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First Thoughts: Romney's own hot-mic moment

Romney’s own hot-mic moment… At Florida fundraiser (overheard by NBC’s Garrett Haake), Romney singles out HUD for possible elimination and says he wants to cut the Education Dept… He and his wife also were giddy about the Hilary Rosen flap… And Romney revealed he wants a “Republican DREAM Act” to help woo Latinos… Senate to vote on Buffett Rule at 5:30 pm ET… Team Obama rakes in $53 million in March… Anonymous donor writes Crossroads $10 million check… NYT on White House’s access to big donors… Romney, meanwhile, promises his own donors access at “Presidential Inaugural Retreat!!!

*** Romney’s own hot-mic moment: In an interview with the Weekly Standard earlier this year, Mitt Romney said he learned this advice from his unsuccessful 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy: don’t get too specific. “One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” he said. “So I think it’s important for me to point out that I anticipate that there will be departments and agencies that will either be eliminated or combined with other agencies.” But at a Florida fundraiser Romney attended last night -- which NBC’s Garrett Haake overheard because he was sitting on a seawall outside the home -- the former Massachusetts governor got MUCH MORE specific. Indeed, it was in a way Romney’s own hot-mic moment, where he was more open about his plans than he’s been to voters and reporters to date.

*** Eliminate HUD, cut Education Department: He singled out HUD for possible elimination. "I'm going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I'm probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are going to go," Romney said. "Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later.” He said he’d cut the Education Department, though not eliminate it entirely, referring again to that 1994 Senate defeat. "The Department of Education: I will either consolidate with another agency, or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller. I'm not going to get rid of it entirely." Romney also identified specific loopholes and deductions that he’s eliminate to finance his across-the-board tax cut. "I'm going to probably eliminate for high income people the second home mortgage deduction," Romney said, per Haake, adding that he would also likely eliminate deductions for state income and property taxes as well.

*** Giddy over the Rosen flap: At the fundraiser, Haake adds, both Romney and his wife Ann remained absolutely giddy about last week’s Hilary Rosen flap. "It was my early birthday present for someone to be critical of me as a mother, and that was really a defining moment, and I loved it," Ann Romney said. The candidate went further, calling the episode a "gift" that allowed his campaign to show contrast with Democrats in the general election's first week. But while Romney said last week that “all moms are working moms,” that doesn’t apply to mothers who are welfare recipients, the Boston Globe says. Romney said at a Jan. 4 campaign stop in Manchester, N.H.: “Even if you have a child two years of age, you need to go to work,” Romney describing his position as Massachusetts governor. “And people said, ‘Well that’s heartless,’ and I said ‘No, no, I’m willing to spend more giving daycare to allow those parents to go back to work. It’ll cost the state more providing that daycare, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.’”

*** Romney wants a “Republican DREAM Act”: Here’s a final bit of news from last night’s Romney’s fundraiser: He said the GOP must offer its own policies to woo Hispanics, including a "Republican DREAM Act," to give Hispanic voters a real choice between the two political parties. So Romney here is admitting the obvious: He and his party have A LOT of work to do with Latinos. Why? Consider this: Obama can get to 270 electoral votes (275 to be specific) by winning the following battleground states: Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Virginia. Under the scenario of this Hispanic path (CO, NM, NV, and VA), Obama doesn’t need to win Florida, Ohio, Iowa, or New Hampshire. That’s right -- this is a viable path to 270 that does not include EITHER Florida or Ohio. It’s pretty stunning.

*** Senate to vote on Buffett Rule: Congress is back from its Easter/Passover break, and the Senate today votes -- at 5:30 pm ET, per NBC’s Libby Leist -- on the so-called Buffett Rule, under which millionaires would have to pay an effective tax rate of at least 30%. We’ve talked plenty about the presidential politics of the Buffett Rule, but here’s something additional to consider: How do the individual senators vote? We’re looking at five running for re-election/election in November: Jon Tester (D-MT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Scott Brown (R-MA), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Bill Nelson (D-FL).

*** Team Obama rakes in $53 million-plus in March: In a video, the Obama campaign announced this morning that it raised more than $53 million in March -- the campaign, DNC, and other committees. It added that 567,000 contributed to the campaign last month, and the average donation was $51. We won't know until April 20 -- the filing deadline for March -- how much of that $53 million was from the campaign, DNC, etc. But for February, the campaign announced raising $45 million, and the split was $21.3 million for the campaign and $24 million for the other committees. To put these new Obama numbers into perspective, for March of 2004, the Bush-Cheney campaign raised $26.2 million, and the RNC brought in $18.8 million. That's a total of $45 million. To date now, the Obama campaign and DNC have raked in nearly $370 million this campaign cycle.

*** An anonymous $10 million check: But that campaign money is only part of the story. On Friday, the Washington Post reported that an anonymous donor gave the Karl Rove-backed Crossroad GPS a $10 million contribution late last year. Unlike American Crossroads, which is a Super PAC and which has to disclose its donors, Crossroads GPS is a 501c4 and doesn’t have to reveal the identity of its donors. So with one check, an anonymous donor gave this conservative outside group about half ($10 million) of what the Obama campaign raised in February ($21.3 million).

*** White House access for big donors: There are a couple of other fundraising stories. First, the Sunday New York Times reported on the White House access that big Obama donors have received. “[T]he review showed that those who donated the most to Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party since he started running for president were far more likely to visit the White House than others. Among donors who gave $30,000 or less, about 20 percent visited the White House, according to a New York Times analysis that matched names in the visitor logs with donor records. But among those who donated $100,000 or more, the figure rises to about 75 percent.” It’s worth noting that for all the reforms Team Obama has instituted – not taking lobbyist money, making the White House visitor logs open to the public, efforts to rein in the lobbyist revolving door – it’s received very little political gain. In fact, you could argue that it’s created more pain… (The fact is most Democratic lobbyists and big donors don’t believe they get any special treatment from this White House, and they complain loudly about this. As the re-election has geared up, Team Obama has tried to make these folks feel better, only to have their efforts get correctly flagged for coming across hypocritical.)

*** Romney camp promises donor access at “Presidential Inaugural Retreat”: The Romney campaign pounced on yesterday’s New York Times story. “Less than four years after promising to drive special interests out of Washington, President Obama has done the exact opposite—granting top donors special favors and access to his White House,” said spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “This is just another example of President Obama’s failed record, which he’ll be desperate to hide from voters this November.” But get this: Buzzfeed reports that Romney “is already offering top donors access to a special ‘Presidential Inaugural retreat,’ planned on the assumption that he will be elected president this November. The offer, in a fundraising email circulated by a top Georgia supporter to fellow Republicans and obtained by BuzzFeed, is one of several goodies offered to those who contribute more than $50,000 to the joint fundraising committee known as ‘Romney Victory.’ Those donors will be named ‘Founding Members’ of Romney Victory and invited to a California retreat with Romney and offered ‘yet to be determined access at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August.’”

*** On the GOP trail: Romney attends a Red Sox game at 11:00 am ET and also gives an interview to ABC. Later in the day, Romney heads to Philadelphia, where he speaks to a Tea Party group… Also, Gingrich attends a fundraiser in Texas.

Countdown to the CT, DE, NY, PA, and RI primaries: 8 days
Countdown to Election Day: 204 days

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