WASHINGTON — A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2015:
CAR WARS: There's a battle going on in Michigan over who gets the political credit and political blame for the auto industry's woes. The person with the most at stake, for the moment, is Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. While he's a favorite son in the state's Feb. 28 primary, having been born and raised in Detroit, he's also been a naysayer when it comes to President Barack Obama's auto industry bailout. Romney maintains that an orderly bankruptcy would have been better for the industry and the American taxpayer. Supporters of Obama's policy say no one had the billions needed to save the industry and that allowing it to collapse would have been a state and national disaster economically. Besides Obama, another target of Romney's risky strategy is rival Rick Santorum. The former senator from Pennsylvania is challenging Romney for conservative backing on his home turf, and Romney appears to be wooing Michigan tea partyers who oppose government interventions in business matters.
PLAYING FOR OIL MONEY: It was a frigid day in the northwest corner of North Dakota, but that didn't stop Rick Santorum from tromping through an oil field to make a play for votes and money from oil country. He told local industry and government officials in Tioga, N.D., that he wants to "learn about what you're doing here and what we can do not to screw it up." In the past week, Santorum has hit themes of peeling back regulations in Oklahoma and Texas, where newly built high-rise office towers with energy company logos are a testament to a strong sector of the economy. The energy money that flows to political campaigns is up for grabs, which could help explain Santorum's recent focus. He has voiced support for environmentally risky hydraulic fracking practices, the on-hold Keystone pipeline and oil exploration in Alaska's wilderness. He says his administration would quickly reverse regulations imposed by President Barack Obama that he thinks are stifling energy development or creating too much uncertainty for investors.
NO RECORDS FOR YOU: Thousands of records from the House Ethics Committee's investigation into Newt Gingrich's conduct as speaker in the 1990s are likely to remain out of sight. The presidential candidate declined Wednesday to ask the Justice Department to release the records it received from the House in 1997 after it had looked into Gingrich's use of tax-exempt organizations for political gain. At the time he admitted misleading congressional investigators probing allegations that he misused tax-exempt dollars for a college class. The investigation led to an unprecedented reprimand of Gingrich and his reimbursing taxpayers for the cost of the investigation. Still, the House committee never concluded whether tax laws were violated, and the Internal Revenue Service later cleared the organization involved. The open-government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington had sought the documents but the Justice Department said it couldn't release anything without Gingrich's permission. Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond likened the request to "wild goose chases."
AD BATTLE GETS MUDDY: Rick Santorum is having fun making a point about what he sees as unfair tactics by rival Mitt Romney. In a new TV ad aimed at viewers in Romney's home state of Michigan, Santorum's campaign depicts a Romney-lookalike brandishing an assault rifle and trying to take down a Santorum target. But the weapon sprays mud instead of bullets. Get it? In case you don't, a narrator points out that the "negative attack machine is back on full throttle." Then the ad unleashes some attacks of its own, questioning Romney's positions on health care and energy policies.
HOMEBOY POLITICS: Mitt Romney isn't attacking Rick Santorum on TV just yet. First, he's making a pitch to Michigan Republicans — those in Detroit in particular — to remind them that he's a local boy at heart. His ad for Michigan airwaves shows him in a car talking about growing up in the state. There's a political message, of course, given Michigan's tough economic times and the bailout of the auto industry. Romney asks, "How in the world did an industry and its leaders and its unions get in such a fix that they lost jobs, that they lost their future?" Romney suggests that blame, naturally, lies with President Barack Obama. Later in the ad, he says: "I want to make Michigan stronger and better. Michigan has been my home, and this is personal."
BACK TO 50 PERCENT: A new CNN/Time poll shows President Barack Obama's approval rating at 50 percent. It hasn't been that high since last May. Meanwhile, the Republican leaders of Congress are at 22 percent approval. Nearly a year ago, in March 2011, their approval rating in the poll was 34 percent.
HOW GOES OHIO? A new Quinnipiac University poll in Ohio shows Rick Santorum with 36 percent support three weeks ahead of the state's Super Tuesday Republican primary. Mitt Romney is second with 29 percent, and Newt Gingrich is third at 20 percent. Ron Paul is at 9 percent. Half of those polled say they could change their minds come March 6.
THEY SAID IT
"When I took office, the American auto industry was on the verge of collapse. And there were some folks who said we should let it die." — Obama, defending the auto bailout and taking a swipe at Romney.
—"Without his intervention, things there would be better." — Romney, in a newspaper article criticizing Obama for the auto bailout.
—"I don't own any oil wells — yet. Maybe one of these days I will. I hope to." Santorum, joking a bit while campaigning in oil country.
—"As a candidate for president, Mr. Gingrich's congressional record should be an open book." — Melanie Sloan, head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
—"We point CREW back to the IRS final ruling — exonerating every politically motivated charge." — Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond.