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A political tip sheet for the rest of us

Published: Friday, Feb. 10 2012 8:20 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, joined by his wife Callista, arrives to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012.   (J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press) Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, joined by his wife Callista, arrives to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012. (J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012:

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

YOU CALL THAT CONSERVATIVE: Three of the four presidential candidates addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in Washington, each trying to establish their conservative bona fides. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gave examples of how he's lived conservatism throughout his life, declaring himself "severely conservative." Not enough for rival Rick Santorum. The former Pennsylvania senator told the CPAC crowd that even if Romney goes on to defeat President Barack Obama, it would be a "hollow victory" because Romney isn't conservative enough. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also addressed the crowd after his wife, Callista, normally a silent, blonde-helmeted presence standing slightly behind and to her husband's right on stage, introduced him. The former House speaker regaled the CPAC audience with promises to slash government spending painlessly, through business-tested efficiency techniques. All slammed Obama's policy requiring church-affiliated institutions that serve the public to provide employees with health care insurance that offer free contraceptives, even though Obama stepped back from the proposal Friday.

THE CHURCH, THE PRESIDENT AND CONTRACEPTIVES: President Barack Obama on Friday abruptly abandoned his stand that religious organizations must pay for birth control for workers. He demanded that insurance companies step in to provide the coverage instead. Obama's compromise means ultimately that women would still get birth control without having to pay for it, no matter where they work. The president had come under fierce election-year fire from the Catholic Church to Congress to his re-election foes. Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, the head of the nation's Roman Catholic bishops and a fierce critic of the original rule covering hospitals and other employers, at first said the bishops were reserving judgment but that Obama's move was a good first step. The bishops' organization later issued a far more skeptical critique contending that the new approach offered insufficient protections for religious employers and calling that unacceptable. Republicans hoping to oust Obama from the White House were conceding nothing.

PASS THE SMELLING SALTS, PLEASE: Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum says it would be wrong to allow women to serve in combat. Sure there are "all sorts of physical issues" relating to the capabilities of men and women which makes Santorum question the wisdom of women serving in combat roles. But one reason Santorum sites are "the emotions of men." With women serving next to men in combat, men might not be focused on their combat mission but rather on what the former Pennsylvania senator calls a "natural instinct" to protect a woman.

IF YOU KNEW NEWTIE: A Few Things About Newt. Brought to you by a person who says she knows Newt Gingrich better than anyone — his wife, Callista. She's his ever-present, campaign-trail companion who rarely speaks before large audiences. But she made an exception to introduce him to a conservative conference in Washington and "share a few things" about him. The former House speaker is an "enthusiastic and committed golfer" who gets "in and out of more sand traps than anyone I have ever seen," she said. He loves books, which can be found in every corner of their Virginia home and on his Kindle, which holds "an entire library." He's very supportive and is always "right there listening" when she sings in her Catholic Church choir or plays the French horn in a county band. But there is one thing Newt Gingrich is unlikely to do: sing on the campaign trail, a la Obama and Romney. "He knows his limitations," she said.

TIME FLIES: It's been five years since then-Sen. Barack Obama announced he was running for president. Several thousand people filled the plaza in front of the Illinois statehouse in Springfield on Feb. 10, 2007, a scene immortalized along with other highlights of the past five years in a video urging supporters to deliver Term 2. A link to the video is part of a campaign email to supporters, in which Obama characterizes his quest for the White House as "an experiment in our political process, testing whether ordinary people really can still come together to change this country." They passed the test, but they've also learned "that entrenched interests adapt and claw back even harder, which means this election will be even more of a challenge. I can't wait to see what you can do," Obama writes.

NEWT'S DREAM TEAM:

The play: Rallying fearless conservatives around his candidacy.

The team: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Godfathers Pizza executive Herman Cain, former Sen. Fred Thompson, president's son Michael Reagan, Iowa state Rep. Linda Upmeyer, former Rep. J.C. Watts, pollster Kellyanne Conway, Hollywood tough guy Chuck Norris.

The goal: Taking on the Saul Alinsky radicalism of the Obama administration.

No mention of taking on the tea party, though, whose leaders apparently have had some Alinsky training of their own. Former House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey reportedly gives copies of Alinsky's book "Rules for Radicals" to tea party leaders, The Wall Street Journal reported last month.

IN THEIR WORDS:

—"I am personally grateful for his wisdom in not trying to sing as a candidate. He knows his limitations." — Callista Gingrich, speaking at CPAC about her husband, Newt.

—"Religious liberty will be protected, and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women." — Obama, announcing a change in administration policy that required religious affiliated employers to include contraceptive coverage in the health care plans offered employees.

—"Barack Obama is the poster child for the arrogance of government." — Romney, at CPAC.

—"If he wins re-election, he will wage war on the Catholic Church the morning after he's re-elected. We cannot trust him. We should not — we know who he really is and we should make sure the country knows who he really is." — Gingrich, at CPAC.

—"Rights come to us from God. Government's one job is to protect those rights." — Santorum, at CPAC.

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