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First Thoughts: Both parties licking their chops over Blunt amendment

Both parties licking their political chops over today’s Blunt amendment vote… But the issue became a headache for Romney… Team Romney springs into action to repair the damage, but has Romney ever followed a win with a good news day?... Wednesday turned out to be a good day for Santorum… Romney picks up straw-poll win in Wyoming… Obama heads to New Hampshire… And Senate Democrats get more good news with Kerrey’s Senate announcement.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., talks to reporters following a Republicans strategy session at the Capitol in Washington.

*** Both parties licking their chops over Blunt amendment: At 11:00 am ET, per NBC’s Libby Leist, the U.S. Senate will vote on Blunt amendment, which would allow employers -- if they have personal religious objections -- to not provide contraception coverage under the federal health-care law (Update: The Senate has defeated the amendment 51-48). This is one of those rare situations where BOTH parties are licking their political chops and are excited about creating a wedge issue. Democrats are eager to bring this legislation to the floor because they see it as infringing on women’s rights. And for that reason, Democrats believe today’s vote could hurt incumbent GOP senators up for re-election, like Scott Brown and Dean Heller. On the other hand, Republicans are eager to vote for this amendment because they see it as protecting religious liberty. And so they think the measure puts incumbent Democrats, such as Claire McCaskill, Sherrod Brown and Bob Casey, in a bind. And all of this is taking place over something that is hardly the top issue to American voters. It’s really Washington at its cynically worst.


*** But the issue became a headache for Romney: Speaking of this Blunt amendment, it became a major headache for Mitt Romney yesterday. Asked by an Ohio political reporter if he supported the amendment, Romney replied, "I'm not for the bill. But, look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I'm not going there." Not only did that answer contradict his attacks on the Obama administration’s initial contraception ruling and its later compromise, it also gave Rick Santorum a HUGE political opening. And the Romney campaign quickly scrambled to correct the problem. First, the campaign issued a statement saying the former Massachusetts governor was confused by the question and certainly supports the measure. But that clearly wasn’t going to be enough, so Romney called an old conservative radio host to set the record straight himself. “I didn’t understand his question. Of course I support the Blunt amendment. I thought he was talking about some state law that prevented people from getting contraception.”

*** Has Romney ever followed a win with a good news day? An immediate question: Does something called Blunt-Rubio scream state law to anyone? And here’s another: Has Romney ever followed a win with a good news day? After all, it was in the lead-up to his decisive victory in New Hampshire when he uttered the words, “I like being able to fire people,” as well as his “pink slip” comment. Then, immediately after he won Florida, he said this on CNN: “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” And then yesterday after winning Michigan and Arizona, Romney got tripped up on the Blunt legislation. The good news for Romney: His campaign moved with light speed to repair the damage, and it has the potential to be a one-day story. What’s more, we do get who tired these candidates can get on the trail. On the other hand, given some of the conservative reaction to Romney’s initial statement on the amendment, it’s also pretty clear that Romney has very little margin of error with the right. This is something to watch if Romney becomes the GOP nominee and begins to move to the center. Will conservatives cut him any slack? Folks, you have no idea how jammed our inboxes were from conservative activists who were angry about the initial interview in Ohio. They moved so fast; they had already pronounced him guilty until he could prove himself innocent of this conservative mistake.


*** Wednesday was a good day for Santorum: Although he lost the popular vote in Michigan, Wednesday turned out to be a pretty good day for Santorum. For starters, he got to capitalize on Romney’s comment on the Blunt amendment. "As governor, Mitt Romney has a clear record of taking away the freedom of religion. We all know Romney's liberal record on this, so when he's asked a question about a bill that would protect our religious freedom - and Romney's gut reaction is to say he'd oppose it - we shouldn't be the least bit surprised," the Santorum campaign said in a statement last night. In addition, it turns out that Santorum tied Romney in winning delegates in Michigan, 15-15. So yesterday when Santorum painted Tuesday’s outcome in Michigan as a draw, he wasn’t wrong. Of course, Santorum needs to realize that if you live by the “it’s all about the delegates” mantra, you could die by it. Santorum is ineligible for nine of Ohio’s 63 delegates next Tuesday because he did NOT file delegate slates in three congressional districts. So he could win Ohio and lose the delegate battle to Romney. And then watch Romney’s campaign remind him: “It’s all about the delegates.”

*** Romney wins non-binding Wyoming straw poll: And yesterday, Wednesday was good for Romney in this respect: He won the non-binding straw poll of Wyoming. Per NBC’s John Bailey, the Wyoming Republican Party announced last night that Romney won the state’s non-binding precinct straw poll with 39%, followed by Santorum with 32%, Paul with 21%, and Gingrich with 8%. The non-binding poll was conducted at Wyoming precinct caucuses held over a stretch of weeks between Feb. 9 and Feb. 29. Bailey points out that the poll does not bind Wyoming’s delegates, but it is an indicator of how the state may vote in its upcoming county conventions (March 6 to March 10) and state convention (April 12 to April 14), where 26 of Wyoming’s 29 delegates will be bound. So be careful of media outlets attempting to allocate these delegates. And do note that only 2,108 Wyoming Republicans participated in the poll. We repeat, 2,108 folks.

*** On the trail, per NBC’s Adam Perez: Gingrich remains in Georgia, campaigning in Atlanta and Woodstock… Santorum hosts two events in the Peach State, rallying in Dalton and Atlanta then hitting Washington state, where he visits Spokane and Pasco… Paul remains in Washington state… And Romney stumps in North Dakota, Idaho, and Washington state.

*** Obama’s day: At 1:30 pm ET, President Obama will deliver remarks on energy in Nashua, NH. He then travels to New York City to attend four fundraisers. The RNC says this will bring his total fundraisers to 100 since he announced his re-election bid in April 2011.

*** Senate Dems get more good news with Kerrey’s announcement: In back-to-back days, Senate Democrats have received their best news in quite some time. First came the word that Sen. Olympia Snowe isn’t running for re-election, which gives Democrats a very good chance of keeping the Senate in 2012. And then second came the news that Bob Kerrey -- after initially saying that he wouldn’t run for Ben Nelson’s Nebraska Senate seat – changed his mind, giving Democrats an opportunity to hold on to this seat. But don’t surprised if Republicans seize on this recent interview: Kerrey admitted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made promises to get him to run, but Kerrey declined to reveal the nature of those promises. “They were important to me, and I asked for them, and he’s agreed… I would only ask of things that would be beneficial to Nebraska. 

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