Good morning from ORLANDO, the site of today's Conservative Political Action Conference and last night's Fox News-Google Republican debate.
SIX TAKEAWAYS FROM THE DEBATE: 1) Rick Perry is not ready. 2) Mitt Romney found answers to the flip-flopper questions. 3) Rick Santorum has eclipsed Michele Bachmann. 4) Jon Huntsman lost an opportunity. 5) Gary Johnson was ready for his close-up. 6) Ron Paul is trying to be more serious. Maggie Haberman's analysis: politi.co/qEjvxv
ANOTHER PILE-ON - PERRY ATTACKED ON SOCIAL SECURITY, "FED UP," IMMIGRATION AND HPV: "Perry seemed to expect it - a repeat of the previous two debates - smiling through some of the criticisms, hitting back when he could and refusing to let one of his opponents interrupt him repeatedly," Marc Caputo and Adam C. Smith write in their mainbar. "'It's kinda badminton,' Perry said at one point... [BUT] on the defensive, the debate did little to help him win over undecided voters. 'I like Perry but boy, he didn't do well. He stumbled,' said former state Sen. Carey Baker of Eustis, who still expected to support Perry." bit.ly/n4Ifbq
PERRY'S LACKLUSTER PERFORMANCE - THE UNFORCED ERRORS : Last night demonstrated the danger of getting into the race too late and the Texas governor's lack of practice. Jonathan Martin and James Hohmann: "Perry gave a foreign policy answer that offered no indication he's thought about how to respond to threats against America, twice bobbled attacks on Mitt Romney's well-documented departures from conservative orthodoxy, called immigration hard-liners heartless and, in what was otherwise his best answer of the evening, stretched the truth in the course of delivering a well-rehearsed line about why he mandated pre-teen girls to be vaccinated against HPV," Jonathan Martin and James Hohmann write. politi.co/pkoH4B
EXCLUSIVE - ROKITA TO ENDORSE ROMNEY: Freshman Indiana Rep. Todd Rokita plans to endorse Mitt Romney when he appears in Indianapolis tonight. The former Hoosier Secretary of State says in a forthcoming statement: "Mitt Romney has proven that he has the much-needed experience to lead the country toward an economic recovery. While President Obama has failed to control spending and get the economy moving, Mitt Romney has a record of cutting taxes, keeping spending low, and creating jobs."
CPAC-FL - CURTAIN RAISER : Total paid attendance for today's Conservative Political Action Conference is 2,627 (as of last night). More than 250 registered onsite yesterday for the event, which shares a venue with but is distinct from the state party's Presidency 5 event. American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas will kick off the event with an 8:45 a.m. speech that focuses on the conference's theme of "We STILL hold these truths." From Cardenas' prepared remarks: "Just as we rose to the occasion in 1980 to liberate our country from apologists, pessimists and government intrusion into our lives; we patriots must rise once again to defend what is at the very heart of the conservative movement: American Exceptionalism."
ADAM C. SMITH MINDMELD --WHAT THE ST. PETE TIMES POLITICAL EDITOR IS THINKING: Mitt Romney says he's not participating in the Florida GOP's P5 straw poll Saturday, but that's nonsense. He will be on the ballot, he's spent five years building a strong network of support in Florida, and every one of the nearly 3,500 delegates voting are activists who know Romney well. Between Thursday's debate and his speech at CPAC-FL today, they will have spent plenty of time sizing him up against the rest of the field. That's why Saturday poses as big a risk to Romney as Rick Perry. Anything but a strong second-place finish for Romney should raise serious doubts about his strength in must-win Florida. [Adam will appear on a CPAC panel from 11:45-12:45 to discuss the 2012 political landscape.]
SIZING THEM UP - WHEN THE 2012ers SPEAK: Everyone running for president gets a 15-minute speaking slot on the main stage of the Orange County Convention Center today. Bachmann goes first at 9:15 a.m., immediately followed by Romney and Gingrich. Perry kicks off an afternoon session with a 1 p.m. slot. He's immediately followed by Johnson, Santorum, Paul, Cain and Huntsman. Cain hosts his own 10 a.m. rally at the Peabody Hotel. Perry has a kickoff fundraiser at the same hotel at 6 p.m. Here is the full CPAC schedule-including panels, speeches, movie screenings and a Florida Senate race forum: http://bit.ly/mVSWlH.
THE BATTLE OF ORLANDO - WHAT TO WATCH TODAY: Here are 10 things the political teams at the St. Petersburg Times and POLITICO will pay attention to over the next 24 hours:
St. Petersburg Times:
(1) The quiet efforts by the campaigns for Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann to gain support in Saturday's straw poll, even though officially they are not participating. How hard will they work the Presidency 5 delegates?
(2) What kind of reception Romney gets before the CPAC audience, which is more in step with Rick Perry's style and message. Does Romney continue to focus on jobs, or offer some red meat?
(3) After dozens of speeches, will we know if there's any difference between the tea party and the Republican Party?
(4) Marco. Marco. Marco. Will Florida's freshman senator outshine the presidential candidates?
(5) Are the grass-roots activists satisfied with their crop of candidates? CPAC will provide a window into the enthusiasm level for the long ground game ahead in Florida.
(1) Is Perry's debate performance giving pause to anyone who planned to vote for him in tomorrow's straw poll?
(2) How much do P5 delegates care about Perry's "softness" on immigration?
(3) To what extent is Obama's weakness in the polls leading social conservatives to reject the electability argument and embrace Bachmann (or Santorum)?
(4) How will Florida's one-day CPAC compare to the February version in Washington that conservative activists know and love?
(5) What will be the most incendiary comment Ann Coulter makes in her 5:45 p.m. speech?
MARCO RUBIO WATCH - SPEECH SCHEDULED FOR 10:45 A.M.: His name barely left Ralph Reed's tongue when a raucous roar filled the P5 conference room in Orlando on Thursday. And Sen. Marco Rubio was not even in town. He's expected to speak at CPAC FL this morning, though a possible vote on a budget issue in Washington could complicate things. Rubio's speech will focus on the role of government in America (less is more, he says) and take on President Barack Obama's jobs and debt proposals. But no matter what is said, the crowd will surely buzz about Rubio as a possible VP candidate. The more he denies it, the louder the talk gets. Not a bad spot to be in.
FLORIDA INTEL - REPUBLICANS TO PICK A NEW STATE CHAIR : The Republican Party of Florida today will vote to install its fourth chairman in two years. Even more remarkable, there appears to be consensus for Jacksonville's Lenny Curry. Rank-and-file Republicans were restless after one chairman was arrested on money laundering charges and Tallahassee leaders forced a replacement on them. Earlier this year, activists installed David Bitner but he lost a tragic battle this month with Lou Gehrig's Disease. Before he passed, Bitner made sure Curry would be his successor. Curry supports the Bitner plan to close the voter registration gap with Democrats and has an excellent relationship with some of Florida's most organized tea parties. But heading into 2012, Curry represents something perhaps even more important: stability and unity.
NEW DNC TV AD - PUSHING AMERICAN JOBS ACT: The Democratic National Committee is switching traffic on the ads that have been up for the past two weeks, touting the popular elements of President Obama's American Jobs Act, as they help take the case directly to voters in swing states. The markets are the same as last time, including (among 12) Tampa and Orlando. The script of the new commercial: "The President's American Jobs Act creates jobs fixing roads and bridges...Helps small businesses that hire more workers... Fifteen hundred dollars more in your paycheck... It's paid for... Ends tax breaks for the wealthiest... And closes corporate loopholes. Tell Congress: No more games. Pass the plan." Watch the 30-second spot: bit.ly/n2V2nN
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO TURN THIS SOUNDBYTE INTO AN ATTACK AD? - ROMNEY IN LAST NIGHT'S DEBATE: 'There are a lot of reasons not to elect me. There are a lot of reasons not to elect other people on this stage. But one reason to elect me is that I know what I stand for." bit.ly/qOr2ya
McCOTTER DROPS OUT - BLAMES INABILITY TO GET INTO DEBATES: "Livonia Rep. Thaddeus McCotter told The Detroit News [Thursday] afternoon he is leaving the race for the Republican presidential nomination after he failed to win access to the Republican presidential debates. 'If they keep you out of the debates, you are out of the conversation and you can't run,' McCotter said. 'It was sort of death by media.' McCotter said he will give his support to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Michigan native, and will likely run again for the 11th District congressional seat he's held since 2003." bit.ly/pfzvDl
IMMIGRATION -THE GOP BATTLE FOR HISPANICS: Reuters led its debate story with Perry taking "heavy fire from his rivals over a Texas policy that aids illegal immigrants." Romney explained giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition put U.S. citizens from the other 49 states at a disadvantage. [ reut.rs/pCEvZq ] Meanwhile, the Miami Herald noted yesterday that Perry's position on tuition looks quite similar to Rubio's: bit.ly/nPOEah.
HISPANIC CONFERENCE KICKS OFF IN NEW MEXICO: Fresh on the heels of their poll showing President Obama is losing ground among Hispanics in battleground states, the center-right Hispanic Leadership Network is holding a conference in New Mexico today and tomorrow with Gov. Susana Martinez and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Follow the conference on twitter @HispanicLN, #HLNNM, or watch the livestream here: on.fb.me/pMUZQh.
EDUCATION - DRIVING THE PRESIDENT'S DAY: At 10:15 a.m., POTUS will outline his plan to reform No Child Left Behind from the White House East Room. He will push to excuse states from parts of the law "if they adopt certain education reforms in exchange for greater flexibility in deciding how to measure school performance." The Washington Post previews the speech: wapo.st/pOsrvD
Perry's team thought they created a good contrast on Race to the Top last night, which they say Romney has backed. "Nice try," Romney said, insisting that he merely supports Education Secretary Arne Duncan's push to let schools get rid of bad teachers. The debate moderators gave each candidate 30 seconds to criticize the federal government's role. Not surprisingly, all nine obliged. Long gone are the days when George W. Bush and a Republican House passed NCLB.
"PATRIOT DAY" - NRCC RAISED $1.5 MILLION YESTERDAY: The National Republican Congressional Committee's Patriot Program raised $1.5 million at a fundraiser yesterday to help 10 members. This initiative, co-chaired by Chairman Pete Sessions and Deputy Chairman Greg Walden, is a need plus merit program for incumbents that will be targeted in 2012. This is the second batch of Patriot members the committee has done this for. Those getting help yesterday were Jeff Denham, Bob Dold, Judy Biggert, Bobby Schilling, Jon Runyan, Michael Grimm, Bill Johnson, Jim Renacci, Bob Gibbs and Scott Rigell.
CODA - [NON-DEBATE] QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I've had road kill that tasted better than that." - Rick Perry talking about North Carolina barbecue in 1992. The Charlotte Observer picked up on the quote, which appears in a book, yesterday: bit.ly/pybKfE.
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