WASHINGTON — A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012:
ROMNEY TRUMPS GINGRICH: Newt Gingrich was so sure of The Donald's endorsement, his camp couldn't keep the news under wraps. But like a David Copperfield illusion, it was instead Mitt Romney who stood with the celebrity real estate mogul at a packed news conference at Trump's Las Vegas hotel. Trump had disparaged Romney earlier in the campaign, but he told reporters that after spending time with Romney he became convinced the former Massachusetts governor was "not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country we all love." Romney said he was honored to receive the endorsement but hoped even more to win the endorsement of Nevada voters, who caucus on Saturday. And Gingrich? He kept right on campaigning, saying during one stop he was amazed at the attention Trump was getting.
VOTING? NO BIG WHOOP: Voter turnout numbers are pointing to a potential enthusiasm deficit for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney. Take Florida, for example. The former Massachusetts governor grabbed a commanding 46 percent of the vote this week, but overall turnout was down significantly from four years ago. A county-by-county look at the Florida numbers shows that turnout was up from four years ago in counties where rival Newt Gingrich did well and down in counties where Romney dominated, according to Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University, who tracks election data. Romney is winning, McDonald said, "but the fact that he's not really lighting a fire for these voters should be a warning sign for the campaign." That could change in Nevada, where the Mormon vote will be a factor for the first time. Romney is Mormon.
ROLLING THE DICE, BETTING ON CAUCUSES: Ron Paul is rolling the dice on Nevada and other caucus states like Minnesota, Kansas and Washington, hoping to keep his nontraditional presidential campaign alive by amassing Republican delegates rather than notching outright wins. So far, he has four. That's a long way from the 1,144 he'll need to seal the nomination. "Our goal is to win. And you win by getting the maximum number of delegates," Paul said at a news conference Wednesday in Las Vegas, where he is campaigning ahead of Saturday's Nevada caucuses. "I'm delighted Nevada makes it fair, where we can compete for the votes. When we get the delegates and build up momentum, we can win." Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada-Reno, predicted Romney would win the caucuses but Paul would come out strong.
WHAT WOULD JESUS TAX? "Faith and values" should play as much as role in tackling the nation's challenges as sound decision-making and smart policies, President Barack Obama told the 3,000 people at this year's National Prayer Breakfast. The president said, for example, that his own call for fairness in the tax code — a central tenet of his State of the Union address and his 2012 campaign — is both economically sound and consistent with the teachings of Jesus: For unto whom much is given, much shall be required. It also mirrors the Islamic belief that those who've been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others, Obama told the crowd.
HOW IT'S LOOKING FOR SATURDAY:
The survey of 426 Republicans who plan to attend the caucuses was commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and 8NewsNow, a local TV station. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.75 percentage points, and was conducted by landline and cellphone before the Florida primary.
— 45 percent like Romney
— 25 percent back Gingrich
— 11 percent want Santorum
— 9 percent hanker after Paul
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— 9 percent like the perennial candidate, undecided
IN THEIR WORDS:
— "There are some things that you just can't imagine happening in your life. This is one of them." — Romney, accepting Donald Trump's endorsement.
— "Mitt is tough. He's smart. He's sharp. He's not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love. So Gov. Romney, go out and get 'em. You can do it." — Trump, endorsing Romney.
— "No." — Gingrich's reply when asked if he was expecting Trump's endorsement.