Romney Moves To Lock Down Wisconsin (The Note)

(Image Credit: Stephan Savoia/AP Photo)

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

Mitt Romney and his allies have come after Rick Santorum in Wisconsin with their usual overwhelming force.

And, as was the case in so many other primary states, their efforts appear to be paying off. About a month ago polls in the state showed Santorum with a respectable lead in Badger State. But those days are over.

A new NBC News/Marist poll out today puts Romney in the lead among 40 percent of likely primary voters, Santorum is at 33 percent, Ron Paul is at 11 percent, Newt Gingrich is at 8 percent and 7 percent of these voters remain undecided with just four full days of campaigning before polls open next Tuesday.

And the polls aren't the only sign of Romney's strength. This week he's been buoyed by a string of high-profile endorsements, the latest coming this morning from Wisconsin Congressman and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

Romney endorsed Ryan's recent budget proposal, saying that Ryan's plan and his "own plan share the same path forward: pro-growth tax cuts, getting federal spending under control, and strengthening entitlement programs for future generations."

This morning Ryan returned the favor, calling Romney the "right person for the job."

"I think this primary season has been productive and constructive until now. Now it's time to unite behind Romney," Ryan said in an interview on Fox News. "The longer we drag it out the harder it is to win in November, that's why I think it's important to coalesce as conservatives."

In order to deny Santorum a victory in a state that the former Pennsylvania senator had hoped to win, Romney and his allies launched a television air war and have nearly quadrupled the spending levels of the Santorum campaign and a pro-Santorum super PAC. Sound familiar?

In Texas yesterday Romney said he hoped to "get a good number of delegates" from next week's contests in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia, and he remains well ahead of Santorum in overall the delegate count.

And then there's Newt Gingrich, who scaled back his campaign staff this week, and who is almost assured to come out of Wisconsin with zero delegates. It will be the third state in a row where he'll have been blanked.

If Santorum loses Wisconsin on Tuesday, he will likely only have one shot at a victory during the entire month of April - that could come later this month in the Pennsylvania primary. (Notably, Santorum plans to hold his Wisconsin primary night party in the Pittsburgh, Pa. area.) But privately, even Santorum's aides acknowledge they do not yet know how to keep their ship afloat during the April dry spell as the coalescing around Romney that Paul Ryan talked about this morning continues.

DEMOCRATIC COUNTER-PROGRAMMING. Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Melanie Roussell tweets out a new DNC web video timed to coincide with Paul Ryan's endorsement of Mitt Romney:

@MelanieDNC : Romney-Ryan "Bromance" to end Medicare as we know it. That's Amore! WATCH"


ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL: WISCONSIN PREPS FOR RECALL. While the national media attention has been focused on the upcoming GOP primary in Wisconsin, there's another political battle gearing up in the Badger State, and it involves both Democrats and Republicans, ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield reports. On Friday, the Government Accountability Board of Wisconsin is expected to certify the 1 million petitions turned in this January to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker. With a special gubernatorial election pending, Democrats and Republicans in the state are bracing for a tight race ahead. A special election is tentatively scheduled for June 5, with a Democratic primary to take place four weeks earlier, on May 8. (Those dates will be made official after the recall is certified.)  Three Democrats have declared their candidacies - former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, Wisconsin secretary of state Doug LaFollette and state senator Kathleen Vinehout. Tom Barrett, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee who ran against Walker for governor in 2010 and lost, is reportedly considering another run, but he has not declared his candidacy yet. He is expected to make a decision by the beginning of next week. Democrats in the state are flying high ahead of the official start of what will be a relatively short election season. "We're feeling great," Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Mike Tate told ABC News. "I think the people of Wisconsin are ready to fire Scott Walker and hire a new governor."



OBAMA LOOKS FOR BIG CROWDS IN VERMONT AND  MAINE. President Obama's fundraising trip to Vermont and Maine on Friday won't rank among his most lucrative, but it will turn out his largest crowds so far in the 2012 campaign, ABC's Devin Dwyer reports. An afternoon concert-fundraiser at the University of Vermont in Burlington is expected to draw 4,500 supporters, making it the single biggest Obama campaign event to date in this election cycle. General admission tickets for the event started at $100 apiece, campaign officials said, and include a performance by local rock band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Obama's swing through the Green Mountain State - the first by a sitting president since 1995 - will conclude with a $7,500-per-plate luncheon with 100 donors at the Sheraton Burlington, according to an invitation for the event obtained by ABC News. Both Vermont fundraisers are expected to raise at least $1.2 million for the Obama Victory Fund, a joint account that funnels money to Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Obama will spend his evening fundraising in neighboring Maine, where he'll headline another of his largest events of the campaign so far - an 1,800-person rally at Southern Maine Community College in Portland - and attend a more intimate, high-dollar dinner at the Portland Museum of Art. All told, the one-day New England foray will net at least $2 million for the 2012 election, less than half what Obama raised on a Friday of fundraising in Chicago and Atlanta two weeks ago.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH RE-ENDORSES ROMNEY. Channeling country music legend Kenny Rogers, former President George H.W. Bush officially endorsed Mitt Romney in Houston on Thursday, advising Romney's remaining opponents that they've got to know "when to fold 'em." "I do think it's time for the party to get behind Gov. Romney. And she was reminding me Kenny Rogers sang, 'It's time when to hold 'em and time when to fold 'em,'" Bush said, loosely quoting a lyric from the famous song, "The Gambler."  Well I think it's time for people to all get behind this good man. And, some of 'em waged a very good fight - I say that about some of his opponents. But we're so convinced and we've known Mitt for a very long time, that he's the man to do this job and get on and win the presidency." Bush had already expressed support for Romney last December, telling the Houston Chronicle at the time that the former Massachusetts governor was "the best choice." "Barbara and I are very proud to fully and enthusiastically endorse and support our old friend Mitt Romney," the former president said, flanked by Romney and former First Lady Barbara Bush. "He's a good man, he'll make a great president."

ROMNEY AND GINGRICH HOLD SECRET MEETING. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney confirmed reports Thursday that he and Newt Gingrich met secretly in New Orleans the day before the Louisiana primary, ABC's Elicia Dover notes. But Romney played down the importance of the meeting between the himself and Gingrich, who earlier this week scaled back his campaign and laid off staffers. "We're pretty much in regular communication between the different campaigns and I said hello to Newt," Romney told Sean Hannity in a radio interview. "Nothing new, nothing exciting except we keep a friendly discourse open." A source close to the Gingrich campaign confirmed the meeting happened early on Friday morning at around 6:30 a.m. at Romney's hotel in the French Quarter district of New Orleans. Gingrich was staying at a hotel about 30 minutes away from Romney's hotel and met with him before heading to the southern part of Louisiana to campaign in Port Fourchon. "We do meet from time to time and I'm sure that the Speaker meets with Rick Santorum as well but we don't go off and report the discussions," Romney said. "But they are friendly and we discuss the issues, we discuss the way forward but we don't reveal our secret campaign strategies."

NOTED:  Newt Gingrich who in May called Rep. Paul Ryan's proposed budget plan "right-wing social engineering" was supportive of the congressman's new plan that passed the House on Thursday, ABC's Russell Goldman notes. Calling his earlier remarks "vastly overblown by the news media," Gingrich Thursday night said, "I like a lot of what Ryan does." "His budget is very, very positive and it's very exciting," he said in response to a Marquette University student's question on the plan. He said Ryan "has responded I think very positively to the critique. What he's introduced this year is dramatically better, very defend-able."

ROMNEY SUPPORTERS TO CANDIDATE: GET PERSONAL. "The voters were pleading with Mitt Romney to share personal details of his life. They stood at town-hall-style meetings and chatted before rallies, clamoring for a story or an anecdote that would help them connect with the real Mitt Romney," The New York Times' Ashley Parker reports. "'I wish that you would speak more to a lot of the things that I think you should speak about - the fact that you were pastor at your church, the fact that you were a missionary, the fact that you do speak about helping with the Olympics,' Mary Toepfer, 40, of Warren, Ohio, said at a recent event. Without these kinds of stories, she added, 'it's hard for us, who are trying to support you, to address them when trying to explain to them why you would be the better candidate.' On the campaign trail these days, voters often talk frankly of their yearning to get more from Mr. Romney. Some Republicans seem so eager for a leader who can rouse the passions of the party faithful that they are offering advice directly to Mr. Romney, suggesting that if he revealed more of himself and made more of a human connection, he could better harness the enthusiasm of the conservative grass roots for defeating President Obama. But even if Republican voters appear increasingly eager to fall for him, it is not clear that Mr. Romney can satisfy their desire for warm, revealing moments. His campaign advisers say that as the primary season winds down, they expect Mr. Romney will have more opportunities to talk about himself in a personal way."

LATINOS COULD SWING ELECTION (BUT TURNOUT MIGHT DISAPPOINT). Latinos, the nation's fastest-growing voting bloc, are poised to play a potentially decisive role in this fall's presidential election, but new data suggests that turnout might fall short of lofty projections, which could change the fate of the race for the White House, reports ABC's Matthew Jaffe. The number of registered Latino voters has dropped significantly in recent years, from 11.6 million in 2008 to 10.9 million in 2010, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey. While 2008 was a presidential election year and 2010 was only a midterm congressional election, that is still a sizable decline, especially given the increase in the Latino population nationwide. In the past decade alone, the Latino population has increased by 43 percent. There are more than 50 million Latinos in this country, nearly one in six Americans. A record 12.2 million Latinos are set to vote in November, a 26 percent increase from 2008, according to projections released in the fall by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). But that was before the new Census numbers revealed the surprisingly steep decline in registered Hispanic voters. The William C. Velasquez Institute (WCVI), a non-partisan organization focused on Latinos' political and economic participation, crunched the Census numbers earlier this month and found that "a significant decline in national Latino voter registration in 2010 may diminish the size of Latino voter turnout in November 2012 by more than a million votes," according to the organization's president, Antonio Gonzalez.

REPUBLICANS RETREATING ON GAY MARRIAGE? "Just a few years ago, House Republicans were trying to etch their opposition of gay marriage into the Constitution. Now? They're almost silent," Politico's Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer report. "It's been one of the swiftest shifts in ideology and strategy for Republicans, as they've come nearly full circle on same-sex politics. What was once a front-and-center issue for rank-and-file Republicans - the subject of many hotly worded House and Senate floor speeches - is virtually a dead issue, as Republicans in Congress don't care to have gay marriage litigated in the Capitol. Even more than that, Republican leadership has evolved, too. It has quietly worked behind the scenes to kill amendments that reaffirm opposition to same-sex unions, several sources told POLITICO. It's not like the GOP has become a bastion of progressiveness on gay rights, but there has been an evolution in the political approach - and an acknowledgment of a cultural shift in the country. Same-sex relationships are more prominent and accepted. There are more gay public figures - including politicians - and it's likely that many Washington Republicans have gay friends and coworkers. Just as important - there's also a libertarian streak of acceptance on people's sexuality coursing through the House Republican Conference."



@DavidChalian : At this stage, non-endorsements of Mitt Romney are more noteworthy than endorsements.

@c_good : Mark Block under federal investigation for groups that helped Cain's campaign? Journal Sentinel:

@DavidMDrucker : Sen  @marcorubio had more 2 say Thurs on his  @MittRomneyendorsement:"…The primary's over now…"

@cam_joseph : excellent story on redistricting from  @hotlinereid and  @hotlinesteveover at NJ:

@ZekeJMiller : Rove Group Mocks Obama's Hot Mic Episode With James Bond Trailer



by ABC's Chris Good

-Scott Walker Recall Is On. Election officials in Wisconsin said that opponents of Gov. Scott Walker (R) have collected enough signatures to force a recall election, the Associated Press reports. The prospect of a recall has drawn as much, if not more attention in Wisconsin than Tuesday's upcoming presidential primary. Election officials are meeting Friday to finalize dates for the Democratic primary and general recall election.

-Gingrich Visits Harley Museum, Praises Innovation. Newt Gingrich, ever on the lookout for examples of American innovation, found one at a Harley-Davidson museum in Milwaukee on Thursday. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports on a speech Gingrich made later in the day: "During his speech, Gingrich told the audience about an afternoon visit he paid to the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. He tied that visit to his call for rekindling American innovation. 'We were a country that was very excited about the future,' he said of the early 20th century when Harley-Davidson was created."

-Paul Rallies Gets Loud Reception at University of Wisconsin. Though Madison was the sight of large Democratic protests last year, Republican candidate Ron Paul drew 2,500 attendees to a town-hall event at the University of Wisconsin's Memorial Union, where his supporters roared in approval and chanted "End the Fed!" the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.


- Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich all make multiple stops in Wisconsin today ahead of the April 3 primary.

- President Obama travels to Vermont and Maine for fundraisers.

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