The Ambivalent Electorate (The Note)

(Image Credit: AP Photo)

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

If you want to understand why this primary season has - and will - continue to drag on look no further than this finding: 74 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents expect Mitt Romney to be the GOP nominee, but just 31 percent want to see him win the nomination

That's according to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll out today that also shows voters feeling equally ambivalent about President Obama.

While 54 percent of voters say they expect the president to win re-election, just 47 percent picked him in a match-up with Romney. (Romney took 49 percent.) Despite some brighter economic news, Obama has actually slipped since last month when an ABC News poll showed him in front of Romney nationally 51 percent to 45 percent.

These numbers portend an electorate that is more resigned than inspired, an electorate that knows it will ultimately be forced to choose between two candidates that they don't believe are up for the job ahead.

Meanwhile, the Republican primary battle has been sweeping through the south. Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are each eying Tuesday's biggest primary prizes: Alabama and Mississippi.

And today's poll offers some clues about why Romney has been unable to vanquish his rivals entirely: Although Romney leads among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents on the question of who they trust to handle the economy, ABC News pollster Gary Langer points out that the former Massachusetts governor falls short in two other areas:

-"Leaned Republicans by 31-22 percent trust Santorum over Romney to handle contentious social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, a 12-point gain for Santorum from last month."

-"Romney only runs evenly with Santorum, 25 to 27 percent, on who best reflects core GOP values."

ABC's John Berman and George Stephanopoulos took a closer look at the new ABC News-Washington Post poll numbers on "Good Morning America" today. WATCH:

WEEKEND PRIMARY WRAP. Rick Santorum claimed a sweeping victory in Kansas on Saturday, winning the state's caucus with 51.2 percent of the vote, ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield reports. Mitt Romney placed second in the caucus with 20.9 percent, Gingrich and Paul came in third and fourth place with 14.4 percent and 12.6 percent respectively. The party estimates that 33 out of the total 40 delegates will be awarded to Santorum. The remaining 7 delegates will go to Mitt Romney. Romney took three smaller, yet equally decisive victories on Saturday in the American territories of Guam, the Northern Marianas, and the Virgin Islands. He won Guam where he won Guam with 84 percent and the Northern Marianas 87 percent of the vote winning all nine of the delegates offered in both of those locations.

-The Romney campaign touted Romney's delegate wins arguing that he won more delegates than any other candidates in the weekend contests. By the campaigns count, Romney acquired 39 delegates to Santorum's 35. Romney swept the contests in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

-Rick Santorum, meanwhile, called the Romney campaign "desperate" Saturday evening, responding to the claim that its candidate, not Santorum, earned more delegates today, ABC's Shushannah Walshe reports. The Romney campaign sent out an email earlier Saturday touting its delegate bounty over Santorum's. At a rally Saturday evening at the airport before flying to Mississippi before campaign events there today, Santorum laughed off the claim, saying it "sound[ed] very desperate for a man who supposedly has it in the bag." At a Lincoln Day Dinner here Saturday evening, he touted his "good day" in Kansas and jabbed the Romney campaign for its claim that Santorum needs to win 65 percent of the remaining delegates to be the nominee. "Depending on news reports, we are going to pick up anywhere from 33 to all 40 of the delegates in Kansas," Santorum said to applause from the crowd of about 700. "So when Mitt Romney inaccurately states that I have to win 55 percent of the delegates or something like that in order to win, well, we are off to a pretty good start, aren't we?"

THE BIG PICTURE. Wins like this weekend's did not happen by accident. Romney's was the only campaign to prepare for the long haul of the race with detailed legal and structural plans for how to win delegates in every obscure corner. That work is now paying off, as the battle for 1,144 Republican National Convention delegates slogs on, ABC's Rick Klein notes in his weekly "Political Insights" column. Romney has 454 delegates secured, according to ABC's estimate, more than twice the 217 in Santorum's column. Newt Gingrich, with 109 delegates, and Ron Paul, at 48, lag far behind. Romney faces a fresh challenge Tuesday, with the big Southern states of Alabama and Mississippi showing potential of again ignoring the fact that there is one clear and away frontrunner. But in Romney's back pocket are lower-profile caucuses that same day, held in Hawaii and American Samoa. They account for only 29 of the day's 119 delegates at stake. But when you factor in proportional delegate rules in Alabama and Mississippi that make shutouts unlikely, Romney may once again walk away the day's winner. Thus, even in a remarkably difficult string of contests, Romney is not giving up major ground, and may even be padding his delegate lead. That's why it's so difficult for Santorum or anyone else to catch up, and why Romney remains almost certain to win the party's nomination.



- Sen. Lindsey Graham said yesterday on "This Week" that the race for the GOP presidential nomination is Mitt "Romney's to lose." "I wouldn't trade places with Mitt if I were in the race," the Republican senator from South Carolina said in an interview with George Stephanopoulos. "He has almost a third of the delegates he needs.  Mathematically, Rick would have to win 75 percent of what remains. He's done an outstanding job, Rick has, of starting with almost nothing and being a real contender, and Newt's come back from the dead two or three times.  But mathematically, this thing is about over, but emotionally it's not.

-On the "This Week" roundtable, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer compared the viral spread of the KONY 2012 video this week to the Gutenberg press, with social media driving information to more people as the first printing press did hundreds of years ago. "It is an amazing new arena where information flows so much more quickly, rapidly to diverse audiences," Spitzer said. "This has got to be good for humanity. It's like the Gutenberg press. Suddenly everyone can see and learn." "I think so many issues will be affected by this, from the Arab Spring to taking down a dictator, a terrorist, to political finance. I think it's amazing," Spitzer added.

- One of Sarah Palin's top advisers said that HBO's "Game Change" was "true enough to make me squirm," despite Palin's contention that the docudrama about her rise to national stardom during the 2008 presidential campaign was a "false narrative." Nicolle Wallace, a Republican strategist and senior adviser to the McCain-Palin 2008 campaign, was one of Palin's main handlers during that whirlwind presidential campaign four years ago. She is played by Sarah Paulson in the 118-minute HBO film. "This is a movie about the vast gray area where 99 percent of our politics actually takes place," Wallace said. "You're just feeling your way though a gray area and doing your best and that campaign was one of those instances for me."



WHITE HOUSE RESPONDS TO AFGHAN MASSACRE. ABC's Jake Tapper reports: President Obama took the unusual step of telephoning Afghan President Hamid Karzai in mid-afternoon Sunday - which was late at night, Afghanistan time. Sources say he didn't want to wait before conveying his condolences for what appears to be a horrific massacre on innocent Afghans, including nine children, by an American soldier. The president and White House officials find themselves in the seemingly contradictory position of being worried what this horrific incident might mean - and doing everything they can to ensure that in terms of the big picture it means not much. To that end, President Obama's message to Karzai was twofold: that there will be accountability for the solider, and that the U.S. cares about these innocent victims as much as if they were American civilian victims. The message from the White House, however, will be on focusing on the bigger picture, on handing over control to the Afghan forces, on maintaining the strategy in that country. One senior national security aide recalled that recent events brought another example of the U.S. "weathering and working through a difficult situation that inflamed Afghan opinion and was exploited by the Taliban - the Koran burning. It was very difficult, but within weeks we had resolved a longstanding issue with the Afghans and reached agreement on how to transfer responsibility for detainees to them."

Tapper had more on the White House's response to the Afghan deaths on "Good Morning America" today. WATCH:

MITT ROMNEY: BIRTHDAY BOY. Mitt Romney plans to celebrate the big 6-5 on the stump in Alabama Monday, where he will hold a campaign event in Mobile alongside new backer and comedian Jeff Foxworthy. Romney will then jet back to Florida to attend a high-dollar fundraiser in Miami without his wife, Ann, who will stay in Alabama to campaign on his behalf on Monday. Seems like this year the birthday tradition of Ann cooking Romney's favorite dinner - personal size meatloaf cakes with a brown sugar and ketchup sauce - will have to wait.

RICK SANTORUM RECALLS CAMPAIGN'S 'LOW-LIGHTS' Two days before Mississippians vote, Rick Santorum admitted he has made a few mistakes on the campaign trail, saying he has had some "lowlights" on his quest to the nomination, notes ABC's Shushannah Walshe. "Now I've had my highlights and my lowlights during the campaign," Santorum said, telling the boisterous crowd he's only had five days off since announcing in June. "You know we get fired up sometimes and say some things that I wish I had a mulligan on if you will, but if you're not scripted that's going to happen," he said. "Well, all of us in our own life say, 'Well, I wish I hadn't said it quite like that.'" Last week on CNN, Santorum admitted that his wife Karen has tried to reel him in when he's said some of his more eyebrow-raising comments, like calling President Barack Obama a "snob." Santorum touted his campaign work ethic saying since this started he has been the hardest working candidate on the trail, throwing a jabbed veil at Romney and trying to contrast his opponent's campaign as "going out, raising money and just trying to run negative ads." "In every state, we've been campaigning and campaigning hard," Santorum said. "We haven't blown off any state, we've gone to every state. Well, I didn't go to Alaska, but there was a reason for that. It was just a little too far to get out there, but every other state that has been a primary, we've gone out and visited and we've talked to folks, and that's not been a case with other campaigns. The other campaigns have been going out, raising money and just trying to run negative ads, and I'm trying to get out and talk to people."

A GINGRICH-PERRY TICKET? Newt Gingrich's campaign said "not so fast" to reports that the Gingrich campaign was in talks with Texas Gov. Rick Perry to be his running mate in an attempt to win evangelicals, according to ABC's Elicia Dover and Arlette Saenz. Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told ABC News that "there are no talks with anyone about a potential VP ticket and that is not to be read that we don't have a tremendous amount of respect for Gov. Perry, because we do. He is a tremendous governor, he's one of our best supporters and when we win he'll be a big part of it." Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Gov. Perry said: "Gov. Perry thinks Newt Gingrich is the strongest conservative to debate and defeat President Obama and truly overhaul Washington. The speculation is humbling but premature."



-"A coalition of public interest, government reform, consumer watchdog, labor, grassroots and progressive organizations will gather Monday, March 12 at 11 am at SEIU headquarters to announce their campaign to target corporations that use corporate treasury funds to influence races in November, especially contributing to shadowy Super PACs or to 501c4s that run ads but are not legally obligated to disclose their donors." The groups participating include: Common Cause, Public Citizen, New York Public Advocate and New York City Pension Fund trustee Bill de Blasio, Coalition for  Accountability in Political Spending (CAPS), Service Employees International Union,, Americans United for Change, Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), USAction, Public Campaign Action Fund, Campaign for America's Future, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, National People's Action, Progress NOW, Every Child Matters, Health Care for America Now, Occupy Wall Street

-Today the Republican National Committee "kicks off a week long messaging plan where we'll make the case that Americans aren't better off now than we were when Obama took office. We'll start the week with a messaging memo from Chairman Priebus making that case as well as a Research piece that details how even Obama agrees we're not better off under his leadership." Here's Chairman Priebus' memo: "Not Better Off":


by ABC's Chris Good

-Santorum, Gingrich Attend Church in Mississippi. Ahead of Tuesday's primary the Associated Press reports that both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich attended Baptist services in Mississippi in Sunday morning. At the invitation of the pastor, Gingrich, who is Catholic, spoke about his own religious evolution and his troubled marital past, the Associated Press reports. -High Turnout Expected in Alabama. The Associated Press reports that Tuesday's turnout will be high but will fall short of 2008's record: "Secretary of State Beth Chapman is forecasting 28.9 percent of the voters will participate in the election. She said the Republican presidential candidates' emphasis on Alabama, including speeches in Birmingham on Monday evening by Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, should ensure a good turnout."

-Santorum's Long Game in Missouri? This Saturday's caucuses won't mark the end of Missouri's involvement in the GOP nominating process, and it sounds like Rick Santorum plans to campaign in the Show Me State during its later rounds. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that during a weekend stop in Missouri, Santorum "pledged Saturday to return to Missouri a couple of times before it begins its long caucus process next week that will culminate with 52 presidential delegates being awarded in April and June." -Jeff Foxworthy for Romney. After endorsing Mitt Romney via Twitter last week, comedian Jeff Foxworthy planned to campaign with the former Massachusetts governor in Biloxi on Sunday. In reporting on Romney's support from America's most famous self-identified "redneck," the Biloxi Sun-Herald notes that Romney has been "dogged by criticism that he may be out of touch with GOP voters in the South."

-Romney to Campaign in Missouri. Rick Santorum was the only candidate to campaign in the Show Me State ahead of its beauty-contest primary in February, and he won it handily. But Mitt Romney will swing through the state on Tuesday ahead of Missouri's Saturday caucuses, which will affect the allocation of delegates. Romney will stop in Liberty and St. Louis.

-Expecting Low Turnout in Louisiana. The March 24 Louisiana primary could be more meaningful than expected, with the GOP candidates competing late into the primary season. Nonetheless, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports low turnout expectations: "Bernie Pinsonat, a Baton Rouge pollster not working for any candidate, said the March 24 primary almost certainly will be a low-turnout affair, probably attracting only about a quarter of registered Republicans, who in turn make up just over a quarter of the state's electorate."



- Mitt Romney will begin the big day with a morning campaign event alongside comedian Jeff Foxworthy in Mobile, Alabama. He will then travel alone to Miami for a fundraiser.

-His wife Ann Romney will hold meet and greets throughout Alabama, while their son Matt Romney campaigns in Hawaii.

- Rick Santorum will start the day in Mississippi, with stops in Ocean Springs and Biloxi, followed by events in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama.

-His daughter Elizabeth Santorum will campaign on her own in Hawaii.

- Newt Gingrich will attend events in Biloxi, Mississippi and Birmingham, Alabama.

- Ron Paul is off the campaign trail and back home in Lake Jackson, Texas.

ABC's Joanna Suarez


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