Mitt Romney will likely win the Florida primary tonight. But he's unlikely to drive Newt Gingrich out of the race. He might not even persuade Rick Santorum to leave. And so there will be more primaries, more debates, more opportunities for conservative elites to worry that they're not looking at the right candidate for the general election, more time for majorities of Republican voters to tell pollsters that their field is only fair-to-poor this year. But that doesn't mean there's enough time for a new candidate to get into the race.

In this Jan. 29, 2008 file photo, voters line up at a polling station to vote in Florida's presidential primary in Coral Gables, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

There are more delegates up for grabs, of course, if you count states with a write-in feature. But write-in candidacies are very, very hard. Nevertheless, it's possible a new candidate could keep any of the existing candidates from reaching the 1,144 delegates on their own. That would open the possibility of a brokered convention.

But ask yourself: who is the candidate who is willing to enter the race late, face the combined fire of Romney and Gingrich and Santorum, campaign all across the country, build an organization from scratch, make scores of enemies in the party, and do all of it without the prospect of actually winning the nomination outright? Because, given the delegate math, the best this candidate could plausibly hope for would be to force a brokered convention -- and there's no guarantee that a brokered convention would favor their candidacy. It's an enormous amount of pain and risk for a very uncertain, and possibly negative, payoff. And that's an optimistic scenario.

"Think about this for a moment," writes Putnam. "There are people in this race now actively seeking the nomination (and who have been running for president for quite some time) who cannot get on the ballots in some states. And we are expecting someone to come in and immediately be able to beat these deadlines, organize write-in efforts and uncommitted slates of delegates to get within shouting distance of 1144 or a lower total held by the frontrunner. I apologize, folks. But I just don't see it. There is no silver bullet. There is no white knight."

Top stories

1) Polls point to a Romney win in Florida tonight, reports Nate Silver: "The polling in Iowa and New Hampshire was volatile, but it generally reached something of a consensus in the day or two before the elections there. There was somewhat more diversity in the South Carolina polls, but some of that was because Newt Gingrich’s surge there was very rapid, meaning that the exact timing of the poll made a fair amount of difference. In Florida, by contrast, we are seeing quite a wide diversity of results, even among polls that were in the field at the exact same time...The macroscopic solution, of course, is to take an average of the polls, as the FiveThirtyEight forecast does. That forecast now projects a 15-point win for Mr. Romney."

@fivethirtyeight: Our final Florida forecast: Romney +15 over Gingrich, 98% chance of winning.

@mattyglesias: When Newt loses tomorrow, will we stop talking about him? I'm going to miss the Moon jokes.

2) Newt Gingrich's ideas are bigger and weirder than Romney's, reports David Fahrenthold: "If he were elected president, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney says, he would cut companies’ tax bills. But former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) would cut them more than twice as much. Romney would eliminate some people’s capital-gains taxes. But Gingrich would eliminate everybody’s. And Romney would build more Navy ships to project American influence into the Middle East. Gingrich would build a moon colony, projecting it into outer space."

@nickconfessore: That both Romney and Gingrich favored some version of a health care mandate probably reveals something about ideological roots of the idea.

@bdomenech: "Never actually supported an individual mandate for health insurance at federal level" makes for a great rallying cry.

3) Obama’s policies to boost the middle class are much smaller than the trends that have hurt them, reports Zachary Goldfarb: "Even economists who support making the tax code more progressive question how much it will do in the short term to lift the fortunes of the middle class and reverse inequality. 'Tax policy occurs after you’ve made your earnings, not before, so a lot of inequality is pretax earnings,' said David Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology...Perhaps Obama’s biggest success in helping the middle class, economists say, is the passage of his health-care bill, which they expect to keep medical costs down over time if the initiative works as advertised. The biggest challenge may be the slow recovery of the economy.

@drgrist: You know what's actually helpful to US businesses? US consumers with money to spend on their products!

4) Europe agreed to tighten its fiscal union, report Stephen Fidler, Laurence Norman and Matina Stevis: "Leaders of 25 European Union governments agreed Monday night on what some billed as a historic pact to move to closer fiscal union and signed off on the details of a permanent bailout fund for the euro zone--yet Greece's looming debt restructuring threw a shadow over the summit. The leaders discussed Greece but provided no further clarity on the eventual outcome of an issue that was creating increasing nervousness in financial markets Monday...The fiscal pact agreed upon Monday is a German-sponsored treaty among the 17 euro-zone nations and eight other EU countries that imposes tighter budget discipline on euro members and is aimed at preventing a repeat of the Greek debt disaster."

5) The U.S. is recovering faster than its peers, reports Ezra Klein: "Two years ago, the McKinsey Global Institute looked at the recoveries of 32 countries that had undergone a financial crisis. Their analysis was grim. It was also correct. Contrary to the hopes some held for a quick recovery, MGI warned that financial crises tended to lead to long, slow recoveries as households, businesses and governments dug their way out of debt. But in a report released last week, MGI delivered some sunnier news -- at least for the United States. If you look at the 10 largest developed economies in the world, the United States is the furthest along the path to recovery...Getting household debt under control won’t mean the crisis is over. We need growth for that, and there’s still the question of how to work through the public sector’s debts. But getting consumers back in the game will help. A lot. It’s likely to get businesses back in the game, and the resulting economic growth will let the government focus on reducing its debt levels."

Top op-eds

1) Long, divisive primaries don't tend to damage parties, writes Gerald Seib: "Republicans vote in their primary in Florida on Tuesday, with Mitt Romney leading there while Newt Gingrich fares better nationally and vows to battle through to the convention--all of which has party regulars worrying about the damage a long and bloody fight might do to the GOP. Odds are, though, that those worries are overblown. Certainly a prolonged fight would do some damage to the eventual Republican nominee. Yet just as when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton embarked on a long and seemingly divisive fight on the Democratic side four years ago, the problems of reuniting a party usually aren't as great as imagined--and that long battle actually benefited Mr. Obama in some ways."

2) Gingrich is right about the need for food stamp reform, writes Ramesh Ponnuru: "Gingrich had been making the paychecks-versus-food-stamps contrast for months without referring to race. He may have been -- clumsily -- making the point that policies that weaken the private sector and encourage dependency on government harm blacks more than other Americans...Gingrich’s hyperbole, and the reaction to it, shouldn’t obscure the need to reform the food-stamp program as the economy improves. The program ought to be focused on people in real need -- not people who are taking no steps to find work, or who happen to have had minimal contact with the welfare bureaucracy. And changes to the program ought to be accompanied by reforms to programs that raise the price of food. We know that ethanol subsidies boost food prices significantly, for example, even if the exact amount is disputed. Federal dairy policies raise the price of milk: They are designed to do so."

3) The Buffett Rule doesn't go far enough, writes Paul Waldman: "What Romney doesn't seem to get is that the attention given to income inequality and his wealth in particular isn't, as he charged, about 'envy.' It also isn't because people think he did something wrong by taking advantage of the fact that the tax system is tilted in favor of people like him. It's because of that system, and the principles embodied in it. Unfortunately, President Obama had the chance to make the election a meaningful referendum on that tax system in his State of the Union address, and he whiffed...No one in either party took Obama's proposal for a 30 percent tax on million-dollar incomes seriously. So it's not too late to start campaigning for a more fundamental change to the tax code, one that would be right on both political and substantive grounds and would help set a real agenda for the president's second term."

4) But it's fixing a non-existent problem, writes Douglas Holtz-Eakin: "Although Warren Buffett may be a stellar investor, his entry into the world of federal tax policy has brought forth nothing but bad ideas based on flawed information and misleading demagoguery. Let’s review the record...Last year, the president proposed that no household making more than $1 million a year pay a smaller share of its income in taxes than middle-class families. In support of this rule, he called for these earners to pay a minimum effective tax rate of at least 30 percent. The trouble with the Buffett rule is that it is an example of the dangers of making policy based on anecdote, instead of facts. As the Congressional Research Service documents, the average effective tax rate among millionaires is already about 30 percent. The president is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist."

Jazz interlude: Miles Davis plays "Time After Time" live in Molde.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Still to come: Credit remains tight; legal trouble for the new contraceptive rule; the CBO says federal worker pay outstrips private pay; the push to approve Keystone XL continues; and a bulldog tries to sit in a box.


The CBO found federal workers are better compensated than private sector workers, reports Suzy Khimm: "The Congressional Budget Office found found that the federal government pays slightly more in average wages and significantly more in benefits than the private sector. But the advantages mostly accrue to less-educated workers, while compensation for federal employees with professional and doctoral degrees lag significantly behind their private-sector counterparts."

@bdomenech: In 1980, federal employees made up 2.3 percent of the workforce. In 2010, 1.7 percent.

Freddie Mac made bets against homeowners, report Jesse Eisinger and Chris Arnold: "Freddie Mac, the taxpayer-owned mortgage giant, has placed multibillion-dollar bets that pay off if homeowners stay trapped in expensive mortgages with interest rates well above current rates. Freddie began increasing these bets dramatically in late 2010, the same time that the company was making it harder for homeowners to get out of such high-interest mortgages. No evidence has emerged that these decisions were coordinated. The company is a key gatekeeper for home loans but says its traders are 'walled off' from the officials who have restricted homeowners from taking advantage of historically low interest rates by imposing higher fees and new rules."

The Treasury Department is investigating the report, reports Shalia Dewan: "The Treasury Department is investigating a report that Freddie Mac, the mortgage giant, bet against homeowners’ ability to refinance their loans even as it was making it more difficult for them to do so, Jay Carney, a White House spokesman, said on Monday. The report came just as the Obama administration had been escalating its efforts to push Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to ease conditions for homeowners, including those who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth...Beginning in 2010, Freddie bought several billion dollars’ worth of 'inverse floater' securities -- essentially the interest-paying portion of a bundle of mortgages -- for its investment portfolio while selling the far less risky principal portion. Fannie and Freddie are supposed to be decreasing the size of their investment portfolios."

Credit remained tight near the end of 2011, report Luca Di Leo and Alan Zibel: "Banks in the U.S. kept credit fairly tight in the final months of 2011 even as demand for loans rose, illustrating how Europe's sovereign-debt crisis is threatening the fragile U.S. recovery. The Federal Reserve's quarterly survey of American banks and foreign ones with U.S. operations showed that credit standards on commercial and industrial loans were little changed despite banks reporting an increase in loan demand, especially from small companies, which rely heavily on bank financing to grow...Banks in the U.S. started to tighten credit in the second half of 2011 as Europe's debt crisis worsened, following almost two years of easier standards on business loans. The tighter credit conditions could hurt the fragile U.S. recovery, which has recently shown signs of improvement."

Americans are saving increased incomes, reports Conor Dougherty: "Incomes ticked up in December but consumers chose to save instead of spend, suggesting a still-cautious outlook that likely has carried into 2012. Personal income increased 0.5% in December from November, adjusted for seasonality, the largest monthly increase since March, the Commerce Department said Monday. This would normally translate into stepped-up spending--and good news for retailers--especially since the gain was propelled by a 0.4% increase in the wage and salary income that is most crucial to consumer spending. But spending was flat over the month--and actually fell when inflation is factored in. The personal saving rate rose to 4.0% from 3.5% in November."

Historical correspondence interlude: Samuel Clemens writes a note to a burglar.

Health Care

The Obama administration's contraceptive rule could run into legal troubles, reports David Savage: "The Supreme Court and the Obama administration, already headed for a face-off in March over the constitutionality of the healthcare law, appear to be on another collision course over whether church-run schools, universities, hospitals and charities must provide free contraceptives to their students and employees. The dispute stems from one of the more popular parts of the new healthcare law: its requirement that all health plans provide 'preventive services' for free. That category includes vaccines and such routine screenings as cholesterol checkups and mammograms. Starting this year, it also includes coverage of birth control pills, IUDs and other contraceptives."

Health insurance companies are on the way out, write Ezekiel Emanuel and Jeffrey Liebman: "Here’s a bold prediction for the new year. By 2020, the American health insurance industry will be extinct. Insurance companies will be replaced by accountable care organizations -- groups of doctors, hospitals and other health care providers who come together to provide the full range of medical care for patients. Already, most insurance companies barely function as insurers. Most non-elderly Americans -- or 60 percent of Americans with employer-provided health insurance -- work for companies that are self-insured. In these cases it is the employer, not the insurance company, that assumes most of the risk of paying for the medical care of employees and their families. All that insurance companies do is process billing claims."

Domestic Policy

@DKThomp: The highest salaried White House advisers in 2011 made $172,200. If you think those people can't make more in private sector, you're crazy.

@JimPethokoukis: But shouldn't fed workers be paid LESS since they have more job security?

The Senate moved forward with debate on a insider trading bill, reports Paul Kane: "The Senate on Monday began its most substantial debate on congressional ethics in nearly five years, a proposal that would formally prohibit insider stock trading on Capitol Hill and bring the chamber’s financial disclosure laws up to date with technology. On a wide bipartisan vote of 93 to 2, senators agreed to begin debate on legislation that would ban members of the House and Senate, as well as their staffs, from enriching themselves by using 'any non-public information derived from the individual’s position' in Congress. The legislation follows several media reports last year that showed lawmakers and their staff members had financial holdings in corporations while they were involved in sensitive congressional negotiations that could affect the bottom line of those industries. "

Segregation in cities has shrunk dramatically, reports Sam Roberts: "More than 40 years after the federal government enacted fair-housing legislation and the Great Migration of blacks from the South began to ebb, residential segregation in metropolitan America has been significantly curtailed, according to a study released Monday. The study of census results from thousands of neighborhoods by two economics professors who are fellows at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research organization, found that the nation’s cities are more racially integrated than at any time since 1910; that all-white enclaves 'are effectively extinct'; and that while black urban ghettos still exist, they are shriveling...The findings by the two professors -- Edward Glaeser of Harvard and Jacob L. Vigdor of Duke -- were generally seconded by a spectrum of other experts with several caveats and an admonition that the study should not be seen as declaring the end of all segregation."

Animal problems interlude: A bulldog tries to sit in a box that's too small for it.


Senate Republicans are pushing a plan to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, reports Roberta Rampton: "A group of 44 U.S. senators, all Republican but one, have signed on to proposed legislation that would authorize the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline despite the refusal of President Obama to advance the project. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) introduced a bill Monday that, if passed into law, would allow work to begin immediately on all but the sensitive Nebraska portion of TransCanada’s $7 billion project...Obama put the pipeline on the back burner earlier in January, saying the administration needed more time to review the environmental impact in Nebraska, where the state government is evaluating a new route after rejecting an initial plan that sent the line through a sensitive aquifer region."

Major rifts are emerging between the House and Senate transportation bills, report Adam Snider and Burgess Everett: "With two months remaining to get a long-term surface transportation bill done, the House and Senate are racing this week to mark up several portions of their dueling legislation. And though the process is just beginning, there are already major rifts between the chambers. Lawmakers are playing up the similarities in public -- the annual funding levels are close enough, they say -- and transportation leaders continue to express cautious optimism. But when pressed, senators and representatives are unhappy with a number of major differences, including how the bills are paid for and how long they last. The differences mean that while everyone POLITICO spoke with -- whether in Congress, the administration, lobbyists or transportation advocates -- thinks the opportunity to get a surface transportation bill signed by the president is a real one after more than 850 days of stopgaps, there’s still plenty of opportunity for things to go awry."

Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Karl Singer and Michelle Williams.