By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press
A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Monday, March 26:
HEAR YE: The Supreme Court opened three days of debate over the fate of President Barack Obama's overhaul of the nation's health care system. Eight of the nine justices eagerly questioned lawyers about whether the case has been brought prematurely because a 19th century law bars tax disputes from being heard in the courts before the taxes have been paid. Under the law, taxpayers who don't buy health insurance would have to report that on their 2014 tax returns and then pay a penalty along with federal income tax on returns due by April 2015. Among the issues is whether that penalty is a tax. A decision is expected by late June, during a presidential campaign in which all of Obama's Republican challengers oppose the law and have promised to repeal it, if elected, if the high court doesn't strike it down for them.
SANTORUM'S ARGUMENT: As the justices entertained arguments inside, Rick Santorum showed up outside the high court to argue his own case: that he — not front-runner Mitt Romney — is the best Republican candidate to challenge Obama in the fall, particularly over the issue of health care. Santorum says Romney is essentially disqualified from becoming the GOP standard-bearer because he enacted a similar health care law in Massachusetts when he was governor, including an identical requirement that all residents buy health insurance or pay a penalty.
OBAMA'S VISITORS: Obama is using access to one of America's most famous homes to reward his most generous financial supporters. An Associated Press review has found that more than 60 of his biggest campaign donors have made repeat visits to the White House for meetings with top advisers, holiday parties or state dinners. The invitations, which are a legal and established practice of presidents, came despite Obama's past criticism of Washington's pay-for-access culture. The AP's review compared more than 470 of Obama's most important financial supporters against logs of 2 million visitors to the White House since mid-2009. It found that at least 250 of Obama's major fundraisers and donors were granted access for dinners or meetings with senior advisers. And this month, more than 30 top fundraisers attended an elaborate state dinner in a massive tent on the South Lawn.
NEWT'S PLAN FOR WISCONSIN: Gingrich's plan for winning the April 3 primary in Wisconsin rests, in part, on his wife, Callista. He sent her back to her native state — she was born in Whitehall, near the border with Minnesota — for a weeklong, solo campaign swing. Her schedule includes at least nine stops through Thursday, including visits to at least four elementary schools, speeches to a local Chamber of Commerce and a college Republican group, and a hospital visit. She'll also play host at a "Cocktails with Callista" event, and read her children's book, "Sweet Land of Liberty," at a Catholic grade school. Gingrich trails Romney and Santorum, but he insists he will stay in the race until what could be the bitter end.
ROMNEY'S MONEY: Feeling secure with his standing in the GOP race, Romney is taking more time off from active campaigning this week to focus on restocking his campaign war chest to compete against Santorum in the contests to come. Romney was in California on Monday, and while there planned to hold at least five separate fundraisers over two days with deep-pocketed donors, including Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman and former California Gov. Pete Wilson. He'll also show up on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno on Tuesday, his first appearance there since 2010.
PRIMARY LULL: The GOP race entered a brief hiatus after Louisiana's primary, the final contest for March. The next round won't take place until April 3, when Maryland and the District of Columbia hold primaries. Santorum is not on the D.C. ballot. Those two contests will be followed by a big day of voting on April 24 that includes contests in Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.
AP DELEGATE TRACKER:
Romney may have lost big in Louisiana over the weekend but his resounding defeat by Rick Santorum did little to alter the standings in the race for delegates to the Republican National Convention in late August. Santorum won most of Louisiana's delegates, but Romney picked up some, too, and still maintains a more than 2-to-1 advantage over the former Pennsylvania senator. It takes 1,144 delegates to become the party's nominee for president. The latest totals after Louisiana:
— Mitt Romney: 568 (gained five delegates in Louisiana)
— Rick Santorum: 273 (picked up 10 delegates in Louisiana)
— Newt Gingrich: 135
— Ron Paul: 50
WHERE THEY'LL BE TUESDAY:
— Gingrich: Maryland.
— Paul: Not campaigning.
— Romney: California.
— Santorum: Wisconsin.
— Obama: South Korea.
IN THEIR WORDS:
— "If you really want Obamacare repealed, there's only one person who can make that happen." — Santorum, talking about himself.
— "This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility." — Obama, to outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, on the issue of missile defense.
— "President Obama signaled that he's going to cave to Russia on missile defense, but the American people have a right to know where else he plans to be 'flexible' in a second term." — Romney.
— "There's no obligation to concede it to him. If he can win it, more power to him. If he doesn't win it, then June and July and August become very interesting months." — Gingrich, on staying in the race no matter what.
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