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First Thoughts: Shades of Schiavo?

Shades of Schiavo?... Is the return of the culture war bad news for the GOP?... As GM goes, so goes the Obama presidency… Romney and allies have a 3-to-1 spending advantage over Santorum and allies in Michigan (and 8-to-1 nationally)… Pro-Santorum Super PAC goes on the air… Team Obama releases its January fundraising numbers: $29.1 million… White House gets criticized for full day of fundraising… And “Meet the Press” to interview Paul Ryan and Chris Van Hollen.

*** Shades of Schiavo? When the Terri Schiavo controversy first turned into a full-blown national story -- in March 2005 -- no one was sure of its political implications. Even some Democrats feared it was a loser for them. But after congressional Republicans and the Bush White House acted to keep the Schiavo alive, despite being in a vegetative state and despite her husband's wishes that her feeding tube be removed, their move backfired. The American public thought they went too far, and it marked the beginning of the end of GOP control over Congress and the White House. Flash forward almost seven years later, and is history repeating itself? Just like with the Schiavo case, we're unclear how the debate over contraception, women's health, and religious liberty will play out. But after the Obama White House initially bungled its contraception rollout and especially after it released its accommodation compromise, there are warning signs this week that the GOP has taken that issue -- and other social ones -- too far.

Science & Society Picture Librar / Getty Images Contributor

Montage of various types of contraceptive pills and their packaging.

*** Yesterday’s House hearing, Foster Friess, and the Virginia House: At a congressional hearing yesterday -- entitled "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" -- a Democrat walked out in protest over no women being included in a morning panel. Another, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., asked, “Where are the women?” Then Foster Friess, perhaps Rick Santorum’s most important financial backer, told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell yesterday: “This contraceptive thing, my gosh, it's so inexpensive. Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn't that costly.” (Santorum distanced himself from the remark, which seemed to imply that women should put an aspirin between their legs so they don’t open them. And Friess has since apologized.) And also this week, the Virginia House passed bills 1) declaring personhood at conception, which would outlaw abortion in the state; and 2) requiring women to have a “transvaginal ultrasound” before getting an abortion.

*** Where’s the focus on the economy? Remember, this is Virginia -- a presidential battleground state that President Obama carried by nearly seven percentage points in ’08; a state with a key Senate contest in 2012; and a state whose GOP governor, Bob McDonnell, is a potential VP pick. How will these bills play in Virginia come November? Well, McDonnell has said he’ll sign the ultrasound legislation if he comes to his desk, but he hasn’t taken a position on the personhood bill. Democrats, meanwhile, are already seizing on both pieces of legislation. First Read has spoken with several GOP strategists, and their conclusion is pretty much the same: Republicans should be talking about the economy, not social issues. Meanwhile, per the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Dems Stanley Greenberg and James Carville have issued a polling memo that says, “[V]oters may wonder why the Republicans are consumed with pushing back health coverage for women rather than continuing to focus on the economy, spending and debt. We may yet look back on this debate and wonder whether this was a Terry [sic] Schiavo moment.”

The controversy over the White House contraception mandate continued Thursday on Capitol Hill, with a major donor to Rick Santorum's campaign adding more fuel to the fire. NBC's David Gregory reports.

*** As GM goes… : In 2009, we made this prediction: As GM goes, so goes the Obama presidency. And right now, it appears the Obama administration’s gamble with the bailout has paid off. Here are some of the headlines from yesterday’s news: Boston Globe: “GM rebounds with record $7.6b profit”; Detroit Free Press: “GM stock surges on record $7.6-billion profit for 2011”; the Detroit News: “GM employees to reap profit benefits.”

*** Here’s the latest look at the ad-spending race: In Michigan, Romney and his allies have a 3-to-1 advantage over Santorum and his allies. It’s Restore Our Future $1.9 million, Romney campaign $1.2 million, Red White and Blue Fund $655,000, and Santorum campaign $480,000. In addition, the pro-Romney Restore Our Future Super PAC placed an additional $2 million broadcast buy in AZ, OH, GA, OK, MS, TN and AL. That brings its ad spending to a grand total of $20.8 million -- the biggest spender in the GOP race. It’s followed by the Romney campaign at $13.4 million, Paul at $6.1 million, the pro-Gingrich Super PAC Winning Our Future at $5.1 million, Gingrich at $2.7 million, Red White and Blue Fund at $2.1 million, and the Santorum campaign at $2.1 million.

*** Pro-Santorum Super PAC on the air in Michigan: By the way, the Red, White, and Blue Fund has released its new TV ad in Michigan. Per NBC’s Andrew Rafferty, it’s a fairly positive ad – calling Santorum “father, husband, a champion for life, the leader with a bold plan to restore America’s greatness.” 

*** Team Obama releases its January numbers: Via President Obama's twitter account, the Obama campaign announced that it raised $29.1 million for the month of January -- between the re-election campaign, the DNC, and its other accounts. (To put that haul into perspective, Team Obama and the DNC raised a combined $68 million in the months of October, November, and December.) The campaign says 98% of the donations were less than $250. We have now entered the stage in the presidential contest where the campaigns have to report monthly to the Federal Election Commission -- by the 20th of each month. (So for the January numbers, the deadline is Feb. 20.) We have yet to receive numbers from the GOP campaigns.

*** Fundraiser-in-chief: With his four fundraising events in California yesterday -- but no official business event -- the White House has begun to receive criticism that it is using Air Force One and other White House infrastructure for campaign purposes. The White House’s response, per NBC’s Shawna Thomas: It abides by all rules -- just like Bush 43 and Clinton did -- that govern how campaign costs are picked up by the campaign. NBC’s Ali Weinberg and Kristen Welker note that an Obama campaign official, its California field director, made this comment at one of Obama’s fundraising events last night: "There are people who say California's in the bag, and we're just an ATM. And you know what, they're kind of right," said Mary Jane Stevenson, the California field director for Obama for America, the president's campaign branch. "California's in the bag for president, and we are a bit of an ATM.” But, she added, California's in-the-bag status allowed Obama volunteers in 2008 to focus on making phone calls in swing states so that supporters in those states could spend more time going door-to-door and interacting with key voters.

*** On the trail, per NBC’s Adam Perez: Santorum makes a stop in Shelby, MI then travels to Ohio, campaigning in Mason and Georgetown… Romney fundraises in Boise, ID…  Paul hosts two events in Washington  then makes hits Moscow, ID… And Gingrich stumps in Peachtree City, GA… Also this weekend, as Romney heads to Utah, the DNC is up with a video noting how the 2002 Olympic games that Romney oversaw got $1.3 billion from the federal government.

*** “Meet” on Sunday: NBC’s David Gregory interviews House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R) and Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D). 

Countdown to Arizona and Michigan primaries: 11 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 18 days
Countdown to Election Day: 263 days

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