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Inside the Beltway

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2011

SANTORUM RISING

It's like a political horoscope: Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum now appears to be the "rising" candidate, generating timely buzz as his polling numbers edge up, less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. He has earned the precious endorsement of Bob Vander Plaats, founder of the Family Leader, a conservative group that hosted a recent debate centered on pro-life issues. Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, also backs Mr. Santorum.

"Get ready for Santorum time," predicts Daily Beast political analyst Michael Tomasky, who says the candidate is "kosher with all three wings of the party: neocons, theocons and plutocons."

Indeed, Mr. Santorum is no longer languishing at the bottom of the hopeful heap: A Public Policy poll placed him fourth behind Rep. Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, tied with Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas. Gov. Rick Perry. It's a bona fide "boomlet" observers say. The candidate, meanwhile, is feisty.

"The lamestream media continues to argue about who is the front-runner. Luckily, the talking heads don't vote in the caucuses. Their opinions don't matter. The values voters in this country do matter," Mr. Santorum says. "And unlike the TV personalities, I have actually gone out and talked with them."

ROBUST REPUBLICANS

Their Christmas stocking is losing its lean look. The Republican National Committee managed to raise $7.1 million last month - a new record for off-year fundraising in the month of November. The party now has $14.1 million in cash on hand, "more cash in the bank than debt," says chairman Reince Priebus.

"Heading into 2012, the RNC will be operating from a position of significant fiscal strength. The combination of Republican voter enthusiasm and the RNC's robust fundraising makes me confident that we have a winning year ahead of us," the ebullient Mr. Priebus says, adding, "Every dollar raised brings us one step closer to making Barack Obama a one-term president."

DRIVING FORCE

To chat or not to chat while motoring? Republicans, Democrats and policy wonks are mulling over the National Transportation and Safety Board's recent recommendation to ban most use of cellphones and other electronic devices by drivers. Some say the ban is downright intrusive.

"Police already have more than enough reasons to stop cars. Absent hard evidence that a cellphone ban would improve traffic safety, NTSB has no business recommending such a ban," says Sam Kazman, general counsel at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

His colleague and transportation analyst Marc Scribner says the proposed ban would be "difficult if not impossible" to enforce. Driver-passenger conversation is a greater hazard than phone use, he says.

Republicans, meanwhile, are keener for their phone freedom.

Among Americans in general, 49 percent support the idea of a driver phone ban; 56 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans agree. Forty-four percent overall oppose it; 39 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Republicans agree, according to a Poll Position survey of 1,133 voters conducted Dec. 15.

GINGRICH GRIT

He's not in two places at once. But almost. In his quest to remain king of the favorability mountain, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich will be in three states Wednesday. He receives the endorsement of Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen in Des Moines at 8 a.m. He arrives in Manchester, N.H., at 2 p.m. for a town-hall meeting. Then it's on to Virginia for a voter rally in Arlington at 7 p.m.

Mr. Gingrich journeys to Richmond on Thursday, and then to South Carolina on Friday.

OCCUPY NORTH POLE

Full-body scanners for the toy workshop, elf unions, reindeer safety, an investigation of Santa's discrimination against naughty children? That's what would be on the agenda if President Obama ran the North Pole, say the seasonal sages at For America. The conservative grass-roots group has created a little video titled "Obama Takes Over Santa's Workshop," just to illustrate what Santa and the elves might face under close government regulation.

Watch it here: youtu.be/0J0ZD6MK0rM.

DEMUTH ON THE MOVE

They are pleased. Aglow, even. The nonpartisan Hudson Institute notes that former Reagan administration official Christopher DeMuth will join them Jan. 2 as a distinguished fellow, devoted to research rigors of government regulation, competition, law and economics.

Mr. Demuth departs his spot as a research fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, where he was also the proverbial big cheese, serving as president from 1986 to 2008 - "widely recognized as a pioneer in the think tank sector, transforming AEI into one of the world's leading policy research organizations."

And so says the convivial Hudson Institute.

"I can think of no better way to culminate Hudson's 50th-anniversary year than by adding DeMuth to our growing constellation of scholars," observes President and CEO Kenneth R. Weinstein.

POLL DU JOUR

• 59 percent of Americans say Congress should "completely change" the U.S. tax system.

• 60 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats agree.

• 57 percent overall say wealthy people don't pay their fair share of taxes; 38 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats agree.

• 55 percent overall do not consider the federal tax system to be fair; 47 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Democrats agree.

• 52 percent overall say they pay "about the right amount" in taxes; 56 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of Democrats agree.

• 28 percent overall are bothered by the complexity of the tax system; 42 percent of Republicans and 17 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A Pew Research Center poll of 1,521 U.S. adults conducted Dec. 7 to 11.

Cheers, jeers, helpful commentary to jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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