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First Thoughts: The long haul

The biggest consequence of the AL and MS results: This GOP race is in for the long haul… And that could have a positive and negative impact on Romney in the general election… Team Romney: seeing the trees, but missing the forest?… Breaking down this weekend’s contests in Missouri and Puerto Rico… Team Obama unveils its 17-minute “docu-ganda”… And GOPers reignite the culture wars (over abortion, contraception, women’s rights) in Pennsylvania and Arizona.


*** The long haul: The biggest consequence of Rick Santorum’s victories on Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi on is that a competitive GOP primary race will continue through at least April -- and maybe even longer than that. And for Mitt Romney, that situation will inevitably shape the contours of the general election, in potentially good and bad ways for him. Let’s start with the good: A longer primary season would allow him to make the sale to conservatives and the GOP base that he’s their guy. What’s more, a la the ’08 Democratic race, an extended primary season will take him to competitive general-election states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, and simply engaging the GOP electorate there could increase the amount of volunteers and interest for the fall. (’s Mike O’Brien will have a piece later today comparing that long ’08 race to this current one.) But here’s the bad: A longer primary season will only bleed money. While Karl Rove wrote yesterday that the Obama campaign has a high burn rate (and they do, but don’t forget how the Obama campaign uses the DNC), it doesn’t compare to the 287% burn rate Team Romney racked up in January (raising $6.5 million but spending $18.8 million). In addition, the longer the GOP race goes on, the less time Romney will have to fix his image problem with independents, who gave him a 22%/38% fav/unfav rating in the most recent NBC/WSJ poll.

*** Romney admits the primary season has helped and hurt him: In an interview on FOX yesterday, Romney admitted that the primary season has both helped and hurt him. “Frankly, a good, spirited contest prepares us for what’s going to happen with President Obama. It’s good to get your skin toughened up a bit, hear the arguments, respond to them.” Asked if he was encouraged by the whole process, Romney replied, “Look, I’m perfectly pleased with the process we have. I face tough competitors, very capable people.” But in another FOX interview, on Hannity, Romney said he hoped the GOP gets its nomine in time. “I hope to be able to get the nomination before the convention. I think that will happen.”

*** Seeing the trees but missing the forest: The Atlantic’s Molly Ball has a very good summation of what has hurt the Romney campaign so far: It’s done a fine job of focusing on the trees (tactics, endorsements, delegate math), but it has ignored the forest (Romney’s image, his standing with conservatives). "I think they're extremely competent at the tactical things. They run a tight ship in terms of the nuts and bolts," GOP strategist John Weaver tells Ball. "But their messaging is a head-scratcher at times… Can they grind it out, run more negative ads, do more robocalls, that kind of crap? Yeah, they can do that better than anyone else. But what has it got them?" And then there’s this kicker quote from an unnamed Republican observer: "This was a campaign built around the notion that Mitt Romney was going to be the nominee because he was the inevitable candidate and the only guy who could beat Obama. Then he started losing, and it was shattering to the electability argument -- 'If he's inevitable, why isn't he winning?’”

*** Caucusing in Missouri… : This weekend brings us more contests in Missouri (Saturday) and Puerto Rico (Sunday). Per NBC’s John Bailey, Missouri Republicans will begin caucusing on the county level beginning on Saturday morning. The state held a presidential preference primary last month, and Rick Santorum won with 55% of the vote. But the results of that primary were non-binding (it was a beauty contest) and has no bearing on allotting delegates. No delegates will be bound on Saturday either, but Missouri Republicans will elect delegates to go to the Congressional District Conventions (April 21) and the State Convention (June 5). Missouri's national delegates will be bound at these events -- 24 delegates at the CD Conventions in April, and 25 delegates at the State Convention in June. Unlike the other the caucuses so far, the Missouri GOP will not conduct a straw poll vote so there will be no results to report on Saturday.

*** … and primary in Puerto Rico: In Puerto Rico -- where residents CAN’T vote in the general election -- Republicans head to the polls on Sunday at 9:00 am ET and wrap up voting at 5:00 pm ET, Bailey adds. The commonwealth's 20 At-Large delegates are awarded proportionally based on the primary vote, but a candidate must get at least 20% of the vote to qualify. In addition, if a candidate gets a majority of the vote, he gets all 20 delegates. Puerto Rico's three RNC delegates are unbound, but all three have made public endorsements. According to reports, National Committeeman (and Gov.) Luis Fortuno and National Committeewoman Zoraida Fonalledas have both endorsed Mitt Romney, while Puerto Rico GOP Chairman Carlos Mendez has publicly endorsed Newt Gingrich. 

*** On the trail, per NBC’s Adam Perez: Romney visits Rosemont, IL then jets to Puerto Rico to attend a rally in San Juan Puerto Rico… Gingrich makes stops in Louisiana, campaigning in Slidell, New Orleans, and North  Shore… Meanwhile, Santorum attends a rally in Missouri then travels to Arlington Heights, IL… Paul will also campaign in the Show Me State.

*** Team Obama’s 17-minute “docu-ganda”: Turning away from the GOP primary race, Team Obama yesterday took a couple of steps forward in its general-election efforts – with Vice President Biden’s speech in Ohio, the president’s own energy speech (which was billed as an official White House event), and the release of the campaign’s 17-minute documentary (or “docu-ganda” as the Washington Post put it).  NBC’s Carrie Dann writes that the video “highlights the Obama administration's aid package to the automobile industry… Also named in the film as major feats are the passage of the health care overhaul, the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the president's naming of two female Supreme Court justices.” But after watching the documentary, it appears that the campaign’s biggest challenge will be to defend the health-care law.

*** More proof the GOP is leaderless? Just as Republicans are trying to move away from social issues, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) this week was asked if an ultrasound bill being considered in his state goes too far. His answer is something that Democrats and women’s groups are now highlighting and attacking: "Just close your eyes." Here’s his full quote, per the Philly Inquirer: "I’m not making anybody watch, OK. Because you just have to close your eyes. As long as it’s on the exterior and not the interior." Folks, this is in Pennsylvania, a state Republicans are HOPING to be able to put into play. And in Arizona, a state that Team Obama wants to put in play, a Republican bill nearing passage would require women “trying to get reimbursed for birth control drugs” through their employer-provided health plan “to prove that they are taking it for a medical reason such as acne, rather than to prevent pregnancy,” the AP says. 

Countdown to Illinois primary: 4 days
Countdown to Louisiana primary: 8 days
Countdown to Election Day: 235 days

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