COLUMBUS, Ohio - Did it seem like history was repeating itself yesterday?
Fresh off primary wins in Michigan and Arizona, Mitt Romney stepped in it. In an Ohio television interview he first said he opposed a proposal to repeal the Obama administration's requirement that insurance companies cover contraception for women employees. But, just hours later, he said he "misunderstood the question," and that he actually fully supports the measure, known as the Blunt amendment.
Sound familiar? The whole episode was not unlike what happened that day after he won the Florida primary when he said in an interview with CNN that he was "not concerned about the very poor." Romney was later forced to clarify that statement too.
Both gaffes feed into prevailing narratives that Romney just can't seem to shake. The first gives his opponents fodder to paint him as a serial flip-flopper and the second, that he is out of touch.
To their credit, Romney's campaign worked swiftly to correct the record on the Blunt Bill. Campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul issued a statement asserting that the way the question on the Blunt Bill was asked of Romney in an Ohio News Network interview "was confusing." http://abcn.ws/yKtIE4
And before Romney left Ohio yesterday to campaign in North Dakota, he took to the talk radio airwaves to make that support even more explicit.
"I didn't understand his question, of course I support the Blunt amendment," Romney told radio host Howie Carr. "I thought he was talking about some state law that prevented people from getting contraception so I was simply - misunderstood the question and of course I support the Blunt amendment." http://youtu.be/bfrGFGibuzw
Despite the clarification by Romney, himself, the Obama campaign wasted no time denouncing Romney.
"In one hour, Mitt Romney showed why women don't trust him for one minute. It took little more than an hour for him to commit his latest flip-flop," read a statement from Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter. "Even worse, he ended up on the wrong side of an issue of critical importance to women."
This won't be the last time we hear the Democrats attack Romney on the issue, but Romney may have done even more immediate damage to himself among some pockets within the conservative community who have more reason to question Romney's commitment to issues they care about.
SANTORUM COUNTER-PROGRAMMING. Hogan Gidley, national communications director for Rick Santorum's campaign offered this statement on Romney's back-track: "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."
As the race for the Republican nomination moves into the 10 states that will hold contests on Super Tuesday, the big question is whether Romney can take steps to lock down the nomination that night. ABC's John Berman reports for "Good Morning America." WATCH: http://abcn.ws/yf2AGH
DELEGATE MATH: IT'S A TIE IN MICHIGAN. Mitt Romney won the popular vote in his home state, but when it comes to the all-important delegate count, he tied with second-place finisher Rick Santorum. According to ABC News, the final delegate count is: Romney 15, Santorum 15. Each candidate won 7 Congressional districts apiece and split two of the state's at-large delegates. Romney still won Tuesday night's delegate haul by a large margin when you take Arizona into consideration: Romney: 44, Santorum: 15.
The ABC News delegate estimate so far:
(Delegates needed to win the GOP nomination: 1,144)
SANTORUM: IN THE MONEY. A source tells ABC's Jake Tapper that the Santorum campaign has had more than 100,000 unique donors in the month of February - 130,000 donations total. And that the campaign's fundraising haul has topped $9 million in the month of February alone.
EXCLUSIVE: PRESIDENT OBAMA TELLS ABC NEWS KORAN APOLOGY 'CALMED THINGS DOWN' President Obama said his formal apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the burning of Korans by U.S. troops last week has "calmed things down" after the incident sparked an outbreak of violence across the country. "We're not out of the woods yet," Obama said in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Bob Woodruff at the White House. "But my criteria in any decision I make, getting recommendations from folks who are actually on the ground, is what is going to best protect our folks and make sure that they can accomplish their mission." The president's comments came just hours before a formal White House dinner to honor Iraq War veterans, some of whom have also served in Afghanistan and may be redeploying there to assist ongoing U.S. military operations. Woodruff was the only journalist invited to attend the dinner. Obama said his letter to Karzai aimed to curb further danger to U.S. troops on the ground. It reportedly expressed regret for the apparently inadvertent burning of the Korans, the sacred text of Islam, on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. (h/t ABC's Devin Dwyer) http://abcn.ws/xLkrqB
ROMNEY FACES SUPER TUESDAY HURDLES. In five days, 10 states will hold their voting contests on March 6, the highly anticipated Super Tuesday. The Super Tuesday states - Alaska, Idaho, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Virginia and Vermont - are diverse in their demographics, and several larger states are expected to pose a challenge for the Romney campaign, ABC's Matt Negrin notes.But the three Southern states - Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee - are seen as particularly important for the former Massachusetts governor, as each offers large delegate prizes to the victor. (A victory in Georgia brings 76 delegates; Oklahoma, 43; Tennessee, 58. That's a total of 177 of the 437 delegates at stake in Super Tuesday, or about about 41 percent.) Current polling shows Romney down in each of these three key states, and although state Republican Party leaders agree that the race is still fluid, Romney has his work cut out for him. "Santorum has had a lead in Oklahoma in all of the recent polling over the past few weeks. Mitt's wins last night may give him a little bump, but it's probably too soon to really say how much of a bump," Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Matt Pinnell told ABC News. "I think that a lot of voters have been watching and will continue through March 6 to make their final decision on whom they're going to vote for as presidential nominee," explained Tennessee Republican Party chairman Chris Devaney. http://abcn.ws/yTt2cw
NOTED: A WIN IN WYOMING. Mitt Romney has won Wyoming's presidential caucus vote, a series of county straw polls that took place over the last three weeks. With 39 percent, Romney finished ahead of Rick Santorum (32 percent), Newt Gingrich (21 percent) and Ron Paul (8 percent). The Wyoming GOP released the final results Wednesday night. Like Iowa's presidential caucus vote, Wyoming's is not binding and will in no way affect the state's 29 delegates. Wyoming's caucuses, however, took place over the better part of a month: Counties were allowed to hold their precinct caucuses over a wide range of time, and the first county voted on Feb. 9. If Iowa's caucuses rendered a snapshot of public sentiment in that state, Wyoming has supplied a pinhole exposure. More media attention will likely be paid to Wyoming's county conventions, held March 6-10, which will directly elect 12 delegates to the Republican National Convention, and to its April state convention, which will elect another 14 delegates. None of those delegates will be allocated (or "bound") to any presidential candidate, though each will have to announce support for a particular candidate or "undecided." http://abcn.ws/xueZSl
SANTORUM GETS MIXED RECEPTION IN NASHVILLE. Rick Santorum faced a mixed crowd Wednesday evening as many of his go-to talking points, which typically garner applause and cheers, were met with resistance on the campus of Belmont University, ABC's Arlette Saenz reports. Packed into a gymnasium at the Curb Event Center, the crowd, which was comprised primarily of college-aged students, received a lecture of sorts from Santorum warning about the restrictions and dangers of President Obama's health care plan. When Santorum began to talk about the implementation of the healthcare plan in 2014, a point in his stump speech which normally receives boos, Santorum was met with resounding cheers from a portion of the crowd who support Obama's plan. The other half of the crowd tried to quell the applause with loud boos of their own. The resistance to Santorum's speech did not stem solely from his disdain for the president's healthcare plan. The mere mention of the uprising of the Tea Party across America elicited an additional round of boos from the crowd. When Santorum explained the reasons the Constitution was drafted, a member of the crowd shouted "To protect us from you!" to some laughter from the crowd. Santorum ignored the heckler and said the Constitution was intended to protect Americans' inalienable rights. http://abcn.ws/ybQ20b
TOO YOUNG TO VOTE, KIDS SHAPE MOMENTS IN ROMNEY CAMPAIGN. ABC's Emily Friedman reports: "Um, what's your view on abortion?" a high and somewhat squeaky voice asked, echoing in the rafters of the old town hall building on one of those too-hot-for-October kind of days. It was a question Mitt Romney was bound to get more than once during primary season, but what made this query so unusual was that it came from an 8-year-old boy on the eve of a crucial Republican debate."That's a question I did not expect from you, and I'm happy I got it," said Romney, who at the time was in the middle of fielding questions at a town hall-style meeting in Hopkinton, N.H., his third event of a day he had spent weaving in and out of several small towns in the Granite State. "I am pro-life." As the weeks have worn on and Romney, 64, has campaigned across the country, questions posed by the younger members of the audiences have proved time and time again to be among the most interesting, not always for their content but for the humanizing answers they provoke. A young girl commanded the microphone this week in a university's cafeteria in Columbus, Ohio, where Romney had come to hold another town hall. "I want to know what you would want to be remembered for," said the girl, no older than 10, giving her name as Natalie. Pausing, Romney seemed to gather himself before answering. Natalie, waiting patiently for a response, was probably unaware of the opportunity her question gave Romney to shoot down some of his harshest criticism and show his human side. "Well, around my home I like to be known as having been a very good father," he said, beginning to recall a memory of his father, George Romney, to whom he refers frequently on the trail as one of his most important role models. http://abcn.ws/yHclqG
OBAMA HITS 100TH FUNDRAISER. ABC's Devin Dwyer reports: President Obama Thursday night will attend his 100th re-election fundraiser during a visit to New York City that's expected to raise at least $5.1 million for the 2012 campaign. Obama will mingle with some of his wealthiest benefactors at four separate Manhattan events, including two intimate receptions at private homes, a swanky dinner at ABC Kitchen and a star-studded gala featuring musical performances by The Roots, Ben Folds and Ingrid Michaelson. The fundraising trip, the president's second to the Big Apple this year, comes as the Obama campaign makes an aggressive push for cash to counteract what they see as the looming influence of pro-Republican super PACs. It also marks an effort by Obama to rekindle his relationship with donors in the financial sector who were among his most generous backers in 2008 but have not yet matched that level of support. He raised nearly $16 million from contributors in the securities and investment business in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, but only $2.3 million so far this cycle. http://abcn.ws/xRgEZ6
PRIMARY STATE SPEED READ
by ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield: and Chris Good
-Trailing Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in delegates and polls, Newt Gingrich's home state has become his new firewall, the Associated Press reports. "I really believe we're going to win the Georgia primary and win it decisively. That is the key building block that we have to have to move forward in the presidential campaign," Gingrich said on Wednesday. http://bit.ly/wUuTTy
-Campaigning in his home state on Wednesday, the former House speaker seemed to have picked up on his own version of Herman Cain's 9-9-9, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports: $2.50 gas. Columnist Kyle Wingfield sees it becoming the cornerstone of Gingrich's campaign, for the moment at least. http://bit.ly/zJVfnB
-The Oklahoman Pitches Romney Electability. Oklahoma's main daily newspaper, which endorsed Mitt Romney in December, today urged voters to see his upside-electability. The paper wrote in an editorial today: " … Romney is the GOP contender most likely and best equipped to give Obama a run for his money. Our hope is that that's reflected when the primary ballots are counted next week. A victory by Romney in Oklahoma on Super Tuesday would show that this deep red state cares a great deal about social issues, yes, but cares first and foremost about ensuring the economic future of this country." http://bit.ly/zqGR2z
-Gingrich is stepping up his efforts in Ohio as well. The Plain Dealer reports that Gingrich tapped Doug Preisse, a close advisor to Ohio Governor John Kasich, to serve on his leadership team. A spokesman for Kasich said that Preisse's involvement with Gingrich should not be interpreted as an endorsement from the Governor, who is not endorsing a candidate in the primary. http://bit.ly/zifkce
-Are Ohio Democrats considering following in Michiganders footsteps? The Cincinnati Enquirer asks Ohio Democrats the question straight up (so far the responses have mostly said no, Dems do not plan to participate.) http://cin.ci/yCp4zS
@MattMackowiak : Cillizza on Santo's $9M Feb haul, "a faster pace than anybody has sustained at any point in the GOP presidential race to this point."
-Mitt Romney brings his message to North Dakota on Thursday for an event at Wrigley Mechanical Incorporated in Fargo. Then, Romney heads to Idaho Falls, Idaho speaking at a grassroots rally at Skyline High School. Ann Romney is out campaigning for her husband in Georgia speaking at a meet and greet in Alpharetta. Ann will also open up Romney Georgia Headquarters in Atlanta, GA.
-Rick Santorum starts his day in Dalton, Georgia with a rally at Dalton City Hall. Santorum will also address voters in Atlanta before heading to Washington State for two rallies in Spokane and Pasco.
-Newt Gingrich campaigns in Georgia with stops in Atlanta and Woodstock.
-ABC News' Josh Haskell (@HaskellBuzz)
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