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Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 02/22/2012

The Morning Plum: The one percent election

Both the Post and the Times weigh in this morning with major stories that shed new light on the wreckage Citizens United has left behind: It has helped create a new breed of GOP super-donor, a tiny group of one-percenters who are exerting massive influence over the elections with a simple stroke of a pen on a checkbook.

The Times story has this surreal statistic: “About two dozen individuals, couples or corporations have given $1 million or more to Republican super PACs this year, an exclusive club empowered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and other rulings to pool their money into federal political committees and pour it directly into this year’s presidential campaign.”

And: “Collectively, their contributions have totaled more than $50 million this cycle.”

The Post story gets to the heart of what it means: These donors are “a rarefied group of millionaires and billionaires acting as kingmakers in the GOP contest, often helping to decide, with a simple transfer of money, which candidate might survive another day.”

The stories focus on the GOP primary, but they also amount to a sobering reminder of what Obama will be up against in the general election, and help explain the decision by Democrats to embrace Super PACs in response.

While this type of outside money is bad for democracy no matter who is spending it, Obama and Dems face a simple choice. Either they can lead by example and shun Super PAC money, which would have amonuted to setting an example that Republicans will never, ever follow, while conceding dominance to them in outside spending and the TV ads it will fund. Or they can work within the rules as Republicans themselves have defined them, while working to change those rules.

Presuming these GOP donors will continue to sink money into the election at the above rates once the Republican nominee is selected, it’s not hard to see why Dems opted for the latter. The question is whether the Dem embrace of Super PACs will make it tougher to leverage the public’s populist mood against Republicans in the wake of outsized revelations like the above.

* Obama rolling out corporate tax overhaul: With tax fairness expected to be absolutely central to Campaign 2012, Obama will roll out a plan today that cuts the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, in exchange for closing a bunch of loopholes and deductions that, in practice, mean that many corporations pay little or nothing at all.

The offer of a tax cut seems like it’s meant to make it harder for Republicans to oppose closing the loopholes for corporations. But Republicans may simply respond by arguing that we need to cut corporate taxes far more deeply than Obama is proposing.

Also: The plan cuts taxes on manufacturers while raising them on oil and gas companies, a statement of priorities that’s designed to draw a sharp election year contrast with Republicans.

* Santorum holds national lead over Romney: A new Quinnipiac poll finds that Santorum is leading Romney by nine points among Republican and GOP-leaning independent voters, 35-22.

Key finding: Romney is trailing Santorum badly among non-college voters, 35-22, and by even larger margins among those with incomes of under $100,000. That mirrors yesterday’s Gallup poll, and again reveals Romney’s weakness among downscale whites — which could have major implications for the general election.

Also: In a straight head-to-head, Santorum is leading Romney 50-37, meaning it’s possible Santorum could unite conservatives if Gingrich drops out.

* Romney struggling among independents, blue collar whites: Also key from the Quinnipiac poll: Romney’s favorables are upside down among independents (34-42) and non-college whites (37-41), again suggesting that the primary may be taking a toll for the general. (Obama’s numbers are worse among blue collar whites, but he only has to limit his losses among them to get reelected.)

* Auto-bailout stance continues to dog Romney: The new NBC/WSJ poll finds Romney and Santorum in a statistical tie in Michigan, but the findings on the auto-bailout are of particular interest:

51 percent of registered Michigan voters approve of Obama’s job; 63 percent of them believe the auto industry bailout was a good idea (including 61 percent of independents and 42 percent of likely GOP primary voters); and a majority think the president deserves credit for the auto industry’s recovery.

Nearly half of likely GOP voters back the bailout? It would be interesting to see a poll gauging whether Michigan voters agree with Romney’s claim that things would be better still if we hadn’t gone with the bailout and had instead let the free market work its magic.

* Conservatives losing the birth control framing war? Foes of the contraception coverage mandate appear to recognize that proponents have successfully framed this debate as a battle over women’s health, and are working urgently to redefine it as one over religious liberty.

Prediction: The American public won’t play along.

* GOP interest in presidential race slipping? Taegan Goddard ferrets out an interesting nugget from the new AP poll: “Deep interest in the race is slipping: Just 40 percent of Republicans say they have a great deal of interest in following the contest, compared with 48 percent in December.”

* Is McDonnell backing off on ultra-sounds? The Post scoops that Virginia governor Bob McDonnell is no longer fully committing to signing the controversial measure requiring ultrasounds before abortions, after protests from women’s groups and intense media scrutiny.

If McDonnell (who seems to have national ambitions that may be complicated by a hardline stance) backs down, it will infuriate the right, which sees this fight and another one over the “personhood” amendment as key battles in the revived national culture wars over abortion.

* Donald Trump won’t go away: He records a robocall in Michigan for Romney, arguing that Mitt’s affection for firing people should lead voters to support him for president. Okay, not really: Trump actually assails Santorum’s lobbying past.

But seriously: Is it really good optics for Romney to tout Trump’s backing?

* And your sorely needed bonus mid-week comic relief: Santorum’s latest: Obama is secretly plotting to keep gas prices high in order to reduce driving and, by extension, global warming. This would be an odd scheme indeed, given that Republicans are predicting that high gas prices will make it tougher for Obama to win reelection.

What else?

By  |  09:00 AM ET, 02/22/2012

 
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