WASHINGTON — A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012:
YES, ER, NO!: At first Republican Mitt Romney said he doesn't support a Senate Republican effort that would allow employers to deny insurance coverage based on moral objections and that critics say could limit birth control. He said he doesn't like presidential candidates, in his words, "getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman." Then he said he misunderstood the question and actually supports the effort. Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul says the question was asked in a confusing way. She says Romney does indeed support Sen. Roy Blunt's amendment. Conservatives have rallied behind Blunt and have been quick to criticize Romney's initial statement. The former Massachusetts governor spent most of the day campaigning in Ohio, where he promised "more jobs, less debt and a smaller government" if he wins the nomination and defeats President Barack Obama in the fall.
RETURN OF A PRODIGAL SON OF THE SOUTH: Newt Gingrich said Wednesday that a victory in Georgia's primary is a "key building block" for his campaign. But he stopped short of saying a loss would force him from the race. Georgia is one of 10 contests in week's Super Tuesday voting; Gingrich predicted he'd win the state "decisively." Gingrich's political career started in Georgia, and he represented the state in Congress for 20 years. Betting on the South, he skipped primaries in Michigan and Arizona to save money and focus on delegate-rich states that vote with Georgia on Tuesday, including Tennessee, Ohio and Oklahoma. The former congressman was courting voters in his home state through Friday. He planned to campaign in Ohio on Saturday and in Tennessee on Monday.
THE FORMER SENATOR WHO COULD: Rick Santorum is also eyeing Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee, as well as Saturday's Washington caucuses, to prove he can win across the country. Reflecting on Tuesday's loss to Romney in Michigan, Santorum said his campaign "held up pretty well" after being vastly outspent in Michigan, where Romney was born and his father served as governor. But next week's 10 Super Tuesday contests will be crunch time for Santorum's bid to dislodge the resurgent Republican front-runner. The former Pennsylvania senator said he raised more than $9 million for his campaign in February.
NEBRASKA'S HAMLET: Former Sen. Bob Kerrey said Wednesday he will seek the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat he once held from Nebraska, reversing course just weeks after publicly rejecting a run he had called a longshot. Kerrey had opted out of the race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson because, he said, running wasn't in his family's best interest. The latest decision by the 1992 presidential candidate and former Nebraska governor comes just one day before the filing deadline and the day after Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, announced she would not seek re-election. National Democrats desperate to stop Republicans from netting four seats this fall see a glimmer of hope to regain control of the Senate.
SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM SILENCED: The powerful chairman of the House rules committee says he won't seek another term. Rep. David Dreier arrived on Capitol Hill with President Ronald Reagan's 1980 landslide. Dreier, a Republican, is the sixth House member from California to announce an exit from Congress at the end of the term. Dreier is a formidable parliamentarian who also knows how to build working relationships with Democratic colleagues. The ice cream socials he hosted helped.
BY THE NUMBERS:
41: Percentage of the Michigan vote Romney won.
38: Percentage of the Michigan vote Santorum won.
15: Michigan delegates Romney won.
15: Michigan delegates Santorum won.
0: Michigan delegates Gingrich and Paul won.
47: Percentage of Arizona vote Romney won.
27: Percentage of Arizona votes for Santorum.
29: Arizona delegates committed to Romney.
0: Arizona delegates pledged to Santorum, Gingrich and Paul.
167: Delegates committed to Romney.
87: Delegates committed to Santorum.
32: Delegates committed to Gingrich.
19: Delegates committed to Paul.
419: Delegates at stake on Super Tuesday, March 6.
1,144: Delegates needed for the nomination.
IN THEIR WORDS:
— "I believe in the Second Amendment, I'll protect the Second Amendment, I have guns myself. Not going to tell you where they are. Don't have them on myself either, all right?" — Romney in Columbus, Ohio.
— "So we're going to walk out of Michigan with 15 delegates, and he's going to walk out of Michigan with 15 delegates." — Santorum, on the bottom line in Michigan's primary.
— "We need to stand up and we need to win this. And I think the way we win it is we draw very broad distinctions. So if you help me next Tuesday, and next Tuesday is very important, Georgia is the biggest state in delegates in Super Tuesday. We have a real chance here to send a signal to the country, but we need your help to do it." — Gingrich, campaigning in Georgia.