Mitt Romney gets a few digs in, Chris Christie calls a state lawmaker “numbnuts,” Rick Santorum didn’t consider dropping out and polls show President Obama wins on empathy.

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* Former House speaker Newt Gingrich told a small Florida crowd today that he and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney are tied in one poll of the state — ignoring the many other polls that show him behind by double-digits. Romney, meanwhile, called Gingrich “sad” and “flailing.”

* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) called Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) “numbnuts” after the openly gay Democratic assemblyman compared the governor to infamous segregationists. Christie was clarifying remarks he made last week in favor of a referendum on same-sex marriage, when he argued that a referendum on civil rights would have been “preferable” to “fighting and dying in the streets in the South.” Christie said today that in the 1960s, “the political climate did not permit” such a referendum.

* Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum’s daughter Bella, who he says nearly died this weekend, will be in the hospital for a few more days. The candidate told CBS News that he never considered dropping out over his daughter’s hospitalization for pneumonia. Bella has Trisomy 18, a rare genetic disorder that causes severe developmental problems.

* Only four in ten Americans think either Romney or Gingrich understand the problems of average Americans, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll. By contrast, 55 percent of Americans see President Obama as empathetic.


* All-but-declared North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory (R) will make it official on Tuesday, just a few days after Gov. Bev Perdue (D) announced that she would not run for reelection. Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and state Rep. Bill Faison are already in the Democratic primary, but more candidates are expected.

* Democrats are publicly dismissing a poll that shows former Rep. Ed Case neck-and-neck with Rep. Mazie Hirono , their preferred candidate, in the primary for Hawaii’s Senate seat. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter called it “troubling” that the pollster for Hawaii’s Civil Beat also worked for Case’s campaign and forwarded an email disputing the poll’s methodology.

* Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) raised $1.45 million in the fourth quarter of 2011, giving her over $4 million in cash. State Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R) has raised about $120,000 for the race; unless someone else jumps in Cantwell seems pretty safe.

* A Republican poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies paid for by the super PAC American Crossroads shows Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) leading Sen. Jon Tester (D)  53 percent to 42 percent. Most recent polls show a tighter race.

* Lawyer Shelley Adler plans to run for the House seat once held by her husband, the late John Adler (D). She will face Rep. Jon Runyan (R) in New Jersey’s 3rd district; he ousted her husband in 2010. Adler died from surgery complications last year, at the age of 51.

* Here we go again: A Donald Trump adviser is reaching out to “high-level political operatives” to explore a third-party presidential bid for the media mogul. In a total coincidence, “Celebrity Apprentice” premieres in a few weeks.


Swivel chairs, pure evil.

With Rachel Weiner and Aaron Blake