The good times — at least for political reporters and pundits — are pretty much over. It has been a wonderfully wacky GOP primary fight, with endless debates and new front-runners du jour.

Conservative Republicans were saying “anyone but Romney.” Reporters were rooting for “everyone and Romney.”

But the post-New Hampshire reality is setting in.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry got 1,766 votes in New Hampshire. That’s out of nearly a quarter of a million votes cast. A whopping 0.7 percent. (He beat Herman Cain, who had already dropped out, by only 1,600 votes.)

Seems pretty certain that the implausible Perry, who gave us that historic “oops” moment that the press milked for weeks, is gone.

We’ve already lost the always fun Rep. Michele Bachmann and her delightful husband. Ditto for Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, who, in addition to allegations of serious sexual misconduct — which, by the way, we naturally chased after — treated us to that hilarious appearance before the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board. Who can forget him trying to focus on the right Libya — as opposed to that other one — and to get control of “all of this stuff twirling around in my head.”

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman wasn’t exactly Mr. Excitement, but he provided a little ballast at times. He came in a disappointing third after practically moving from Kalorama to New Hampshire for the past few months.

Even worse, he’s now trailing comedian Stephen Colbert in South Carolina — the next primary, on Jan. 21 — with 4 percent to Colbert’s 5 percent in a hypothetical matchup, according to a Public Policy Polling.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, despite the New Hampshire Union Leader’s full-throated endorsement, got only 9.4 percent of the vote, tied with former senator Rick Santorum. Both of them look to be on the ropes now — Newt’s bravado notwithstanding.

And the 76-year-old Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) may hang in there a bit longer, but he came in more than 16 points behind Romney on Tuesday.

There’s plenty of big money around, so candidates will probably stagger on, but they might as well invite country singer Lucinda Williams to the Monday debate in Myrtle Beach to sing a line from an old hit: “It’s over — I know it, but I can’t let go.”

Republicans and reporters may be in denial, but the reality is, barring some miracle, it’s going to be the boring, awkward Mitt against the used Barack — no longer the champion of hopey-changey.

Well, there’s always Casey Anthony .

We watch for you

We screened the debut episode of former senator Arlen Specter’s new TV show, which airs Friday night, and we’ve saved you the half-hour with this roundup of highlights.

First, the real star of the show isn’t the former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman and his ambling ruminations on money in politics, but rather former senator Fred Thompson’s beard.

“The Law & Order”actor — one of Specter’s guests — sports a hipster-esque salt-and-pepper goatee that we thought was the most newsworthy feature of the talk show.

The snappiest line of the program, which airs on Maryland Public Television, came courtesy of former senator Evan Bayh (R-Ind.). “An immaculate contribution,” Bayh dubbed a political donation that doesn’t affect a lawmaker’s vote.


Also, look out for folks you know among the viewer audience (ooh, look, it’s Nina Totenberg!) that Specter periodically questions, Oprah-style (spoiler alert: they don’t all win trips to Australia).

The effect is that of an early PBS talk show, complete with Specter looking at the wrong camera, odd musical interludes and an Edward R. Murrow -like sign-off.

And if all this doesn’t sound fascinating enough, may we suggest turning the resolutely sober program into a drinking game? Take a sip every time anyone says “Citizens United,” “money” or “politics.” Do a shot any time Specter cracks a smile or the phrase “stare decisis” is uttered.

Who says this isn’t must-see-TV?

Poisoned? Well . . .

President Obama’s decision last week to override the Senate and make recess appointments ticked off Republicans — and now, let the Hill aftershocks commence!

One possible victim of the sour mood caused by the recess appointments is a heretofore innocuous bipartisan bill that would streamline the Senate confirmation process.

The bill, which is aimed at making the notoriously lumbering chamber more efficient by reducing the number of presidential appointees requiring a Senate vote, cleared the Senate back in July. Since then, it’s been languishing in the House.

And now we’re hearing that the bill might never see the light of day.

The subject of confirmations has turned toxic on Capitol Hill, where Republicans in both chambers are smarting from Obama’s end run around Senate Republicans’ gambit to keep the president from making recess appointments by technically keeping the chamber in session — even though the “sessions” lasted mere seconds each day.

The Justice Department this week backed up Obama’s strategy, saying it was perfectly within his authority.

But not everyone on the Hill agrees.

“The president pretty much poisoned the well on the whole subject matter,” says one Republican staffer. “If you bring that bill up now you’d get a big fight.”

Advocates for the bill were hoping for smoother sailing. They anticipated the House would simply pass the bill in deference to the Senate — since Senate GOP leaders backed it, and because it deals solely with the business of “the upper chamber.”

“This should be the Senate’s prerogative, and we would hope that the House would defer to that judgment,” says Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, a bipartisan good-government group.

While that might — might — have been the case just a few weeks ago, it’s certainly not now.

Breaking news!

The president, speaking at a fundraiser Wednesday night at a private home in Chicago, unloaded this bombshell:

Obama, according to the White House transcript, talked about “The first bill I signed — a bill that said that we’re going to have equal pay for equal work because I want my daughters treated the same way as my sons.”

Sons? What sons? How many? Where? Names? Do the girls know? (More important, does Michelle?)

Will the boys be joining him on the campaign trail?

With Emily Heil

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