- - Sunday, February 26, 2012


Romney takes stump detour to Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH — Two days away from a critical primary in Michigan, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney detoured to Daytona International Speedway on Sunday.

Mr. Romney visited the track for a few hours before the scheduled start of the Daytona 500. He spoke briefly at the pre-race drivers’ meeting and shook hands and took photographs with fans. He met several drivers and team owners.

Asked if he would be rooting for something bad to happen to the No. 26 car being sponsored by Republican rival Rick Santorum’s campaign, Mr. Romney laughed, saying, “I hope all the cars have a good race.”

With a campaign event scheduled in Michigan later Sunday, Mr. Romney wasn’t scheduled to stay for the race — just as well, because the race was delayed until Monday.


U.S. condemns killing of officers in Kabul

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is condemning what he calls the murder of two American military officers in Afghanistan’s capital.

Pentagon press secretary George Little says in a written statement that Mr. Panetta believes Saturday’s killings in Kabul are unacceptable.

The nationality of the gunman hasn’t been confirmed. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack inside a heavily guarded government building, saying it was retaliation for the burning of Korans on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

Mr. Little says Mr. Panetta received a telephone call from his Afghan counterpart, who offered his condolences and apologized for the incident.

Mr. Little says Mr. Panetta urged the Afghan government to take “decisive action” to protect coalition forces and to curtail violence after a week of unrest sparked by outrage over the burning of the Muslim holy books.


Rule could cost debtors only income

Advocates say thousands of poor and disabled men could lose their only income next year because of a change in how back child support is collected.

Next year, the government will start paying all federal benefits electronically. Under the old system, states could capture only 65 percent of those benefits from people who chose to be paid by paper check.

But a separate Treasury Department rule guarantees states the power to freeze the bank accounts of people who owe child support.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services says the government is working on guidelines to make sure no one goes into deep poverty because of an automatic collection.

Advocacy groups want the Obama administration to change the rule.


Democrats: Gains start with California dreamin’

Democrats see opportunities to gain House seats in California, Illinois, Texas and Florida as they try to capture the 25 seats necessary to retake control from Republicans.

GOP lawmakers say they’ll remain in charge after the November elections.

Republicans now hold a 242-192 edge in the House. There’s one vacancy — former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ seat in Arizona. A special election is June 12.

Democrats are hoping for gains based on President Obama’s improved standing and a better economy. Republicans say voters won’t hand the speaker’s gavel back to Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California.

The difficulty for Democrats is that while they may gain in California or Illinois, they’re likely to lose seats in some Republican-leaning districts. Top GOP targets are in North Carolina, Arkansas and Oklahoma.


Arizona governor endorses Romney in primary race

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is endorsing Mitt Romney in her state’s Republican presidential primary on Tuesday.

Mrs. Brewer says she had looked at all the candidates and decided to endorse the former Massachusetts governor.

Mrs. Brewer says Mr. Romney’s business background appealed to her.

She says, “I think he’d serve Americans the best of all the candidates,” adding that she thinks he’s the candidate who could win November’s election.

The endorsement came during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and four days after Mr. Romney and three rivals appeared in a debate in Mesa, Ariz.

The former Massachusetts governor is expected to win Tuesday’s contest in Arizona, which is home to a significant Mormon population.


Christie says contested convention a possibility

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie isn’t ruling out the possibility that the topsy-turvy GOP presidential race may end up in a contested party convention this summer if Mitt Romney loses Tuesday’s Michigan primary.

Mr. Christie, who’s endorsed Mr. Romney, says he thinks Mr. Romney will beat Rick Santorum in Mr. Romney’s native state — and that would lessen chances of a convention fight.

But Mr. Christie notes the race has had several different front-runners and probably will keep going up and down.

He says “we have to be patient and take a deep breath and let this process work its way out.”

The governor says he’s not really interested in being a vice-presidential candidate, but would listen if Mr. Romney asked because “I love my party enough and I love my country enough to listen.”


House bill expands governor’s power

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House approved a proposal Friday that gives Gov. Rick Scott the power to fire many of the people who help select the state’s judges, a move Democrats say will lead to a more politicized judiciary.

If passed by the Senate, it would be the most significant change to the process by which court vacancies are filled since 2001, when the Legislature gave former Gov. Jeb Bush the power to appoint all nine members of these screening panels with some input from the Florida Bar.

As it works now, the process for choosing members of the state’s 26 Judicial Nominating Commissions is “like a weird game of judicial hokeypokey,” said sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz, Fort Walton Beach Republican.

The nine-member commissions, called JNCs, consist of five members chosen by the governor and four chosen with input from the Florida Bar Board of Governors. The appointees are mostly lawyers, though the governor can choose no more than three non-lawyers per panel.

Their terms are four years.

Under Mr. Gaetz’s bill, Mr. Scott and future governors would be able to remove and replace the five gubernatorial appointments, which comprise a majority. The governor’s picks could serve indefinitely.

While circuit and county judges in Florida are elected by voters to six-year terms, the governor has the power to fill the vacant seats. The governor, with input from the JNC, appoints all state Supreme Court and appellate justices. Voters are asked whether to retain those appointees every six years.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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