Same Old Song, Different Beat (The Note)

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

Lately it seems like the Republican race for president has turned into the movie version of "Groundhog Day."

It may be missing the "I've Got You Babe" soundtrack, but the week-by-week, see-saw battle between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum has taken on a been-there-done-that quality.

And here we go again.

On the heels of a Romney primary win in the Midwest, Santorum is poised to pick up another win in the south over the weekend in Louisiana. Sound familiar?

Even so, a win in Louisiana by Santorum will to do little to change the overall narrative of this contest. Romney is the de facto nominee and it is going to take more than an Etch A Sketch or a Louisiana loss to change that.

A Louisiana victory also does little to change the delegate math. As GOP delegate expert Josh Putnam explains at his "Frontloading" blog: Even a big win by Santorum is going to net him just four more delegates. He projects Santorum picking up 12 delegates, to 8 for Romney.

And as Romney's political director, Rich Beeson, wrote in another memo on the delegate math (such memos are also becoming a re-occurring theme):

"The remaining contests offer no path to 1,144 for Senator Santorum," Beeson said. "Each day Senator Santorum continues to march up this steep hill of improbability is a day we lose to unite in our effort as Republicans to defeat President Obama."

Working to solidify his standing and his argument that Republicans need to finally coalesce, Romney came to Capitol Hill where he got the blessing - if not the endorsement - of Tea Party titan Jim DeMint.

"I can tell conservatives from my perspective is that, I'm not only comfortable with Romney, I'm excited about the possibility of him possibly being our nominee," DeMint said. "This is not a formal endorsement and I do not intend to do that right now but I just think we just need to look at where we are."

Of the remaining candidates in the race not named Romney, De Mint added, "They can drag it out to the convention if they want, but I think if some of them look at where they are the best thing they can do is maybe look at throwing their support behind the one who might be our nominee and that's beginning to look like Romney."

HEALTH CARE REFORM CELEBRATES A BIRTHDAY. On the second anniversary of President Obama's signature health care reform law, Mitt Romney has penned an Op-Ed in USA Today outlining why, in his view, "it is past time to abolish the program, root and branch." From his Op-Ed: "The Supreme Court will soon have a crack at this; arguments about the program's constitutionality open before it next week. But whatever the justices decide in what is certain to be a landmark decision, the case against Obamacare extends far beyond questions about its constitutionality. President Obama's program is an unfolding disaster for the American economy, a budget-busting entitlement, and a dramatic new federal intrusion into our lives. It is precisely for those reasons that I've opposed a one-size-fits-all health care plan for the entire nation. What we need is a free market, federalist approach to making quality, affordable health insurance available to every American. Each state should be allowed to pursue its own solution in this regard, instead of being dictated to by Washington."

NEW ON OTUSNEWS.COM: HOW THE HEALTH CARE DEBATE EVOLVED. In October of the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama and John McCain took a question at a town-hall debate on whether health care is a privilege, a right, or a responsibility for Americans. Obama's answer previewed one of the most dominant conversations of the next four years:"I think it should be a right for every American," Obama said. After years of countless contentious town halls across the country, backroom negotiations, speeches, compromises, advertisements and spam emails, the Great Health Care Debate has split the United States along party lines and is likely to be one of the more important matters for voters on Election Day 2012. Next week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of the health care law's "individual mandate," the provision that requires people to have health insurance or to pay a penalty. So how did we get here? ABC's Matt Negrin takes us back in time:

-Everything You Need To Know: ABC's Ariane de Vogue  has a primer about the Supreme Court arguments on whether it violates the Constitution by requiring just about everyone obtain health insurance:

-How Does the Health Law Affect You? Tell Us Your Story:

-One-Stop Shop: ABC News Special Coverage of the Supreme Court hearings:

COKIE ROBERTS: HEALTH CARE AND OTHER HISTORIC SUPREME COURT ARGUMENTS. We keep hearing that the six hours the Supreme Court has scheduled for arguments on the Obama Health Care Law show how significant this case will be. For once, we in the news media, always eager for a good story, are not exaggerating the weightiness of this case, if the hours of argument in other cases serve as a measure of importance. In one of the bedrock cases of constitutional law, McCullough v. Maryland, it took the lawyers nine days to make their cases in 1819.  In the end the court ruled that Congress had the right to charter banks, even though that power was not specified in the Constitution. In more recent history, arguments over the famous desegregation case of Brown v. Board of Education and its implementation took more than 28 hours in total over three different hearings. And then in 1966, the last time the court sat through six hours of arguments, two cases where the justices did just that are still very much part of ongoing American legal wrangling. And finally, the last six-hour session was in the case of Miranda v. Arizona where the court decided that accused criminals must be informed of their rights to legal representation. The so-called "Miranda Rule" has become familiar in TV police dramas, but it is continually the subject of more court cases. So - does long equal important when it comes to Supreme Court arguments? If history is any guide, the answer is decidedly yes.

COMING UP THIS WEEK ON "THIS WEEK." As the White House goes into campaign mode, Obama senior advisor David Plouffe goes one-on-one with George Stephanopoulos, Sunday on "This Week." Then, two years after President Obama signed his health care bill into law, "Obamacare" faces its toughest challenge yet. Will it survive the Supreme Court? On the eve of opening arguments, one of the most vocal opponents of the health care law, former Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., comes to "This Week." And now that she's out of the race, she says it's time for unity in the Republican Party. But is she ready to back a candidate? Plus, a powerhouse roundtable - with ABC's George Will and Cokie Roberts, Democratic strategist and ABC News contributor Donna Brazile, political strategist and ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, and "Nightline" co-anchor Terry Moran - debates all the week's politics.



BIDEN THRUSTS MEDICARE INTO THE SPOTLIGHT. Vice President Joe Biden will elevate Medicare as a central issue in the 2012 campaign Friday with a speech accusing the Republican presidential candidates of wanting to "dismantle" it, ABC's Devin Dwyer reports. "Make no mistake," Biden will tell an audience of retirees at an event in Coconut Creek, Fla., "If Republicans in Congress and their amen corner of Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich get their hands on the White House, they will end Medicare as we know it."  The remarks, advance excerpts of which were provided by the Obama campaign, portray Republicans as willing to extend tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of benefits for seniors and the needy. House Republicans earlier this week unveiled their latest budget blueprint, drafted by budget committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, which includes deep spending cuts, controversial changes to Medicare and cuts in income tax rates.   Ryan has said the GOP presidential nominees are all supportive of his plan. "So, let's cut through it and say it in plain English," Biden will say of the Republican proposal to "cut, cap and balance" the federal budget.

SANTORUM SUGGESTS OBAMA PREFERABLE TO ROMNEY. Rick Santorum played off of the Mitt Romney campaign's Etch A Sketch gaffe today when he told an audience that the country might be better off with President Obama than with a candidate who will shift his positions with ease and who he believes is not very different from the president, according to ABC's Arlette Saenz's dispatch from San Antonio, Tex. "You win by giving people a choice. You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who's just going to be a little different than the person in there. If you're going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk with what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate of the future," Santorum told a crowd at USAA. During a press avail following the event, Santorum, who carried the Etch A Sketch during his speech, argued that Romney knows he can't win in the general election. "All the things that allow Romney to win the primary are unavailable to him to win the general and that's why you see these Etch A Sketch comments because he knows he can't win," said Santorum.

NEWT, AN ALLIGATOR AND AN ETCH A SKETCH. Mitt Romney's Etch-a-Sketch problem came up against a toy alligator in the hands of Newt Gingrich at a campaign stop here Thursday, ABC's Elicia Dover reports from Houma, Louisiana. The Republican presidential candidate was horsing around with a toy alligator head when he was handed an Etch-a-Sketch. Gingrich  put it in the alligator's mouth and moved the mouth up and down in a chomping motion.  "There's Louisiana treatment of an Etch-a-Sketch!" Gingrich said to the cameras amid plenty of references to Romney's communication director's gaffe - by both attendees and Gingrich himself. Romney's top aide, in answering a question about the fall campaign,  said, "Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You kind of shake it up and restart all over again," raising questions about Romney's trustworthiness to carry the conservative banner. Gingrich thanked the aide  for "telling the truth."  "You can't have a child's toy for president," Gingrich told the crowd. Children's toys aside, Gingrich also took the opportunity to hit Romney on gas prices. He said while calling into a radio show he was asked why Gov. Romney kept the gas tax high in Massachusetts.  Gingrich quoted the former Massachusetts governor as saying ,"people ought to get used to high prices of gasoline." Gingrich told the crowd the information "just came out this morning."

WASHINGTON WATCHDOG: HOW CANDIDATES ENRICH THEMSELVES WITH CAMPAIGN CASH. In the past two election cycles, Americans donated close to $2 billion to candidates running for the U.S. House, ABC's Amy Bingham notes. Their contributions not only went to fund core campaign costs, but also to candidates' babysitters, five-star hotels in Athens, six-figure salaries for candidates' family members and thousands of dollars in interest payments to the candidates themselves. A 347-page report on House campaign contributions released Thursday by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington suggests that it pays to be related to a member of Congress.  Throughout the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, more than half of the current members of the House - 248 to be exact - each spent more than $10,000 in campaign cash to pay themselves and their family a combined total of $5.6 million, according to the non-profit ethics watchdog group. "Millions of dollars… flow through campaign accounts with little oversight and sporadic scrutiny from the toothless FEC [Federal Elections Commission]," the CREW report states.


-GOP LAUNCHES WISCONSIN TV AD: The Republican Governor Association is taking a pre-emptive strike against two Democratic candidates who have expressed interested in running against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in a potential recall election. In their sights are Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and former county elected official Kathleen Falk: "The Republican Governors Association today launched a television ad highlighting the failed big government records of Tom Barrett and Kathleen Falk. 'When Scott Walker took office, Wisconsin was broken.  Eight years of Governor Jim Doyle and a massive tax hike had failed,' said RGA Executive Director Phil Cox. 'The budget was $3.6 billion in the hole and the state had lost 150,000 jobs over the previous three years.'" WATCH:


@seanspicer : RNC did not forget Obamacare's birthday - see the banner we have hanging outside

@GOP12 : Gingrich cites TV ratings, compressed schedule as advantages of brokered convention.

@hollybdc : New Romney signage in Louisiana: "Repeal & Replace Obamacare"

@SarahB_CBSNJ : Romney to Hugh Hewitt: "This timing was not ideal"  #etchasketch

@etchaStech : Dear Ohio Art, Please donate my free box of Etch A Sketches to Romney for President, PO Box 149756, Boston, MA. Yours truly, Marcy


by ABC's Chris Good ( @c_good)

-A Meaningful Louisiana Primary. In this drawn-out primary season, Louisiana is the latest state to marvel at the newfound relevance of its voting contest. "The last time it mattered even slightly was 12 years ago" when George W. Bush campaigned in Louisiana, St. Landry Parish registrar John Moreau tells the Daily World. -Gingrich Campaigns at LSU. Newt Gingrich was the only Republican candidate on Thursday night to campaign at a straw poll on the Louisiana State University campus, held by the Baton Rouge Tea Party and the LSU Republican Party, telling the crowd that "If we have a choice between Gov. Romney and Barack Obama, we have no choice," The Advocate reports.

-All About Energy in Louisiana. As candidates campaign ahead of Saturday's primary, oil and gas drilling have dominated in their speeches, and the Times-Picayune reports that high gas prices and the presidential contest have turned attention toward one of the state's pet issues. "What in times past might have sounded like the special pleading of oil-patch politicians for a home-state industry are now articles of faith for every Republican candidate," Jonathan Tilove writes.

-Presidential Primary Takes a Backseat in Wisconsin.While the rest of the nation is consumed by the GOP presidential contest, Wisconsin's April 3 primary won't be the biggest game in town, as it's being overshadowed by Democrats' efforts to recall GOP Gov. Scott Walker. "People back home really are not very much into [the primary], which I think is kind of unfortunate," Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "The political types are all zeroed in on the recall." With the recall dominating, Wisconsin Republicans expect GOP candidates to wholeheartedly embrace Walker, according to state GOP vice-chair Brian Schimming:""If a candidate is asked, 'What do you think about Scott Walker?' and they hedge for one iota below 100 percent [support] - nobody is dumb enough to do that."

-Gingrich to Be Recognized in Maryland Legislature? It's a possibility, according to Republican state Del. Warren E. Miller, who tells the Baltimore Sun that Gingrich is planning to campaign in Annapolis on Tuesday. While Gingrich would not address the body, and while both the state Senate and House of Delegates are controlled by Democrats, Senate President THomas V. Miller told the paper, "If he comes, I'd introduce him. … He's a former speaker of the House."



-Mitt Romney heads to Louisiana for two events in Metairie and Shreveport. The Louisiana Primary is Saturday. Nikki Haley is on the trail for Romney in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania addressing the Leadership Conference.

-Rick Santorum also campaigns in Louisiana ahead of their Saturday Primary, holding rallies in Monroe, Shreveport and Pineville.

-Joe Biden will hold his second campaign event of the 2012 Presidential Election delivering remarks in Coconut Creek, Florida.

-Newt Gingrich will speak at four events in Louisiana, ending his day in New Orleans at Tulane University. Callista Gingrich is in New Orleans, LA visiting the Tulane Children's Hospital.

-Ron Paul is in Pineville and Hammond, Louisiana holding two town hall meetings.

-ABC's Josh Haskell (@HaskellBuzz)


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