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US politics live: economic recovery threatens Mitt Romney’s appeal

Live coverage of campaigning as improving economic news gives Mitt Romney more problems in the GOP primaries

12.06pm: Why is Mitt Romney struggling in his one-time home state of Michigan? A new poll from the Detroit News finds him trailing Rick Santorum by 34% to 30% among likely Republican primary voters in the state.

Well, for starters, there’s this:

Despite the fond memories Romney has conjured of growing up in Michigan, when he last lived there, the Beatles were still on tour and the first moon landing was four years away.

Just to reinforce that message, there’s this, from an interview with Romney in the Grand Rapids Press:

Question: The first question is the toughest. Tigers or Red Sox?

Romney: Oh, Red Sox, I’m afraid. I’ve lived in Massachusetts for 40 years.

Romney then promptly reinforces his image as Mr Rich Guy by mentioning a olde-time baseball player being worth m, saying “Of course, today that would seem like small money.” Yes, in baseball terms. And also to someone with 0m in a Cayman Islands account.

11.36am: My colleague Ana Marie Cox is live-tweeting Darrel Issa’s “sausage fest” (in her words) with gusto.

Follow her on Twitter here – and she’ll be writing on the subject for the Guardian shortly.

Two Democratic women on the House Oversight committee, Carolyn Maloney of New York and Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia, have walked out of the hearing in protest at the failure to include any women on the panel. And Politico reports some news of an improvement:

A second panel of witnesses is scheduled to testify later Thursday, and there are two women on that panel.

11.26am: -There’s an hilarious sideshow going on in Congress today, as Republicans on the House Oversight committee are holding a reverse-showtrial on the Health and Human Services decision to enforce provision of contraception.

Despite the subject matter – contraception – the Republican chair Darrell Issa has managed to pack the witness list with an all-male line-up of critics:

Among the witnesses invited by Issa to attend the hearing was a representative of the Catholic bishops, who oppose the Obama administration “accommodation” on birth-control coverage. Joining them are many other men of other religions. Not invited, complained Democrats, were representatives from the Catholic Health Association, which is run by a woman and actually runs the Catholic hospitals, nor Catholic Charities, both of which said Friday they supported the president’s plan.

Ranking committee member Representative Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, wanted to invite third-year Georgetown Law Center student Sandra Fluke to testify, telling Issa it was important to have at least one woman at the witness table because the issue involved health repercussions for women.

Issa’s defence is that “the hearing is not about reproductive rights but instead about the administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience”.

An early taste of the high intellectual quality of the hearing was a witness who drew a parallel with the government forcing a Jewish deli to serve pork.

11.09am: Fox News says it has “confirmed” that three-way talks are taking place between the US, the Taliban and the Afghan government, causing at least one Fox News anchor to wonder aloud what the point of the last 10 years has been.

The talks were first reported by Fox News’s corporate cousin, the Wall Street Journal, but Fox News is quoting a “senior military official”:

The senior military official said the three-way talks are just one of several developments officials are monitoring.

“The talks are something we of course are conscious of and are watching, but there are other issues that we are interested in resolving, such as detention facilities control, night operations, and the future growth of the Afghan Army,” the official said. “These are all ongoing.

10.52am: It’s hard to imagine why the plutocratic multimillionaire Mitt Romney should lack a connection to the working class, as the Associated Press suggests:

The wealthy former Bain Capital chief has led his rivals by comfortable margins among white college graduates, according to combined polls of voters in the first five states that held presidential nominating contests. But the exit and entry surveys showed only a modest Romney advantage among whites who lack college degrees, the yardstick analysts typically use to define the working class.

The imbalance was most pronounced among less-educated white men, with whom his lead disappeared.

More recent polling bears out the same problem for Romney. According to a national poll of Republicans released this week by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, the former Massachusetts governor has a slender lead over Santorum among whites with degrees but trails him among working-class whites, 36% to 23%.

10.25am: The four GOP presidential candidates hit five different states and three time zones today on the campaign trail (all times are local):

Rick Santorum
• 12.30pm: Speaks at the Detroit Economic Club, Detroit
• 7pm: Speaks at the Oakland County Republican Party’s 2012 Lincoln Day Dinner, Novi, Michigan

Mitt Romney
• 11.55am: Attends a Greater Farmington-Livonia Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Farmington Hills, Michigan
• 6.20pm: Attends the Cuyahoga County Lincoln Day Dinner, Mayfield Heights, Ohio

Newt Gingrich
• 10am: Holds an Asian-American leadership forum, Korea Times, Los Angeles
• 12.15pm: Attends a Newt 2012 Republican Jewish luncheon, Beverly Hills

Ron Paul
• Noon: Holds a town hall meeting, Twin Falls, Idaho
• 4pm: Holds a rally, Vancouver, Washington state
• 7.30pm: Holds a rally, Seattle, Washington

10am: The drip, drip, drip of signs that the US economy is tentatively improving is having its effect on the poll ratings of Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney, as a string of polls show his rival Rick Santorum is challenging him nationally and in the next primary state of Michigan.

The news couldn’t be much worse for Romney, who has presented himself as the business manager needed to save the US economy – a plausible argument if you think the US economy is like Staples. Car manufacturer GM – beneficiary of the Obama administration – announced its highest-ever profits of almost bn, new weekly jobless claims fell to the lowest level in four years, while an apartment in New York has just sold for m.

Here’s a summary of the recent news from Ryan Devereaux:

• Mitt Romney went on Fox News to defend his conservative credentials from Sarah Palin, who said she wasn’t convinced that Romney was a conservative. Romney explained that “living life” had made him more conservative over the years: “I think living life makes you more conservative.” He then went on to list things people on the right like that he also supports, “I’m pro-life, I’m pro-traditional marriage. I believe in the second amendment.”

• Rick Santorum meanwhile also has some explaining to do amid a resurfacing of newspaper articles from the 1990s, showing that he once called himself a “progressive conservative.” Articles from the former senator’s first congressional race reveal he used to insist he was not a Reagan Republican. At the time he also considered himself a “moderate on labour issues” who “supported cuts in defense spending” and “more research into alternative energy source[s].” Santorum told the Pittsburgh Press that while he opposed federal funding for abortions but “beyond that I tried as much as I could to dance around the issue, not really take a position on it.”

• Santorum released his tax returns on Wednesday, revealing he and his wife have made around m annually for the last few years. Santorum made four years of his financial records available to the public, more than any of his competitors so far.

• President Obama and Vice President Biden are on the campaign trail today. Obama will be making appearances in Newport Beach, California and San Francisco. Meanwhile Biden will be attending a campaign event in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Obama pre-election campaign has opened a tech-heavy field office in San Francisco. The office will serve as a place where the president’s more tech-savvy supporters can gather to conjure up new ways to bolster Obama’s website and online efficiency. Last night the president appeared at a star-studded Los Angeles fundraiser.

Oh and there’s this important piece of news. I wouldn’t recommend it for political journalists.

True fact: Obama’s 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe and his wife had a daughter born two days after the presidential election. Now that’s forward planning.

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