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Inside Politics: Democrats defend Obama after Hatch comment

SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic leaders on Wednesday dismissed Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch's warning to supporters that Democrats might attack the Mormon faith of Mitt Romney during the presidential campaign.

The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, described that suggestion as "preposterous" and "utter nonsense." During an interview with MSNBC, she said the party wouldn't stoop to the same levels as Republicans.

"Let's remember that President Obama has had so many things hurled at him — birth certificate questions, whether he is or is not a Christian," Ms. Wasserman Schultz said. "For them to suggest that religion will be injected by President Obama and the Democratic Party, I mean, I think they need to take a look inward at the accusations that their party and their supporters have hurled before they take that step."

Mr. Hatch made the remark in response to a question at a political event Tuesday night in northern Utah, and repeated the point Wednesday night after a debate in Draper, Utah. Mr. Hatch, also a Mormon, is seeking a seventh term in the Senate.

"For them to say they aren't going to smear Mitt Romney is baloney," Mr. Hatch said. "It's way out of bounds, but that's what is going to happen."

More than 60 percent of Utah residents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Mr. Romney won the state's 2008 Republican primary with 91 percent of the vote.

ILLINOIS

GOP Rep. Johnson drops re-election bid

URBANA — Longtime Illinois Congressman Timothy V. Johnson says he's dropping his re-election campaign and plans to retire when his current term ends.

The six-term Republican made the announcement Thursday. He cited family obligations.

The 65-year-old Mr. Johnson has never fit the mold of the reliable, party-line Republican. But his decision was a surprise and has left his party scrambling to fend off Democratic efforts to pick up seats and retake the U.S. House.

Mr. Johnson was first elected to Congress in 2000, and he built a reputation for breaking with his party on certain issues.

Last year, he called for quick ends to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and last month backed Ron Paul for president. Mr. Johnson also is known for trying to personally call each of his constituents.

NEVADA

Reid says wife recovering from breast cancer

LAS VEGAS — The wife of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is recovering from stage 2 breast cancer and chemotherapy.

Mr. Reid said in Las Vegas this week that his wife, Landra, had six more weeks of radiation to finish her treatment.

Mr. Reid notes that he hadn't visited Nevada often since he announced in September 2011 that his wife was diagnosed with cancer and was receiving chemotherapy in Washington, D.C.

He says he returned to his home state this week while the Senate is on Easter break because his wife was "doing really well." He says he would be "coming home more" because of her improvement.

During his wife's cancer treatment, Mr. Reid oversaw major policy debates in the Senate on health care, taxes and the federal budget.

The Reids married in 1959.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama: Women should be admitted to Augusta

A White House spokesman said President Obama believes women should be admitted as members to the all-male Augusta National, home of the Masters golf tournament.

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday that Mr. Obama's "personal opinion is that women should be admitted" to the golf club. Mr. Carney said it was "up to the club to decide" but Mr. Obama told him he personally thinks women should be welcome.

"We're kind of long past the time when women should be excluded from anything," Mr. Carney said.

One of the club's longtime sponsors, IBM, has a new female CEO, Virginia Rometty. The last four CEOs at IBM, all male, have been invited to be members.

The chairman of Augusta National this week has said the club will decide for itself whom to allow in its ranks.

CAMPAIGN

Don't expect a warm, fuzzy Romney this fall

Don't expect Mitt Romney to spend a lot of time trying to get voters to like him this fall.

Instead, the likely Republican presidential nominee will probably rely on a ton of campaign cash and a barrage of nasty attack ads ripping into President Obama for policies that Mr. Romney says aren't helping the economy recover fast enough. Look for Mr. Romney to take a more moderate tack, too.

That's essentially the playbook Mr. Romney followed in his last campaign against a Democrat, when he was elected Massachusetts governor in 2002.

Mr. Romney has already relied heavily on key elements of that winning strategy — the biting attack ads, the imposing fundraising advantage — to pound his GOP presidential rivals. There's little to suggest he won't return to that strategy against Mr. Obama.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama congratulates women's NCAA basketball winner

President Obama is congratulating the winners of the women's NCAA basketball tournament.

The White House says the president called Baylor University women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey on Wednesday.

Mr. Obama congratulated the team on its historic 40-0 season and its Tuesday night championship victory.

The White House also said Mr. Obama told the coach that her team was a great pick as he had predicted the Lady Bears would win the championship from the beginning of the tournament.

The team is expected to visit the White House later this year.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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