PARIS (Reuters) - French presidential candidate Francois Hollande has widened his lead over his opponent, incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, just seven weeks before the election but most voters find the campaign so far has been disappointing, a poll showed on Tuesday. The poll by CSA showed the Socialist Hollande getting 30 percent support in the first round of a two-round election, up two percentage points, while Sarkozy gained one point to 28 percent. ...
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Less than a day before 10 states vote on Super Tuesday, Rick Santorum's presidential campaign displayed a new operational wrinkle. For the first time, the candidate jumped on a conference call with reporters.
It was a chance to hammer Mitt Romney as a fraud on health care reform -- philosophically supportive of the same principles as President Barack Obama. But as the former senator spoke, it became hard not to see the call as emblematic of a candidacy on the precipice of serious trouble. A nomination that seemed ripe for his taking just two weeks ago was in danger of being out of his reach. The former senatorâs seat-of-the-pants style and lack of formal infrastructure had caught up with him again.
A loss in Ohio Tuesday -- far from certain given the dead heat that the polls show -- would not be the first time Santorum has been hurt by his lack of organization. But it would be the most damaging.
The news that prompted Santorumâs campaign to hastily organize the conference call -- a 2009 op-ed and video clips of Mitt Romney advising the president to incorporate penalties for those who didn't buy individual health insurance -- could have surfaced weeks if not months ago if Santorum had an opposition research staff.
The Huffington Post asked a Santorum campaign official why the candidate had not been hammering the health care message.
âHe's always talked about RomneyCare and ObamaCare, but it's been just this past week where we've gotten the information about the op-ed, we've got the videos of him talking about it on the Sunday morning shows,â Alice Stewart, a Santorum spokeswoman, said in Cuyahoga Falls after his last event of the day.
âI mean, we don't have a huge op-ed team. We don't have a research department to dig up this stuff,â said Stewart, the former top spokesperson for Rep. Michele Bachmannâs (R-Minn.) presidential campaign who was hired less than a month ago to help expand Santorumâs communications shop. âWe're a smaller campaign. And when that stuff came to light, we worked as fast as we could to get that information out there.â
Even Santorum's call itself was something of breakthrough for the bare-bones campaign. Two previous efforts to organize a tele-briefing for reporters resulted in haphazard messes. The campaign had to stop and restart the process when they couldn't mute participants.
More than anything else, however, it was the abrupt switch to a new topic that was the starkest example of how Santorum is still, two months into the primary, reacting to events rather than shaping them.
Santorum was badly hurt in February by his lack of message discipline. Staunch conservatism and willingness to talk about social issues requires a fine dash of humor, as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has shown. But Santorum has regularly trampled through land mine territory with the delicacy of a runaway rhino and with a self-seriousness that veers towards lecturing. His wife, Karen, told Politico on Monday that she had chastised her husband for calling Obama a âsnobâ and for answering questions about contraception instead of staying on national security.
On Monday, Santorum made clear, however, that he wasn't going to stop talking about the importance of social values.
"The national media, and yes the left, and yes even some within our own party, have suggested that oh, you just can't talk about" family values, said Santorum. "You just have to be the party of tax cuts. Ladies and gentlemen, if we're just the party of tax cuts, we'll never win another election. America cares about more than just lower taxes."
Santorum won contests in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri on Feb. 7, but squandered a large lead in Michigan and lost that primary on Feb. 28. It wasnât all his fault. Romney and his allied super PAC had far more money to spend and did so, burying him in an avalanche of negative TV advertising.
Romney himself hasnât exactly exhibited a deft political touch. His flair for the rhetorical misstep was evident again on Monday when he called his wife Ann the "heavyweight" of the campaign, only to apologetically clarify that he wasn't discussing her poundage.
But unlike Santorum, the former governor can fall back on a finely tuned infrastructure. His campaign and super PAC are poised to outspend Santorum and his super PAC by a margin of 12 to one in Ohio, according to Santorum. And while Romney may not connect with voters, he has exhibited the discipline on the stump that's eluded his main rival. Whereas Santorum spoke for roughly an hour to a crowd of several hundred at an American Legion hall outside Columbus on Monday, Romney spent 10 minutes total on his closing speech in a quiet inn in Zanesville -- uninterested in disrupting the current trend lines.
The most obvious case of organization finally trumping momentum may end up being the delegate count. Romney already leads with 203 delegates to Santorum's 93. And Santorum will enter Super Tuesday with one hand tied behind his back. His name won't be on the ballot in Virginia and his campaign failed to file the necessary paperwork in three of Ohio's congressional districts.
The perception, in the end, is that Romney has been incredibly lucky to end up in the driver's seat. But that may be too dismissive of the campaign heâs built. As one close associate of the former governor told The Huffington Post, "Ben Hogan says: 'The more I practice, the luckier I get.'"
This election season has been defined by unpredictability, and Santorum could still squeeze out a big Tuesday win. Six new Ohio polls came out Monday, showing the race between Romney and Santorum a dead heat. Romney led three of the polls by one to four percentage points, Santorum led two others by one to four percentage points, and a sixth survey showed a tie. The Real Clear Politics polling average showed Romney with a 0.1 percent edge, quite a difference from one week ago, when Santorum led in polling aggregate by six percentage points, 34.3 percent to 28 percent.
Ohio has received the most attention ahead of Super Tuesday, but itâs not the only state where Santorum has a chance to score a victory. In Tennessee, he has watched his lead in the polls diminish over the past week, but perhaps not fast enough to deny him a win. Two week-long polls conducted from the middle of February showed Santorum leading Romney by 18 and 21 points in the Volunteer State. But two surveys released over the last few days showed the margin down to four and five points. Another had Romney with a one-point lead.
In Oklahoma, the polling has been sparse, but it has shown Santorum with a significant lead. There are 391 delegates at stake in Tuesday's contests, the most by far of any day so far in Republican contest.
Romney will likely have a strong showing in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Virginia, where he has only Rep. Ron Paul as competition. But the biggest delegate yields are in Ohio (63 delegates), Tennessee (55), and Oklahoma (40). In Georgia, there are 76 delegates at stake. None of these contests are winner-take-all. Each candidate has the opportunity to compete for delegates in parts of each state where they are strong.
One week from today, Alabama and Mississippi will hold primaries. If Santorum wins Ohio and does well in the South on Super Tuesday, he could be primed to sweep two more big wins there. Conversely, it is conceivable that if Santorum falters and Gingrich does well in the southern states today, he could follow that up with wins in Alabama and Mississippi, and the GOP could be in for yet another resurgence by the former House speaker.
But there is a growing sense, driven by new poll numbers that show a dispirited party and expressed in the lament of former first lady Barbara Bush over the state of the race, that Republicans are growing weary of this intra-party firefight. An Ohio win for Romney could be the final nudge needed for him to plausibly call for a closure of the primary.
Then again, maybe not.
It can be difficult to summarize in one place all of Mitt Romney’s problems as a candidate and as a potential President. I have tried; I wrote, back in 2007, a series so lengthy on Romney’s flaws (some 15,000 words, Part I, II, III, IV & V) that I can’t possibly hope to rewrite the whole thing now, and explained why I preferred McCain to Romney. More recently I focused on the dangers of backing Romney to the integrity of his supporters, the conservative movement’s need to maintain its independence from Romney, and the problems with...
MIAMISBURG, Ohio -- Rick Santorum sought Monday to stem the bleeding here in the Buckeye State, hoping to hang on to a lead over Mitt Romney that has showed signs in recent days of slipping away.
"Don't listen to the polls, don't listen to all the media hype and all the things about what this race is about," Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, told a few hundred people inside a Christian school here in a suburb of Dayton.
"I come to the people of Ohio as a candidate who shouldn't be here," he said. "But we're here for a reason."
Santorum repeatedly contrasted himself with former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, who has caught up to Santorum in Ohio polls. Romney did the same thing in the days leading up to last week's primary in Michigan. Romney won the state after originally trailing Santorum.
A loss here on Tuesday would badly damage any chance Santorum still has of upsetting Romney, who leads him in money, states won in the primary contest so far, and delegates.
"Just focus on whether we want a man who can stand up and paint a very different picture for this country ... someone who's willing to go out and talk about all of the issues that are confronting this country, all of the issues, not just how we're going to manage the economy better," Santorum said, in a slap at Romney's laser-like focus on an economic message.
Santorum said the GOP nominee should be someone who can "capture the imagination" of the American people, and he tried turn Romney's enormous financial advantage against him.
"Look into what the candidate's overcome and what they offer to the country, not just how much money they have," Santorum said. "Where's their soul, where's their conviction?"
He also took a veiled shot at Romney's privileged upbringing.
A candidate who grew up "having to fight for everything you got is exactly the kind of person we need to have ... someone who doesn't think you can buy it, someone who knows you can't buy it."
"You gotta earn it," he said.
Facing a number of new polls over the weekend and on Monday morning that show the race tightening, and national polls that show Romney with momentum, Santorum looked back to his surprise win in Iowa on Jan. 3 for inspiration.
"When people say well, what kept you going, it's the idea that this country was worth fighting for, it's worth getting out there and putting everything on the line," he said.
"I walked away from all of the jobs I have and all the money that is. We're living basically just spending down our savings, not necessarily the best thing to do when you have three kids entering college in the next couple of years. But this country is worth it."
On Sunday, several pundits said they were dismayed by Rush Limbaugh's incendiary comments about Sandra Fluke, as well as Republicans for not repudiating his remarks more strongly.
Limbaugh sparked outrage when he called Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student who was not allowed to speak at a contraception hearing, "a slut" and "a prostitute." He continued to fan the flames the next day, and piled on even more inflammatory remarks two days after. Several advertisers pulled their commercials from his show. In a rare move, Limbaugh apologized for his comments on Saturday.
The controversy was a hot topic of political conversation on Sunday. Speaking on ABC News' "This Week," Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan called Limbaugh's remarks "crude, rude, even piggish," and "deeply destructive and unhelpful."
Panelist George Will went further, blasting Republicans for what he said was an inadequate response to the controversy. He said that House Speaker John Boehner's use of the word "inappropriate" to describe Limbaugh's language was more fitting for "using the salad fork for your entrÃ©e."
"And it was depressing because what it indicates is that the Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh," Will alleged. "They want to bomb Iran, but they're afraid of Rush Limbaugh."
ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd agreed. He alleged that Republican leaders lacked the guts to stand up to Limbaugh because of a "myth" that the radio personality influences a large segment of conservative voters.
"I think the problem is the Republican leaders, Mitt Romney and the other candidates, don't have the courage to say what they say in quiet, which, they think Rush Limbaugh is a buffoon," Dowd theorized. "They think he is like a clown coming out of a small car at a circus. It's great he is entertaining and all that. But nobody takes him seriously."
NBC News' Savannah Guthrie expressed a similar sentiment on "Meet the Press," calling out Mitt Romney for his response in particular.
"Mitt Romney potentially lost an opportunity to speak out forcefully against Rush Limbaugh," she said. "This was not a gray area. Look no further than the fact that even Rush Limbaugh apologized for it... It would have shown some political courage, some backbone, and ultimately i think that would have helped him among conservatives."
She said Limbaugh's attack was "personal" and "vitrolic," and used "words that anyone would find offensive."
Guests also weighed in. GOP candidate Newt Gingrichtold ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that Limbaugh had been right to apologize, though he also called "the elite media" out on the way it has framed the debate.
Speaking to CBS' Bob Schieffer, candidate Ron Paul criticized the sincerity of Limbaugh's apology. "He's doing it because some people were taking their advertisements off of his program," he alleged. "It was his bottom line he was concerned about."
This week, Mitt Romney avoided the embarrassment of losing his home state's primary, but not by much. The presumptive GOP nominee's campaign continues to sputter along, unable to win over the party's base. He blamed the lack of excitement on his unwillingness to "light my hair on fire" (who would want to inflame such a perfect coif?), but it likely has more to do with his inability to stop firing off tone-deaf comments like the latest ones about his multiple cars and his NASCAR team-owner pals. Luckily for Mitt, Rick Santorum keeps speaking his mind, revealing a candidate who thinks Obama is "a snob" for promoting higher education (despite his having more degrees than Ann Romney has Cadillacs), and that the government "should get out of the education business" (despite accepting thousands in government aid for his kids' home schooling). The level of discourse, unlike the trees in Michigan, is definitely not "the right height."
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