What's Worrying Mitt Romney? (The Note)

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

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

It's Election Day in three states: Colorado and Minnesota hold caucuses and Missouri holds a primary. Although no delegates will be officially awarded to candidates when all is said and done, it doesn't mean the stakes aren't high - especially when it comes to the expectations game.

Voters will have their say today, and should Rick Santorum win a state or two, it could speak volumes about Mitt Romney's path through the rest of the nominating states.

Santorum has been spending time in Missouri, which holds a non-binding primary today, and campaign aides are confident of a strong showing. Newt Gingrich is not on the ballot there.

Minnesota is a wild-card. We haven't seen any traditional polling there, but the fact that Romney is engaging Santorum - with surrogates at least - suggests that Boston is worried about Minnesota.

On a conference call yesterday former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Romney backer, said that far from being the "perfect" conservative candidate, Santorum's approach to economic issues does not reflect "someone who is a strong, abashed fiscal hawk."

And don't count Ron Paul out of contention in Minnesota. As the Associated Press notes, he's spent more time in the state than any of his competitors. http://bit.ly/Agxfvt

Romney is expected to win the Colorado caucus (he's spending election night in Denver), but whether he'll be able to reach the 60 percent that he took in 2008 is another matter. And there's also a chance Santorum could be giving Romney a run for his money there.

Romney added some Colorado events late and cancelled a planned appearance in Minnesota this week, which at least one prominent Republican said is a signal that Santorum may be coming on stronger than expected. It's a sign that Romney's folks want to make sure supporters aren't staying home because they think Mitt has it sewn up.

45,000 people have pre-registered for the Colorado caucuses. 70,000 turned out in 2008

The storyline Wednesday morning could be an ugly one for Romney. If he does worse - and turnout is worse - than in 2008 the question we'll all be asking is: Why can't he sew this thing up?

February was supposed to be his month to lock it down.

BOTTOM LINE: Even if he has a good night, the big bummer for Santorum is that these low-key contests won't get anywhere close to the level of coverage of the previous five contests. Reporters and cable outlets are not currently swarming the Twin Cities, St. Louis or Denver. Ultimately, that makes it harder for Santorum to get the kind of national boost that Romney and Gingrich got with their victories. http://abcn.ws/xsNlKa

Still, a strong showing by the former Pennsylvania senator will only harden his resolve to continue campaigning - and attacking Romney - through Super Tuesday in March. And we've already seen that GOP primary has taken a toll on Romney. The results of yesterdays ABC News-Washington Post poll that found Obama sliding past Romney in a general election matchup confirmed that.


Minnesota caucus: 8:00pm ET

Missouri (non-binding) primary: 8:00pm ET

Colorado caucus: 9:00pm ET



COLORADO: In Colorado, the county to watch will be El Paso County, where the traditionally conservative city of Colorado Springs is located, ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield notes. A large percentage of Tuesday's vote will come from this county. McCain defeated Obama in El Paso by a margin of almost 20 percent - 58.9 percent to 39.5 percent. Romney won the county in the 2008 caucuses. http://abcn.ws/AghDkx

MINNESOTA: Unlike Colorado, Minnesota's caucuses are open to all voters who are eligible to vote in the general election. The area of the state to watch is the area known as the collar counties - the counties surrounding the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. This area, traditionally a Republican stronghold, is the only section of the state carried by McCain in 2008: He won with 54 percent of the vote. Romney carried this area in Minnesota's caucuses in 2008. The other part of the state to watch is the northern most area. While not as populous as the collar counties, counties in this part of the state such as Itasca and Beltrami were strongholds for Mike Huckabee in 2008. If either Gingrich or Santorum is able to carry a strong victory in those areas,  it would boost their overall standing at the very least and could result in a larger piece of the Minnesota delegate pie. http://abcn.ws/AghDkx

WHY MISSOURI IS HAVING A MEANINGLESS PRIMARY: ABC's Chris Good: Most presidential candidates have ignored the contest, which will not affect any of the state's 52 GOP delegates. Newt Gingrich will not be on the ballot, having made no attempt to qualify. Anyone looking for competition between the race's two poll leaders should look elsewhere. The state party, meanwhile, didn't even want the primary to happen. That's because today's vote won't be the main event: Missouri will hold caucuses on March 17, where voters will begin the process of selecting and allocating delegates. Today's primary is a vestige of state law that Missouri's GOP-controlled legislature failed to change. Consequently, Rick Santorum is the only presidential candidate paying much attention today. More on the backstory: http://abcn.ws/xVfKty


OBAMA REVERSES COURSE ON SUPER PAC DONATIONS. ABC's Jake Tapper reports that on a conference call with members of President Obama's 2012 reelection committee Monday evening, campaign manager Jim Messina announced that donors should start funding Priorities USA, the Democratic super PAC run by two former White House staffers, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney. The move was a remarkable shift in approach toward the independent political expenditure groups, whose role in the political process Obama has criticized and from which his campaign had sought to keep distance. "Given the amount of money that the Republican super PACs have raised we decided to express more explicitly support for Priorities USA and its mission which is reelecting the president," a top campaign official told ABC News. Just seven months earlier, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt assured, "Neither the President nor his campaign staff or aides will fundraise for super PACs," according to the LA Times. As the influence of pro-Republican super PACs has come into focus during the GOP presidential primary, however, that sentiment changed, drawing new focus to the men who tried to level the playing field on the Democratic side. http://abcn.ws/z26G9a

VIDEO OF THE DAY. The top 5 ways Democrats will use Romney's words against him. In politics, it's what you said - not what you meant to say - that matters. And Mitt Romney knows as well as anyone that the past can haunt you. His Republican primary opponents have spent the last several months seizing on the words he uttered when he was running for office in Massachusetts.  Quotes like "I'm someone who is moderate, my views are progressive." But if Romney wins the nomination, there's a whole new set of words that have come out of his mouth this campaign season that the Democrats will surely use again him. The latest edition of Jonathan Karl's "Spinners and Winners." WATCH: http://yhoo.it/wWBu0M



ROMNEY TACKS RIGHT ON MORNING AFTER PILL. Employing some of his most conservative rhetoric to date, Mitt Romney referred to morning after pills as "abortive pills" at a rally in Colorado last night where he told the crowd about the importance of electing a president who will protect the "right to worship God," ABC's Emily Friedman reports. "I'm just distressed as I watch our president try and infringe upon our rights, the First Amendment of the Constitution provides the right to worship in the way of our own choice," Romney said to nearly 3,000 people gathered in the gymnasium of Arapahoe High School, in Arapahoe County, an area known as a so-called "swing county" that Obama won in 2008. "This same administration said that the churches and the institutions they run, such as schools and let's say adoption agencies, hospitals, that they have to provide for their employees free of charge, contraceptives, morning after pills, in other words abortive pills, and the like at no cost," Romney said. "Think what that does to people in faiths that do not share those views. This is a violation of conscience." http://abcn.ws/wN3XFw

ABC's Jake Tapper reported for "Good Morning America" on the Democrat vs. GOP culture wars. WATCH:  http://abcn.ws/Aj3MXn

GINGRICH SETS PRIMARY DAY EXPECTATIONS. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich made a quick stop in Colorado Monday attending two events in Golden, Col., which is the candidate's only effort in the state this election cycle, ABC's Elicia Dover notes. Gingrich also held one event in Minnesota on the eve of the caucus. The former speaker will not hold an election party Tuesday. Gingrich and Rick Santorum crossed paths Monday in Colorado at an energy forum, and Gingrich was asked whether the two spoke about dropping out of the race while in a state Santorum is expected to do well in. "Oh, neither of us is going to get out of the race. We are both busy having a good time, and I think you're actually going to find that the three candidates who are currently in the race, for example between them, for all practical purposes, tied Mitt Romney in a state that was supposed to be very good for him in Nevada, so three of us will actually get as many delegates as he does," Gingrich said. When asked if Gingrich thought Santorum should drop out, Gingrich said he's a "free agent," but predicted Santorum would have a "pretty good day" Tuesday and "earned it." http://abcn.ws/wO82mp

RON PAUL FACES A CRITICAL MONTH. Paul called his third place finish in Nevada "disappointing," but Campaign Manager Jesse Benton said to ABC News he is "very pleased" with how the race is shaping up and pointed to the next five weeks - starting with the caucuses Tuesday in Minnesota, where Paul has focused considerable energy over the past week - as being critical for the campaign, ABC's Jason Volack reports. "We have always been focused downstream," Paul said. "The next five weeks will determine whether our strategy will pay off." Benton said the campaign is immediately focused on the contest Tuesday in Minnesota, followed by Missouri, Maine, Washington, North Dakota, Kansas, Hawaii, and Missouri. But the list of immediate priorities ends with Louisiana on March 24. The timeline would match Paul's presidential efforts four years ago, when the congressman started   "winding down" his presidential campaign on March 6. Benton said Paul did win at least five national delegates in Nevada and sent a majority of delegates to the state convention. So far, the Texas congressman has eight projected delegates compared to Romney's 143. And going forward, Romney's organization and money equals if not surpasses that of Paul's.

SANTORUM AND HIS SUPER PAC BENEFACTOR: JUST FRIENDS. The murky rules around super PACs are confusing at best, the only rule being that candidates and their campaigns are not allowed to "coordinate" with the groups raising unlimited funds for their efforts. And that's about it, ABC's Shushannah Walshe notes. Mitt Romney addresses his own super PAC's fundraisers in person, although he has said he's not allowed to talk to his former staffers that run the group. Newt Gingrich visited last week in Las Vegas with his biggest super PAC donor, Sheldon Adelson, who with his wife has given $10 million to the former Speaker of the House's effort. And Rick Santorum is traveling with the man largely bankrolling the pro-Santorum super PAC behind the effort to make the former Pennsylvania senator the 2012 GOP nominee: billionaire mutual fund manager, Foster Friess. Last Monday in Bemidji, Minn., the 71-year-old bounded around the town with the candidate, wearing a sweater vest to the factory where Santorum's signature look is manufactured and during the tour of the town. Tuesday he was again on the plane wearing his signature white cowboy hat, as he told jokes to staff and press. "I don't think it crosses a line whatsoever," Santorum said, when asked if it could look inappropriate and how he prevents lines from being crossed. http://abcn.ws/wt9JUF

RICK PERRY RE-EMERGES. Back on his home turf in the Lone Star State in his first public appearance since leaving the presidential race, Texas Gov. Rick Perry vowed he wouldn't fade away into obscurity now that he's off the presidential campaign trail and returning to his duties as governor, ABC's Arlette Saenz reports from Round Rock, Tex. "I'm not slipping off in to the sunset. I'm not riding off into the West. We've got plenty of work to do right here in the state of Texas," said Perry at a hotel ballroom just north of Austin, "and I've got plenty of fight left in this 61-year-old body." Speaking before the Williamson County GOP Dinner, Perry, who dropped out of the race in mid-January, admitted his withdrawal from presidential campaign symbolized a new frontier as the Texas governor suffered the first defeat of his 28-year political career. "Aggies have a really interesting way of admitting defeat," said Perry, an alumnus of Texas A&M. "We've never been outscored. We just ran out of time, and the fact is I'm really not used to running out of time but I wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world." http://abcn.ws/yAtu6F

A GOP ENTHUSIASM GAP? In Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, turnout surged, compared to four years ago and each state went to a different candidate. But that trend appears to be on the decline, ABC's Huma Khan notes. In both Florida and Nevada, turnout dropped sharply from 2008. Florida saw nearly 280,000 fewer voters in its primary last week, while more than 11,000 fewer voters turned out to vote in Nevada on Saturday compared to four years ago. Mitt Romney won both states by a landslide. Some observers say the declining interest is a reflection of the lack of enthusiasm for the former Massachusetts governor. Polls show mixed enthusiasm for the current crop of GOP candidates. More Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters - about 52 percent - said the Republican field is only fair or poor than did so in early January, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center, and only 46 percent had positive opinions of the field. http://abcn.ws/zrqPLW

TAKING STOCK OF THE STOCK ACT. A view from the Daily Caller's Matt Lewis: "While the notion that Members of Congress shouldn't be allowed to use 'inside information' to buy and sell stock is perfectly rational, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley's amendment to the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act raises new concerns. Grassley's amendment might attract support from those who worry that consultants like former Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Democratic Leader Tom Daschle never registered as lobbyists. But it would also force information consultants and financial advisers to register - even if they merely gather and share information about potential legislation regarding finances or financial services - and never attempt to woo a single Congressman. At the moment, the House has not taken a position on the Grassley amendment. But Republican Members likely won't want to slow down the considerable momentum for a much-needed reform that stemmed from an explosive book authored by Peter Schweizer. …  Again, a clean STOCK Act makes perfect sense. But in the process of providing much-needed additional transparency, one hopes Congress doesn't over-regulate the grassroots communication industry - and in the process - necessitate additional government bureaucracy to manage it." http://thedc.com/xMf6NU

NOTED: NATIONAL ANTHEM ETIQUETTE. What to Do at a Sporting Event or Political Rally. ABC's Sarah Parnass on how to avoid a "Star Spangled" faux pas: http://abcn.ws/wW2JyT

DEBATING OBESITY. Tonight Intelligence Squared U.S. hosts a debate titled: "Obesity Is the Government's Business." From the group: "Obesity costs our health care system nearly $150 billion a year and is a major risk factor for expensive, chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Should the government intervene, or is this a matter of individual rights and personal responsibility?"  The debate will feature Dr. Pamela Peeke, WebMD's Chief Lifestyle Expert, and former U.S. Surgeon General, David Satcher as well as Paul Campos, author of "The Obesity Myth" and John Stossel, of Fox Business News. The session will be moderated by ABC News correspondent John Donvan. The debate will be webcast on Fora.tv and will air on more than 220 NPR stations nationwide and be televised in the New York area on PBS stations. For more information: www.iq2us.org .


@jeffzeleny : Obama returns $200K. Major Donors Are Tied to Mexican Fugitive. A bombshell nyti.ms/xzaYsE

@kenvogel : @Messina2012 sezs Obama backs superPAC only if "all $ fully disclosed." Too late: already taken $215k in secret 501c4 $ politi.co/yCtHbM

@AlexPappasDC : Former Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers: "I find some unity with Ron Paul."  thedc.com/ArK4m6

@jmartpolitico : I get the desire for momentum/sign of life, but what does santo say when pointed out that there are no delegates to be had today?

@mlcalderone : Washington Free Beacon launches, promises to cover what "elite media have taken such pains to ignore."  bit.ly/Aag7Yr


- Mitt Romney holds a morning event in Loveland, Colo. and spends election night in Denver.

- Newt Gingrich holds events in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus Ohio today on his campaign bus.

- Ron Paul hosts a caucus night party in Golden Valley, Minn.

- Rick Santorum hits three states: Colorado, Minnesota and ends up in St. Charles, Mo.

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

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