A few of the political stories worth noting this Fat Tuesday, 2012:
One week out from the Michigan primary, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney appear locked in a tie for the hearts and minds of the state's GOP voters. A new Mitchell/Rosetta Stone poll shows the former Massachusetts governor with a statistically insignificant two percentage point lead over the one-time U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. Santorum appears to have a strong lead nationally, however, with Gallup's latest tracking poll giving him a 10-percentage point lead over Romney and making him the clear national frontrunner.
The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision continued to have a major impact on the first presidential election in its wake, with superPACs in January again demonstrating that their ability to attract money from a few super wealthy donors allows them to outpace the campaigns themselves in fundraising. As NPR's Peter Overby reported on Morning Edition, Romney's Restore Our Future superPAC raised $6.6 million versus the $6.4 million raised by his campaign, with three donors to the superPAC donating $500,000 to $1 million each.
And as has been reported in the past but bears frequent repeating, the superPACs are helping to create a much more negative campaign-ad environment. As the Washington Post reports, a marketing-research group that tracks campaign advertising found that more than 50 percent of the ads run during the Republican primaries have been negative to downright nasty. That compares with six percent in 2008.
The four remaining Republican candidates prepare for a Wednesday debate in Mesa, AZ as recent polls indicate that Santorum has gained ground on Romney in a state once thought to be a lock for the former Massachusetts governor. While the issue of border control will likely come up at the meeting, with Arizona becoming something of ground zero in the national illegal-immigration debate, the economy and job creation are likely to dominate discussion as Romney and Santorum struggle to best each other. Meanwhile, many will be watching to see how much much Santorum focuses on the social-issues message that has accompanied his move to the front of the candidate pack.