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US politics live: Nevada GOP caucus, unemployment surprise

Mitt Romney has a big lead ahead of the Nevada causes while sharp fall in jobless figures is good news for Obama – live

11.22am: After three days of controversy over its decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screening programme, the Susan G Komen foundation backs down.

Here’s the statement from Susan G Komen board of directors and chief executive Nancy Brinker:

We want to apologise to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives. The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G Komen. We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.

Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation. We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.

Our only goal for our granting process is to support women and families in the fight against breast cancer. Amending our criteria will ensure that politics has no place in our grant process. We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.

That about-turn is met with dismay by anti-abortion activists who had been quick to support the decision by Komen, seeing it as further isolating Planned Parenthood:

The net outcome for Komen is the worst of all possible world: they have now managed to outrage both sides.

This one, as they say, will run and run.

10.50am: While Mitt Romney continues to reap his financial and organisational advantages in Nevada, some conservatives are unhappy to discover another position Romney took while governor of Massachusetts.

The Boston Globe reports:

Mitt Romney accused President Obama this week of ordering “religious organizations to violate their conscience,” referring to a White House decision that requires all health plans – even those covering employees at Catholic hospitals, charities, and colleges – to provide free birth control. But a review of Romney’s tenure as Massachusetts governor shows that he once took a similar step.

In December 2005, Romney required all Massachusetts hospitals, including Catholic ones, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims, even though some Catholics view the morning-after pill as a form of abortion.

Cue much grumbling among religious conservatives, who are ramping up attacks on the Obama administration over just this issue.

If the economy recovers, exactly what is Mitt Romney left to complain about the Obama administration?

10.22am: Video has surfaced of Rick Santorum telling the mother of sick child she shouldn’t have a problem paying m to keep her son alive.

Speaking in Woodland Park, Colorado, Santorum told the mother of a child with a rare genetic disorder, “People have no problem paying 0 for an iPad but paying 0 for a drug they have a problem with — it keeps you alive. Why? Because you’ve been conditioned to think health care is something you can get without having to pay for it.” The mother’s son is prescribed Abilify, which can cost up to m a year without health insurance. Santorum argued that demand should set the price for drugs:

He’s alive today because drug companies provide care. And if they didn’t think they could make money providing that drug, that drug wouldn’t be here…. Fact is, we need companies to have incentives to make drugs. If they don’t have incentives, they won’t make those drugs.

10am: While Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich squabble in Nevada on the final day of campaigning before Saturday’s GOP presidential caucus, the big story of the day is the surprisingly good national job figures.

The US unemployment rate dipped to 8.3% in January – where it was when Barack Obama took office in 2009 – thanks to a buoyant 240,000 growth in jobs during the month, suggesting that a recovery is finally gathering steam.

The White House was exultant about the figures, while Republicans were dismayed since the fall in unemployment tends to undermine its central case against Obama’s re-election, especially if Mitt Romney wins the GOP nomination.

Here’s a round-up of the latest news on the campaign trail, from Ryan Devereaux:

• Mitt Romney continues to dominate the polls heading into the upcoming Nevada caucuses. Public Policy Polling has the former Massachusetts governor on 50% while Newt Gingrich has 25%. In a reversal of yesterday’s Las Vegas Review-Journal poll, PPP has Ron Paul ahead of Rick Santorum with 15% for the Texas congressman and 8% for Santorum.

• Romney is understandably winning the large Mormon vote, leading Paul 78-14. PPP projects Mormons will account for 20% of the vote in Nevada. Romney’s support from his fellow Mormons is not without some controversy, however. The New York Times notes that his hardline views on immigration have conflicted the church’s accepting approach to the issue.

• While PPP reports that Gingrich is decidedly disliked in Nevada – only 41% of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of him – multi-millionaire Mitt Romney has received the support of fellow super-rich guy, Donald Trump. Yesterday Trump announced his official endorsement of Romney: “He’s not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love.”

• Minnesota’s house speaker and majority leader have also climbed on to the Romney bandwagon before Minnesota’s caucuses next Tuesday. The AP reports speaker Kurt Zellers will make his announcement later today. Romney wasn’t Zellers’ first choice for the Republican nomination: he originally backed Tim Pawlenty and then endorsed Michele Bachmann.

• Romney has condemned President Obama’s plan to pull US troops out of Afghanistan next year as “naive” and “misguided.” Speaking at a warehouse in Las Vegas, Romney said that he didn’t understand why the president would announce his time table for withdrawal.

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