The Note’s Must-Reads for Tuesday, March 20, 2012

By Amanda VanAllen

Mar 20, 2012 3:43am

The Note’s Must-Reads are a round-up of today’s political headlines and stories from ABC News and the top U.S. newspapers. Posted Monday through Friday right here at www.abcnews.com

Compiled by ABC News’ Amanda VanAllen, Carrie Halperin and Erin McLaughlin

RICK SANTORUM
Politico’s Reid J. Epstein and Juana Summers: “Rick Santorum not talking much about the economy” On the issue Republicans tell pollsters is the most important of 2012, Rick Santorum these days has very little to say. His typical stump speech, an almost hour-long mixture of Orwellian fears of government overreach, history lessons about the French and Middle Eastern revolutions and suggestions that President Barack Obama would rather side with Islamists than Americans, has evolved into a tour de force of building fear in his listeners. LINK

ABC News’ Arlette Saenz: “Rick Santorum Disagrees with Pastor’s Statement about Non-Christians” Rick Santorum told reporters Monday he did not agree with a controversial statement about non-Christians made by a Louisiana pastor at a church service Santorum attended Sunday in Greenwell Springs, La. The Rev. Dennis Terry gave a rousing speech Sunday evening in which he suggested that non-Christians “get out” of the country. LINK

ABC News’ Rick Klein: “Pressure on Santorum to Deliver in Illinois” After a string of Tuesdays where Mitt Romney had something to prove, it’s time for Rick Santorum to deliver in the Land of Lincoln. Yes, a Romney loss in Illinois tomorrow would be an embarrassment of epic proportions. Yes, Romney simply must win the state to keep intact his argument that he’s a shoo-in for the nomination. But that’s the point. Santorum is down too far in the delegate count to win only the states he’s expected to win. Santorum needs an upset. He needs it to come in a big state, and fast, for him to change the dynamics of the race sufficiently for him to actually win. LINK

PRESIDENT OBAMA
USA Today’s Fredreka Schouten: “Obama raises $45 million in February for campaign, DNC” President Obama has stepped up his fundraising pace, amassing $45 million for his re-election and the Democratic National Committee in February before a likely spending spree by Republican outside groups in the general election, his campaign announced Monday. The haul outpaces the $29.1 million Obama raised for himself and the Democratic Party in January. LINK

MITT ROMNEY
The Wall Street Journal’s Sara Murray and Carol E. Lee: “Job Gains Drive Romney to Attack Obama Over Gas” An improving job market is prompting Mitt Romney to scrap his emphasis on the unemployment rate and to focus on rising gas prices and government regulation as evidence that President Barack Obama has mismanaged the economy. “With the economy looking like it’s getting a little better on the employment front, gasoline’s getting a lot worse,” Mr. Romney told a crowd at a town-hall meeting Sunday in Vernon Hills, Ill. LINK

The Boston Globe’s Michael Kranish: “Mitt Romney’s defense budget target is lofty” It is one of Mitt Romney’s most striking anecdotes. The US Navy, he says, has fewer ships today than in 1917, and the US Air Force is smaller than it was in 1947. Notwithstanding that today’s fleets are far beyond the capability of those from yesteryear, Romney says it is evidence that America’s military dominance is at risk. Romney’s solution is one of the most far-ranging, expensive, and perhaps least understood of his campaign. He has vowed to commit at least 4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product – $4 out of every $100 in the nation’s economy – to “core” defense spending, not including many war expenses. LINK

Bloomberg’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis: “Romney Bids to Regain Inevitability Aura in Illinois Primary“Mitt Romney is seeking a win in today’s Illinois Republican primary to restore the air of inevitability that once surrounded his presidential candidacy, as his closest rival Rick Santorum fights to stay viable with a strong showing. The stakes are high for both men. Romney, leading in public polls in the state, seeks to prove strength in politically competitive suburbs and consolidate Republican support. Santorum is trying to deny him that chance by demonstrating power in conservative bastions in southern Illinois. LINK

The Washington Times’ Seth McLaughlin: “Romney rallies for ‘economic freedom‘” Mitt Romney focused his attacks Monday on President Obama as he campaigned ahead of the Illinois primary, while his chief rival for the GOP nomination — Rick Santorum — blasted the former Massachusetts governor’s health care record and predicted that delegates will reject him if the race lasts until this summer’s convention. LINK

Los Angeles Times’ Mark Z. Barabak and Paul West: “Economy’s improvement may change Mitt Romney’s message” Mitt Romney entered the presidential contest as Mr. Fix-It, saying his business know-how was precisely what could rescue the struggling economy from its deep and  devastating slump. It is the way Romney distinguishes himself from the other Republicans running and a contrast he constantly makes with the president. The election offers a choice, Romney says, between an “economic heavyweight” and lightweights Rick Santorum and President Obama. LINK

NY Daily News’ Alison Gendar: “Mitt Romney pushing hard for win in Illinois as front-runner bashes Rick Santorum on economy” It’s Groundhog Day for Mitt Romney as his team worries about a tight race in Tuesday’s Illinois primary — despite outpacing rival Rick Santorum in money and manpower. Romney’s team is pushing hard to win the Midwest industrial state to claim its delegates and crowing rights as the only contender capable of winning swing states Republicans will need in the fall. LINK

NEWT GINGRICH
The Hill’s Justin Sing: “Newt won’t exit, thought others should” Newt Gingrich is refusing to swallow his own medicine. The former Speaker of the House (R-Ga.) rejects calls from Republicans to drop out of the presidential race, but he has a long history of telling other GOP White House hopefuls to do so. Gingrich had often argued the exact case his doubters are citing against him now: that a prolonged intraparty squabble is self-serving and threatens to hurt Republicans in the general election. LINK

FUNDRAISING
The New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore “Candidates Disclose Fund-Raising President Obama raised $45 million in February, his campaign announced on Monday, a significant increase over the $29.1 million he raised in January. Mitt Romney raised $11.5 million for the same month, according to his campaign. And Rick Santorum’s campaign said on Monday that he had raised more than $9 million, almost as much as Mr. Romney. LINK

ABC NEWS VIDEOS
Santorum Focused on Freedom, Not EconomyLINK
Mitt Romney’s Wife Seeks Female VotersLINK
Mitt Romney’s Jean Size: Governor “Embarrassed on Chicago Radio ShowLINK

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