nearly insurmountable lead. The reality is if Gingrich does not do well in these southern states, it will be hard for him to argue he is the conservative alternative to Rick Santorum.

Gingrich campaign director Michael Krull said in a Tuesday memo, "the Romney Campaign, Washington Establishment, and elite media are all trying to prematurely end the Republican primary. But in reality, it's not even halftime. In the memo below, Newt 2012 political director Martin Baker and senior advisor Randy Evans breakdown the state-by-state delegate math and explain why Newt is well positioned for the second half."

Click below for the memo....

Mitt Romney's Illinois campaign announced more endorsements on Tuesday, a week before the Illinois primary. Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and State Sen. Christine Radogno are leading just finished a conference call starting now touting the Romney Illinois bid.

While the Romney-allied SuperPac has bought TV time in Illinois--about $ million for spots--Rutherford said Romney campaign ads are going to run in Illinois.

Rutherford noted at the start of the call that chief rival Rick Santorum did not file a full slate of delegates in Illinois--covering 44 out of 54 slots.

"I feel very well organized," said Rutherford.

Radogno said Romney was the "best person" to "put together a coalition" to win.

Romney for now--this may change--has no plans to stump in person in Illinois until Monday, the day before the election where we know he has a fund-raiser in Peoria. Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are all in Illinois this week.

Rutherford predict good turnout--fueled by local legislative GOP primaries and the big contest were Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) is pitted against Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.)

Illinois State Senators Endorsing Mitt Romney announced on Tuesday.

Senator Dave Luechtefeld
Senator John Millner
Senator Sue Rezin
Senator Dale Righter
Senator Pam Althoff

GOP White House hopeful Ron Paul Illinois supporters don't have money, but they do have a strategy: use St. Patrick's Day parades in advance of the Illinois primary next Tuesday--to rally support. Politicians always populate Chicago's St. Patrick's Day parade, and the Paul backers have a slot.

"Lets make the Ron Paul portion of the parade dwarf all other candidates, right here in Obama's backyard, with the media to capture it," is the message on Illinois Paul websites.

Paul backers are also being urged to be part of the Monday St. Patrick's parades in Palatine and Rock Island.

Paul himself headlines a Wednesday rally at the auditorium on the quad at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

The University of Illinois rally has been moved to a larger location, according to the Paul campaign...
Wednesday, March 14, 2012

7:00 p.m.
Ron Paul Campus Town Hall Meeting
University of Illinois - George Huff Hall
1206 South Fourth Street
Champaign, IL 61820

While Alabama and Mississippi vote today--southern states that are tough for Mitt Romney--he moves on to stump in the more fertile Missouri, which has a vote on Saturday. Romney spokesman Andrea Saul argues that no matter what happens in the south on Tuesday, Romney has a delegate lead that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich can't beat.

Romney's three tv interviews in St. Louis today are in a market which beams over to southern Illinois across the Mississippi River and can serve two purposes: the Illinois primary is next Tuesday.

From Saul...

Today is another election day and yet another day that our opponents will be unable to make up the ground needed to get to 1,144 delegates. Gov. Romney looks to pick up additional delegates in Hawaii and American Samoa. And, from public polling, it seems as if in Alabama and Mississippi the candidates will split the vote, and, thus the delegates, three ways with no one candidate being able to cut in to Gov. Romney's already large delegate lead and march to the nomination.

Sen. Santorum has recently taken to arguing that he will lose a majority of states but somehow magically win at the convention. This is pure fantasy, or vanity, or both. First of all, Sen. Santorum, couldn't put together a full slate of delegates in many states, and he outright failed to get on the ballot in others. The notion that he is somehow going to get our delegates to vote for him is pie in the sky. In the states with unbound delegates, projections of what Sen. Santorum will likely get are already baked into the current tally. He also argues that if only Newt Gingrich would drop out and the race become a two-person contest, his chances will increase - but that just means there are more delegates on the table for us to take and get to 1,144 faster.

As for Gov. Romney's schedule, he campaigns in Missouri today:

11:50 AM CDT Mitt Romney Holds Grassroots Event on Jobs and the Economy (St. Louis, Missouri)
5:00 PM CDT Caucus with Mitt Romney (Liberty, Missouri)

And has the following interviews:

Taped Television Interview with KTVI (St. Louis, Missouri)
Taped Television Interview with KMOV (St. Louis, Missouri)
Taped Television Interview with KSDK (St. Louis, Missouri)
4:05 PM CDT Radio Interview with WLS (Chicago - Rep. Peter Roskam hosting)
4:35 PM CDT Television Interview with Wolf Blitzer
Taped Television Interview with WDAF (Kansas City, Missouri)
Taped Television Interview with KMBC (Kansas City, Missouri)
Taped Television Interview with KSHB (Kansas City, Missouri)
Taped Television Interview with KCTV (Kansas City, Missouri)

We also have a press conference announcing Pennsylvania endorsements at 2:00pm EDT in Harrisburg, PA (East Rotunda, State Capitol Building).

A week before the Illinois primary, Newt Gingrich and wife Callista are blitizing the northwest Chicago suburbs on Thursday and Friday.


Click below for schedule details....

Rahm on NPR with Michel Martin

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GOP presidential votes today in of Alabama and Mississippi will:

*Make it hard for Newt Gingrich to explain it away if the Georgia native does poorly in these conservative southern states. Gingrich, lagging anyway, gets the biggest boost from a strong showing.

*Help Rick Santorum cast himself as the alternative to Mitt Romney if he does well.

*Hinder, but not substantially, Romney as he continues to be the frontrunner because he is winning what counts--delegates.

The Illinois primary is a week from today--March 20.

Hawaii and American Samoa Republicans caucus today--results in very late.

A week before the Illinois presidential primary, Mitt Romney phones into WLS-AM 890 radio in Chicago on Tuesday at 4:05 pm CST. He will do a live interview with Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Jake Hartford--both guest hosting for Roe Conn and Richard Roeper.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle have voted absentee in the March 20 Illinois primary, according to the Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners as reported by Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallasch. The Obama ballots were processed on March 8.

Obama will be in Chicago Friday for a fund-raiser.

Obama of course is on the Democratic primary ballot; he lists his Chicago address, 5046 S. Greenwood Ave. on his nominating petitions.

The day before the Mississippi and Alabama primary--and caucuses in Hawaii and American Samoa--Newt Gingrich in a video released Monday bashes Mitt Romney on "Romneycare" in trying to make the case that Romney cannot beat President Barack Obama.

WASHINGTON--Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) has been tapped for a House leadership post--just three years after being elected to Congress. Quigley will serve as an assistant whip for the Democratic leadership, named to the position by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)

A whip helps leaders determine who is for or against a measure before there is a vote. Whips are used by both parties.

Quigley was elected in 2009 to replace Rahm Emanuel after he resigned his Fifth Congressional District post to become chief of staff for President Barack Obama.

From Quigley's office: "Last year, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform announced Quigley as the Ranking Member for the Subcommittee on TARP, Financial Services, and Bailouts of Public and Private Programs. This appointment came just 21 months after he was elected to Congress, the fewest of any ranking member on the committee. The Subcommittee has jurisdiction over financial and monetary policy, banking, housing, and insurance regulation, financial crisis and rescues, and tax policy.

"In addition to Oversight and Government Reform, Quigley also serves on the Judiciary Committee. He co-founded the Transparency Caucus to promote accountability in Washington and has emerged as a leader on bipartisanship, ethics, and fiscal responsibility. He has continued his series of "Reinventing Government" reports, which he began during his decade on the Cook County Board. The new reports outline steps to improve budgeting and include detailed recommendations to save the federal government $2 trillion over the next ten years."

WASHINGTON -- At this stage in the quest for the GOP presidential nomination, the Republican rivals are emphasizing winning delegates in the March 20 Illinois primary over clinching the popular vote.

The Illinois campaign bursts into play as Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are all in President Barack Obama's home state this week -- with Gingrich and Santorum investing the most time. Obama hits Chicago on Friday for a high-dollar fund-raiser at the Palmer House Hilton.

Mitt Romney has the only robust, professional, financed delegate-hunting campaign operation, led by Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and bolstered by a handful of Romney operatives who arrived in Illinois a few days ago.

"Our delegates have been running their own grass-roots campaigns," Santorum Illinois director Jon Zahm said Sunday. Gingrich Illinois director Keith Hanson said the delegate drives have been "self-funded" with help from "friends and supporters."

Rutherford said Sunday he is focused like a "laser beam" on identifying and turning out "Romney type of voters" in Illinois. He will hold a press conference Monday in Chicago on Romney's Illinois campaign.

The local Romney delegate contests are assisted by about $150,000 raised by the "Committee to Elect Delegates," created last year by Rutherford's team, to help pay for district specific mailings and other campaign material and research to find "high propensity" Romney voters.

Romney is ahead in delegates, and Santorum and Gingrich have to have substantial delegate wins in the upcoming contests to overtake him. At stake in Illinois: 54 delegates -- divided up between 18 congressional districts. Santorum starts out with a delegate deficit, fielding only 44 candidates for the 54 slots.

With Mitt Romney not scheduled into Illinois until March 19 (though he could well add stops) Romney's Illinois team also has a Wednesday fly-around aimed at the four major Illinois television markets with Rutherford and former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and local delegate candidates doing press conferences at each stop.

Meanwhile, the Romney-allied SuperPAC, Restore Our Future, is poised to spend $1 million in Illinois television spots.

Gingrich stumps in Chicago's northwest suburbs on Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, Gingrich headlines an afternoon rally at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont followed by a fund-raiser at the Barrington Hills Country Club with his wife, Callista.

After that Gingrich heads to the Northwest Suburban Republican 2012 Lincoln Day Dinner in Palatine, an event with Republicans from Schaumburg, Barrington, Elk Grove, Hanover, Palatine, and Wheeling.

On Thursday, Gingrich has events in Schaumburg, Barrington, Elgin and Lake-of-the-Woods.

Santorum will be in Illinois on Friday, Saturday and Monday. On Friday, he has a rally in Niles, an event in the Elgin area and the next day he hits the Collinsville, Alton, Mount Vernon, Effingham areas.

Paul, who is popular with college students, hits the University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana on Wednesday, targeting a congressional district where Santorum failed to run any delegates.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's re-election campaign is data driven, and constantly coming up with new and creative ways to harvest current e-mails and test what makes people respond to an on-line appeal, with the latest a NCAA bracket challenge.

Hoopster Obama fills out his brackets each year and now his campaign is leveraging the 2012 NCAA basketball play-off season to reach out to an audience that may not be otherwise engaged in following a political campaign.

The bracket challenge, released Sunday night for male teams (women later) follows another test the Obama campaign ran last week, an e-mail from deputy campaign manager Julianna Smoot offering free Obama/Biden bumper stickers in the mail "Just one catch," Smoot says in her e-mail, "...put it up somewhere people will see it."

The bumper sticker and the NCAA brackets challenge test:

*if the email address is current.
*if the email was opened.
*if the email drew a response.
*lets the campaign compare response rates from various emails to the same person to determine, as the campaign season goes on, what specific pitches may work the best.

The NCAA challenge goes like this:
"Fill out your bracket below and see if you can beat President Obama's bracket predictions.

"It's college basketball time again -- and as friends and co-workers gather around the water cooler to talk top seeds and Cinderellas, here's your chance to fill out a bracket with the President himself.

"And how's this for bragging rights: we'll publish a list of everyone who does better than the President here on after the tournament is over."

Tammy Duckworth and Raja Krishnamoorthi are facing off in the Democratic primary battle in the Illinois eighth congressional district, and Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallasch has the over-view story. The winner takes on Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.)


WASHINGTON--Mitt Romney's presidential campaign deployed a handful of staffers to Illinois in advance of the March 20 primary, will be sending former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Rep. Aaron Schock out to crank up support, and will argue Rick Santorum is not ready for "prime time."

Newt Gingrich hits the Chicago suburbs on Wednesday headlining an afternoon rally at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

Chicago Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallasch reports that the Romney allied SuperPac, Restore Our Future, has bought about $1 million in tv ads in Illinois. Santorum, a 1976 graduate of Carmel High School in Mundelein, will hold a rally Friday night at Northridge College Prep in Niles. The Pallasch story is HERE.

Santorum plans a March 17 Southern Illinois swing around Collinsville, Alton, Mt. Vernons and Effingham.

lllinoisans who jump in the GOP primary cast a ballot in the presidential "beauty contest" and also vote for delegates to the Republican nominating convention in Tampa, Fl. Illinois has 54 delegates, apportioned to the 18 congressional districts in the state. Santorum's campaign only filed for 44 of the 54 slots, starting the Illinois primary with a delegate deficit.

Romney spokesman Ryan Williams told me Friday that the campaign will be making the point in Illinois that chief rival Rick Santorum could not get it together to file complete delegate slates in each district.

"If you can't put together a full slate of delegates in Illinois or Ohio, you clearly are not up to the task of taking on President Obama and his formidable political campaign. It shows that Rick Santorum is not ready for prime time," Williams said.

Romney will be in Peoria on March 19 and in Chicago and Wheaton on March 20.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle host a State Dinner Wednesday for British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha, the sixth of his administration.

Here are the others:

October, 2011
In honor of Republic of Korea President Lee Myung-bak

June, 2011
In honor of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel

January, 2011
In honor of China's President Hu Jintao

May, 2010
In honor of Mexico's President Felipe Calderón

November, 2009
In honor of India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Illinois House hopeful Raja Krishnamoorthi is getting a SuperPac boost in his eighth congressional district Democratic battle against Tammy Duckworth, with his close allies poised to pour money into the contest in the closing days of the campaign.

Duckworth advisor Pete Giangreco said in a Friday afternoon conference call it was "unprecedented" in Illinois for a SuperPac to be created for a Democratic primary contest. Giangreco called on the SuperPac to disclose its donors.

Krishnamoorthi is lagging behind Duckworth in fund-raising and a boost of cash via a SuperPac could get help him by bankrolling television commercials.

According to the Duckworth campaign, Suburban Voters for Choice filed with the FEC on March 6 as a Super PAC supporting Krishnamoorthi.

"Earlier this week, Chicago cable stations received phone inquiries from Suburban Voters for Choice regarding a television buy," the campaign said.

SuperPacs are supposed to operate without coordinating with a campaign but are often run by close allies who are familiar with the messages--positive and negative--a campaign wants out.

Suburban Voters for Choice names Michael Vainisi as its Treasurer and J.B. Mantz as its Assistant Treasurer.

Noted the Duckworth campaign, "Both Vainisi and Mantz worked for Raja Krishamoorthi on his failed 2010 race for Comptroller. Vainisi served as Finance Director and Mantz served as a Senior Advisor."

WASHINGTON--The Obama for America campaign today released a preview of a 17-minute documentary-style film about the Obama presidency which includes interviews with key Chicago figures: Rahm Emanuel, who was Obama's former chief of staff, David Axelrod, his top strategist, economic advisor Austan Goolsbee and First Lady Michelle.

From OFA: "Obama for America today released the trailer for a new documentary by award-winning director Davis Guggenheim titled the "Road We've Traveled". The documentary is narrated by Tom Hanks and includes appearances by Vice President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Elizabeth Warren and others. The film is an opportunity to put into perspective the challenges the country faced when President Obama took office, the tough decisions he made in the face of those challenges and the progress we've made in rebuilding an economy that's meant to last and strengthening and securing our nation.

"Supporters are encouraged to sign up, building our online and on the ground support. They will be able to attend premieres of the documentary on March 15 at Obama for America field offices across the country. Following the premiere, senior strategist David Axelrod will be taking Q&A from supporters using Adobe Connect."

WASHINGTON--Gov. Pat Quinn is heading to Belgium later this month--to help plug the May NATO summit in Chicago and to pitch Europeans on doing business in Illinois. Quinn is the first Illinois governor to travel to Europe in 14 years.

Chicago will be showcased during a "Summit Kickoff" for the May NATO summit at events to be held March 21 and 22 at NATO headquarters in Brussels. The dinners and exhibits are being planned by the Chicago Host Committee and the U.S. NATO mission, headed by Ivo Daalder, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO. Amy Rule, the wife of Mayor Rahm Emanuel will be part of the Chicago delegation going to Brussels--the first time she has taken on a major official role.

An Illinois trade office was opened in Belgium in 1968.

"Governor Quinn will be making a multi-purpose visit to Belgium to focus on trade, tourism and business investment. He will attend a full day of trade, tourism and business investment meetings, including 2 NATO events as part of our tourism agenda. The Governor sees NATO as a tremendous opportunity to promote Illinois to the world and wants to capitalize on it," Quinns' office said in statement.

The Chicago host committee is covering Quinn's travel expenses for the March 21-22 trip.

DETAILS ON what Quinn will be doing from his office and background on Illinois trade with Belgium.....

1: TOURISM: Governor Quinn will participate in two of NATO's events - the Opening of the Chicago Exhibit at NATO HQ in the morning and he will conclude the day with the NATO dinner at Truman Hall hosted by the US Ambassador to NATO. The Governor will encourage the global audience to visit Illinois in advance of NATO meeting in May.

2. TRADE: Governor Quinn will deliver remarks at a major EU trade conference on growing European Union and US trade hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce: The Renewed Transatlantic Agenda: Creating Growth for the Future taking place on March 22nd, 2012.

3. BUSINESS INVESTMENT: Later in the day, the Governor will head to the State's Western European trade office, which is based in Brussels, to conduct meetings and a business roundtable. He'll meet with current Belgian investors, potential investors and business leaders and associations from Belgium and Europe. (The focus here will be pursuing more investment from businesses that already do business in Illinois and recruiting new European direct investment in Illinois.)

Carol Marin interviews Illinois House Eight Democratic primary rivals Raja Krishnamoorthi and Tammy Duckworth on WTTW's Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm CST.

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel is hosting an international gathering of mayors and ministers Thursday and Friday at Chicago's Cultural Center. The meeting is a "roundtable" sponsored by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), founded in 1961 with 34 member nations.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg--who appeared with Emanuel in Washington last Friday on an education panel--and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan are among the speakers, as well as Kim Campbell, the former Prime Minister of Canada. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Gov. Pat Quinn and former Illinois Gov. James Thompson are also on the schedule--as are Robert Doyle, Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Australia and Sir Richard Leese, Leader of the Council, Manchester, United Kingdom.

This meeting--which was not flagged by the Emanuel administration since a press release January 24--was highlighted Wednesday by the OECD in a release. The U.S. Ambassador to the OECD is Karen Kornbluh, who was President Barack Obama's policy chief when he was a senator from Illinois.

City Hall spokesman Tom Alexander said planning for the event has been in the works for 10 months. The Chicago based MacArthur, Ford and Bloomberg Foundations are paying the $450,000 conference cost, according to Alexander.

No aldermen or Cook County Board members are participating.

The event is in keeping with Emanuel's desire to throw a global spotlight on Chicago, a reason he lobbied for the May NATO and G-8 summits in the city. On Monday, Obama announced he was moving the G-8 summit from Chicago to Camp David. Emanuel also landed the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates summit at the University of Illinois at Chicago on April 23-25.

The event is titled the "Fourth OECD Roundtable of Mayors and Ministers OECD Review of the Chicago Tri-State Metro-Region."

Below, the agenda..

Thursday, March 8 and Friday, March 9, 2012
Chicago, United States
Webcast and remote Q&A available on March 8

With over half of the world's population currently living in urban areas, cities are critical to achieving a more sustainable economic future. What can cities do to drive economic, environmental and social gains? How will they meet their huge investment needs? Who are the key players on the local, national and international levels to promote a greening of the economy? Ministers and Mayors from around the world will meet in Chicago to discuss these issues and to identify best practices.

The second day of the event is devoted to the economic future of the Chicago Tri-State Metro-Region. The OECD will present a Territorial Review of the region's economic assets and challenges, the first such report conducted in the United States. Based on this analysis, stakeholders will discuss together with international experts options for economic development in the Chicago region.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's re-election prospects are brightening, campaign manager Jim Messina and strategist David Axelrod said in a Wednesday briefing--where Axelrod ripped Mitt Romney for not calling out Rush Limbaugh.

Messina and Axelrod held a conference call to give a post SuperTuesday "state of the race" analysis. Both concluded--warning, messaging point coming--that Romney is driving away independents because he 'has gone so far right."

Messina said GOP dissatisfaction was "supersized." He also side-stepped a question about whether the Democratic 2012 convention platform should include a gay marriage plank saying it will be up to the platform committee.

Plank aside, Messina said, "our record stands in sharp contrast to the other side and what the other side has said is that they want a constitutional amendment on anti-marriage. They want to put back into place Don't Ask Don't Tell, and a bunch of other regressive policies. And so that couldn't be any more contrasted with our record and so, there'll be a process from that and we will go through that process."

NEWS: Next week, Vice President Joe Biden is going to battleground states--starting in Ohio for some big election speeches.

Also next week: the release of 17-minute documentary about the President's first term in office by the director Davis Guggenheim, who made Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth."

LIMBAUGH: Limbaugh said Sandra Flukes, a Georgetown Law School student, was a "slut" after she was thrust in the news--starting when a GOP House hearing on contraception benefits in the new Obama health insurance law refused to let her testify."

Axelrod said Romney "essentially refused to comment on what was a really egregious set of comments by Limbaugh.


"Because he is afraid to challenge a guy who is the de facto head of his party. This does not impress independent voters and it shows up, even in these primary campaigns," Axelrod said.

Andrea Mitchell, on her MSNBC Show askedRomney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom, why Romney did take on Limbaugh. Replied Fehrnstrom, "We are not going to be distracted or taken off our central message."

ROMNEY PERFORMANCE: "In every primary we've seen just how disappointed Republicans are in their candidates and how dissatisfied they are with their choices. In state after state, Republicans voters have stayed home and frankly I don't blame them," Messina said.

"On Super Tuesday we saw that dissatisfaction get supersized. The lack of enthusiasm among Republicans is real and it's unmistakable, and what we saw last night is overall Republican primary turnout down 8.8% in the Super Tuesday states. In six states, turnout fell since 2008--Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Virginia and Tennessee. Independents have bailed on Romney just in time for the General Election.

"Romney's gone so far right that it's cost him the independent support. Only in his home state of Massachusetts did he win independents. He lost independents in every single other state. In Ohio he lost by ten points among "voters who understand average American problems." He lost young voters in every state and he lost middle class voters in every state, except for Massachusetts. You know, what you saw last night in Ohio was Barack Obama getting more votes than any candidate on the ballot."

MONEY: "We know that there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of Super PAC money, matched against us-- or that will be matched against us," said Axelrod.

"Between Rove and the Koch brothers, etc. we're looking at over half a billion dollars in independent spending potentially. We have to be ready for it," Messina said.

WASHINGTON--After the 2008 SuperTuesday votes, David Plouffe, the Barack Obama's campaign manager--now a White House strategist--argued that the window for Hillary Rodham Clinton to catch up to Obama in the delegate chase was close to mathematically impossible. Seemingly taking a cue from the Plouffe playbook, the Mitt Romney team on Wednesday--the day after SuperTuesday 2012--put out a memo by Rich Beeson, the Political Director, making the case that Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul cannot close the gap.

Beeson: "Super Tuesday voting significantly increased Governor Romney's delegate lead and makes it increasingly difficult for any of his opponents to catch him. To date, Governor Romney has won more than 50% of all delegates awarded and now holds nearly 40% of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination."

Click below for the full memo....

WASHINGTON--SuperTuesday votes gave some bragging rights to Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, though when it comes to what counts--collecting delegates--Romney had a better night, even with a close call in Ohio where Santorum came in closely behind.

SuperTuesday results at-a-glance:

Romney won his home state of Massachusetts and Ohio, Idaho, Vermont, Virginia and Alaska.

Santorum won Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota.

Gingrich won his home state of Georgia.

Paul won nothing.

Delegates needed to win, 1,144: Total to date:

404 Romney

165 Santorum

106 Gingrich

66 Paul

Delegate count source:

WASHINGTON -- Because the Super Tuesday votes in the GOP presidential primary did not knock out anyone -- yet -- or mint a potential nominee -- the March 20 Illinois primary takes on a larger significance.

At stake are 54 Illinois delegates, a big prize.

Kansas has a caucus on Saturday; next Tuesday are primaries in Alabama and Mississippi and a caucus in Hawaii; on March 17, Missouri has a caucus.

Rick Santorum is a 1976 graduate of Mundelein's Carmel High School; neither Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich nor Ron Paul has any close Illinois ties.

The results from 10 Super Tuesday states gave Romney, Santorum and Gingrich all something to brag about. However, an overall lagging Super Tuesday performance means the path is closing for Gingrich to get the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination -- and it's shut for Paul.

Jon Zahm, Santorum's Illinois state director, told me Tuesday night that he was "quite sure" Santorum would be in Illinois at least three times between March 14 and March 20. Santorum is running at a disadvantage in Illinois -- his campaign did not file delegate slates in four of the 18 Illinois congressional districts, leaving Santorum covered for only 44 of 54 delegate contests.

To deal with this deficit, Zahm said they were "doubling up" in their efforts in the 14 districts where Santorum is running full slates.

Romney already has some Illinois dates nailed down. His campaign here is chaired by state treasurer Dan Rutherford -- and is loaded with endorsements from the Illinois Republican establishment -- and helped by major donors from the state on his national finance committee.

Romney headlines major donor fund-raisers in Chicago and suburban Wheaton on March 20 and one in Peoria on March 19.

Romney is likely to make his Illinois primary night election headquarters in the western suburbs.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said Tuesday the G-8 relocation from Chicago to Camp David did not come because of security concerns, and he's confident his hometown can handle the NATO gathering.

Obama made his remarks at a news conference in response to a question from the Chicago Sun-Times the day after the surprise announcement about the site switch for the G-8 economic summit. The G-8 and NATO were to take place back-to-back in May, after Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, lobbied for the events. Obama noted that the larger NATO summit -- which will bring about 50 nations to Chicago -- is still on.

"I always have confidence in Chicago being able to handle security issues," Obama said. "You know, whether it's Taste of Chicago or Lollapalooza -- or Bulls' championships, we know how to deal with a crowd. It's a -- and I'm sure that your new mayor will be quite attentive to detail -- in making sure that everything goes off well."

Obama said the summit was moved because he wanted to use the Camp David retreat to huddle informally with foreign leaders, and the idea to do so did not occur to anyone until after Chicago was booked.

"I have to say this was an idea that was brought to me after the initial organizing of the NATO summit. Somebody pointed out that I hadn't had any of my counterparts, who I've worked with now for three years, up to Camp David."

"G-8 tends to be a more informal setting in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a -- in a pretty intimate way."

Obama added that Camp David will give him a chance "to spend time" with Vladimir Putin, the new Russian president elected Sunday

WASHINGTON--Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was in New York on Monday--making a trip on the taxpayers tab that was not disclosed on his public schedule. The New York trip was disclosed by Fox Business Network's Charlie Gasparino.

This is the second trip --on city business--in recent weeks that Emanuel has chosen not to disclose. This dilutes his argument that is running a transparent administration. Emanuel is practicing selective transparency--what he wants when he wants it.

After asking City Hall about the Fox report, spokesman Tarrah Cooper said in a statement, "Yesterday the Mayor was in New York for a series of meetings with businesses that are interested in growing and expanding in Chicago."

While Fox Business News speculated Emanuel was there on Obama campaign business--Emanuel is a co-chair of the campaign and is doing fund-raising--Cooper said Emanuel "was not there on behalf of or affiliated with the President."

Last month, I disclosed that Emanuel was in Washington to hold 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."

Obama on G8 Summit Move: I'm Confident in Chicago Security:

WASHINGTON--A day after the White House made a surprise announcement to switch the May G-8 summit from Chicago to Camp David, President Barack Obama said a specific reason for the change was he wanted to use his retreat--for the first time--to huddle with foreign leaders.

Obama made his remarks in response to a question from the Chicago Sun-Times at his first press conference of the year. He said the G-8 relocation did not come because of security concerns. "I always have confidence in Chicago being able to handle security issues," Obama said, noting that the much larger NATO summit--with some 50 countries expected to attend-- will go on as scheduled in his hometown.

Regarding security, Obama said Mayor Rahm Emanuel--his former chief of staff-- will be on top of "making sure that everything goes off well.

The notion of using Camp David only came up after Chicago was booked--at the urging of Emanuel--for the back-to-back summits, Obama said.

"I have to say this was an idea that was brought to me after the initial organizing of the NATO summit.

"Somebody pointed out that I hadn't had any of my counterparts, who I've worked with now for three years, up to Camp David. G-8 tends to be a more informal setting in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a -- in a pretty intimate way. And the thinking was that people would enjoy being in a more casual backdrop," Obama said.

Obama also cited what may be a contributory factor of shifting the G-8 to his presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains: the election Monday of Vladimir Putin as the new president of Russia.

"It'll give me a chance to spend time with Mr. Putin, the new Russian president," Obama said.

Below, a transcript of the exchange:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Really. (Laughter.) Ah ha ha. (Laughter.) Lynn, since you've been hollering, and you're -- you're from my hometown -- (laughter) -- make it a good one.

LYNN SWEET: My question is about the switch of the G-8 summit from Chicago to Camp David. A reason given from the White House is that now you wanted a more intimate summit.


LYNN SWEET: People in Chicago would like to know, what do you know now that you did not know when you booked hometown Chicago for the G-8 that led to the switch? And what role did security threats possibly play in the decision?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind, Lynn, we're still going to be showing up with a whole bunch of world leaders.

We've got this NATO summit. Typically what's happened is is that we try to attach the G-8 summit to the NATO summit, so that the leaders in the G-8 summit don't have to travel twice to whatever location. So last year in France we combined a G-8 with a NATO summit. We'll do so again.

I have to say this was an idea that was brought to me after the initial organizing of the NATO summit. Somebody pointed out that I hadn't had any of my counterparts, who I've worked with now for three years, up to Camp David. G-8 tends to be a more informal setting in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a -- in a pretty intimate way.

And the thinking was that people would enjoy being in a more casual backdrop. I think, you know, the weather should be good that time of year. It'll give me a chance to spend time with Mr. Putin, the new Russian president. And from there, we will then fly to Chicago. I always have confidence in Chicago being able to handle security issues.

You know, whether it's Taste of Chicago or Lollapalooza -- (laughter) -- or Bulls' championships, we know how to deal with a crowd. It's a -- and I'm sure that your new mayor will be quite attentive to detail -- (soft laughter) -- in making sure that everything goes off well.

FOOTNOTE: The U.S. Embassy in London sent out this Tweet: "In May, the United States looks forward to hosting the #G8 and #NATO Summits. What should top the summit agendas?"

Chicago Bears Coach Lovie Smith plugs the re-election of President Barack Obama in a new campaign video on an "African Americans for Obama" page on the Obama 2012 website

Mitt Romney gets SuperTuesday hits in memos from the Democratic National Committee chief Patrick Gaspard and Obama 2012 deputy manager Stephanie Cutter...

Click below for the memos....

From the White House, readout of the President's Meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu

The President hosted Prime Minister Netanyahu for several hours to discuss a broad range of issues in their ninth bilateral meeting. They spoke at length about the threat from Iran. The President reaffirmed the United States policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He reiterated the United States' commitment to pursuing a strategy of principled diplomacy, backed by unprecedented pressure, including the additional sanctions that are taking hold on the Iranian regime. He further reiterated that all options are on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The two leaders also discussed a range of regional issues, including Middle East peace, and the tragic situation in Syria. The two leaders agreed to consult closely going forward.

WASHINGTON--President Obama will hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon at 1:15 p.m. est-- in the Brady Briefing room.

WASHINGTON--In advance of the NATO May summit in Chicago, President Barack Obama will meet with G-8 leaders at Camp David, his Maryland mountain retreat, on May 18 and 19. UPDATE National Security Council spokesman Caitlin Hayden confirmed that the Chicago summit--which had been planned for months--is cancelled.

The Sun-Times has a complete report on reaction to the White House yanking the G-8 from Chicago-Read the Sun-Times story HERE.

At 3 p.m. Chicago time, the White House sent out this statement: "In May, the United States looks forward to hosting the G-8 and NATO Summits. To facilitate a free-flowing discussion with our close G-8 partners, the President is inviting his fellow G-8 leaders to Camp David on May 18-19 for the G-8 Summit, which will address a broad range of economic, political and security issues."

"The President will then welcome NATO allies and partners to his hometown of Chicago for the NATO Summit on May 20-21, which will be the premier opportunity this year for the President to continue his efforts to strengthen NATO in order to ensure that the Atlantic Alliance remains the most successful alliance in history, while charting the way forward in Afghanistan," the White House said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel--who used his influence as former White House chief of staff under Obama to bring the summits to Chicago said in a statement, "We wish President Obama and the other leaders well at the G8 meeting at Camp David and look forward to hosting the NATO Summit in Chicago. Hosting the NATO Summit is a tremendous opportunity to showcase Chicago to the world and the world to Chicago and we are proud to host the 50 heads of state, foreign and defense ministers from the NATO and ISAF countries in our great city May 19-21."

Caitlin Hayden, a spokesman for the National Security Council said Emanuel was consulted about the switch. Emanuel spokesman Sarah Hamilton said the White House called late morning or early afternoon to inform the mayor about the decision.

Hayden said, "I'm not going to get into details on dates, etc. But, the President began to contemplate this idea a couple of weeks ago in discussions with his aides. He also speaks with Mayor Emmanuel regularly and the President consulted him on this decision."

Asked what changed--why Obama now wanted an "intimate" summit--instead of what he originally planned, Hayden said, "There's not a particular event or issue I can point to, but the President simply decided that he wanted to hold the G-8 in the more intimate setting with this small group of leaders who have a range of serious economic, political and security issues to discuss."

She also denied that the Russian elections played any role in the decision.

Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said, ""I think it is a wise move by the president as he continues to build relationships with heads of state, some of whom may be recently elected," Daley said, referring to Russia and France.

"Whenever heads of state can get together and be informal, more gets done to build relationships," Daley said. The informality of Camp David "breds a familiarity that can only help on the global stage."

The G-8 summit includes the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. All the nations except for Japan and Russia are also members of NATO.

The G-8 is taking place with one, possibly two new players and that was part into Obama's decision to seek a more informal setting, out of the spotlight of the international press.

Vladimir Putin was elected president of Russia on Monday‬. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing a strong April challenge from Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande.

With no formal entertaining--and with logistical issues minimized, the secluded setting of Camp David changes the dynamic and lets Obama proceed more on his terms at his home.

The decision to have the G-8 in Chicago, piggybacked on the NATO meeting was made before the rise of the Occupy protest movement.

When former President George Bush hosted the last G-8 in the U.S., in 2004, it was outside a metropolitan area, at Sea Island, Georgia.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama headlined a fund-raiser on Friday--to help bankroll the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C.--where the top price tag was a whopper-- $100,000 per couple. This multi-tiered Charlotte fund-raiser--with a star headliner--was the biggest event to date for the convention.

Mrs. Obama is picking up her fund-raising pace, hitting Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C. last Friday and St. Louis, Kansas City and Boston this week. Before that, at the end of February she was in Cincinnati and Louisville hunting for campaign cash.

Mrs. Obama--as does President Obama and presidents before him--usually piggybacks some official events on her campaign swings so make her travel seem less political by drawing a spotlight to her signature issues, providing a rationale for the government expense involved.

The campaign and or the Democratic National Committee reimburses the government for a very small share of the overall tab--usually the price of first class plane tickets.

The upcoming Monday and Friday fund-raisers this week will benefit the Obama 2012 campaign and the Democratic National Committee, running a joint re-election operation.

Last Friday, Mrs. Obama hit Charlotte--where Democrats hold their convention in September for two fund-raisers to help the Charlotte in 2012 Host Committee. Singer James Taylor, from North Carolina, performed at both high dollar events.

The convention donor cap is $100,000 for individuals. The Obama convention team--in a switch from how it has been done--will not take corporate money to help underwrite convention related events. The Charlotte Host Committee can take money from individuals, foundations and charitable organizations.

Here are details on Mrs. Obama's latest high-end money blitz:



Mrs. Obama in Kansas City, Mo. at the American Jazz Museum

$10,000 greet, photo and reception
$2,500 photo and reception
$1,000 reception and preferred seating
$200 reception



Mrs. Obama in St. Louis at the Peabody Opera House
$10,000 for photo and reception and "host greet"
$5,000 per couple for photo and reception
$150 for reception



Mrs. Obama will be in Boston for two events at the Institute of Contemporary Art
$25,000 Host committee
$5,000 per person

$2,500 Host committee
$500 preferred seating

Mrs. Obama was in Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C.


Performance by James Taylor

$100,000 per couple
Greet + photo + "intimate performance" + dinner
$50,000 per couple
Photo + "intimate performance" + dinner
$12,500 per couple
"Intimate performance "+ dinner

Performance by James Taylor and reception

$2,500 donate or raise per person for platinum seating, reception, performance and a keepsake item. I am told the keepsakes were either cuff links or bracelets with the convention logo.
$1,000 gold seating, reception, performance, signature item.
$250 reception and performance


Luncheon with "North Carolina Women for Obama"
$35,800 contribute or raise: Co-Chair (Includes Co-Chair greet, photo reception, and ten tickets to the luncheon)

$ 5,000 contribute or raise: Table Captain (Includes ten tickets to the luncheon and one photo reception ticket)

$ 500 contribute $500 per person: Guest (Includes one ticket to the luncheon)



$10,000 per person: Senior Campaign Staff Meeting, Meet & Greet, & Photo Reception
$2,500 per person: Photo Reception and General Reception
$1,000 per person: VIP General Reception
$250 per person: General Reception

At the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage
$ 100 per person reception
$2,500 VIP Ropeline and Reception (includes a dedicated bar and passed appetizers)

A NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out Monday morning shows the primary season has been turning off voters to the GOP candidates while President Barack Obama's prospects for a second term are brightening. On the day before SuperTuesday, Mark Murray, NBC News Senior Political Editor walks us through the new numbers in the survey.

WASHINGTON--GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney headlines major donor fund-raisers in Chicago and suburban Wheaton on Illinois primary day--March 20 with another in Peoria on March 19. Romney is likely to make his Illinois primary night election headquarters in the western suburbs.

In Illinois, Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have filed full delegate slates in each of the 18 congressional districts. Santorum did not, meaning he starts the Illinois contest behind. Early voting started in Illinois last week.

Romney declines to disclose his fund-raising events--or his "bundlers," the supporters who use their personal networks to raise money for a candidate.

The tab for the "Leadership in Business Roundtable and Luncheon" March 20 at the Chicago Hilton ranges from $1,000 donated to $25,000 raised to be an event co-chair.

The way the marketing works: the $25,000 and $10,000 bundlers will get their names listed in the invite. A $5,000 donation gets a photo-op for two (but 1 camera click); a $2,500 contribution gets a photo for one (and one click).

One of the top hosts is Illinois Romney Campaign finance co-chair Susan Crown with other co-chairs attorney Ty Fahner, Crown's husband, Bill Kunkler and Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who chairs the Romney Illinois campaign.

The invitation also lists as event co-chairs Robert Asher, John Hatherly, Jimmy John Liautaud, Dan Ustian, Stephen Bonner, Howard Foster, David Herro, Reeve Waud, Jim Connaughton, Cyrus Friedheim, Gregory Jones, Muneer Satter, Christopher Crane, Ronald Gidwitz and Harry Seigle.

After that, there is an evening reception at the Wheaton home of Rich and Carrie Berg co-hosted by Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) and her husband Rody; former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Rutherford, Roger Claar, John Martin and Muneer Satter.

The tab for the general reception is $2,500, which includes a photo op to $25,000 raised to be an event co-chair.

Lisa Wagner is handling the professional fund-raising in Illinois for the Romney campaign.

Obama March 5, 2012 week ahead

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chicago 175.jpg

Chicago is marking its 175th anniversary on Sunday, and has lots of stories, columns and pictures about my city. Photo gallery of 175 wonderful places in Chicago is HERE.


President Barack Obama called Sandra Fluke on Friday afternoon after Rush Limbaugh suggested she was a slut or a prostitute because the law student backed Obama's new health insurance law covering contraceptives for women. Also on Friday, GOP White House hopeful Rick Santorum, on CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer said Limbaugh's comments were "absurd," and downplayed the remarks because they came from an "entertainer."

BLITZER: All right. Well, let -- let's talk about this other education issue. You know about this Georgetown University law student, this Sandra Fluke. Today, the president actually called her and supported her. She's getting criticized, as you know, by Rush Limbaugh, who -- who has used some outrageous terms. Even a spokesman for the speaker, John Boehner, is saying what Rush Limbaugh is saying is -- is totally inappropriate right now.

But let me -- let me play this little clip, because he's -- he's -- Rush Limbaugh is suggesting that by supporting government insurance, paid insurance for contraceptives, birth control pills or whatever, Rush Limbaugh suggesting she's a slut or a prostitute. And then he even goes further.

Listen to this.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: So Ms. Fluke and the rest of you femi-Nazis, here's the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and, thus, pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. And I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.


BLITZER: All right, go ahead. I -- I want you to respond to Rush Limbaugh.

SANTORUM: Well, he's taking -- you know, he's being absurd. But that's, you know, an entertainer can be absurd. And -- and he's taking the absurd, you know, the asurd -- absurd, you know, sort of, you know, point of view here as to how -- how far do you go?

And, look, I'm -- he's -- he's in a very different business than I am.

I'm -- I'm -- I'm concerned about the public policy of this president imposing his values on the people -- on -- on -- on -- on people of faith who morally object to -- to the government telling them they have to do something which they believe is a grave moral wrong. And government should not be in the business of telling -- you know, when you talk about the separation of church and state, you hear it all the time.

Well, the -- the real separation of church and state in -- that -- that our founders believed in was that the state cannot tell people of faith what to do and run over their rights.

And that's what this president is doing right now.

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NEW YORK--Alex Wagner, host of MSNBC's "Now with Alex Wagner" debriefed the Friday panel after the show asking what we would have said if we had more time--that hour zips by. I talked about how President Barack Obama--in New York on Thursday for fund-raisers--bemoaned at one of them that he knew in some precincts it was not "trendy" to be for him anymore. His November challenge: Revive the spirit of the 2008 campaign in 2012.

The Friday panel discusses post show Obama's coolness factor and more....

Josh Tyrangiel, Editor, Bloomberg Businessweek (@tyrangiel)

Fmr. Gov. Ed Rendell, (D-PA), NBC News Political Analyst

Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times (@lynnsweet)

Ben Smith, BuzzFeed (@buzzfeedben)

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) hits Chicago, keynoting at Operation PUSH's regular Saturday meeting. She'll speak at 9:30 a.m. at PUSH headquarters, 930 E. 50th. She is backing Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.),the son of PUSH founder Rev. Jesse Jackson, in his primary re-election battle with former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.).

Pelosi will hold a press conference to highlight her endorsement of Jackson Jr. after the PUSH service, at PUSH Hq.

It is the policy of the Democratic House political operation to stay with an incumbent in a contested primary.

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel returns here for the second time in two weeks, to be part of a panel on education reform with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and their school chiefs.

That is on Emanuel's public schedule. What is not on his public schedule is that he is also meeting with two cabinet officials, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who is also a close friend and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

I understand the day may be coming when Emanuel puts all his government meetings on his schedule, even if they are closed press. That's good, because then I don't have to be a nudge about schedule transparency.

Last week, Emanuel did not even disclose he was flying to Washington to meet with cabinet officials. The education panel was announced earlier this week by the Education Department and is on Emanuel's official schedule today.
SIDEBAR: The panel is in the same room--at American University's Katzen Center--where last November Zeke Emanuel on a Moment Magazine panel--talked about growing up with brothers Rahm and Ari in Chicago and Wilmette. Read my column on the Emanuel brothers HERE.
The Friday event, with Chicago Public Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard and Education Superintendents Dennis Walcott and John Deasy is to, according to the Education Department, "discuss the importance of providing all students with access to a high-quality education in a forum titled "Education Now: Cities at the Forefront of Reform." NBC's Andrea Mitchell will moderate.

The forum will also be streamed live online at

WHEN: 10:00 AM EST

WHERE: American University
Katzen Arts Center (Abramson Family Recital Hall)
4400 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. *

* There will be no media availability following this event.

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, in a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Thursday said it is unrealistic to expect more defense spending--but nations can get more bang for the buck--or euro--if they pool resources.

Daalder who runs the U.S. mission to NATO in Brussels--where NATO is headquartered--spoke to the group at the Union League Club, 65 W. Jackson, as part of the run-up to Chicago hosting the NATO/G-8 summits in May.

He was introduced by former Ambassador to the Netherlands, Fay Hartog Levin, the Chicagoan who was tapped by President Barack Obama at the beginning of his administration.

While speaking to Chicago reporters Daalder quipped that he was "looking forward to bringing my colleagues here" at a time "cross-town baseball games are going on."

Members of the Chicago Host Committee will be hosted by Daalder in Brussels later this month for a "Summit Kickoff" at NATO where Chicago food, music and attractions will be showcased.

Daalder told the Chicago Council audience the NATO alliance in reality includes more than the 28 member nations: 22 non-NATO countries joined in the Afghanistan war; 19 help fight pirates in the Arabian Sea and eight last year were part of the NATO blitz in Libya.

The NATO operations--spanning three continents--come in times of great global financial stress.

Still, "NATO retains the capabilities in these difficult financial times, when everybody is cutting their defenses to find a way nevertheless to maintain the capability necessary to do the job as effectively in the future as we have done in the past," Daalder said.

The emphasis should be on smart spending.

"It is unrealistic for the United States or indeed for any county in Europe with one or two exceptions to think they can increase defense spending in the next few years for all the reasons that we know.

"So while we can't spend more, we can probably spend more together. And if we spend smarter, we can get more capability for the euro or the krona or the dollar that is available," Daalder said.

WASHINGTON--President Obama sprinted through four New York fund-raisers on Thursday night. At one he talked about the challenges facing the 2012 campaign, saying, "Being an Obama supporter is not as trendy as it was."

"So many of you have had to defend me from your coworkers over the last three years. (Laughter.) And it's true that over the last three years I'm a little grayer than I was. Being an Obama supporter is not as trendy as it was. (Laughter.) Those old "Hope" posters that we had -- they're a little dog-eared. But I am more determined and more confident than I have ever been that if we keep at it, that America is poised to be stronger, more unified, more competitive, bolder, more generous than we ever have been before," Obama said.

Click below for transcript.

WASHINGTON--Senate Democrats were able to beat back a move by Republicans to dilute contraception coverage in the new health care law on Thursday. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had an insight well worth repeating: If there were 83 women in the Senate---instead of 83 men--the Senate would not be wasting its time on regulating female health matters.

My column on how Democrats tabled the Blunt amendment--and how GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney talked himself into a knot over this--is HERE.

Sanders said from the Senate floor, "In Vermont and around the country, there is growing anger that members of Congress, mostly men I should add, are trying to roll back the clock on women's rights, in this case the right of women to receive contraceptive services through their insurance plans.

"This attack is grossly unfair, and I hope that men will stand with women in the fight to protect this very basic right.

"Let me add my strong belief that if the United States Senate had 83 women and 17 men rather than 83 men and 17 women, my strong guess is that a bill like this would never even make it to the floor."

WASHINGTON--Senate Democrats tabled a move by Republicans to dilute contraception coverage provided in the new health care law that is effective this August. The Thursday vote--on the first day of Women's History Month--was 51-48 mostly along party lines. Democrats--lawmakers, the Obama re-election team and allied groups--are using this latest assault on birth control by Republicans to push very heavily their argument that the GOP agenda is too extreme when it comes to female health issues.

This is a very important topic politically--swing and independent female voters will be crucial players in the 2012 elections.

Mitt Romney bungled his answer on the issue on Wednesday--saying at first he was for the GOP measure--then against it. Rick Santorum and Democrats are hammering Romney with the same point--he is a man you cannot trust when it comes to where he stands. The Democratic National Committee came out Thursday with a web video highlighting Romney's botched reply--and the list of free health services women get--mammograms, pre-natal testing, etc. under Obama's new health insurance law.

Stephanie Cutter, an Obama campaign top deputy said in an e-mail sent Wednesday, "Mitt Romney apparently thinks your employer should be able to deny you coverage for birth control.

"Tomorrow morning, Senators Roy Blunt and Marco Rubio are putting a bill on the floor of the Senate to allow all employers -- not just religious organizations -- to deny insurance coverage for birth control and any other medical service they find "morally objectionable."

"For a brief moment this afternoon, it looked like Mitt Romney was showing some spine and opposing the proposal. But literally within minutes, his campaign walked it back, clarifying that he supports the bill that would let any woman's boss decide whether or not her preventive care is covered," Cutter said.

All women, no matter their employer, will get free contraception coverage starting this August under the Obama health care law. Obama last month--addressing concerns raised by Catholic bishops and others, revised the rule covering religious employers. 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

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) who announced this week she will retire, was the only Republican to vote to table the proposals, by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to amend the new Obama health care law in order to let any employer opt out of providing contraception coverage if they have a religious moral objection.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) were the only two Democrats to back the Blunt amendment--attached to a transportation bill.

GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney stumbled over the Blunt amendment when he was asked about it on Wednesday, telling an interviewer without missing a beat, "I'm not for it." A short time later Romney took it back--said he did support Blunt, but did not flip-flop. "I misunderstood the question, and of course I support the Blunt amendment."

From the Democratic National Committee: "Really? Could Mitt Romney have honestly confused "Blunt" and "Rubio"? Missouri Senator Roy Blunt is his campaign's liaison to the Senate. And Senator Marco Rubio is a Romney supporter who's been named a possible V.P. candidate."

House Republicans also have been trying to dilute the new contraception insurance benefit. Government Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) last month ran a hearing titled "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?"

Reaction on the failure of the Blunt amendment:

From Nancy Keenan, NARAL

"The truth is, anti-contraception members of Congress are not letting up. There are at least four other bills attacking birth control that we have to defeat. And the U.S. House of Representatives held three hearings this week on this issue. These hearings come after the infamous all-male panel attacking coverage of contraception."

From House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

"Once again, Republicans have proposed a sweeping overreach into the lives, and health, of America's women. Today, the Senate tabled an extreme amendment to a completely unrelated bill that would allow an employer or insurance company to claim a vague 'moral conviction' as an excuse to deny women health care coverage. Democrats have worked to expand coverage for basic health care; this amendment is about cutting coverage for basic health care services for women, including such preventive care as contraceptives, mammograms, prenatal screenings, cervical cancer screenings, and much more.

"It's not ironic, but, rather, tragic, that on the day we kick off Women's History Month, the Senate debates this devastating legislation to put at risk health care for millions of women, including the 20 million women already benefiting from preventive health services guaranteed under health reform. But it's just the latest ploy in the Republican agenda of disrespecting the health of American women."

Andrew Breitbart, dead at 43

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WASHINGTON--Andrew Breitbart, who rose to become a conservative force in U.S. politics, died Thursday in Los Angeles. His death was announced at and, the sites he founded. Breitbart became an influence in his own right after assisting in the creation of the Huffington Post and, most central, working with Matt Drudge's

CHICAGO CONNECTIONS: Breitbart's top executive is Joel Pollack, who was the Illinois House Republican nominee for the 9th congressional district in 2010. Pollack joined Breitbart as Editor-in-Chief and In-House Counsel.

Breitbart was in Chicago last month to be a guest at this dinner: "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." My post on the dinner is HERE.

The Associated Press has a story with more details about Breitbart's career and his death: he collapsed near his Brentwood home and was rushed to a hospital.

Here is the announcement about Breitbart's death, from his sites:

With a terrible feeling of pain and loss we announce the passing of Andrew Breitbart.

Andrew passed away unexpectedly from natural causes shortly after midnight this morning in Los Angeles.

We have lost a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a dear friend, a patriot and a happy warrior.

Andrew lived boldly, so that we more timid souls would dare to live freely and fully, and fight for the fragile liberty he showed us how to love.

Andrew recently wrote a new conclusion to his book, Righteous Indignation:

I love my job. I love fighting for what I believe in. I love having fun while doing it. I love reporting stories that the Complex refuses to report. I love fighting back, I love finding allies, and--famously--I enjoy making enemies.

Three years ago, I was mostly a behind-the-scenes guy who linked to stuff on a very popular website. I always wondered what it would be like to enter the public realm to fight for what I believe in. I've lost friends, perhaps dozens. But I've gained hundreds, thousands--who knows?--of allies. At the end of the day, I can look at myself in the mirror, and I sleep very well at night.

Andrew is at rest, yet the happy warrior lives on, in each of us.

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WASHINGTON--Chicago's Susan Sher, former chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama, talks about the role of the First Lady Thursday night at a panel at the National Archives here. This is the third First Lady panel Sher will be a part of; exactly a year ago she revealed there was no wireless internet in the White House residence and more at a panel sponsored by American University. Last November, Sher was at the Bush Presidential Library for another First Lady forum.

After leaving the White House, Sher returned to an executive position at the University of Chicago Medical Center, where she worked--with Mrs. Obama--before joining the Obama administration.

The Thursday--today--"Women in Leadership for the First Ladies" event is supposed to cover a lot of ground--about what "changes have taken place in roles, opportunities, and obstacles for women in leadership positions in the White House," according to a release from the National Archives.

Background, from the National Archives: "NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts moderates a panel including Anita McBride, former Chief of Staff for Laura Bush; Susan Sher, former Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama; Jean Becker, former Deputy Press Secretary to Barbara Bush; and Bess Abell, former White House Social Secretary."
Link to post on Sher at November panel at the Bush Presidential Library is HERE.

Excerpt from my March 2, 2011 post:

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama rarely can break out of her "bubble," her staff wakes up to e-mails from the boss and she does not want her daughters to have cell phones, according to her former chief of staff Susan Sher.

Those glimpses at the life of the present First Lady came Tuesday at a conference, "The Legacies of America's First Ladies," at American University, organized by Anita McBride who was chief of staff for Laura Bush.

Sher, who resigned last month to return to Chicago, first met Mrs. Obama--then Michelle Robinson--when she applied for a job in 1991 in Mayor Daley's City Hall. Sher shared insights into running the East Wing operation on a panel with McBride and Melanne Verveer, Hillary Rodham Clinton's former chief of staff.

Sher related:

*The White House residence does not have wireless internet service. Mrs. Obama does not watch cable television

WASHINGTON---Mitt Romney won the popular vote in the Tuesday Michigan primary--but tied with Rick Santorum when it comes to the number of elected delegates each gained from the Wolverine vote.

At stake were 30 elected delegates in Michigan: Romney and Santorum each won 15, according to the Associated Press.

Much of the focus on reporting results from primary and caucus states are on who gets the most votes. As important, is who wins delegates to the August Republican nominating convention in Tampa, Fl. The GOP nominee needs 1,144 delegates to win the nomination.

At the Detroit News well explained: "Romney, a Michigan native, won the statewide vote over Santorum 41 percent to 38 percent in a hard-fought primary. There are 30 delegates at stake in Michigan, 28 of which are awarded by congressional district -- two go to the winner of each district -- and the remaining two based on the statewide vote."

TEN STATES hold primary or caucus votes on this upcoming SUPERTUESDAY: My column on SuperTuesday is HERE.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will be joined by former President Bill Clinton on Thursday afternoon for an announcement about jobs and economic creation at the big Carpenters Hall training facility.

Clinton played a major role in Emanuel's career. Emanuel moved to Little Rock, Arkansas to fund-raise for Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign and moved to the White House after he was elected. Emanuel has his ups and downs in the Clinton White House, but ended on the up. Emanuel left the Clinton White House in a position to quickly make millions of dollars as a deal maker in Chicago, run for the House, vault to leadership, step down to be President Barack Obama's chief of staff and last year, be elected Chicago mayor.

City Hall said Clinton and Emanuel "will make a major announcement about infrastructure, economic development and job creation in Chicago at the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters Apprentice & Training Facility, 2141 S. Union Ave.

Emanuel holds a media availability following this event.

On Friday, Emanuel is in Washington for a panel discussion on education with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

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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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