What's Love Got To Do With The GOP Nomination?

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

BOSTON - "All we have to do is keep doing what we're doing and we can get to the nomination," a senior member of Mitt Romney's campaign said yesterday on the heels of his candidate's wins on Super Tuesday.

But is it really that simple?

Romney walks away from the week having won more states and more delegates than any of his rivals, and yesterday Team Romney's message was clear: as far as the delegate race goes, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul's candidacies are essentially doomed. They simply can't catch up, according to the Romney campaign's calculations.

Although the math may be on Romney's side, he is still not yet feeling the warm embrace of the Republican electorate in many places - a fact that Romney's staff and confidantes acknowledge as an area of concern.

"We're working to establish a stronger connection with lower income voters, with voters who are struggling," one Romney official told a group of reporters at a briefing at the campaign's Boston headquarters yesterday. The official also noted, "If you asked voters overall how you rate him by himself, he'll do fine, but it's in comparison to other candidates."

As Romney's team knows, he's going to be compared to other candidates for the rest of the primary season and, if he wins the nomination, compared to President Obama.

They're seeing the same things we are in the exit polls. Take Ohio for example:

"In Ohio's Republican primary, preliminary exit poll results find that more than half of voters pick Romney as the candidate best able to defeat Barack Obama in November, more than twice as many as see Rick Santorum as most electable," according to ABC pollster Gary Langer. "But when asked which candidate 'best understands the problems of average Americans,' the tables turn - Romney's tally dives to fewer than a quarter, while about a third pick Santorum." http://abcn.ws/wzCTPI

These data come after a series of town hall meetings in Ohio and other states over the past few weeks at which voters, themselves, have actually encouraged Romney to show the American people that he has a heart (evidently believing he is not doing a good enough job on his own.)

But if Romney wins the nomination, Santorum will be just a warm-up to a much steeper challenge with Obama. Recent ABC News polling shows the president is far ahead of Romney on the question of who Americans think "better understands the economic problems people in this country are having" - 53 percent pick Obama compared to 36 percent for the former Massachusetts governor.

For the time being, however, Romney strategists say they are not going to change their game plan significantly post-Super Tuesday.

"We have been talking about jobs and the economy and Governor Romney is the best person to deal with those issues to take on Barack Obama," said top Romney adviser Russ Schriefer. "That's our core message, and that's not going to change."

ABC's David Muir reports on the Romney team's attempts to increase candidate's likeability. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/Ajq9ie and George Stephanopoulos discusses the political lay of the land for Romney and his rivals in the coming weeks. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/zNJakH

ROMNEY PICKS UP ANOTHER MISSOURI ENDORSEMENT. Today Mitt Romney snagged the endorsement of former Missouri Senator Kit Bond. Bond served in the senate from 1987 to 2011. He called Romney the "one one" capable of taking on President Obama."I've been listening intently to all the candidates in recent months and have come to the conclusion that there is only one who can defeat President Obama, restore conservative principles to the White House, and provide the leadership our country needs," said former Senator Kit Bond. "That candidate is Mitt Romney and I am proud to support him. Time and again throughout his career, he has shown he can turn troubled enterprises around. That is precisely what we need right now." Romney's endorsement by Bond puts him in the company of other prominent Missourians who support Romney, including, Sen. Roy Blunt, former Gov. Matt Blunt, former Senator John Danforth, and former Attorney General John Ashcroft. "Kit has been a distinguished public servant and voice for limited government for many years. In the coming months, I look forward to his counsel so that I may bring a message of a smaller, simpler, and smarter federal government to all Missourians," Romney said in a statement.


NEW OBAMA DOCUMENTARY MEANT TO FRAME THE 2012 RACE. The Obama campaign is rolling out a 17-minute documentary of the president's first term in office aimed at softening deep economic frustration with a hefty dose of context about how bad things were four years ago, according to ABC's Devin Dwyer. The film - dubbed "The Road We've Traveled" - begins airing at Obama for America field offices around the country on March 15. Actor Tom Hanks narrates over a dramatic musical soundtrack, subtly nudging viewers to give their assessment of the Obama presidency a second look.  "How do we understand this president and his time in office?" he says. "Do we look at the day's headlines, or do we remember what we, as a country, have been through?"  Testimonials from a cast of current and former administration officials paint a picture of "determination and progress" since 2009, punctuated by "bold action" from Obama on the economy, health insurance overhaul, auto industry bailout and the mission to get Osama bin Laden. Here's a trailer: http://bit.ly/yNbKzZ

ROMNEY TEAM SAYS THE DELEGATE MATH IS ON THEIR SIDE. On the day after his wins in six states on Super Tuesday, senior officials from Mitt Romney's campaign expressed confidence that the Republican nomination was all but theirs. However, they stopped short of tracing a detailed path from Romney's current position in the race for delegates to the point at which he could officially vanquish his rivals and clinch the nomination. "The nomination is an impossibility for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich," a Romney campaign strategist told reporters who gathered at the campaign's headquarters in Boston on Wednesday. Romney, who has accumulated more than double the number of delegates as his closest competitor, Rick Santorum, will need to win 48 percent of the delegates in the remaining primary and caucus states to be the nominee, the official said. "We've won 53 percent of them so far. For Rick Santorum to get to the nomination he'd have to win 65 percent of the remaining delegates and he's only won 22 percent of them so far Newt Gingrich to win the nomination would have to get 70 percent of the remaining delegates and he's only won 13 percent so far." And in a memo circulated by the campaign on Wednesday, members of Romney's team declared their opponents' bids dead. The memo titled, "Our Opponents' Last Stand: A Postmortem," noted that the former Massachusetts governor has won "more than 50% of all delegates awarded and now holds nearly 40% of the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination." Even so, campaign officials acknowledged that their path to that goal was going to be long and grueling. http://abcn.ws/z2pzNb

NOTED: The Romney campaign said today that it raised $11.5 million in February, surpassing the $9 million fellow GOP candidate Rick Santorum raised last month, ABC's Emily Friedman reports. It was the campaign's second most lucrative fundraising month of this presidential election, after December, a spokeswoman said. February's haul comes after the campaign raised $6.5 in January and spent roughly $19 million.

RICK SANTORUM FACES MORE DELEGATE CHALLENGES. Rick Santorum's ballot problems keep getting worse. The candidate failed to appear on the ballot in Virginia on Super Tuesday, losing his chance to win 46 delegates, ABC's Chris Good reports. He also may have lost his chance at more than a quarter of the delegates in Ohio, after he failed to qualify full slates of delegates in a few congressional districts. (Ohio has not yet finalized its delegate allocation.) In the coming month, Santorum will face similar problems in Washington, D.C. and Illinois. Santorum will not be on the ballot in D.C.'s primary, a true winner-take-all contest on April 3, costing him a chance at the District's 16 allocated delegates (out of 19 total). His failure to qualify in the nation's capital hints at organizational challenges. Compared to Virginia, where Newt Gingrich also failed to meet relatively weighty requirements - and also failed to appear on the ballot - D.C.'s qualification standards are meager. By Jan. 4, candidates had to either collect 296 signatures and pay $5,000 to the D.C. GOP, or forgo the signatures entirely and pay a higher fee of $10,000-a new option passed by the D.C. Council and signed by Mayor Vincent Gray in late December. Santorum's campaign did not pay the fee, nor did it request a petition for signatures, according to a board official. In fact, the Santorum camp made no contact with the D.C. Board of Elections, the official said.

NOTED: SANTORUM ACCUSES ROMNEY OF NOT BEING 'TRUTHFUL' "Are we going to win here?" Rick Santorum asked an excited crowd Wednesday evening at a rally ahead of their primary next week, ABC's Shushannah Walshe reports from Jackson, Mississippi. The candidate touted his Super Tuesday wins and tried to define Mitt Romney as a candidate willing to mislead the American public. "I never supported a government mandate unlike two other candidates in this race who will be coming here," Santorum said referring to Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, before singling out Romney. "One of them went as far as to impose it upon his people in Massachusetts. And then bragged about how it should be adopted in Washington and worse yet, repeatedly in every single debate told the American public something that was simply not true." As he has since a 2009 op-ed came to light where the former Massachusetts governor recommended part of his signature health care law as a national model, Santorum tried to define Romney as someone who can't be trusted, and compared him to President Barack Obama. "He told the American public repeatedly, 'Oh no, I never did that. I never recommended that Romneycare be used as a national model for Obamacare just parts of it. We find now in the last two weeks that's wrong," Santorum said to cheers from a crowd of about 300 at a local museum. http://abcn.ws/AFkMTQ

GINGRICH SHIFTS TO ALABAMA AND MISSISSIPPI. Ditching plans to campaign in Kansas, Newt Gingrich today planned to focus all efforts on Mississippi and Alabama after winning just his home state of Georgia on Super Tuesday, ABC's Elicia Dover reports. Only yesterday, before the primary results were tallied, the campaign put out a statement outlining five stops in Kansas. Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told the press today that they will stay in the race to compete in the remaining southern states. Asked if Gingrich had to win in both Alabama and Mississippi to remain a credible candidate, Hammond responded, "Yes." "From Spartanburg all the way to Texas, those all need to go for Gingrich," Hammond said. Senior adviser to the campaign Randy Evans told ABC News that the campaign's "safety net" is Texas. The campaign wants to stay in the race through May 29th in hopes of having close to an equal amount of delegates as Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. "We're staying in this race because I believe it's going to be impossible for a moderate to win the general election," Gingrich told a cheering crowd in Montgomery, Ala. http://abcn.ws/zTphYq

ILLINOIS LOOMS LARGE ON MARCH PRIMARY CALENDAR. Pop quiz: Which state in the Republican presidential primary has the most delegates on offer: Florida, Ohio or Illinois? If you said the latter, you're right, ABC's Matthew Jaffe notes. Illinois has 69 delegates, compared with 66 for Ohio and 50 for Florida, but it gets far less attention in the political realm than the other two key general election battlegrounds. Expect to hear a lot more about it in the coming weeks. On March 20, Illinois holds its primary, making it far and away the biggest primary prize in the month following Super Tuesday. Only Missouri - with 52 delegates - and Alabama and Louisiana - with 50 and 46 respectively - even approach the mathematical importance of Illinois. That makes Illinois all the more important. Victory for Romney here could prove to be a much-needed firewall to stop any Santorum momentum and reassert his position as the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination. A surprise triumph for Santorum, however, could give him an even more impressive winning streak and cause some real concern in Boston about Romney's chances of ending the primary battle anytime soon - or even winning it at all.  At the moment, it seems, Romney is the favorite here, bolstered by the establishment - such as the backing of Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk and the state's Republican Party chairman Pat Brady - and the wealthy Chicago area.  http://abcn.ws/zdW11b

TRUMP PLANS MORE ROBO-CALLS FOR ROMNEY. ABC's Jennifer Wlach reports that Donald Trump has been working on a national robo-call - a type of  automated message - for the Romney campaign, taking his efforts for Romney from focused states with upcoming contests to an all 50 states approach. "Conversations continue with the Romney campaign managers seeking Mr. Trump's continued assistance in states to ensure additional Romney victories," said Cohen. Ohio is the most recent example of Trump's primary season handiwork. The business mogul did similar stumping last week in Michigan and is participating in fundraising for Romney as well. Trump Executive Vice President & Special Counsel Michael Cohen points to Romney's strong surrogate network as a way for the candidate to get around his trouble connecting with voters. "Supporters like Mr. Trump introduce voters to the real Mitt Romney. And once that happens, people believe in him, believe in his campaign and go out to vote for him in the primaries and caucuses," he said. http://abcn.ws/w0vAO5


-"Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will host the 2012 International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony with special guest First Lady Michelle Obama on Thursday, March 8. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer and other U.S. and foreign dignitaries will also participate. Special guests this year include Ms. Leymah Gbowee and Ms. Tawakkol Karman, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. The event will be held at approximately 11:00 a.m. in the Dean Acheson Auditorium of the U.S. Department of State."

-"The Association of American Railroads released a one-minute web video today that provides an overview of freight rail's role in the American economy - and features AAR's first-ever industry jingle. The video comes in advance of Rail Day on the Hill tomorrow, during which hundreds of industry representatives will come to Washington to speak with members of Congress about rail-related policy." WATCH: http://bit.ly/zQLZ2E

-"The American Action Network today announced a national issue advocacy campaign calling on members of Congress who have supported Medicare to continue to work to ensure it will remain for future generations. … President Obama and his liberal allies in Congress refuse to address the problem, preferring to arbitrarily cut Medicare spending by $500 billion, empower unaccountable bureaucrats, and demagogue attempts to save the program. This campaign is intended to encourage responsible Members of Congress to keep working to save Medicare as part of a fiscally sound budget. The American Action Network's $1.2 million issue advocacy campaign will target 27 Congressional districts with mail and phones." Sample mailer: http://bit.ly/yfwXXi



@JenNedeau : RT  @aaltman82: Sandra Fluke on Her Role in the Contraception Controversy: 'I Would Do This Again' |  ti.me/xhClY2

@ricksantorum : I'll be at US Space & Rocket Ctr in Huntsville for a rally on Thurs 10am CT  ht.ly/9wpAe  #alpolitics  #alprimary

 @markknoller : Remember the Obama Campaign sweepstakes to win dinner with the Pres & FLOTUS? The winners get their dinner tonight at a local restaurant.

@ShepherdCNN : Secret Service joined Newt Gingrich on the road last night. They're already surveying first event in Jackson, Miss

@DavidMDrucker : Sen  @JimDeMint (R-SC) could wield the Commerce Committee gavel in 2013. He'll take it.  bit.ly/y1t5m7



-Mitt Romney campaigns in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

-Rick Santorum has events in Huntsville, Pelham and Mobile, Alabama.

-Newt Gingrich will appear in Jackson, Tupelo and Southaven, Mississippi.

-Ron Paul's is in Lake Jackson, Texas with no public events.

Check out The Note's Futures Calendar:  http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV


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* For breaking political news and analysis check out The Note blog:  http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/ and ABCNews.com/Politics:  http://abcnews.com/politics

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