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First Thoughts: What a difference four years can make

Cliff Owen / AP

Mitt Romney addresses the Northern Virginia Technology Council - Consumer Electronics Presidential Series breakfast in Reston, Va., Friday, Feb. 10, 2012.

What a difference four years can make: Romney at CPAC in ’08 vs, ’12… Santorum (at 10:25 am ET), Romney (12:55 pm), and Gingrich (4:10 pm) all set to address CPAC, and straw poll results and Sarah Palin to come tomorrow… GOPers and Romney advisers getting nervous about Romney’s performance… Maine caucus results on Saturday… White House to address contraception policy (and possible changes) today… Obama five years ago today… And Santorum and Lew to appear on “Meet the Press.”


*** What a difference four years can make: On Feb. 7, 2008, fresh after his losses to John McCain on Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney walked into the ballroom at CPAC as a rock star and the conservative alternative to McCain. And when he told the audience he was exiting the presidential race, the boisterous crowd groaned, the L.A. Times reported at the time. Attendees also chanted, “Mitt, Mitt, Mitt,” the New York Times added. Conservatives there wanted someone else (Romney, Huckabee) rather than the man who was well on his way to becoming the party’s nominee (McCain). But almost exactly four years later, a funny thing has happened: Romney has turned into the 2012 version of McCain. Even though his positions and stances haven’t changed much from that ’08 campaign -- with the big exception of his 2012 emphasis on his business background -- Romney is now the one who’s his party’s likely nominee and who, at least right now, elicits little passion from the conservative base. Just check out this headline from the Washington Post: “At CPAC, little love for Mitt Romney, but most see him as inevitable nominee.”

*** Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich all set to address CPAC: Yet there’s another difference between Feb. 2008 and Feb. 2012: The GOP race right now is far from over, and Super Tuesday is nearly a month away. Today, Romney (at 12:55 pm ET), Rick Santorum (at 10:25 am), and Newt Gingrich (at 4:10 pm) address the CPAC confab. According to excerpts of his remarks, Gingrich will say, “Getting America again will require bold thinking and bold solutions. Many of these new approaches will be opposed by the establishment in both parties.” He will mention replacing the EPA with an “Environmental Solutions Agency”; creating a 21st century Food and Drug Administration; replacing NASA’s bureaucracy; and limiting judges “who violate the Constitution.” In addition, Gingrich will discuss his support for an optional 15% flat tax, setting capital gains to zero, and bringing gas prices down to $2 per gallon. Tomorrow, we’ll get the CPAC straw poll results (at 4:15 pm ET) and the concluding speech by Sarah Palin (at 4:30 pm).

*** But the more things change, the more they stay the same: While things have changed for Romney from four years ago, this line from Romney’s speech a CPAC last year is very familiar, NBC’s Marc Koslow notes: “My father never graduated from college. He apprenticed as a lath and plaster carpenter, and he was darn good at it. He learned how to put a handful of nails in his mouth and spit them out, point forward. On his honeymoon, he and mom drove across the country. Dad sold aluminum paint along the way, to pay for gas and hotels.” It’s the same thing he said about his father in Colorado on Tuesday. So the more things change, the more they remain the same…

*** Republicans and advisers getting nervous about Romney’s performance: A growing challenge for Romney is Republicans and even his own advisers have become “increasingly anxious” about his performance, the Washington Post writes. “One prominent adviser told the candidate to sharpen his use of conservative code words and create ‘small pictures’ — vivid imagery, in other words — to connect with voters. Another flew to Boston to say that Romney’s message is too businesslike and broad to capture the passion of angry Republican voters. Still others have gone on television and written opinion columns to hammer home what is becoming a common theme this year: that Romney has not been able to ignite a cause when the GOP is primed to become part of one.” So we’ve gone from advisers taking credit (in the New York Times) for his turnaround in Florida, to now criticizing him (in the Washington Post) after his defeats on Tuesday. Folks, that isn’t characteristic of a winning presidential campaign…

*** Maine results on Saturday: A final note about the GOP presidential race: On Saturday, we’ll get the results from Maine’s caucus, which has taken place (for the most part) from Feb. 4 through Feb. 11. The results are expected to be announced around 7:30 pm ET, the Maine GOP has told First Read. Maine awards 24 delegates, but like in Iowa, Colorado, and Minnesota, the precise allocation of delegates will be determined at a later date. After his remarks at CPAC, Romney heads to Portland, ME.

*** White House to address contraception policy today: Turning away from the GOP presidential contest to the contraception controversy the Obama White House is facing, First Read can report that it will address its contraception policy TODAY. Per the AP, “A person familiar with the decision says President Barack Obama will announce a plan to accommodate religious employers outraged by a rule that would require them to cover birth control for women free of charge.” The White House definitely wants to be able to put a period on this. While this story has been at the very least a headache for Team Obama and could be a potential problem come November, the culture-war rhetoric we heard from Republican leaders at CPAC yesterday suggested something that could turn of independent voters. It may end up a wash in the end, but it’s fascinating that both political parties – in their heart of hearts – believes this contraception issue is a political winner for them.

*** Obama five years ago: By the way, today happens to be fifth anniversary of Obama’s presidential announcement in Springfield, IL. (One of your First Read authors was covering the event there, and remains cold from the frigid air that day.) The Obama campaign is up with a video commemorating that day. And, not surprisingly, the RNC is up with its own video marking that announcement.

*** On “Meet” this Sunday: NBC’s David Gregory interviews Rick Santorum and White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew.

Countdown to Super Tuesday: 25 days
Countdown to Election Day: 270 days

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