TPM News

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Southern Republican Leadership Conference 2012 presidential straw poll this evening. He beat Texas Rep. Ron Paul (R) by one vote, 439-438.

The full field (with number of votes):

Newt Gingrich 18% (321) Mike Huckabee 4% Gary Johnson 1% Sarah Palin 18% (330) Ron Paul 24% (438) Tim Pawlenty 3% Mike Pence 3% Mitt Romney 24% (439) Rick Santorum 2%

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Michael Steele delivered something of a mea culpa at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference this afternoon. In his first major address to his party since the string of scandals and resignations that has plagued the last two weeks at the RNC, Steele apologized for the problems at the party organization but said that focusing too much attention on them would serve only to help the Democrats in 2010.

"In life you learn very quickly that you can't please everyone, but you can certainly make them all mad at you at the same time," he said. "And that is a lesson well-learned. It is an opportunity as well because folks have been mad at us in the past and we have learned from that past."

"And now," Steele continued, "we're ready to move on into a bright future as leaders as Republicans and as conservatives."

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Near the end of the third day of this year's Southern Republican Leadership Conference, it was time for Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) to take the stage. Paul, fresh off his victory in the CPAC straw poll, gave a characteristically fired-up speech that took on the views of the Republican party establishment.

"The question has been raised about whether or not our president is a socialist," Paul said. "I am sure there are some people here who believe it. But in the technical sense, in the economic definition of a what a socialist is, no, he's not a socialist."

"He's a corporatist," Paul continued. "And unfortunately we have corporatists inside the Republican party and that means you take care of corporations and corporations take over and run the country."

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Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) finished his remarks at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference a few minutes ago. The chairman of the RGA and another in the parade of potential 2012 contenders to take the podium in New Orleans today, Barbour led his remarks by thanking the Bush administration for the way it handled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which slammed Mississippi's coast as it did New Orleans.

To say the least, it was a surprising position for any politician -- much less one from the Gulf Coast -- to take.

"Candidly I want to say thank you to the federal government," he said. "The federal government gets a very bad rap about what happened after Katrina. The federal government was very generous to us after the storm and I want to say thank you for that."

Barbour had more surprises in store, relating his appreciation of the Bush administration's handling of Katrina to a discussion of fiscal responsibility.

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Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum wants to tell you he's sorry. The arch-conservative is one of a number of former Republican party figures in the early stages of potential runs for president, and in a speech before the Southern Republican Leadership conference this afternoon, he tried to separate himself from the pack by making a play for the job of the GOP's Jiminy Cricket.

Where most Republican speeches these days are focused on the wrongs President Obama and the Democrats have inflicted on every facet of American life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (as long as you don't have a preexisting condition, that is), Santorum spent most of his time on the podium talking about the mistakes Republicans made that led to their defeat in both 2006 and 2008. He's not the only Republican out there talking about that, of course, but his speech today was more self-reflexive than most.

"We failed America," Santorum told the crowd of Republicans in New Orleans. "People stopped believing in us."

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Obama Promotes Tax Cuts In Stimulus In this weekend's YouTube address, marking the weekend before Tax Day, President Obama promoted the stimulus program's inclusion of targeted middle-class tax cuts.

"So far, Americans who have filed their taxes have discovered that the average refund is up nearly ten percent this year - to an all-time high of about $3,000," said Obama. "This is due in large part to the Recovery Act. In fact, one-third of the Recovery Act was made up of tax cuts - tax cuts that have already provided more than $160 billion in relief for families and businesses, and nearly $100 billion of that directly into the pockets of working Americans. No one I've met is looking for a handout. And that's not what these tax cuts are. Instead, they're targeted relief to help middle class families weather the storm, to jumpstart our economy, and to bring the fundamentals of the American Dream - making an honest living, earning an education, owning a home, and raising a family - back within reach for millions of Americans."

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President Obama released the following statement today about the plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski. Here's the full text:

Today, I called Polish Prime Minister Tusk to express Michelle's and my deepest condolences to the people of Poland on the tragic deaths this morning of President Lech Kaczynski, First Lady Maria Kaczynski, and all who were traveling with them to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Kaczynski family, the loved ones of those killed in this tragic plane crash, and the Polish nation.

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Former Nevada GOP Chair Sue Lowden -- now among the slew of Republicans running for the right to challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in November -- might want to consult her high school American Government textbook before she tries to say anything else about the retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

In a press release posted to her campaign website this afternoon, Lowden calls on Reid and President Obama to "cross-party lines" in the wake of the Stevens retirement "and nominate as well as confirm a candidate that will serve with judicial restraint, ruling by the virtue of our Constitution as intended by our Founding Fathers." That's all well and good. But then Lowden calls on a third Democrat to reach across the aisle in the Supreme Court selection process: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

A quick reminder for Lowden and anyone else who might be just a little confused: only the President can nominate Supreme Court justices, and only the Senate can confirm them.

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Here's a fun event to look for this weekend: A Pennsylvania Senate debate between former Rep. Pat Toomey, the likely Republican nominee -- and Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter in the Dem primary.

The event, which was first announced three weeks ago, will be held this Sunday at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Notably absent will be Specter himself. Instead, the event should be full of attacks on Specter as both Toomey and Sestak attempt to raise their own profiles.

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Democrats in Washington are starting to move on from Rep. Bart Stupak's retirement today, and setting their sights on keeping the Michigan first district seat Stupak held for the Democrats for 18 years. The party has offered up a number of names as potential replacements for Stupak today -- but none of them is ex-Charlevoix County commissioner Connie Saltonstall.

Party officials say they expect more Democrats to enter the race, and they're making no mention of the progressive, pro-choice Saltonstall who was running against Stupak in the primary from the left with the support of several national progressive organizations. Saltonstall is unfazed by the lack of attention from the party and told TPMDC this evening she's as committed as ever to winning the nomination.

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