MCCAIN: The New York Times' David Brooks looks at the challenge facing McCain who is about to transition from insurgent to front-runner. "Somehow in the midst of all this frenzy, McCain has to transition from being an underdog to being a front-runner. He has to transition from being an insurgent to being the leader of a broad center-right coalition. He has to transition from being a primary season scrambler to offering a broader vision of how to unify the country. By the end of next week, McCain could be the de facto leader of the Republican Party. The McCain staff is acutely aware of the responsibility this entails, and what it will take to operate at the next level."
A clip like this isn't good for McCain with conservatives, is it? The Los Angeles Times notes McCain's surprising popularity in Hollywood.
Speaking of McCain's problems on the right, the New York Times takes a look. "How firmly conservatives reject or embrace Mr. McCain may be a pivotal variable, both in the homestretch of the Republican primary campaign, when Mitt Romney is hoping to rally conservatives to his side, and in the general election, when too much grumbling from the right in a close race could cost Mr. McCain the White House. The McCain campaign, for its part, is doing remedial work on the right. On the day after the Florida primary, it announced that Mr. McCain would speak next week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a major gathering held each year in Washington."
More: "Still, even Mr. McCain's most determined antagonists say the animosity among conservative leaders does not necessarily extend deep into the rank and file, where not many remember the details of Mr. McCain's views on campaign finance or judicial nomination procedures. 'It is kind of inside baseball,' as Mr. Perkins put it."
The Washington Post takes a look at McCain's financial comeback, which included a loan that avoided taking matching funds, a major development if he is the nominee. The details of the loan: "After obtaining the $3 million line of credit from Fidelity & Trust Bank in Bethesda in November, McCain drew $2.97 million between Nov. 18 and Dec. 16, according to campaign records. The chief asset among $5 million pledged as collateral was McCain's huge fundraising lists."
"Cleta Mitchell, a Republican campaign finance lawyer who has been a critic of McCain's, said she believes the arrangement raises serious questions. "Did they base this loan on the fact that, even if he lost, he would still be a sitting senator and able to raise money?" she asked. "In my mind, that raises questions about whether he complied with Senate ethics rules," which bar members from using their position to negotiate financial terms that an average citizen could not. Trevor Potter, the campaign's lawyer, said the lending arrangement was vetted for the campaign and the bank. In addition to producing the fundraising lists as collateral, Potter said, the campaign promised that McCain would continue to make appeals to donors on the lists "as needed to pay off the loan."
McCain's chief Dem supporter, Joe Lieberman, believes McCain's likely nomination puts an end to the idea of candidate Michael Bloomberg. "Lieberman hinted that he might support a Bloomberg bid if Mr. McCain loses the Republican race."
ROMNEY: Admit it, you were one of those thinking Romney wasn't spending any more of the sons' inheritance. Well, he's up with a major national buy, including over $1 million in California alone.
Romney poured in about $18 million of his own money in the fourth quarter of last year, FEC reports show. That brings his total personal contribution to $35.4 million. And that does not include January of this year when campaigning was the most intense with the early primary contests taking place. "Romney donated twice as much of his own money than he raised from contributors during the fourth quarter, about $9.1 million. He had raised $54 million total as of Dec. 31."