TPM News

Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher, who gained fame during the 2008 campaign when he met Barack Obama and subsequently campaigned for John McCain, is the likely Republican nominee for the House this year in his deep-blue Ohio district. This week he trotted out the endorsement of Rich Iott, who gained fame in 2010 when it was discovered he enjoys spending his weekends dressed up like a Nazi.

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Democrats convene hearing on contraception to hear the testimony of Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student who was excluded from last week's hearing before the House Oversight Committee. Attending are Representatives Cummings, Maloney, Holmes Norton, and Pelosi. The Room is packed with overflow in the hall outside; women make up most of the audience. After some controversy over whether the hearing would be allowed to be televised, it can be watched on C-SPAN here


The political returns from attacking access to contraception are in. Women don't seem to like it.

While Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney hasn't led the charge against the Obama Administration's proposed new federal rules that require an insurance carrier to provide birth control free of charge to women, he certainly echoed the theme that the provisions are an assault on religious liberty, while steering clear of making it a central issue on the campaign.

Unfortunately for him, it seems he's still suffered a precipitous drop in support among women voters.

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Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) was still up in the Michigan Republican presidential primary before Wednesday night's CNN debate in Arizona. A new American Research Group poll of the Great Lakes State showed Santorum with 38 percent, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is close behind with 34. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) gets 12 and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sees seven.

The numbers, as has been the case through the 2012 cycle, are essentially dependent on where the conservative bloc of the party stands.

"Santorum leads with 49% among likely Republican primary voters saying they are supporters of the Tea Party, followed by Romney with 31%, Paul with 8%, and Gingrich with 5%," ARG pollsters wrote. "Among likely primary voters saying they are not supporters of the Tea Party or are undecided about the Tea Party, Romney leads with 36%, followed by Santorum with 30%, Paul with 14%, and Gingrich with 8%."

The current TPM Poll Average of the Michigan GOP primary shows Santorum with a slight lead.

Mitt Romney proudly touted his updated tax plan proposals all through Wednesday, but there was one man who really wasn't happy with what he was hearing: Rush Limbaugh.

The high priest of the conservative right assailed Romney for having described his plans in terms that could come straight from the mouth of an Occupy Wall Street protester.

During a campaign stop in Arizona, Romney proposed an across-the-board cut of 20% for every income bracket. To offset this he proposed limiting "deductions and exemptions particularly for high income folks."

"[F]or middle income families," Romney went on, "the deductibility of home mortgage interest and charitable contributions will continue. But for high income folks, we are going to cut back on that, so we make sure the top one percent pay their fair share or more."

"One Percent?" "Fair share?" These words were enough to stir Limbaugh's ire. Listen to what he had to say:

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You'd think that with the economy growing, and indeed accelerating in its growth, the GOP would be setting itself up to claim all the credit come November -- rather than reluctantly embracing President Obama's call for a payroll tax cut, while talking down its efficacy as a tonic for the job market.

Instead they're obstinately digging in. And with all of the party's presidential hopefuls lukewarm on the payroll tax cut and leapfrogging each other with plans to cut taxes for wealthy Americans alone, Republicans are inadvertently clarifying for voters what they know to be unpopular economic policies.

"Let's be honest, this is an economic relief package, not a bill that's going to grow the economy and create jobs," said House Speaker John Boehner last week in a statement ahead of the passage of the payroll tax cut deal.

The package itself won a modest majority of Republican votes in the House and a significant minority of Republican votes in the Senate. But both stand in complete agreement with the GOP presidential field on the need to enact large, permanent tax cuts for the highest earners in the country. This is what Mitt Romney refers to as pro-growth tax policy. So to give you a clearer sense of what the GOP would have rather done than renew the payroll tax cut, here's a graphical breakdown.

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Republican governors are caught between a rock and a hard place as they grapple with how to handle the state-based insurance marketplaces required by the health care reform law. The Obama administration announced Wednesday that 10 states will be getting federal grants to lay the groundwork for these exchanges -- four of the states have Republican governors, who have apparently decided to bite the bullet and proceed with building them.

Here's the predicament: The Affordable Care Act gives states the option to set up their own exchange by 2014 -- essentially a regulated marketplace where consumers can pool together to buy insurance plans that must provide a package of essential benefits. If states don't set up an exchange, the federal government would be required to take over. From a policy standpoint it's a no-brainer: take the money and use the flexibility to your advantage. But that's politically tedious because as GOP governors or heavily Republican legislatures can't be seen as abetting the law that conservatives hate, even if the fallback option would be less desirable on a substantive level.

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The Obama campaign is all-in on the auto bailout, and the president's team very clearly thinks they can use that fact to defeat Republicans in Michigan. Here's a new TV ad the campaign put on air in the Wolverine State in the run up to the Feb. 28 Repbublican primary:

Rick Santorum's campaign is up with a new television ad in Michigan that uses Mitt Romney's former statements to run down his conservative credentials. 

It's unusually quiet for a TV spot, and its brooding tones are a huge leap from the recent pro-Santorum ad that depicted a manic Mitt Romney to the strains of the overture from Carmen. 

Watch the ad below:

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney does slightly worse than former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum when matched against President Obama in a poll from Purple Strategies of twelve swing states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin). Overall, Obama bests Romney 47 - 43, while only beating Santorum 46 - 44 amongst over 1,300 registered voters in the swing state set.

"These results may bring into question Mitt Romney’s continued claim of electability," pollsters wrote. "Since September, we have tested President Obama against Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, and now Rick Santorum. Of all of these candidates, Rick Santorum is the only one to outperform Romney (albeit by a small margin) against President Obama in Purple America. Additionally, among independents, Romney trails by 3 points, while Santorum leads President Obama by 2 points (44% to 42%)."

Other results underscore that this will be a tough election for both sides -- Americans are frustrated with the whole process, and President Obama's numbers aren't sky high either.

Among voters overall, Rick Santorum is currently better liked than Romney: 38% hold a favorable view, and 43% have an unfavorable view. Among Republican voters, the results are dramatic: Santorum is much better liked (58%/24%) than is Romney (42%/41%).

At the same time, President Obama has net negative job ratings: 44% approve, and 50% disapprove. While the President’s approval ratings have drifted upward this year, a 44% approval rating is dangerously low for a president seeking re-election. He has worse ratings among independents (39%/52%) than the Purple electorate as a whole.

Additionally, there is an education gap: among those with a college degree or higher, 48% approve and 48% disapprove. Among those without a college degree, 42% approve and 51% disapprove.