Newt Gingrich threatened Monday to skip any debate as the Republican nominee versus President Obama that's moderated by a member of the media.
"As your nominee, I will not accept debates in the fall in which the reporters are the moderators," Gingrich said at a rally in Pensacola. "We don’t need to have a second Obama person at the debate."
The threat is in keeping with the scorn with which the former House speaker has treated the press throughout the campaign, particularly at debates. Gingrich most notably won a standing ovation by angrily dismissing a question at a South Carolina debate having to do with extramarital allegations made by an ex-wife.
Moreover, Gingrich has made his debating prowess a central selling point of his candidacy, promising fantastical showdowns with Obama in the general election. A frequent applause line for Gingrich, for instance, is his promise to challenge the president to seven, three-hour Lincoln-Douglas style debates.
As a reminder, though, presidential debates are governed by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which have organized the general election debates since 1998. The commission has already set the number of presidential debates in 2012 at three, slated for this October. The moderators in these debates have not been announced, but will almost certainly be members of the media.
Romney up big in Florida – is the fat lady warming up? … Where does Gingrich go from here – “all the way to the convention”? … Does the Anti Establishment have any juice left? Three questions for Gingrich on his way forward … Four reasons why Romney’s winning. … If Santorum weren’t in the race, Romney’s lead would be even bigger … And ad spending tops $24 million. … And the five closest counties in Florida. … Gingrich and Romney in Florida, Santorum, back on the trail heads to Missouri, which holds its contest Feb. 7.
Brian Snyder / Reuters
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney rides his campaign bus to a rally in Pompano Beach, Florida January 29, 2012.
*** Writing on the wall: It appears Mitt Romney’s on his way to victory in Florida – a slew of polls are out showing him with a double-digit lead over Gingrich, including the NBC-Marist poll, which shows the widest spread, 15 points (42%-27%). What makes Romney’s lead even more insulated is early voting. About half a million people have already voted, about a quarter of the total turnout in 2008. And, in our poll, Romney leads among early voters, 49%-27%, which could account for about a 5-point edge, if all things are equal on Election Day, Marist polling Director Lee Miringoff said. Even if Sarah Palin endorsed Gingrich and showed up at a rally for him today, the best she could likely do would be to get Gingrich to single digits. It’s now just a question of how Gingrich reacts to his defeat and, frankly, how large or small it is.
*** ‘All the way to the convention’: A decisive Romney victory tomorrow means many folks will believe they know where this is headed. But the big question is does Gingrich fall into that camp? In the run up to Iowa, there was a slow Establishment rally around Romney, check that, a slow Establishment takedown of Gingrich. It led to Romney (almost) winning Iowa, then convincingly taking New Hampshire. But then the Anti-Establishment crowd rallied, and Gingrich won South Carolina. With the prospect of a Gingrich win in Florida looking very real seven days ago, the Establishment struck back and Romney now looks assured of victory tomorrow. Gingrich -- perhaps emboldened by the backing of Herman Cain and heavy air cover from Palin -- pledged on Saturday to take the nomination fight with Romney “all the way to the convention.”
*** Three questions for Gingrich: But there are three more questions going forward: (1) Is there any more Anti-Establishment juice left out there; (2) Is Sheldon Adelson going to kick in another check to Gingrich; and (3) How does Gingrich himself get his mojo back? He has a February problem. For the next three weeks, there are four caucuses and no debates. So where does he make his move? Can he make a stand in Adelson’s Nevada (not likely because the GOP primary was more than a quarter Mormon), Arizona, or Minnesota? Hillary Clinton ran into this after Super Tuesday when she was essentially tied with Obama on delegates and then he went on to rattle off a series of small-state victories in February. Clinton willed herself to Ohio, but, by then, in hindsight, the delegate match actually pointed to the fact it was closer to being over than maybe we all realized at the time. Gingrich desperately wants to get to March because there are a slew of Southern primaries that could give him some much-needed victories. That said, don’t expect the Romney campaign to make the same mistake they made after Iowa. Expect it not to let up on Gingrich this time like they did then.
Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich make their final push for Floridians' votes a day ahead of the state's crucial primary. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.
*** Four reasons Romney’s winning: How did we get to the point that in less than seven days, Gingrich went from looking like he had the momentum in Florida to Romney looking like a sure thing. Here are four reasons: (1) Debates: Gingrich wasn't able to dominate at the debates last week like he had before South Carolina. (2) Ads: Perhaps most importantly, with Florida as large as it is, TV matters big time. Gingrich got eviscerated on TV -- outspent 4-to-1 ($16 million to $4 million) when you factor in outside groups. (3) The Establishment struck back: From Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio sticking up for Romney (though not endorsing) to Bob Dole's scathing letter about Gingrich’s time as speaker. And (4) Romney’s strategic shift: Romney re-trained his focus away from President Obama and onto Gingrich, not letting up with attack after attack, whether it was at debates or on the trail. The New York Times detailed that shift Sunday (though we’re not completely sure why the advisers would go on the record about this NOW and not wait until, say, after Tuesday, or even wait until after Gingrich got out). On TODAY, Romney defended the changed strategy, saying, “There’s no question that politics ain’t bean bag.” He added that Gingrich’s attacks have been “painful to watch.” By the way, was Romney annoyed by the story about his advisers? “I think you can expect advisers to think that the work of advisers is very, very important,” Romney said on TODAY. Then Romney went on to tout his OWN debate performances.
*** What if Santorum wasn’t in the race? Perhaps the most important number in the NBC-Marist poll was what happens when Santorum is removed from the race. Santorum’s vote splits off evenly if he’s removed, and Romney has an even WIDER lead over Gingrich, 49%-33%. So, Gingrich can’t make the argument that if conservatives weren’t divided he would win. The numbers just don’t bear that out. What’s really interesting -- Santorum probably could argue that if GINGRICH weren’t in the race, he’d have a better chance against Romney. Santorum’s image is as good as it’s been since the campaign began.
*** Santorum resumes campaign: Speaking from the hospital room where he said his ailing 3-year-old daughter is making a "miraculous turnaround," Rick Santorum said that he would resume his campaign on Monday with stops in western caucus states, NBC’s Andrew Rafferty reports.
*** Ad spending tops $24 million: The grand total spent in Florida during the Republican primary is $24.4 million with $19.9 million spent between the campaigns and outside-group supporters of Romney and Gingrich, according to NBC/Smart Media Group Delta. (*Winning Our Future promised to spend another $3.2 million statewide, but so far that hasn’t materialized):
- Total Pro-Romney: $15.9 million (Restore Our Future: $8.9 million, Romney $7 million)
- Total Pro-Gingrich: $4 million (Winning Our Future $2.8 million, Gingrich $1.2 million)
*** Elsewhere on your Sunday dial: Appearing on FOX News Sunday, Gingrich accused Romney of "carpetbombing" his opponents and called the former governor "a Massachusetts liberal" - sharpening that attack from his earlier "moderate" message. Obama strategist David Axelrod took aim at Romney's big bucks, saying, "If we’re going to solve this deficit, then everyone is going to have to give a little. And that includes people at the top." And your Sunday show shiny-object alert: Donald Trump to CBS's Bob Schieffer on whether or not he will eventually jump into the 2012 contest: "I hope I don’t have to. But I may -- absolutely."
*** What to watch tomorrow -- The five closest counties with more than 10,000 votes: NBC’s John Bailey reports that last cycle, Romney’s strongest counties geographically were in the state’s Northeast corner in and around Jacksonville. But an interesting indicator from last cycle could be large Florida counties that were close. Of the five closest counties with more than 10,000 voters in 2008, Romney won four: Romney won Indian River County by 22 votes (0.1%), Highlands County by 16 votes (0.2%), Lake County by 148 votes (0.3%), and Bay County by 241 votes (0.9%). The only exception was Orange County, which John McCain won by 447 votes (0.5%). Note the geographic diversity of these counties. None other than Lake County comes from the strong Romney counties in and around Jacksonville or northwest of Orlando. But just as important they also are not the GOP goldmine counties surrounding Tampa, which accounted for a large share of the Republican vote in 2008.
***On the trail: Gingrich holds five events, including a rally with Herman Cain in Tampa at 1:00 pm ET. … Romney holds three rallies … Santorum holds two events – in MISSOURI (!), including making a “major speech” on job and manufacturing at 3:30 pm ET and then a town hall at 8:30 pm ET.
Countdown to Florida primary: 1 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 5 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 36 days
Countdown to Election Day: 281 days
Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC, @brookebrower
Why doesn't the fact-checking come first?
After a presidential debate, even before the debate has ended, we're able now to read fact-checks from Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact and many news organizations.
But shouldn't the candidates get their facts straight and tell the truth in the first place?
"American politics has become a battle of talking points," said Bill Adair, editor of PolitiFact and Washington bureau chief for The Tampa Bay Times. "Once candidates find a talking point they like, they often stick with it — even when fact-checkers say it's wrong."
Perhaps the first questions in the next presidential debate should be something along these lines...
For Newt Gingrich:
Former Speaker Gingrich, in debate after debate, you've taken credit for balancing four federal budgets when you were the speaker of the House. As has been pointed out repeatedly by fact-checking organizations, the four years of balanced budgets were fiscal 1998 through 2001, but you were in office for only the first two of those budgets. You left the House in January 1999 and had no role in crafting the budgets for the subsequent two years. In addition, you opposed the two tax-raising deals that were largely responsible for balancing the budget. (Fact-checks here from The New York Times and here from The Washington Post.)
Similarly, you said that people can use food stamps "to go to Hawaii," claimed that the ethics charges against you were conducted by "a very partisan political committee," and said that "no federal official at any level is allowed to say 'Merry Christmas.'"
All these statements were false, according to PolitiFact.
Equal-time: Questions for the other candidates are below
It's been nearly five years since PolitiFact and a host of similar services started debunking the most outrageous statements. In that time, have the candidates become more honest?
"Not overall, but we've seen glimpses that they will alter their wording after we've called out a falsehood," Adair said. "For example, the way Newt said the balanced budget line in the last debate was more accurate, because he didn't say the four consecutive years were when he was speaker. So maybe he responded to the fact-checking."
Here are specific follow-up questions for each of the current Republican candidates, as well as President Barack Obama, based on fact-checking by PolitiFact and the major newspapers:
For Mitt Romney:
Former Governor Romney, in every debate so far, you've said something like, "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were a big part of why we have the housing crisis." But studies have shown that Fannie and Freddie were late to invest in subprime mortgages, following the lead of Wall Street firms that you never mention. (Fact-check from The New York Times here and here.) The unspoken narrative in your comments, and those of the other candidates, panders inaccurately to those who want to believe that loans to unworthy minorities, driven by the Community Reinvestment Act, caused the financial crisis. In fact, most subprime loans were made by lenders who were not covered by the CRA, but who were driven by the need for profits to satisfy their Wall Street investors. Are you trying to deflect blame from Wall Street?
Similarly, you have said repeatedly that President Obama "went around the world and apologized for America," said "I don't have lobbyists running my campaign," and claimed that President Obama's health care law "represents a government takeover of health care."
All false, according to PolitiFact.
For Rick Santorum:
Former Senator Santorum, you have repeatedly criticized Gov. Romney's health insurance program in Massachusetts for the so-called individual mandate, for requiring individuals to buy health insurance. Why not mention that in 1994, when you were running for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, you supported an individual mandate.
Similarly, you said that an Obama administration policy prohibits people who work with at-risk youth from promoting marriage as a way to avoid poverty, claimed that "a third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion," and said, "Any child born prematurely, according to the president, in his own words, can be killed."
All false, according to PolitiFact.
For Ron Paul:
Representative Paul, you've said that the United States "is bankrupt." The country isn't unable to pay its debts, nor is it impoverished. The credit rating of the United States is AA+ at Standard & Poor's (one step below the top of a 20-step scale), and AAA at the other rating agencies.
Similarly, you claimed that only a few sentences in your racist and conspiratorial newsletters were inflammatory, that the majority of the American people believe we should go back on the gold standard and that you never vote for legislation unless it's specifically authorized in the Constitution.
All false, according to PolitiFact.
And in the general election, maybe the first question to the incumbent could start something like this:
For Barack Obama:
President Obama, you've said that most of the money for your campaign came from small donors, that you've excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs, that you haven't raised taxes once.
All false, according to PolitiFact.
You've claimed that your opponents plan to cut funding for Israel to zero. PolitiFact rated that claim "Pants on Fire," its lowest rating.
"One theme we've seen in Obama's statements," says PolitiFact's Bill Adair, "is that he is exaggerating how he has fulfilled promises. We know this, of course, because we keep track of all 500+ promises on our Obameter."
Should the candidates be asked: As you prepare for a debate, is part of your preparation to remind yourself, whatever I say, I should play it straight with the American people? Aren't you embarrassed to repeat statements that any 8th-grader could look up in 20 seconds and discover have been proven untrue? Or do you calculate that it's acceptable to twist the facts to win an election?
Readers, what do you think? What would make the candidates stick to the facts? Add your comments below.
Brian Snyder / Reuters
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney talks to senior advisor Stuart Stevens on his campaign bus enroute to a campaign rally in Pompano Beach, Florida January 29, 2012.
Mitt Romney's strength may be growing, but he won't secure the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday, even if he scores a convincing victory in Florida's primary.
His rivals have vowed to keep fighting well beyond the Jan. 31 election. But win or lose in Florida, the Romney machine is already executing an aggressive multi-state strategy designed to suffocate his opponents' chances as the GOP contest moves forward. And some Republicans say it's time for Romney's rivals to give up.
"By traditional measures, a big Florida win for Romney would mean that this thing is just about wrapped up," said Todd Harris, a Washington-based Republican strategist with Florida ties. "Most Republicans think it's time to stop the infighting and start taking the campaign straight to President Obama."
Florida polls showed that Newt Gingrich briefly surged into the lead following his South Carolina victory just nine days ago. That lead is gone, according to an NBC News/Marist poll published Sunday. Romney now has support from 42 percent of likely Florida primary voters, compared with 27 percent for the former House speaker.
But even before he reclaimed the momentum in this rollercoaster race, Romney's advisers were looking ahead.
There are seven elections in February, beginning with Nevada's caucuses Saturday. A series of lower-profile contests — including a non-binding Missouri caucus — come over the next week in Colorado, Minnesota and Maine. They're followed by a 17-day break, which ends with primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28.
The mid-month break, bookended by states considered favorable to Romney, presents significant challenges for the other candidates, who trail Romney in both money and organization.
"I think the biggest thing to keep an eye on is that two-and-a-half-week down time between the 11th and the 28th," said Romney political director Rich Beeson. "If you don't have momentum and resources coming into it, it's going to be hard to have momentum and resources coming out of it."
Romney has consistently dominated his opponents in fundraising, reporting $19 million in his campaign account at the end of December. And his campaign distributed paid staff on the ground — months ago, in some cases — to bolster a growing network of local supporters. They include a combined 380 Republican officials across February voting states, eight members of Congress among them.
Romney's advisers — and unaffiliated Republicans — see a widening path to victory beyond Florida.
"A lot of the contests are states he won four years ago. Some of them are big primary states like Michigan. Arizona, we didn't get to in 2008, but we think that's good, fertile territory for us," said Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. "Other states — Colorado, Minnesota, Maine — these are all contests we won in the past, where Mitt still retains a strong base of support."
The optimism is backed by reality on the ground.
While his opponents have struggled to compete in one state at a time, Romney has had paid staff in Nevada since June. He has already begun advertising there. More recently, the campaign dispatched staff to Colorado and Arizona. Top New Hampshire surrogates are headed to Maine in the coming days.
And Romney is scheduled to campaign across Nevada, Colorado and Minnesota before next Saturday, according to Fehrnstrom.
He's not the only one looking ahead. Texas Rep. Ron Paul is skipping Florida altogether in favor of the less-expensive February states. Rick Santorum — who's dealing with his daughter's illness — this weekend abandoned plans to campaign in Florida in favor of Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado and Nevada.
But building momentum in those states alone will be difficult. And Republicans with no stake in the campaign agree that Romney has tremendous advantages.
"You've got one campaign with vastly superior resources across the board," said Washington-based Republican strategist Phil Musser, adding that fundraising will be an increasingly daunting challenge for Romney's competitors should he win Florida.
Outside help from so-called super PACs could be ending as well. Gingrich's recent rise was aided by a wealthy supporter who recently funneled $10 million to an outside group dedicated to helping him.
"For super donors, the romantic period is over," Musser said before offering a warning. "If we've learned anything from this cycle, it's that there aren't many crystal balls that are clear."
Newt Gingrich's personal and political baggage is giving even the most hard-core Republicans pause in a conservative swath of the state.
"Not Gingrich" is how Annette Purvis says she plans to vote. "I've never liked Gingrich. Never. Never in the history of Gingrich."
Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich speaks to the media outside the Idlewild Baptist Church January 29, 2012 Lutz, Florida.
She's turned off by what she calls his moral and ethical issues. He's been divorced twice, is an admitted adulterer and was the first House speaker to be reprimanded by his colleagues for ethical misconduct. All that has Purvis, a 49-year-old wife and mother from Laurel Hill near the Alabama border, looking elsewhere. "I'll probably do Romney," she adds, her hesitation apparent.
Marty Upfield, a 64-year-old retiree from Pensacola, seems equally uneasy with Gingrich. She, too, pointed to Gingrich's political record and personal background as a problem. She's considering voting for Mitt Romney, who she says isn't conservative enough, even though her political views are more in line with Gingrich's positions.
"But it is about trust," says Upfield. "I need to have a little more certainty that he's changed in some ways."
This deep reluctance to back Gingrich was voiced by many of the dozen and a half people interviewed last week in this city in the Florida Panhandle that borders the Gulf of Mexico to the south and west and Alabama to the north. Gingrich's past, it seemed, was heavily influencing decisions about who to back. Many said they were resigned to choosing Romney.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney discusses his leading in the polls ahead of Florida's primary and the attacks being launched on him by his main rival, Newt Gingrich.
In one of the most conservative parts of the state, many of those interviewed said they see their political philosophy more in line with Gingrich — who led the GOP revolution that took control of the House in 1994 — than with Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who in the past has espoused more moderate positions on social issues. But many also said they're considering voting for Romney, or already did during the state's early voting period, because they fear that Gingrich's history — both personally and professionally — will hurt him in a general election match up against President Barack Obama.
"I really like him. He's one of the finest speakers. He's got fantastic memory and recall," said Tim Fuller of Gingrich.
But Fuller, 68, and wife Vicki, 67, didn't pick him.
"We voted for the more electable candidate," Fuller said, adding that they chose Romney — "the lesser of two evils."
On the minds of many interviewed: Gingrich's ethics case while serving as House speaker, the $1.65 million his businesses made off Freddie Mac before he criticized the mortgage giant during his campaign, and his three marriages.
"I like him. I like his mannerisms. I just don't think I can vote for him. There's too much out there," said Bonnie Meenen, 64. Romney may get her vote because of that.
Some also were put off by Gingrich's personality.
"I think Newt's temper is too short," said David Nobles, 57, who voted for Romney. "It came down to Newt and Mitt, and Mitt just seems like more presidential material than Newt."
That Gingrich, who has emerged as the more conservative alternative to Romney, doesn't have a lock on this part of the state, regardless of his flaws, may not bode well for his prospects in other, more diverse parts of Florida ahead of Tuesday's pivotal primary. And the reluctance among some Republicans here to embrace Gingrich indicates that Romney's strategy to raise questions about Gingrich's character may be working.
Over the past week, Romney and his allies have castigated Gingrich on the campaign trail and in TV ads blanketing the state.
"While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in," says a Romney campaign ad airing in this state. The commercial says that Gingrich collected more than $1.6 million from "the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis."
Romney's team has taken a more subtle approach in attacking Gingrich for his flawed personal life. He has been emphasizing his own 42-year marriage to the same woman, as well as his five sons and numerous grandchildren, as a way to contrast himself to Gingrich. And an outside group backing Romney has run ads mentioning Gingrich's "baggage."
A Quinnipiac University poll released Friday showed Romney leading Gingrich, 38 to 29 percent. Among voters who identify as conservative, Romney and Gingrich are in a virtual tie.
PHILADELPHIA, PA - Speaking from the hospital room where he said his ailing 3-year-old daughter is making a "miraculous turnaround," Rick Santorum said that he would resume his campaign on Monday with stops in western caucus states.
"She went through a very tough time the last 48 hours and this afternoon she made really a remarkable turn," Santorum told voters in Florida and Minnesota, via two tele-town halls Sunday night, of his daughter Isabella, who was rushed to the hospital the night before after developing pneumonia in both lungs.
"We've still got a long way to go here but she has without a doubt turned the corner and we are very, very grateful," he said.
Santorum had cleared his Sunday schedule in Florida to be with his daughter but will be back on the trail tomorrow afternoon with stops over the next two days in Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado and Nevada, all caucus states. He will not be back in Florida before its election on Tuesday, having cancelled an event in Boca Raton scheduled for that morning.
Instead, Santorum will hold a primary night party in Las Vegas, an indication the campaign has pulled its stakes from the Sunshine State where a recent NBC/Marist poll had Santorum in a very distant third place.
In fact, turnout at a Sunday afternoon event in Sarasota - at which Santorum's daughter Elizabeth filled in for her dad - served as an indicator to the campaign as to whether they would continue to stump in the state through Tuesday's primary. The rally, held in the same venue where Newt Gingrich drew more than 3,000 people, had a scant showing of fewer than 250.
Santorum also seemed to have already moved beyond Florida during the call with Minnesota voters in which he emphasized the importance of caucus-style contests to his campaign.
"We want the activists of the party, the people who make up the vast part of the Republican Party, to have a say in who our nominee is as opposed to a bunch of people who don't even identify themselves as Republicans picking our nominee," Santorum said, noting that only registered Republicans can participate in a caucus.
"I believe that a state should only allow Republicans to vote in a Republican primary. Why? Because it's the Republican nomination, not the independent nomination or the Democratic nomination."
Santorum refrained from making such a pro-caucus statement in Florida, which holds a primary, albeit a closed one in which only Republicans can vote.
"This is an election that's wide open; This race isn't going to be decided in Florida, it's not going to be decided for quite some time. But Florida can have a big say," he said to voters on the first call.
And while he didn't handicap his finish in Tuesday's primary, Santorum still predicted he would finish strong in the Sunshine State, thanks to an increase in donations which he said began after his victory in the Iowa caucus was confirmed.
"We're going to come out of Florida I think with a pretty good number, certainly dollars per votes we're going to run rings around the other candidates," Santorum said, referring to the amount of money candidates spend in a state divided by the vote percentage they receive.
A decent showing in Florida will allow him, he continued, to "come into states like Minnesota, Colorado and some of the other states that are having their caucuses and primaries and be in a much better position."
Santorum said he was hoping to "do very well" in Minnesota, adding "we're looking forward to getting up there tomorrow and spending a lot of time and trying to get folks in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes to join us."
Updated at 1 a.m. ET: WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum canceled his Sunday morning campaign events and planned to spend time with his hospitalized daughter.
"Rick and his wife Karen are admitting their daughter Bella to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia this evening," spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement Saturday night, adding "Rick intends to return to Florida and resume the campaign schedule as soon as is possible."
Santorum had been scheduled to appear on NBC's "Meet the Press" and attend church in Miami. Officials did not cancel Sunday's afternoon events in Sarasota and Punta Gorda.
Isabella Santorum has Trisomy 18, a genetic condition caused by the presence of all or part of an extra 18th chromosome. When asked about her, Santorum says his daughter was not expected to survive until her first birthday and often has to catch himself to stop from tears.
"I have a little girl who's 3 ½ years old," he told Christian conservatives in Iowa before winning that lead-off contest.
"I don't know whether her life is going to be measured — it's always been measured — in days and weeks. Yet here I am. ... because I feel like I wouldn't be a good dad if I wasn't out here fighting for a country that would see the dignity in her and every other child."
When voters ask him about her, he calls the decision to campaign "gut-retching" but says he goes forward for all special needs families.
"You think she's fine, and then one cold and she's this close to dying," he told The Washington Post last year in an interview.
In October, he missed one of Bella's surgeries to participate in a debate and told the audience that he planned to take an all-night flight home from Las Vegas to be with her.
"I look at the simplicity and love she emits," Santorum said in a web video his campaign released after his scheduling drew questions, "and it's clear to me we're the disabled ones."
Santorum largely has kept his daughter off the campaign schedules, preferring her to stay home with her mother. But Bella did join Santorum for a few days around Iowa's straw poll in August, and she joined her family in Charleston, S.C., the day of its primary.
She didn't join her six siblings for the public speech. She stayed backstage.
Former presidential candidate Herman Cain endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for the Republican nomination for president on Saturday night in West Palm Beach, Fla.
"I hearby officially and enthusiastically endorse Newt Gingrich for president of the United States," said Cain, who saw his own candidacy dissolve amid accusations of unwanted sexual advances.
Gingrich is in a tough fight in Florida with Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor. Florida's primary is Tuesday.
A controversy between Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and President Obama stemming from her confrontation of the president on an airport tarmac stretched into another day, after Brewer released on Friday a copy of the letter she handed to the president in Phoenix.
"We were at the bottom of the list in job creation. Today, we have a balanced budget and were in the top 10 for job creation. I'm proud of that hard-won recovery -- the result of many tough decisions, courage and perserverance," Brewer wrote. "My hope is that while you are here, you will have a chance to see our tremendous results first hand."
The confrontation on Wednesday got wide media coverage, especially for the Arizona governor's wag of her finger at the president, captured in a photo. Brewer said after the encounter that Obama seemed tense and "thin-skinned," which she attributed to criticism of his record in her book.
Obama dismissed the encounter as being "blown out of proportion" in an interview Thursday with ABC News.
"I think it’s always good publicity for a Republican if they’re in an argument with me,” he said. “But this was really not a big deal."
Scott Audette / Reuters
Republican presidential candidates former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney shake hands prior to the start of the Republican presidential candidates debate in Jacksonville, Florida, January 26, 2012.
Romney had a strong night … Santorum may have won the debate … But that only helps Romney … All three Republicans are a net-negative in NBC/WSJ poll. … Romney’s image has been hurt by the primary … But the tide has turned in Florida, and Romney’s the front runner again there … Revenge of the establishment on Gingrich … Romney, Gingrich and friends spending $22 million in Fla. … And welcome Caleb Fenne Murray!!!
*** Romney owned Gingrich…: If Mitt Romney wins the nomination, we'll look back and say the first hour of last night’s debate and say that was when he finally put it away. Romney dominated Newt Gingrich -- from the opening barbs over immigration to his effective response to Gingrich on Freddie/Fannie money (“Mr. Speaker have you checked your own investments?”) to squashing Gingrich’s attempt to co-opt the audience once again (“Wouldn’t it be nice if people wouldn’t make accusations somewhere else that they aren’t willing to make here?”). Romney was aggressive without being petulant. He finally looked comfortable sparring. He looked for the first time like he deserved the moniker “front runner” on stage. And it certainly helped that he had a new debate coach. Romney just wasn’t the same guy.
*** …But Santorum at least rented Romney: That said, the winner of the CONSERVATIVE debate was Rick Santorum. He ended up forcing Romney to defend health care in the same language President Obama uses. It’s amazing that with all the candidates chasing Romney, none has been able go box in Romney on health care and the mandate the way Santorum did last night. Romney still has trouble, and will likely continue to have trouble, explaining his logic on why government intervention on health care is OK at the state level but not the federal. Romney still didn’t fix his conservative problem; he has simply made the others look like worse alternatives. Santorum was also strong in his closing case to distinguish himself from the two front runners and scored points when he chided Gingrich and Romney for their attacks on each other -- for Gingrich’s work as a consultant and Romney’s private-sector work. Santorum defended both and went for the high ground: "Leave that alone and focus on the issues," he said. (Of course, part of why Santorum defended “consulting” is because he was one, too.) Santorum’s hoping for that classic rule of politics: A attacks B and C benefits. Of course, Romney camp is thrilled either way -- the better Santorum does, the better for Romney, because Santorum takes votes away from Gingrich. And, by the way, for the first time in a long time at a debate, Ron Paul seemed to be having fun. His politicians to the moon line got big laughs. Hey, “60 Minutes,” shouldn’t Paul be the frontrunner to replace Andy Rooney?
*** It wasn’t all good for Romney: He made at least three unforced errors – (1) He opened himself up on his “blind trust” Fannie and Freddie answer. He effectively responded to Gingrich noting Gingrich’s investment in Fannie and Freddie Mac, but he flubbed the details of his own Frannie/Freddie investment. He said it was in a “blind trust.” But it wasn’t, as the Boston Globe reported; (2) He didn’t know his campaign has a radio ad running statewide hitting Gingrich on his “language of the ghetto” comment – even though Romney signs off and approves the ad at the end in Spanish; and (3) He had this awkward spin on why he voted for Paul Tsongas: "I've never voted for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot." What might the late senator say – maybe: "Don't be a panderrr bear.” By the way, wasn’t President Bush on the primary ballot that day in Massachusetts too?
Republican presidential contenders are in a race against time to try to garner support before Tuesday's primary in the Sunshine state. NBC's David Gregory reports on the latest on the fight for Florida.
*** NBC/WSJ poll… All three Republicans negative: The most important item in the NBC/WSJ poll was that all three Republican candidates are a net-negative when it comes to favorability. Romney was exposed in two ways in the poll – (1) he has a conservative problem staring him right in the face. That hasn’t changed. Any time base conservatives -- very conservative voters, Tea Partiers, Southerners, feels there’s a viable alternative to Romney, they rally around that person; we’ve seen this phenomenon for months. And (2) The primary has done damage to Romney. He cannot afford a long primary. If this thing goes to June, that would be very problematic. He’s already in a bad position. George W. Bush, John McCain, and Bob Dole were all in primary fights and ALL were a net-POSITIVE at this time in the election cycle. In the past 20 years in the poll, no one who went on to be the major party nominee of either party with a net-negative at this point – except John Kerry, and we all know how that turned out. Clearly, Romney is looking like he’s getting his momentum back, but he has fundamental problems for the general. The primary has done him no good. (Here’s our story on the poll, how the candidate match up with Obama, and the GOP brand problem.)
*** The tide turned in Florida: Speaking of that Romney momentum. A new Quinnipiac poll is out in Florida showing what seemed to be happening yesterday – that Romney’s retaken a sizable lead. He’s up 38%-29% over Gingrich. And the candidates’ rhetoric was evidence of the change yesterday. Gingrich leveled some of his harshest attacks on Romney on the trail yesterday, but Romney kept his focus on President Obama. Watch Gingrich carefully today, he could just unload. How he handles himself today is going to tell us a lot. By the way, Gingrich being unwilling to defend his Swiss Bank comments in the debate was a bad moment. Flashbacks to Tim Pawlenty’s missed opportunity on Romney.
*** Revenge of the Establishment: If Romney’s the nominee, we may look back this week as the week the establishment rescued him. Take a look at the cavalry that’s come to Romney’s rescue in Florida. John McCain is doing solo-town halls. Jason Chaffetz is following Gingrich around the state and picking fights with his staff. Bob Dole is writing letters attacking Gingrich. Marco Rubio, who is supposedly neutral, is playing referee in the state and constantly calling fouls on Newt… Bottom line: as many predicted post-South Carolina, if Newt actually looked like he was one primary win away from delivering a near-knockout blow to Romney, a significant group of folks would begin rallying to his defense. Or in this case, simply rallying to stop Gingrich.
*** Romney, Gingrich (and friends) spending the $22 million in Florida: The latest ad spending totals show Romney, Gingrich and Super PACs supporting them spending almost $22 million in Florida. Romney and Restore Our Future have outspent Gingrich and Winning Our Future about 4-to-1. The Super PACs, by themselves, have spent so far a combined $12 million, according to Republican ad tracker Smart Media Group Delta. The pro-Gingrich one, Winning Our Future, promises to spend another $2 million before Tuesday (to get up to that $6 million promised, but they haven’t booked buys YET). NBC’s Michael Isikoff takes a deep look at Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and principal funder of Winning Our Future. Here are the numbers:
- Pro-Romney: $15.7 million (Restore Our Future $8.8m; Romney: $6.9m)
- Pro-Gingrich: $3.9 million (Winning Our Future: $2.8m; Gingrich: $1.1m)
*** Welcome Caleb Fenne Murray! Caleb Fenne Murray, with a head of dark hair and hazel eyes, came into the world at 12:40 pm ET yesterday, weighing in at 8 pounds, 13 ounces and measuring 21 inches long. Caleb’s middle name -- Fenne (pronounced like Penny and derivative of Fennigan) -- is in honor of Sasha's late maternal grandfather. A long-time journalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fenne's love of journalism and politics inspired his daughter and grandchildren to always pursue the story and never be afraid to ask questions. Congratulations Mark and Sasha!!!
*** On the trail: All candidates (with the exception of Paul) blitz the Sunshine State. Santorum visits Miami … Romney rallies in Titusville, Orlando and Miami … Gingrich stumps in Miami and Delray Beach … Meanwhile, Paul is en route to Maine, campaigning in Bangor, Waterville and Lewiston, ahead of its caucus.
Countdown to Florida primary: 5 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 9 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 40 days
Countdown to Election Day: 285 days
Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC, @brookebrower
Mitt Romney accuses Newt Gingrich of calling Spanish a "ghetto language." Close, but not quite.
Gingrich denies doing so and said he merely promoted the use of English, "period." That's even more of a stretch.
The last Republican presidential debate before the GOP Florida primary Thursday brought viewers a blitz of charges and countercharges over immigration, the financial lives of the candidates and more. Here are how some of the claims compare with the facts:
Scott Audette / Reuters
Republican presidential candidates former Senator Rick Santorum, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Representative Ron Paul stand on stage before the Republican presidential candidates debate in Jacksonville, Florida January 26, 2012.
GINGRICH: "It's taken totally out of context.... I did not say it about Spanish. I said in general about all languages. We are better for children to learn English in general, period."
THE FACTS: At issue is Romney's Spanish-language radio ad running in Florida that says Gingrich branded Spanish a ghetto language in a 2007 speech. In the contentious remarks in question, much more came after Gingrich's "period."
In his speech to the National Federation of Republican Women, Gingrich advocated making English the official language, a position he still holds, and added: "We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto."
He did not explicitly call Spanish a ghetto language. But at the time, the remark was widely taken to mean Spanish, overwhelmingly the main foreign language spoken in the United States and the primary language of many immigrants.
Gingrich recognized as much when, in response to a Hispanic backlash against his remark, he made an online video days after the speech in which he more or less apologized for his choice of words and for producing "a bad feeling within the Latino community."
ROMNEY on the same topic: "I doubt that's my ad, but we'll take a look and find out."
THE FACTS: It's his ad.
RICK SANTORUM: "You had a president of the United States that held (up) a Colombian free trade agreement. Colombia, who's out there on the front lines working with us against the narco-terrorists, standing up to Chavez in South America — and what did we do? ... The president of the United States sided with organized labor and the environmental groups and held Colombia hanging out to dry for three years."
THE FACTS: When President Barack Obama took office, he actually tried to revive a free-trade deal with Colombia that had been negotiated by his Republican predecessor but left to languish without congressional approval, just as he tried to make similar progress with South Korean and Panamanian free-trade pacts. He bucked considerable opposition from organized labor and fellow Democrats in doing so.
Obama did hold off on submitting the three deals to Congress as his administration tried to negotiate more palatable terms to Democrats. He finally submitted them in 2011 and Congress approved them in the fall — with substantial GOP support and a fair amount of Democratic opposition.
ROMNEY: "Obamacare takes over health care for the American people."
THE FACTS: Obama's health care overhaul does increase the role of the federal government in the health care system, but even after it is fully implemented in 2019, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says 56 percent of Americans under age 65 will be covered by employer plans, about the same share as today. That's hardly a takeover.
ROMNEY: Fannie and Freddie are "offering mortgages again to people who can't possibly repay them. We're creating another housing bubble, which will hurt the American people."
THE FACTS: If there is another housing bubble forming, most homebuilders, mortgage lenders and real estate agents would like to find it. Instead, the housing market remains depressed, with sales low and home prices falling.
Fannie and Freddie don't sell or offer any mortgages. Their function has always been to support the housing market by purchasing mortgages from banks, packaging them into bonds and guaranteeing the bonds against default. This proved costly when the housing bubble burst: The two entities were formally taken over by the government in 2008 and have since cost taxpayers $150 billion.
The two mortgage giants are still functioning under government receivership, and now own or guarantee nearly all new mortgages, because banks are reluctant to make loans without the agencies' support. But banks have significantly toughened their credit standards since the housing bubble and are requiring higher credit scores and bigger down payments. That is causing an increasing number of home sales contracts to fall through as would-be buyers are unable to get mortgage loans.
SANTORUM: Criticized the Obama administration for its "abysmal treatment" of allies in Latin America, and said Obama has a "consistent policy of siding with the leftists, siding with the Marxists, siding with those who don't support democracy."
THE FACTS: Obama has not sided with the leading leftists, such as those ruling Cuba and Venezuela, and instead has roundly criticized them.
It's true that Latin America has been on the back burner for much of Obama's tenure, as he concentrated on other parts of the world, including the Middle East. But Obama visited three countries in Latin America last year, and the Panamanian and Colombian trade agreements were part of the biggest round of trade liberalization since the North American Free Trade Agreement and other pacts of that era.
ROMNEY: "My investments are not made by me. My investments for the last 10 years have been in a blind trust, managed by a trustee."
THE FACTS: Not all of his investments have been in a blind trust. Romney's personal financial disclosure forms show he owned between $250,001 and $500,000 in the Federated Government Obligation Fund, which contained mutual-fund notes of politically sensitive Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. An addendum to Romney' disclosure forms says that certain assets — including the federated fund — were outside the scope of his blind trust.
The investment was not on Romney's 2007 financial form, making it a relatively new one — just as the housing and financial crises were hitting Americans full force.
RON PAUL: Obama "promises to end the wars, but the wars expand."
THE FACTS: By the most obvious measures, the wars are shrinking. Last month, the U.S. pulled its last troops out of Iraq, fulfilling a pledge by Obama to end the war there.
Obama did escalate America's fight in Afghanistan, announcing in December 2009 that he was sending an additional 33,000 troops.
The U.S. and its NATO partners in late 2010 agreed to end the combat mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. As part of that plan, Obama fulfilled his promise to bring 10,000 troops home from Afghanistan by the end of last year, and is moving ahead with plans to pull an additional 23,000 out by this fall. There are now about 90,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
GINGRICH: "We're in a continuous state of war where Obama undermines the Israelis."
ROMNEY: "This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip."
THE FACTS: Obama has spoken at length about the plight of the Israelis and has talked about an Israeli girl near Gaza who fears for her life because of the rocket attacks launched by Hamas. In a June 2009 speech in Cairo, Obama said both Israel and Palestine have a right to exist, but the U.S. does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. That's not only the view of his administration; it's long-held U.S. policy. Despite that, the administration sided with Israel by vetoing a U.N. resolution that would have condemned its settlement policy.
Rick Santorum is tired, almost broke — and going home.
The former Pennsylvania senator is leaving Florida just days before the Tuesday primary that even he expects to deal him a third consecutive loss.
Paul Sancya / AP
Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum listens to a question at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012.
Santorum says he would rather spend his Saturday sitting at his kitchen table to do his taxes than campaigning in a state where the race for the Republican presidential nomination has become a two-man fight between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.
The cash-strapped candidate acknowledges that he simply can't keep up with the GOP front-runners in Florida.
"We're going to talk about the Constitution and talk about being a strong conservative," Santorum said at an event here this week. "And that's all we can do."
Outside advisers are urging him to pack up in Florida completely and not spend another minute in a state where he is cruising toward a loss.
Santorum seems to be listening. He has yet to announce his primary day schedule but says it was a mistake for him to remain in South Carolina on its primary day.
"We can't let grass grow," he told reporters Thursday. "South Carolina Election Day was sort of a wasted day for us."
But he pledged to continue his campaign regardless of the Florida outcome.
It's a grim period for Santorum, who just three weeks ago was riding high after narrowly winning the Iowa caucuses. The victory was short-lived. He lost big in both New Hampshire and South Carolina.
He faced an uphill battle even before the race turned to Florida. He doesn't have the money to spend on television ads in Florida's expensive media markets. He couldn't compete with the thousands-strong crowds his rivals have been drawing. And he wasn't able to find a moment here that crystalized the rationale for his candidacy.
"Other candidates tell you they need your help," Santorum told Florida Republicans this week — almost pleaded really. "They're lying. I really need your help."
But help didn't come — at least in this state — for a candidate who is visibly exhausted and running on, at most, four hours of sleep each night.
So Santorum is going home to Pennsylvania, which he represented in the Senate, and Virginia, where he lives with his wife and seven children, to get some rest and, he says, prepare his own taxes. He also plans fundraisers in both states as he works to rebuild his campaign account to pay for upcoming contests in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.
Santorum also is looking at Arizona and Michigan, which vote at the end of February — if he makes it that far.
His inner circle of advisers is looking at the campaign checkbook. They say they can keep a lean campaign rolling in case Gingrich or Romney implode.
"This race is just starting. It's a three-man race," Santorum insists. "We're going to be in this race for the long term."
For now, at least, polls show Santorum dramatically trailing in Florida, the largest and most diverse state in the early nominating schedule. And he seems to be coming up short as he tries to win over voters with his everyman persona.
"I wish he had a little more passion in the belly," said Don Waldt, a Punta Gorda retiree who attended a Santorum rally at dusk this week. "He is conservative and authentic. But he isn't on top and doesn't seem to have a clear path to the top."
With just days to go before the Sunshine state's key primary, Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich clashed in a contentious debate Thursday night. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.
Updated at 10:30 pm ET
Republican rivals Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney clashed early and often Thursday night over issues ranging from immigration and personal wealth to the various charges that have been fired in television ads and on the campaign trail as they conducted their final face-to-face confrontation Tuesday’s winner-take-all primary in Florida.
After a strong win by Gingrich in South Carolina, the stakes for the two leading candidates are high five days before Florida Republicans get their chance to cast their ballots -- and the increasing tension in the campaign has reflected that.
Both candidates were quick to press their attacks against the other, but the debate lacked a single melodramatic moment that a few previous debates had when Gingrich galvanized the crowd by lashing out at the news media.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum were also on stage, but were mostly overshadowed by the increasingly fractious Romney-Gingrich struggle.
Gingrich was asked about the pledge that he made to voters on Florida’s Space Coast on Wednesday, “By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon,” he said. Gingrich also was asked about his idea of granting U.S. statehood to an American lunar colony.
“I was meeting Rick’s desire for grandiose ideas,” a smiling Gingrich said, referring to Santorum.
But he warned against allowing China to dominate space exploration.
A lunar colony would be “an enormous expense,” Romney cautioned. “I’d rather be re-building housing here in the U.S.”
Romney ridiculed the lunar colony idea, saying that if he were a chief executive in the private sector he’d fire any entrepreneur who proposed spending billions of dollars on a colony on the moon.
And Romney accused Gingrich of pandering, by going from state to state and proposing ideas that would have local appeal – such as a new space program for Florida’s Space Coast. Politicians catering to local desires “got us into the (fiscal) trouble we’re in now,” Romney said.
When an audience member asked how religious faith would affect the candidates’ actions as president, Gingrich got a loud round of applause when he said “there has been an increasingly aggressive war against religion -- and in particular against Christianity in this country, largely by a secular elite” in academia and in the news media.
Santorum made a strong argument at the end of the debate that both Gingrich and Romney were fatally flawed by their support for the Wall Street bailout of 2008-2009 and, in Romney's case, by his signing a health insurance mandate into law as governor of Massachusetts. And, Santorum charged, "they both bought into the global warming hoax."
The debate also touched on Gingrich’s criticism of Romney earlier Thursday when he said “we’re not going to beat Barack Obama with some guy who has Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Island accounts, owns shares of Goldman Sachs while it forecloses on Florida, and is himself a stockholder in Freddie Mae and Freddie Mac…..”
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
Romney gave his response in the debate accusing Gingrich of suggesting by innuendo “that there is something wrong with being successful and having investments and having a return on those investments.”
He said, “Let’s put behind (us) this idea of attacking me because of my investments or my money and let’s get Republicans to say, 'You know what, ‘what you’ve accomplished in your life should not be seen as a detriment, it should be seen as an asset to help America.”
The debate also addressed the question of whether the federal government — and agencies such as Freddie Mac -- contributed to the housing collapse. Romney called Gingrich a “horn tooter” for Freddie Mac.
Romney has been criticizing Gingrich for weeks for being paid $1.6 million as a consultant to Freddie Mac, whose policies contributed to the 2004-2007 housing bubble.
Freddie Mac is “offering mortgages again to people who can’t possibly afford them,” Romney said.
Gingrich replied that he had done no lobbying for Freddie Mac and that Romney owns shares in both Freddie Mac and the other federally-sponsored housing agency, Fannie Mae.
Gingrich also said Romney owns shares in Goldman Sachs which, he implied, had reaped profits from housing foreclosures. Gingrich asked rhetorically how much money Romney had made from households that had been foreclosed on.
Romney replied that “my investments for the past ten years have been in a blind trust.”
He turned to Gingrich and said “You also had investments in mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”
Romney is now airing a TV ad in Nevada, which holds its Republican caucuses on Feb. 4, one week from Saturday, saying, “While Nevada families lost everythingin the housingcrisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in. Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis.” The ad ends by flashinga photo of a smiling Obama as the voiceover says “If Newt wins, this guy would very happy.”
Santorum got a big round of applause by urging the two men to cease their personal skirmishing and focus on national issues.
The debate began with a discussion of Romney’s idea that illegal immigrants should and will “self deport” if their ability to work in the United States is ended.
Gingrich, who served as House speaker from 1995 to 1999, said, "self-deportation will occur if you’re single,” but illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for many years would not leave. There needs to be “some level of humanity” for long-term illegal immigrants. “Grandmothers and grandfathers aren’t likely to self deport,” he said.
Romney took issue with a Gingrich TV ad -- which Gingrich has since pulled off the air – that had called Romney “anti-immigrant.”
“The idea that I am anti-immigrant is repulsive,” Romney said, glaring at Gingrich.
Romney said those who enter the United States legally would be given an identification card and work permit that would allow them to work.
Romney said no one was interested in rounding up 11 million illegal immigrants and deporting them – hence the need for illegal immigrants to leave voluntarily. “Our problem is not 11 million grandmothers,” he said, but rather younger illegal immigrants who take jobs that Americans might otherwise take.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R- Fla., who is neutral in the race, has criticized Gingrich for running the ad that called Romney "anti-immigrant." Rubio told The Miami Herald that the phrasing in Gingrich’s ad was “inaccurate, inflammatory, and doesn’t belong in this campaign.’’
He added that “neither of these two men is anti-immigrant. Both are pro-legal immigration and both have positive messages that play well in the Hispanic community.’’ Following Rubio’s criticism, the Gingrich campaign pulled the ad off the air.
Latino voters make up about 12 percent of the Florida Republican electorate — and they may be crucial on Tuesday.
In an interview with Univision Thursday, Gingrich accused Romney of “inhumanity” for wanting to “deport grandmothers and grandfathers” – a reference to Romney’s opposition to any form of legalization for long-term illegal residents of the United States.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday evening showed Gingrich does worse in a hypothetical November election contest against President Barack Obama than do Romney or Santorum among all poll respondents.
In a Romney-Obama contest, Romney lags the president by six percentage points, but in a Gingrich-Obama contest, Gingrich trails by 18 points.
Yet among self-identified Republicans, Gingrich is the favorite for the nomination, beating Romney 37 percent to 28 percent, with 18 percent for Santorum, and 12 percent for Paul.
A lot of rhetoric is being thrown about in discussing the Pentagon budget. Reporter R. Jeffrey Smith from the Center for Public Integrity takes a look at what's actually been proposed by President Obama, in his explainer, "Puncturing the hot air balloons on defense spending: A reader's guide to the debate in 2012." The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative reporting group in Washington.
Smith's takeaway summary:
Obama’s national security spending plan does not cut the defense budget. Even if his proposal is enacted, U.S. defense spending will continue to dwarf the rest of the world’s. The new U.S. military strategy was concocted to accommodate the proposed budget trims, not vice versa. Sequestration is a threat, not a promise. And no matter what politicians say or do this year, U.S. defense spending will remain vulnerable to real cuts. The important question in the years ahead is, which military programs will survive and which will go away.
Read the full story here from the Center for Public Integrity.
Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich following a Lake County Tea Party rally Jan. 26, 2012 in Mount Dora, Florida.
Newt Gingrich, if nothing else, has sought to position himself as the enemy of the Washington establishment in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
The former House speaker, who's been a staple on Washington's K Street, its lobbying corridor, has postured himself not just as the enemy of the "elite media," but also as a potential thorn in the side of the Republican establishment.
"The Republican establishment is just as much of an establishment as the Democratic establishment. And they're just as determined to stop us," Gingrich said at a rally this morning in Mount Dora, Fla.
"Make no bones about it, this is a campaign for the very nature of the Republican Party, the very opportunity for a citizen conservatism to defeat the power of money and prove that people matter more than Wall Street, and that people matter more than companies that are pouring money in to run the ads that are false."
In that, Gingrich is looking to channel the frustration with the GOP establishment that drove the advent of the Tea Party during the 2010 campaign cycle, and align himself with that sentiment to use to his political advantage.
"I think the Washington establishment is going fight me every steps to the nomination. And I think they are going to say whatever they have to say," he said following the event, explaining that he's "angry" about the attacks his candidacy has faced in Florida, which hosts its pivotal primary on Tuesday.
The ex-speaker has sought to paint Mitt Romney, by contrast, as the choice of the establishment. The former Massachusetts governor is Mike Castle to Gingrich's Christine O'Donnell (the Tea Party-backed Delaware Senate candidate who has, ironically, endorsed Romney), or the Lisa Murkowski to Gingrich's Joe Miller.
The fact that Romney has rallied more establishment support to his campaign than any other candidate does little to dispel Gingrich's narrative; it only ads kindling to the fire Gingrich has sought to stoke in the race. As if to underscore the extent of Romney's establishment support, Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP presidential nominee who served in the 1990s as Gingrich's counterpart in the Senate, released a statement through Romney's campaign assailing Gingrich.
"Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man-band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway," Dole said.
Duricka / AP
Historian, author, member of Congress and speaker of the House — a look back at his public life.
Seventy-two Republican House and Senate members have endorsed Romney, according to The Hill newspaper's tally, versus nine congressional endorsements for Gingrich.
Romney supporters are inclined to point out the absurdity of a figure who spent 20 years in Congress, who profited handsomely from D.C.-based advocacy work upon leaving office, and who makes his home in one of Washington's more tony suburbs seizing the banner of an outsider.
"It's so absurd it's laughable. He is the epitome of career politicians and DC lobbyists." said Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Romney supporter who attended Gingrich's event Thursday in Florida. "Clearly people understand that Newt Gingrich is a product of Washington, D.C. And there's a reason there's a lot of us newbies in Congress want Mitt Romney: because we want someone from the outside."
Chaffetz said that his colleagues on Capitol Hill "are frightened and scared to death about having Newt Gingrich at the top of the ticket," which the Utah congressman said would mean the GOP as a whole would seem "mired in scandal" by Gingrich.
That sort of sentiment has driven the assumption that, if Gingrich were to win Florida and solidify his challenge against Romney, the Republican establishment would rally against him.
But at a time when the popularity of D.C. institutions are flirting with all-time lows -- 13 percent of Americans approve of Congress, according to the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, and 56 percent said they would vote to replace every single member of Congress if they had the option -- the perception of establishment support might not carry the heft it once did.
Romney's trump card has long been that he's the most electable conservative in the race. But that assumption was challenged in South Carolina, where Gingrich beat Romney among primary voters who said a candidate's ability to beat President Barack Obama this fall was the most important quality in choosing a candidate. Fifty-one percent of voters who named that their top priority voted for Gingrich, while 37 percent supported Romney.
And while Romney holds a slight overall advantage over Gingrich in yesterday's TIME/CNN/ORC poll, Gingrich leads, 39 to 29 percent, among self-described conservatives in the sample.
That's the reason why Gingrich's anti-establishment rhetoric is so frustrating to figures like Chaffetz, an original member of the anti-establishment minded class of conservatives. He won office by winning a 2008 conservative primary challenge to a veteran Utah congressman, and has been one of the most outspoken conservative members of the House.
"Just because he says it doesn't mean it's true," Chaffetz said of Gingrich's anti-Washington message. "I'm as Tea Party as they get. You're not going to out-Tea Party me. And I want someone new and fresh."
Jason Reed / Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama steps on stage to deliver remarks on American manufacturing in front of an Intel plant under construction in Chandler, Arizona January 25, 2012.
President Barack Obama was returning Thursday to two states key to his re-election, Nevada and Colorado, promoting his energy agenda while grabbing some of the political spotlight ahead of his Republican rivals.
Both states hold their presidential caucuses within the next two weeks — events that have grown in importance as the Republican contest for the White House appears to narrow to a choice between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Obama's energy pitch also comes just days after he drew Republican criticism for rejecting a cross-country oil pipeline that would have delivered Canadian tar sands oil to refineries in Texas.
In Nevada, Obama said his administration will open a large swath in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas exploration and development.
He also was scheduled to speak at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, drawing attention to proposals for clean energy and greater domestic oil and gas production.
Obama won both Nevada and Colorado in 2008. He visited both states in late October, using that trip to launch a phase of his campaign to jump-start the economy. With economic indicators improving, he now visits on a higher note.
Obama is drawing attention to two aspects of his energy policy — greater domestic energy production and investment in cleaner energy sources.
The nearly 38-million-acre (153,780 square kilometer) parcel the Obama administration is putting up for lease is part of an offshore drilling plan for 2007-12 put in place by former President George W. Bush. But after the massive BP oil spill of 2010 led to an overhaul of the government's oversight of offshore exploration and production, some areas had to be re-evaluated for the environmental risks associated with drilling.
The White House is portraying Obama as willing to seek the middle ground on energy after Republicans and the industry criticized him for the moratorium put in place after the Gulf disaster, the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, and other policies they say have hampered production, jobs and national energy security.
Ranking member U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) questions U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as he testifies at a hearing on Capitol Hill on March 2, 2011 in Washington, D.C.
Retiring Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank (D) will marry his longtime partner Jim Ready of Maine, NBC News reports. An aide to the congressman says the wedding will be in his home state.
A wedding date has not been announced nor are there details of the proposal.
In 1987, Frank became the first ever openly gay member of Congress, and is now one of three. In November, Frank announced his intention to not seek re-election in 2012 after he finishes his 16th term in the seat, citing redistricting as the reason.
Gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts, as well as several other states, including New Hampshire, New York, Iowa, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., and Vermont. Civil unions for same-sex couples are allowed in Rhode Island.
Frank has long been a lightning rod in Washington, known for his characteristically blunt commentary. He's been a favorite target of conservative Republicans, most recently former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who suggested in his campaigning for president that Frank be jailed for his role in crafting policies that, Gingrich claims, led to the housing crisis.
Ready, 42, lives in Ogunquit, Maine. He has a small business doing custom awnings, carpentry, painting, welding and other general handyman services, Gural said. Ready is also a photographer. The two men have been together since spring 2007.
Frank, 71, was attending a retreat Thursday with other House Democrats on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
During an appearance on PBS' "The Charlie Rose Show" earlier this month, Frank said he was looking forward to leaving Congress and spending time with Ready.
"Look, I have a partner now, Jim Ready; I have an emotional attachment. I'm in love for the first time in my life," Frank said on the show.
More content from msnbc.com and NBC News
When it comes to donating to charity and church, Mitt Romney is the man to beat.
The release this week of the GOP candidate's tax records cast a spotlight on his considerable wealth, but it also revealed the extent of his generosity.
The records show Romney and his wife, Ann, contributed $7 million in charity over the tax years 2010 and 2011, much of it going to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Romney earned $42.5 million during that period, which means he gave away roughly 16.5 percent of his income. He also paid out $6.2 million in taxes.
On both a percentage and an actual basis, Romney gave away more money than his chief rival for the GOP nomination, Newt Gingrich. He also donated more than President Obama, although the Democrat was not too far behind.
The average person donates 2 to 3 percent of his or her income to charity, experts say. For those who earn $10 million or more, the rate is 6.5 percent, said Joseph J. Thorndike, director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts.
"He's pretty generous, and no one can fault Romney for his level of giving," Thorndike told msnbc.com.
"It's remarkable," added Russell James, director of graduate studies in charitable planning at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. “I have never seen giving at the level Romney is giving at."
A look at others:
“Ever since Nixon, presidents and their taxes have been in the spotlight,” Thorndike told msnbc.com. “I’m sure he didn’t know he was going to start the tradition of releasing records, returns that were going to be pored over and read. Since then, there’s also been a strong incentive to not look cheap.”
For the record, former President Richard Nixon reported donating $295 to charity and church in 1972, according to the tax project. That's one-tenth of one percent of his annual adjusted income of $268,777 for that year.
Click below to view tax records of the various candidates (pdf):
More content from msnbc.com and NBC News
Jason Reed / Reuters
President Barack Obama delivers remarks on American manufacturing in front of an Intel plant under construction in Chandler, Arizona January 25, 2012.
Are we seeing a turning point on the economy and for President Obama? … It’s a coin flip in Florida … The candidates debate one last time before voters go to the polls there – what to watch for … It’s Vegas, baby, Vegas for Obama, then off to Colorado – the importance of the West … A finger-wagging tense moment with President Obama and Tea Party favorite Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer … More than $20 million spent between Romney, Gingrich and friends … And to the moon!
*** A turning point for Obama? Six months of positive to semi-positive economic news is starting to have an impact with the American public, according to the latest NBC/WSJ poll. And that uptick is benefitting President Obama. This poll showed important one-year highs on the direction of the economy. By a 37%/17% margin people said it would better in a year vs. worse. That’s a seven-point jump in a month and a 16-point improvement from October. Right track, wrong direction is still just 30%/61%, but that right direction number’s an 8-point boost from a month ago, a 13-point bounce from October. And -- excluding the bin Laden bump in May -- the right track is the highest it’s been since February 2011.
*** Obama in positive territory for first time in six months: The president’s approval rating is at 48%/46%, the highest since June. There have been upticks like this before and the White House won’t be celebrating – remember, when there appeared to be “green shoots” in 2011 or 2010, something out of the president’s control -- whether it was the BP oil spill, the Greek debt crisis, or the Arab Spring -- derailed that optimism. But this poll does feel different. The positive economic data has been on a more consistent trend. By the way, how much is the president’s job approval benefiting from the economy or GOP race? The full poll, including a VERY deep dive inside the Republican race will be released tonight at 6:30 pm ET.
*** Anybody’s race in Florida: Five days until the voters go to the polls in the Sunshine State, the GOP presidential contest is very volatile. It’s a pure coin flip. Two polls out yesterday both showed Romney and Gingrich in a statistical dead heat, but with very different trends – one with Gingrich surging, the other with Romney on the rise. The bottom line is no one knows what’s going to happen, raising the stakes for tonight’s debate, the 19th of this cycle and the last one before this primary. We’ve seen a ton of late deciders in these early contests – 53% in South Carolina said they made up their minds in the last few days, 46% said so in both New Hampshire and Iowa. These debates have shaped this race as much as anything, and the big question is: who shows up -- “Good Newt” or “Bad Newt,” Aggressive or Passive Romney. Their approaches will tell us tonight where both campaigns think this race is headed. (Romney, by the way, got a boost in his electability argument with a Suffolk poll out this morning showing him beating Obama by five in Florida, but Gingrich losing by nine.)
NBC's Tom Brokaw talks about Rep. Nancy Pelosi's assertion earlier this week that Newt Gingrich will not be president, suggesting that she might have potentially harmful information about the Republican candidate for the White House.
*** Wild West: President Obama continues his whirlwind post-State of the Union tour with a speech at 10:00 am ET in Las Vegas, before heading to Colorado. Both are key to the president’s reelection hopes. With New Mexico, they could be his Western Firewall. Latinos, of course, are crucial -- they make up 27% of Nevada residents and 21% in Colorado. Obama will speak in Aurora, CO, which is in Arapahoe County, one of the pivotal swing counties in the country (it went for both Obama and Bush). By the way, how concerned should the White House be about the mediocre ratings for the State of the Union? Fewer than 40 million tuned in, down from a year ago.
*** Finger pointing: The president spoke in Arizona and had a tense exchange with Arizona firebrand Gov. Jan Brewer, a Tea Party favorite, at the airport yesterday where she met him. AP captured an image of the governor with her finger pointed sharply at the president. She says he asked about an unflattering mention of him in her book, which led her to calling him “thin skinned.” It’s something that’s going to keep the conservative media fired up today. She gave them something to chat about. It’s certainly not exactly the kind of picture you think of when a governor greets a president.
*** Tough interviews and Gingrich’s moon shot: Don’t miss the interviews yesterday with Romney and Gingrich with Jorge Ramos. He pointedly went after both men’s weakness -- Romney on his wealth and Gingrich for his extra-marital affairs. It’s hard for Gingrich, in particular, to “attack the media” in this instance when he and his rival are trying hard to court the significant conservative Cuban vote in Florida. Also yesterday, speaking of issues important to Florida, Gingrich went after the Space Coast vote, going so far as to pledge, "By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon. And it will be American.”
*** Big money: Just how important is Florida to both the Romney and Gingrich candidacies? Romney and Gingrich allies are spending more than $20 million between them to try and win it and possibly put away the GOP nominating fight. Here’s the latest:
- Pro-Romney: $15.4 million (Romney campaign: $6.6 million, Restore Our Future $8.8 million)
- Pro-Gingrich: $3 million with another $3 million promised (Winning Our Future $2.7 million, Gingrich campaign: $282,000)
***On the trail: No surprise here: All the candidates (except Ron Paul) are campaigning in Florida: Romney stumps in Jacksonville …Gingrich holds rallies in Mount Dora and Jacksonville … Santorum visits Tallahassee … All the candidate will attend tonight’s debate in Jacksonville beginning at 8:00 pm ET on CNN and co-hosted by the Republican Party of Florida and the Hispanic Leadership Network.
Countdown to Florida primary: 5 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 9 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 40 days
Countdown to Election Day: 285 days
Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC, @brookebrower
Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer points at President Barack Obama after he arrived at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, Wednesday. Brewer greeted Obama and what she got was a book critique.
Updated at 10:35a.m. ET:
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and President Barack Obama engaged in an apparently tense exchange on an airport tarmac shortly after Air Force One touched down outside Phoenix on Wednesday.
The two leaders could be seen talking intently at the base of Air Force One's steps. Both could be seen smiling, but speaking at the same time.
Obama appeared to walk away from the Republican governor while they were still talking, according to a White House pool reporter. Brewer confirmed that by saying she didn't finish her sentence.
Asked moments later what the conversation was about, Brewer said: "He was a little disturbed about my book."
On a Phoenix radio talk show after their meeting, Brewer said Obama was "tense."
Brewer recently published a book, "Scorpions for Breakfast," something of a memoir of her years growing up. The book also defends her signing of Arizona's controversial law cracking down on illegal immigrants, which Obama opposes.
Obama was objecting to Brewer's description of a meeting he and Brewer had at the White House, where she described Obama as lecturing her. In an interview in November Brewer described two tense meetings. The first took place before his commencement address at Arizona State University. "He did blow me off at ASU," she said in the television interview in November.
She also described meeting the president at the White House in 2010 to talk about immigration. "I felt a little bit like I was being lectured to, and I was a little kid in a classroom, if you will, and he was this wise professor and I was this little kid, and this little kid knows what the problem is and I felt minimized to say the least."
President Obama and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer faced off in an apparently testy exchange on at an airport outside Phoenix. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.
In a statement after the meeting, Brewer didn't mention the airport conversation, and would only say that she discussed economic issues with Obama in a brief meeting.
"Don't be mistaken, I'm bullish on our nation's future," Brewer said in a statement issued later. "But I'm convinced the path the president has pursued is the wrong one. I hope he takes some of the lessons of Arizona back with him to Washington."
On the tarmac Wednesday, Brewer handed Obama an envelope with a handwritten invitation to return to Arizona to meet her for lunch and to join her for a visit to the border.
"I said to him, you know, I have always respected the office of the president and that the book is what the book is," she told reporters Wednesday. She said Obama complained that she described him as not treating her cordially.
"I felt a little bit threatened, if you will, and the attitutude that he had because I was there to welcome him," Brewer told reporters following the exchange.
A White House official said Brewer handed Obama a letter and said she was inviting him to meet with her. The official said Obama told her he would be glad to meet with her again. The official said Obama told her that in her book, she inaccurately described their last meeting, which the official described as a cordial discussion in the Oval Office. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation between the president and the governor.
NBC News, The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner suggested Wednesday that he's highly unlikely to stay in the Obama administration for a possible second term.
Geithner said that he would not expect President Obama to ask him to stay on for a second, four-year stint should Obama win re-election. And even if he were to ask, Geithner said he had planned on pursuing "something else."
"He's not going to ask me to stay on, I'm pretty confident," Geithner said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. "I'm confident he'll be president, but I'm also confident he's going to have the privilege of having another secretary of the Treasury."
Geithner has been one of the few figures of continuity among Obama's economic team, having served since the beginning of the administration. He had mulled resigning last summer, after the bulk of the new Wall Street reform law had been implemented, but announced his decision to stay in the administration through the re-election at the request of Obama.
Geithner's overseen one of the rockiest periods for the American economy during his few years in office. In addition to helping spearhead the financial regulatory reform law, Geithner helped pilot the latter phases of the 2008 Wall Street bailout, and the 2009 rescue of General Motors and Chrysler.
During his tenure, Geithner has weathered demands for his resignation from a number of senior Republicans. Many had disapproved of his economic stewardship, and, before that during his confirmation fight, seized on taxes he had failed to pay on employing a housekeeper.
If Geithner does not serve a second term, it will mean that Obama, if he's re-elected, will be forced to fill at least two major posts next year. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also said she intends to step down after Obama's first term is complete.
Does House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi know some dark secrets about GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich? Twice, she offered tantalizing hints that she does. And then said she doesn't. Gingrich said Wednesday that the House Democratic leader should come out with it or shut up.
The latest back-and-forth in the contest of two former House speakers came in a CNN interview Tuesday night, when host John King suggested to Pelosi that she "could come back here next January or next February with a President Gingrich?"
"Let me just say this. That will never happen," Pelosi said.
When King asked, "Why are you so sure?" Pelosi responded: "There's something I know. The Republicans, if they choose to nominate him, that's the prerogative. I don't even think that's going to happen."
On Wednesday, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said, "The 'something' leader Pelosi knows is that Newt Gingrich will not be president of the United States. She made that clear last night."
Hammill's statement, however, acknowledged that this wasn't the first time that Pelosi hinted that she knows something about Gingrich that she hasn't revealed.
In December, Pelosi reminded an interviewer that she served on the ethics panel that investigated Gingrich's use of tax-exempt organizations. That case ended with a reprimand by the House and a $300,000 penalty against the then-speaker for misleading the committee and prolonging its investigation.
Pelosi said at the time, "One of these days we'll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich. I know a lot about him. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff."
Hammill repeated the explanation provided after those comments.
"Leader Pelosi previously made a reference to the extensive amount of information that is in the public record, including the comprehensive committee report with which the public may not be fully aware," the spokesman said.
Gingrich said Wednesday that Pelosi should come out with her information or stop talking.
"Look, I think if she knows something she ought to say it. If she doesn't know something she ought to quit saying it. But this is baloney. I don't think any Republican is going to be threatened by Nancy Pelosi. Frankly, I'd rather have her threaten me than endorse me. So I feel pretty good about it. If she has something, bring it out," he said.
Mitt Romney, Gingrich's chief rival for the GOP presidential nomination, has asked that all records from Gingrich's ethics investigation be released. In January 1997, when the case ended, the committee did make public its final report as well as exhibits — which amounted to a comprehensive account of the committee's findings.
The chairman of the ethics committee during the Gingrich investigation, former Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson, said the committee traditionally does not publicly release investigative documents.
Democrats pivoted quickly on Wednesday to make Mitt Romney the poster boy for the "Buffett Rule," the concept announced by President Obama during his State of the Union address that no millionaire should pay less than 30 percent in taxes on their income.
Democrats hope that Romney becomes a prime example of the excesses of the current tax structure. The linkage is meant not just to boost efforts to reform the tax code, but to also tarnish the former Massachusetts governor as a general election candidate by highlighting his wealth, and the restructuring work he did in the private sector to earn it.
One of Obama's chief re-election strategists admitted Wednesday that the release of Romney's tax returns on Tuesday, which showed that he paid about 14 percent in taxes on about $42 million of income in 2010 and 2011.
"Mitt may have thought story would be buried" by the State of the Union, Obama adviser David Axelrod wrote on Twitter, but "his tax release helped make case for Buffett rule."
The Buffett Rule, named for the billionaire investor who's pushed for higher taxes on the wealthy from their investment-related income, was a central part of Obama's speech on Tuesday. The address hit hard on the idea of fairness, and the idea that the tax code currently benefits the wealthy over middle class households.
"You can call this class warfare all you want," Obama said. "But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense."
The administration seems especially confident in its position because the argument, when presented to voters, polls well.
A CBS News poll in December found that 60 percent of U.S. adults favor increasing taxes on households earning more than $1 million to help bridge the budget deficit. Mindful of that, Democrats sought to use a surtax on millionaires to finance a variety of components of the president's jobs bill when they came up for a vote last fall; all failed due to Republican objections.
On the more specific issue of dividend income, a New York Times/CBS News poll released this week found that a majority of Americans favor taxing it the same as income from employment.
In Romney, Democrats have a perfect poster boy for what they argue are the inequities in the current tax code. The former Massachusetts governor paid such a low tax rate because most of his income in recent years came from investment, which are taxed at a lower rate.
"Look at what we have with the disclosure of Mitt Romney and his tax returns -- an annual income of $21 million and a tax rate of less than 15 percent, about 14 percent," Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, said Wednesday on Bloomberg Television. "And you ask yourself, now, is that fair? Is it fair that ... making that much money in a year is paying a lower rate tax rate than someone struggling paycheck to paycheck?"
And for much as the reignited tax debate has shone the spotlight on Romney and his wealth, it's allowed his Republican foes to pounce, as well.
"I think you have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic $20 million-a-year income with no work to have some fantasy this far from reality," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said at an Univision forum on Wednesday in Miami, connecting Romney's wealth to his position on illegal immigration.
Romney has emphasized that he pays all of the taxes required of him by law, and has pointed to the millions in additional income he and his wife donate to charity. But he characterized his tax burden as "fair" at Monday night's NBC News/National Journal/Tampa Bay Times debate, inserting himself into the narrative the Obama campaign is trying to build about inequality.
"I don’t think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes. So I’ll point out that that’s the case," he said. "And will there will discussion? Sure. Will it be an article? Yeah. But is it entirely legal and fair? Absolutely."
And that's why Democrats have no hesitance about linking Romney to the Buffett Rule, so much so that it might just be renamed after the former GOP governor.
"We agree with the president that it makes no sense that a millionaire should pay lower taxes than a secretary. So, it's a priority for us to act on some sort of Romney--" Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said at a press conference Wednesday on Capitol Hill before catching himself, "--I mean, Buffett Rule this year."
DORAL, FL -- Newt Gingrich combined attacks on Mitt Romney's wealth and his stance on immigration in a forum less than a week before the Latino-heavy Florida GOP primary.
Gingrich attacked the former Massachusetts governor for being out-of-touch with the experience of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who have laid down roots in America.
"I think you have to live in worlds of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic $20 million a year income with no work to have some fantasy this far from reality," Gingrich said at a forum organized by the Spanish-language network Univision. "I talk very specifically about people who have been here for a long time ...for Romney to believe that somebody's grandmother is going to be so cut off she is going to self deport? This verges -- this is an Obama level fantasy."
Gingrich defended his immigration policy while criticizing his chief rival’s policy for lacking “humanity” and being a “fantasy.”
“He certainly shows no concern for the humanity of the people who are already here,” Gingrich told the crowd about Romney, who floated the idea of self-deportation in a Republican debate on Monday night, a concept somewhat nebulous in its execution.
The former House speaker, who began his interview with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, believes that citizen panels should decide if illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for 20-25 years and participate in the community should be allowed to remain in the country legally. Gingrich wants to build a new worker permit program, as well.
The speaker continued to stump in one of the most heavily Hispanic parts of Florida today giving a speech on Latin American Policy at Florida International University.
Gingrich made his case for why he's best suited to win over Latinos in the general election. He said he aims to win 50 percent of Latinos nationally and outlined policy positions that might contribute to him making inroads in that community
But Gingrich trails Romney among Latinos voting in next Tuesday’s primary according to a new poll, and performs more poorly than Romney against Obama among Latinos nationally.
A new poll conducted by Latino Decisions for Univision News and ABC News finds that Romney holds a 15 percent lead over Gingrich in the Hispanic vote in Florida, 35 to 20 percent.
Both presidential candidates are courting voters in the Miami area today.
Ramos asked Gingrich to clarify comments he made in 2007 where it seemed he implied that Spanish was the language of the ghetto.
"It wasn't about Spanish, I said it about all languages," Gingrich said inside the Univision studios.
"I am for English as a common unifying language…Most parents, whatever their linguistic background, want their children to be able to function in English because they know they will have a better job and a better future,” he said.
The speaker, whose oldest daughter lives in Miami-Dade county, even got a little chocked up at his speech at FIU while talking about his granddaughter learning to play the violin by a Cuban-American violinist -- Luis Haza -- who escaped from Fidel Castro’s rule after his father was executed.
“If you talk to Luis, you will understand the passion that he is left here to deal with over the years and why my determination to free Cuba and to help the people of Cuba be free is because he is a deep, deep advocate for human freedom and decency,” Gingrich said about Haza.