GOP Primary Enters A Holding Pattern

(Image Credit: Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )

After a sprint to Super Tuesday, the race for the Republican nomination seems to be shifting into neutral - at least for the moment.

With more delegates in the bank than anyone else, Mitt Romney's campaign this week offered up a mathematical argument about why no other candidate is capable of overtaking him before the Republican National Convention.

Although Romney spent yesterday (and will spend today) campaigning in the south - Mississippi and Alabama hold primaries next Tuesday - even his campaign aides acknowledge this is not necessarily fertile territory for the former Massachusetts governor.

That said, Romney has picked up the endorsements of the governors of both states, a potential boost to his challenge to Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in both places.

All four candidates are on the campaign trail today and we'll be listening closely to how they spin this morning's jobs number. Employers created 227,000 jobs last month, but the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 8.3 percent.

The number of new jobs was in line with expectations, but it's likely that we'll hear the candidates make the case that while a recovery is happening, it's not happening fast enough. However, if steady jobs growth continues, it's hard to see how that angle will resonate heading into the summer and fall.

In the short term, the four candidates have a more immediate problem on their hands. Namely, trying to sort out what has become a long and messy primary.

There are caucuses in Kansas and several other U.S. territories over the weekend. Kansas looks like a good pick-up opportunity for Santorum, but the main event of the next week will be on Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi.

As calls increase for Gingrich to drop out of the race, his performance in those states - after his win in Georgia on Super Tuesday - could be crucial. But there's been no real indication from the Gingrich campaign that he intends to exit under any circumstances.

"I think we can win a victory of extraordinary proportions. I do want to ask your help the next few days," Gingrich said yesterday. "This is a very, very important primary. This is without any question the most important primary that Mississippi's had for the presidency. Mississippi matters in this particular cycle."

Without a big shake up, there appears to be no other option for Romney than to plow through the next primary states and hope that the math remains on his side.

AN AMERICAN AUTO BAILOUT - FOR FRANCE? Attention U.S. taxpayers, ABC's Jonathan Karl reports,   you now own a piece of a French car company that is drowning in red ink. That's right.  In a move little noticed outside of the business pages, General Motors last week bought more than $400 million in shares of PSA Peugeot Citroen - a 7 percent stake in the company. Because U.S. taxpayers still own roughly one-quarter of GM, they now own a piece of Peugeot. Peugeot can undoubtedly use the cash.  Last year, Peugeot's auto making division lost $123 million.  And on March 1 - just a day after the deal with GM was announced - Moody's downgraded Peugeot's credit rating to junk status with a negative outlook, citing "severe deterioration" of its finances. In other words, General Motors essentially just dumped more than $400 million of taxpayer assets on junk bonds. GM has said the deal is designed to give GM access to Peugeot's expertise in small car and hybrid vehicle technology and ultimately allow both GM and Peugeot to save money by pooling their resources. But auto industry analysts find the deal mystifying.

Presidential Pivot in New Glossy Campaign Doc: Jake Tapper's "World News" report on President Obama's new campaign film "The Road We've Traveled." WATCH:



OBAMA HEADS SOUTH FOR FUNDRAISING. Obama heads to the Lone Star state this afternoon for a duo of fundraisers that will net at least $2.8 million for the 2012 campaign, notes ABC's Devin Dwyer. Obama will headline an event at Union Station at Minute Maid Park in Houston, where tickets start at $500, according to an invitation for the event. Six hundred supporters are expected, according to a campaign official.  Later the president attends a private reception in Houston with 70 of his wealthiest donors. Tickets cost $35,800. These are Obama's 35th and 36th fundraisers of the year for the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising account for Obama and the Democratic National Committee. He has attended 103 fundraisers so far this election cycle - more than any of his predecessors.

BOB DOLE'S TOUGH WORDS FOR ROMNEY. ABC's Matt Negrin reports: Mitt Romney's campaign sent out a short statement of support this morning from 1996 Republican nominee Bob Dole,  boosting Romney in Saturday's Kansas caucuses. We thought we'd email Dole for some elaboration. He called back. Dole thinks Romney is in a tough spot over his role in crafting the Massachusetts health plan that the White House says was a blueprint for ObamaCare. He called it a liability for Romney but said it wasn't "fatal." "In the first place, you're dealing with the state level rather than the national level," Dole said. "And I haven't gone over the Massachusetts plan, but there are mandates in it. That's the one thing that Romney has to answer to, about mandates." Dole added: "But I think he's, you know, when he stands up and says, 'One of the first things I'm going to do is repeal ObamaCare' - of course the president can't repeal it. He's going to start the ball rolling."

PRO-ROMNEY SUPER PAC EXPANDS AD BUYS. On Wednesday, the Romney-backing super PAC Restore Our Future reported big purchases of TV time in Tuesday's primary states of Mississippi and Alabama, as well as Illinois and Louisiana, which hold primaries on March 20 and March 24, respectively, ABC's Chris Good reports. It was once unthinkable, according to conventional wisdom, that the Republican primary would stay competitive long enough for a heated battle over the heavily Democratic Illinois. However, Restore Our Future is spending more money there than in any other upcoming state - likely because ads in the Chicago media market are expensive. Restore Our Future reported new spending of $901,438 in Illinois, $425,165 in Louisiana $680, 385 in Alabama, and $581,183 in Mississippi.

SENATE REJECTS KEYSTONE PIPELINE AMENDMENT. President Obama's pipeline lobbying paid off…for now. A controversial Republican amendment to a transportation bill, to mandate construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, has failed in the Senate. The numbers may be a little too close for comfort for the White House: the amendment fell just short of the 60 votes needed for the amendment to be included in the final bill at 56-42. President Obama had personally lobbied Democrats, telephoning members of Congress directly to encourage them to reject the measure. The amendment would have taken the pipeline's approval process out of President Obama's hands and mandated an expedited building of the pipeline project in light of the nation's rising gas prices. "The president obviously has communications with members of Congress with some regularity," White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Thursday confirming the lobbying effort. "We have made our position clear about purely ideological and political efforts to attach legislation regarding the Keystone pipeline to whatever some members of Congress fancy at the time."



-Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant Endorses Romney. Having been one himself, Mitt Romney has done well in collecting the endorsements of governors-two of his most prominent backers are New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell-and on Thursday he received the support of yet another, as first-term Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant told the Associated Press he thinks Romney has the best chance to beat President Obama in the fall.

- Romney's Uphill Southern Battle. Campaigning ahead of Tuesday's primaries in Mississippi and Alabama, the Associated Press reports that Romney is fighting the impression that he's too slick and not a real conservative. "I'm learning to say 'y'all' and I like grits. Strange things are happening to me," the AP quotes Romney saying during a campaign stop in Pascagoula, Miss.

-Romney: D.C. Could Learn From Mississippi. Mitt Romney campaigned in Misssissippi Wednesday, telling a crowd there that while Washington, D.C. hasn't adequately confronted its problematic spending and debt issues, he thinks Mississippi has. "If the federal government were run more like the government here in Mississippi, the whole country would be a lot better off," Romney said, according to the Biloxi Sun Herald.

-Herman Cain Stumps for Dale Peterson's Wife. Herman Cain's "Solutions Revolution" bus tour is rolling through Alabama. After he campaigned for Newt Gingrich ahead of Super Tuesday, one might assume the purpose of his current swing is the same. But the Birmingham News reports on Cain "rallying support for Alabama Public Service Commission candidate Kathy Peterson during a series of campaign stops." Kathy Peterson is the wife of Dale Peterson, who ran for agriculture commissioner in 2010 and rose to brief fame for a TV ad in which he called one of his opponents a "dummy" and held a rifle. -Santorum Focuses on Obama in Alabama. At a forum hosted by the Alamaba Policy Institute on Thursday, Rick Santorum set his sights on the president. The former senator "barely mentioned his rivals for the Republican nomination," the Birmingham News reports. Santorum also campaigned in Huntsville and Pelham yesterday.

-Ron Paul Picks Up Pro-Life Endorsement in Kansas. Keeping with his strategy to pick up delegates in caucus states, Ron Paul is focusing on Kansas's upcoming Saturday caucuses. The Texas congressman will campaign in Topeka, Wichita, and Lawrence today, and on Thursday he received an endorsement from the presidenti of OperationR Rescue, a Kansas-based anti-abortion group.


@DLeonhardt : The economy just had its best 12 months of job growth in more than five years.

@FixAaron : RNC chair Reince Priebus on jobs report: "…the situation is clearly not improving."

@JBennet : Do yourself a favor and see Game Change - just about as funny, scary and humanizing as the  @jheil@markhalperin book itself.

@realDonaldTrump : The only candidate who can get 1145 delegates is  @MittRomney. The primary is over.


@aterkel : There will be SIX copies of the Limbaugh bust created in Missouri.



-Mitt Romney is on the trail in Jackson Mississippi with a town hall meeting at the Mississippi Farmer's Market. Then, Romney heads to Birmingham, Alabama for an event at Thompson Tractor. Mitt Romney's son Matt Romney will be on the island of Saipan near Guam to meet with GOP Leaders on the Northern Mariana Island.

-Rick Santorum starts his day in Mobile, AL for a rally at the Battleship USS Alabama Pavilion. Santorum then travels to Kansas for two rallies in Topeka and Wichita.

-Newt Gingrich spends the day in Mississippi visiting Meridian, Ellisville, and Gulfport.

-Ron Paul is going after Kansas voters with their caucus on Saturday. He will address Kansans in Topeka, Wichita, and Lawrence.

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