A political tip sheet for the rest of us

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By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Wednesday, March 28:

WHAT HAPPENED

HEAR YE-THIRD DAY: On the third day of Supreme Court arguments over President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, the justices sent signals that they could throw out key parts of the law if it first finds a requirement that individuals must buy health insurance is unconstitutional. On the final day of arguments, the court appeared to accept the administration's argument that at least two important insurance changes are so closely tied to the insurance requirement that they could not survive without it. Less clear was whether the court would conclude the entire law, with its hundreds of unrelated provisions, would have to be cast aside. The outcome of the case will affect nearly every American. The ruling, expected in June, also could play a role in the presidential campaign.

PRESIDENT 41: Former President George H.W. Bush is making it official Thursday and offering Romney his formal endorsement. The 41st president has had encouraging things to say about Romney throughout the campaign but had withheld his official backing. The Bush family has known Romney for years and the former president's wife, Barbara, and their son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, both have endorsed Romney. So it seemed inevitable that the elder Bush would lend his support, too. Bush and Romney have scheduled a joint appearance Thursday afternoon at Bush's office in Houston.

GINGRICH: Newt Gingrich's campaign is getting a trim, again. But despite letting go a third of his staff and curtailing his campaign appearances, Gingrich says he will stay in the GOP race until front-runner Mitt Romney has the support he needs to become the nominee. Low on money, Gingrich's new strategy calls for him to spend less time campaigning and more time trying to persuade delegates to the party's national convention to back him. His campaign is also expected to begin emphasizing cheaper, digital outreach — in particular YouTube, Twitter and other social media. Gingrich told a Washington, D.C., radio station that he owes it to his supporters to continue to represent their views, and that Romney has to earn the nomination.

ROMNEY'S PERSONAL SIDE: Expect to see a softer, gentler version of Romney in the coming weeks. Though his advisers reject the notion of a makeover or major shift in the campaign, it is typical for candidates to roll themselves out again in an effort to appeal to a broader swath of the electorate. The campaign is discussing how to present a more complete picture of Romney, from having him sit for TV interviews flanked by his five sons and 16 grandchildren to having his wife, Ann, appear on daytime talk or cooking shows. Ann Romney is likely to play a big role in introducing her husband to a wider audience. She has been a near constant companion on the campaign trail and aides say her mere presence softens his sometimes rough edges.

SANTORUM'S FRUGAL SIDE: Campaigning in Wisconsin, Rick Santorum suggested the state's primary should be decided in 10 frames. He spoke at South Lanes Bowling in La Crosse as he stood in bowling shoes for the third time in four days. Yet he wasn't eager to pay for everyone's outing. After a buffet lunch of pizza with a college Republican group, a waitress came around to let the co-eds know they still had a bill to pay. How come? Santorum's campaign had only paid for the candidate's meal. — Contribution by Associated Press writer Philip Elliott.

BY THE NUMBERS:

A national CNN/ORC poll of registered voters finds Obama with a wide lead over Romney and Santorum. The poll, conducted March 24-25, has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

— Obama 54 percent, Romney 43 percent.

— Obama 55 percent, Santorum 42 percent.

— Obama approval rating among all Americans: 51 percent, practically unchanged from a CNN/ORC poll in February.

BY THE NUMBERS II:

More than three-fourths of adults, or 77 percent, say rising gasoline prices are straining their family budgets, according to a national McClatchy-Marist Poll. The survey of 1,080 adults was conducted March 20-22 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

—37 percent say they've experienced a great deal of strain.

—40 percent say they've felt a moderate pinch at the pump.

—12 percent say the higher costs have not had much of a strain on their family finances.

—10 percent report no financial strain at all.

BY THE NUMBERS III:

A Quinnipiac University poll shows Obama ahead of Romney and Santorum in two key states, Florida and Ohio, with Pennsylvania a toss-up in an Obama-Romney match. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent.

—Florida: Obama 49, Romney 42; Obama 50, Santorum 37.

—Ohio: Obama 47, Romney 41; Obama 47, Santorum 40.

—Pennsylvania: Obama 45, Romney 42; Obama 48, Santorum 41.

OVERHEARD:

— "What happened to the Eighth Amendment? You really expect us to go through 2,700 pages?" — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, likening a reading of the administration's health care law to the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

— "Everybody in the establishment is chanting that Santorum and I should quit. Romney has to earn this. It's not going to be given to him." — Gingrich.

— "It's possible, but it's a long shot." — Santorum, on odds of Republicans winning control of the Senate in November.

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