A political tip sheet for the rest of us

By Douglass K. Daniel

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 27 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a campaign rally, Monday, Feb. 27, 2012, in Lansing, Mich.

Eric Gay, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Monday, Feb. 27, 2012:

WHAT HAPPENED

COLLEGE RIVALRY: When Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum calls President Barack Obama "a snob" for wanting all Americans to attend college, he may be out of step with the public's overall view of higher education. Many Americans are suspicious of the culture of academia, and most are angry about rising costs. But they overwhelmingly — and increasingly — agree that higher education is important and aspire to it for themselves and their children. On the campaign trail, Santorum has criticized what he perceives as the liberal nature of the higher education community. For his part, Obama has called for all Americans to obtain some form of education beyond high school, although not necessarily four-year colleges as Santorum has repeatedly implied, and for the United States to regain the global lead in those with college degrees by 2020. Many of Obama's higher-education initiatives, including a proposed $8 billion fund unveiled as part of his budget proposal earlier this month, focus on workforce development at community colleges that award certificates and degrees of less than four years.

SNIPING ON PRIMARY EVE: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are swapping insults as they prepare for Tuesday's primaries in Michigan and Arizona. Romney calls Santorum a nice guy who has never had a job in the private sector. Santorum says Romney's tax plans include "just more Obama-style class warfare" and echo the rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street. Polls showed a close race in Michigan, where Romney was born and won a primary in his first bid for the White House four years ago. By contrast, Romney is favored to capture Arizona and all its 29 delegates. Neither of the other two contenders, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, has made much of an effort in either Michigan or Arizona.

GINGRICH LINKS SANTORUM TO LABOR: Newt Gingrich is slamming Rick Santorum as a "big labor Republican," accusing him of siding with unions over Memphis-based FedEx when the Senate grappled with a labor dispute in the 1990s. Gingrich is hoping to revive his struggling campaign in the South, and he tailored his message to Republican voters in Tennessee. Gingrich is challenging the former Pennsylvania senator and his conservative credentials. In accusing Santorum of voting for unions over FedEx, he cited a provision in a 1996 spending bill for the Federal Aviation Administration that sought to help FedEx truck drivers in their efforts to organize. A group of Democrats held up the FAA bill to protest what they said was an attempt to help FedEx prevent its truck drivers from forming a union. The former House speaker issued the criticism in Nashville. FedEx is based in Memphis.

ANOTHER SHOT WITH FEMALE VOTERS: President Barack Obama may be back in the good graces of women. His support dropped among this critical constituency just before the new year began and the presidential campaign got under way in earnest. But his standing with female voters is strengthening, polls show, as the economy improves and social issues, including birth control, become a bigger part of the nation's political discourse. The recent furor over whether religious employers should be forced to pay for their workers' contraception is certainly a factor but hardly the only reason for women warming up to Obama again after turning away from him late last year. An Associated Press-GfK poll suggests women also are giving the president more credit than men are for the country's economic turnaround. Among women, his approval ratings on handling the economy and unemployment have jumped by 10 percentage points since December.

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