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SENATE

Utah’s Hatch raised $1.5M last quarter

Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, 77, reported Tuesday that his campaign raised $1.5 million in the final quarter of 2011, another sign that he has no intention of following former Sen. Bob Bennett into forced retirement.

The Hatch campaign now has $4.4 million cash on hand to take into battle against a handful of GOP primary rivals, according to the campaign.

“The fact that we have been able to continue to raise a substantial amount every quarter is indicative of the importance that citizens across the nation place in seeing Senator Hatch take the helm of the Senate Finance Committee,” said Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen in a statement.

Mr. Hatch was pegged as vulnerable in the wake of Mr. Bennett’s 2010 caucus defeat, but the six-term senator has fought to shore up his conservative bona fides and build bridges with the tea party.

So far five candidates, led by former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist and state Rep. Chris Herrod, have announced they will challenge Mr. Hatch for the GOP nomination.

Utah’s unique caucus/convention system is particularly challenger friendly, allowing the 3,500 Republican convention delegates to select the party’s Senate nominee. If no candidate receives 60 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters square off in a primary election. Mr. Bennett lost his bid for re-election when he placed third at the convention.

CAMPAIGN

Gingrich’s lunar ideas not lunacy

Newt Gingrich’s ideas about science may seem like fiction but experts say they really aren’t.

The Republican presidential candidate wants to create a lunar colony that could become a U.S. state. He has a plan to map the human brain to find out what makes it tick. And he’s warned about a nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack that literally could leave America in the dark.

Several science policy experts tell the Associated Press those ideas stem from mainstream science. But they add that Mr. Gingrich has a way of making them sound way out there by first taking a small step, then a giant leap further than where other politicians have gone.

COLORADO

Santorum has $1.1M in bank for GOP run

LONE TREE — Aides to Rick Santorum say his campaign raised $4.2 million in January and has $1.1 million in the bank.

They say the Republican presidential candidate benefited from a surge in fundraising after he was declared the winner of the first nominating contest, Iowa’s caucuses. He campaigned on the cheap in Iowa and didn’t spend a lot of money on ads in New Hampshire, South Carolina or Florida.

Florida’s primary was Tuesday, but Mr. Santorum largely conceded the state to better-financed rivals Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Instead, he was campaigning in Colorado and Nevada, where the next nominating contests will be held.

IOWA

State GOP chairman says he will resign

DES MOINES — The chairman of Iowa’s Republican Party says he is stepping down in the wake of criticism of the Jan. 3 caucus vote count.

In a written announcement Tuesday, Chairman Matt Strawn didn’t address the caucus count in which a close race led him to first declare Mitt Romney the winner by eight votes. Two weeks later, Mr. Strawn initially declined to name a winner when a recount showed Rick Santorum with a 34-vote edge.

Mr. Strawn said his resignation is effective Feb. 10.

JUSTICE

Judges skeptical in redistricting case

Three federal judges have expressed skepticism about whether the Texas Legislature’s new Republican-friendly political maps violate a federal law aimed at protecting minorities.

Attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department and the state of Texas made their closing arguments Tuesday in Washington. Texas is one of nine states with a history of racial discrimination that must get federal permission to make changes to election laws under the Voting Rights Act.

It’s unclear when the judges will rule.

The Justice Department and a coalition of minority groups argue lawmakers recut several districts to dilute minority voting power. The state denies the claim and maintains the new districts were designed to solidify and improve Republican chances.

Texas is adding four seats to its congressional delegation because of adjustments made in the 2010 census.

CAMPAIGN

Santorum bristles at idea of quitting

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum says Newt Gingrich shouldn’t be urging him to drop out of the primaries.

Mr. Santorum told Fox News that one candidate shouldn’t tell another “to get out of the race and get out of the way.”

The former Pennsylvania senator was responding to remarks by Mr. Gingrich suggesting other conservatives need to coalesce around him to keep Mitt Romney from winning the party nomination.

Mr. Santorum said he thinks he is the better, more conservative candidate himself — but that wouldn’t justify asking Mr. Gingrich to quit. He said, “Everybody should run.”

Mr. Santorum, who won a close victory in the Iowa caucuses, lagged in the polls and gave up on Tuesday’s Florida primary. He moved on to other primary states.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama raised money as Republicans voted

President Obama planned to spend the evening with high-end donors, raising money for his re-election campaign as his GOP opponents awaited the outcome of Florida’s primary.

Mr. Obama was to attend two fundraisers Tuesday evening, each with tickets priced at $35,800 and the proceeds going to his campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

The president was slated to speak to about 50 people at the swanky St. Regis Hotel in Washington and then to a group of nearly 70 at a private home in Chevy Chase, not far from the White House.

The events were to get under way as polls closed in Florida, where Mitt Romney was countng on a strong showing in his bid to become the GOP nominee against Mr. Obama in November.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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