WASHINGTON — A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012:
ANTI-OBAMA RHETORIC: Rick Santorum's rhetoric about President Barack Obama is becoming increasingly harsh. He's questioning not just the president's competence but also his motives and even his Christian values. Mitt Romney piled on after being drawn into a discussion of social issues, topics he rarely ever mentions without prompting. Tucked into sometimes lengthy speeches, Santorum says Obama cares only about power, not the "interests of people." He says Obama's health care overhaul includes a "hidden message" about the president's disregard for impaired fetuses, which might be aborted once their condition is known. Santorum even has seemed to compare Obama to Adolf Hitler, though he denies trying to do that. Romney, meanwhile, said the Obama administration has "fought against religion" and has sought to substitute a "secular" agenda for one grounded in faith. Romney said it's a possible result of the company the president keeps. Obama's re-election campaign said Romney's comments were "disgraceful."
GOVERNMENT IN YOUR HAIR: Once a powerful Washington figure himself, Newt Gingrich pledged to Oklahoma state lawmakers that he'd shrink the role of the nation's capital if sent back as president. Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House, capped two days of campaigning in the state with an address to the Legislature. He asked lawmakers for input on which federal regulations to roll back and for ideas on other ways to reverse what he says is growing federal intrusion into state decisions. Issuing the homework assignment of sorts, Gingrich asked: "What are the things the federal government is doing that ought to be returned to the state, to get the federal government out of your hair?"
OUTSIDER INSIDE: That's what Santorum says he was, a lawmaker who rooted out corruption from within the institution of Congress. Santorum represented Pennsylvania in the Senate before voters decided not to re-elect him in 2006. His claim of being an outsider is a direct rebuttal to rival Romney. As Santorum has risen in the polls following a recent trio of wins to challenge Romney for front-runner status, Romney has been attacking the former senator at every turn as a not-truly-conservative, big-spending Washington insider.
FOREIGN FUNDING: In the first acknowledged evidence of foreign money in the 2012 presidential race, a political action committee supporting Santorum says it has returned a $50,000 contribution from a London-based securities firm. Such donations have been illegal in the U.S. since 1966. Stuart Roy, a spokesman for the Red, White and Blue super PAC, said the contribution from Liquid Capital Markets Ltd. came from an American executive at the firm but that the funds were mistakenly drawn from the foreign firm's account. That made what may have been a well-intended donation unacceptable under U.S. law.
GUESS WHO'S COMING: When the four candidates meet Wednesday in Mesa, Ariz., for their 20th debate, a familiar former contender will be on the scene again. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been tapped to work the debate as an advocate for Gingrich. Perry's famous "Oops" moment in an earlier debate, when he couldn't name all three federal departments he would eliminate if elected, became one of the campaign's signature moments. Perry is a curious choice for Gingrich, who boasts often about his own prowess as a debater. Perry endorsed Gingrich after quitting the race last month. Gingrich's campaign asked him to be on hand after the debate in what's known as the "spin room" to speak to journalists on Gingrich's behalf.
DEBATE DETAILS: The event is co-hosted by CNN and the Arizona Republican Party and is being held at the Mesa Arts Center. The two-hour debate begins at 8 p.m. Eastern time and is to be moderated by CNN anchor John King. CNN recently was forced to cancel a planned March 1 debate after Romney and Ron Paul declined to attend, claiming they'd participated in enough debates already.
POLL TRACKER: A pre-debate poll by CNN/Time/ORC International before Arizona's Feb. 28 presidential primary shows Romney and Santorum in a dead heat among likely Republican voters in the state. According to the survey released Tuesday, 36 percent of those likely to vote say they are backing Romney and 32 percent say they are behind Santorum. Gingrich was third with 18 percent support, and Paul in last place with 6 percent. The telephone survey of 467 registered Republicans who are likely to vote in the primary was conducted Feb. 17-20 and has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.
HE SAID WHAT?
— "I have to do a little running to get rid of that extra Paczki." — Romney, referring to the sugary, pre-Lenten Polish pastries he'd apparently eaten.
—"Mr. President." — Unidentified questioner addressing Romney at town-hall event in Shelby, Mich.
—"Back in 2008, the American people, in a time of crisis, went for a rock star that they believed could solve their problems."— Santorum, on President Barack Obama.
—"This is a wild roller coaster. ... This has really, truly been the wildest nominating process I can remember." — Gingrich, on CBS "This Morning."