ATTENTION POLITICAL JUNKIES: This week we are debuting CNN’s Gut Check, written by CNN Political Director Mark Preston and CNN Executive Producer Michelle Jaconi. We hope you find it useful; send us feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CNN’s GUT CHECK | for Thursday, March 8, 2012 | 5 p.m.
— n. a pause to assess the state, progress or condition of the political news cycle
JUST IN TO CNN: Rick Santorum talks to John King about Newt Gingrich: “The speaker can stay in as long as he wants to stay in. You know, we’re gonna – I think we're going to see as this campaign goes on, I think we’re going to have a good win here in Kansas. I think we're gonna run well in Alabama and Mississippi. You know, I’ve seen other polls that have us in much closer rates in both of those states. So I feel like we’ve – we're clearly the candidate right now that is the alternative to a moderate Republican from Massachusetts being the nominee of the party, not exactly the kind of contrast that I think is going to be a winning one for us in the general election.” Tune in to “John King, USA” at 6 p.m. ET on CNN for the full interview, and read below for our take on this very subject.
Did you miss it?
Leading CNNPolitics.com: POLL: GINGRICH ON TOP IN MISSISSIPPI. Newt Gingrich is edging out his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in Mississippi, according to a new poll. The American Research Group survey of likely Republican primary voters released Friday showed Gingrich with 35% support, followed by Mitt Romney with 31%, Rick Santorum with 20% and Ron Paul with 7%.
Leading Drudge: PAY YOUR TAXES, WARREN: “NetJets Inc., the private-plane company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/B), was countersued by the U.S. over $366 million in taxes and penalties.”
Leading HuffPo: ROMNEY FLIPS: PRAISES CHINESE REGULATORS: "in an answer warning against the dangers of over-regulation, Romney chose a curious example to tout free enterprise: China."
Leading Politico: ROMNEY FIGHTS 'LOSER' LABEL: Many Republican political professionals are worried that Mitt Romney’s public image is now defined by a word never associated with winning presidential campaigns — weakness — and are urging him to take dramatic steps to recast his reputation between now and the fall.
Leading New York Times: U.S. EXTENDS ITS RUN OF STRONG JOB GROWTH ANOTHER MONTH: “The United States added 227,000 jobs in February, the third straight month of gains over 200,000, while the unemployment rate stayed at 8.3 percent.”
Leading Kansas City Star: ROMNEY LOOKS WEAK NOW — BUT OBAMA BETTER WATCH OUT COME FALL: “Assuming he secures the nomination by the Republican National Convention in August, there's every reason to believe that his party would close ranks behind its challenger to President Barack Obama. And the widespread disquiet in the American public over the state of the economy, federal finance and dysfunction in Washington could give him an opening to appeal anew for independents to support him as the can-do candidate of change.”
In a radio interview Thursday in Alabama, Mitt Romney revealed his secret to getting a good night’s sleep. What was it?
The enemy of my enemy is my friend, even if he is also my enemy. And so goes the race for the Republican presidential nomination as a predictable game of political pressure is playing out between Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich over who should leave the race.
It was Gingrich who declared last year that Santorum should exit in an effort to clear the field so that Gingrich himself could have a clear shot at challenging Mitt Romney for the nomination. Santorum dismissed the suggestion. Now supporters of the Pennsylvania senator are urging Gingrich to follow his own advice: Get out and allow a one-on-one match up between Santorum and Romney.
The super PAC supporting Santorum, Red White and Blue Fund, described Gingrich’s campaign as “an obvious nonstarter” in its call this week for the former House speaker to step aside. And Richard Viguerie, a longtime conservative activist and Santorum backer, said, “Newt Gingrich holds the key to nominating a conservative Republican candidate for President.
“It has become increasingly clear that the former speaker can either be a kingmaker or a spoiler, because, to unite conservatives, Gingrich would have to suspend his campaign and endorse Rick Santorum for the Republican nomination for president,” he said.
But to no one’s surprise, Gingrich is turning a deaf ear to it all, and CNN’s Shawna Shepherd wrote about how the former House speaker is targeting Santorum ahead of the Alabama and Mississippi primaries.
What traditionally has been a race defined by momentum is now a fight for delegates: 1,144 delegates, to be exact. And the candidates are battling for every possible one. The Santorum campaign cried foul two weeks ago when the Michigan GOP awarded an extra statewide delegate to Romney. And Romney has dispatched his son Matt to campaign on his behalf in Guam and Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands, to try to lock up the handful of delegates in those territories.
Expert political analyst Charlie Cook writes in his National Journal column: “There is no longer a plausible mathematical possibility for Santorum, Gingrich, or Paul to reach the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination; it is also too late for someone else to get into this race and win it. And yet, Republican voters seem either unwilling or incapable of bringing this to a close. Yes, Romney is winning, but in a politically debilitating way.” Cook’s analysis will be sure to ratchet up the pressure on the Republican Party to come up with a solution to the “debilitating” charge.
One of the more interesting arguments for Gingrich to stay in the race is that his presence actually helps Santorum - and this argument is from a key Gingrich backer.
Rick Tyler, the former speaker’s longtime aide who is the spokesman for the super PAC Winning Our Future, made this very argument Friday on CNN’s “Starting Point.” “If Newt Gingrich were to drop out, I think Mitt Romney would beat him,” Tyler said. “I don't think Santorum has any ability to go one-on-one with Mitt Romney, his money and his organization and win. So I think it actually benefits Rick for Newt to stay in the race and deny Mitt Romney the number of delegates that he'll need to be the presumptive nominee.
“If we get to the second ballot, then Rick Santorum would actually have a chance to win the nomination by winning the second ballot,” Tyler added.
So goes “the enemy of my enemy is my friend, even if he is also my enemy.”
For now, it doesn’t appear as if Gingrich or Santorum have any plans to shelve their political ambitions. But as Gingrich and his supporters acknowledge, he must perform well in Alabama and Mississippi. This storyline will develop more after Tuesday’s primaries.
But until then, we will watch to see what happens in Kansas on Saturday. On the line: 40 delegates.
We have weekend homework for you. Let us know what you think: Should any of the GOP candidates drop out? Will they? E-mail us at email@example.com. We will use the best answers in Monday’s Gut Check.
The political bites of the day
– Romney criticizes Obama on Iran –
MITT ROMNEY IN JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI. “He seems more concerned with the idea that Israel might take action against Iran than he is that Iran might have a nuclear weapon, which could terrorize the world. Iran is the world's state sponsor of terror.”
– Santorum echoes Romney’s criticism –
SANTORUM IN MOBILE, ALABAMA. “The president, after the pleadings of the prime minister of a country that has been targeted for annihilation by these radical Islamists, the very next day announces, ‘No, no, we got your back.’ He said (that) the day before, when he spoke to AIPAC, and then two days later turns his back on Israel again and says, ‘Oh, well, we will negotiate without precondition.’ This is weakness in the face of hostility.”
– The middle-class pitch –
PRESIDENT OBAMA IN PETERSBURG, VIRGINIA. “Everybody knows we've got the best workers on Earth, but we can't stop there. We've got to make sure the middle class doesn't just survive these times. We want them - we want them to thrive. We want them to dream big dreams and to feel confident about the future. I did not run for this office just to get back to where we were. I ran for this office to get us to where we need to be.”
What stopped us in 140 characters or less
Annie Lowrey @AnnieLowrey
We need about 167,480 payroll jobs a month to be at 7.9 percent employment in November.
Adam P. Levy @adamplevycnn
Matt Romney campaigns for dad in Guam today. Who got stuck staffing him on a Pacific island? Need someone to cover? #willembedforfree
Ari Fleischer @AriFleischer
O's energy policy isn't "All of the Above". It's "Nothing from Below". Oil bad. Coal bad. Keystone very bad.
Mayor Greg Ballard @MayorBallard
On Georgia St. this a.m. w/ community leaders & members of John Wooden’s family to unveil Jeffrey Rouse's sculpture honoring the Coach.
Kai Ryssdal @kairyssdal
Other takes? 'Cause I'm getting grief about this. RT @krissimmons: @kairyssdal I have a problem w/you calling Spanx "basically girdles."
NEWS YOU CAN USE FOR YOUR WEEKEND PLANNING
SPRING FORWARD: We lose an hour of sleep on Sunday, so set your alarms or DVRs for the Sunday shows. Daylight saving time begins at 2 a.m. Sunday, so move your clocks ahead one hour. And in a rare Sunday interview, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, appears live on “State of the Union with Candy Crowley” at 9 a.m. ET.
In an interview with WAPI radio in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday, Mitt Romney was asked what keeps him up in night. Here was his answer: “Not much that keeps me up at night. . . . I always eat something at the end of the day. My favorite is cold cereal. So I try to eat some cold cereal at the end of the day, and a full tummy on a long day puts me right to bed.” The host then asked, “what kind of cereal do you like? We are being cereal fans around here. What’s your cereal?” Romney answered, “Well, I like Honey Nut Cheerios, and I like Honey Nut Chex. Let’s see, I like Crispix. I mean I like, of course, I love anything with sugar in it. I like the most, you know, Sugar Pops and Honey Smacks and all that. I don’t eat as much of that as Honey Nut Cheerios.”
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Tips or comments? Send them to Michelle; send complaints to Preston, because he is already in a bad mood.