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Van Thu Tran was sentenced today in San Diego to 36 months in prison for her role in a scheme to cheat casinos across the country out of millions of dollars, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy for the Southern District of California.

In addition to her prison sentence, Van Thu Tran, 47, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John A. Houston in the Southern District of California to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay $5,753,416 in restitution, payable to several casinos. The court ordered the forfeiture of her interests in various assets, including jewelry and bank accounts.

Van Thu Tran entered her guilty plea in San Diego on January 14, 2011.

In her plea agreement, Van Thu Tran admitted that in approximately August 2002, she, along with co-conspirators Phuong Quoc Truong, Tai Khiem Tran, and others, created a criminal enterprise defined as the Tran Organization, based in San Diego and elsewhere, for the purpose of participating in gambling cheats at casinos across the United States. In her plea agreement, Van Thu Tran also admitted that she and her co-conspirators unlawfully obtained up to $7 million during card cheats.

The investigation of the Tran Organization led to the filing of three separate indictments in 2007, 2008, and 2009. A three-count indictment was returned in San Diego on May 22, 2007, and unsealed on May 24, 2007, which charged Van Thu Tran and 13 others each with one count of conspiracy to participate in the affairs of a racketeering enterprise; one count of conspiracy to commit several offenses against the United States, including conspiracy to steal money and other property from Indian tribal casinos; and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The indictment also charged five separate individuals each with one count of conspiracy to commit several offenses against the United States, including conspiracy to steal money and other property from Indian tribal casinos; and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

According to court documents, the defendants and others executed a “false shuffle” cheating scheme at casinos in the United States and Canada during blackjack and mini-baccarat games. Court documents also show that members of the criminal organization bribed casino card dealers and supervisors to perform false shuffles during card games, thereby creating “slugs,” or groups of unshuffled cards. Court documents also show that, after tracking the order of cards dealt in a card game, a member of the organization would signal to the card dealer to perform a “false shuffle,” and members of the group would then bet on the known order of cards when the slug appeared on the table. By doing so, members of the conspiracy repeatedly won thousands of dollars during card games, including winning several hundred thousand dollars on one occasion.

Court documents also show that the members of the organization used sophisticated mechanisms for tracking the order of cards during games, including hidden transmitter devices and specially created software that would predict the order in which cards would reappear during blackjack games.

To date, 42 defendants have pleaded guilty to charges relating to the casino-cheating conspiracy: Van Thu Tran, Phuong Quoc Truong, Tai Khiem Tran, Anh Phuong Tran, Phat Ngoc Tran, Martin Lee Aronson, Liem Thanh Lam, George Michael Lee, Tien Duc Vu, Son Hong Johnson, Barry Wellford, John Tran, Willy Tran, Tuan Mong Le, Duc Cong Nguyen, Han Truong Nguyen, Roderick Vang Thor, Sisouvanh Mounlasy, Navin Nith, Renee Cuc Quang, Ui Suk Weller, Phally Ly, Khunsela Prom, Hop Nguyen, Hogan Ho, Darrell Saicocie, Bryan Arce, Qua Le, Outtama Keovongsa, Leap Kong, Thang Viet Huynh, Don Man Duong, Dan Thich, Jimmy Ha, Eric Isbell, Brandon Pete Landry, James Root, Jesus Rodriguez, Jason Cavin, Nedra Fay Landry, Connie Holmes, and Geraldo Montaz. These defendants admitted to targeting, with the aid of co-conspirators, a combined total of approximately 29 casinos in the United States and Canada during the course of the conspiracy:

1) Beau Rivage Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi;

2) Casino Rama, in Orillia, Ontario, Canada;

3) Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut;

4) Gold Strike Casino in Tunica, Mississippi;

5) Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City, Louisiana;

6) Horseshoe Casino and Hotel in Tunica, Mississippi;

7) Isle of Capri Casino in Westlake, Louisiana;

8) Majestic Star Casino in Gary, Indiana;

9) Mohegan Sun Resort Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut;

10) Palace Station Casino in Las Vegas;

11) Resorts East Chicago Hotel and Casino in East Chicago, Indiana;

12) Sycuan Casino in El Cajon, California;

13) Cache Creek Indian Bingo and Casino in Brooks, California;

14) Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Washington;

15) Imperial Palace Casino in Biloxi;

16) Argosy Casino in Baton Rouge, Louisiana;

17) Trump 29 Casino in Coachella, California;

18) Isle of Capri Casino in Bossier City;

19) Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage, California;

20) Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs, California;

21) Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California;

22) L’Auberge du Lac Casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana;

23) Nooksack River Casino in Deming, Washington;

24) Barona Valley Ranch Casino and Resort in Lakeside, California;

25) Caesars Indiana Hotel and Casino in Elizabeth, Indiana;

26) Monte Carlo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas;

27) Harrah’s Casino in Lake Charles;

28) Golden Moon Casino in Choctaw, Mississippi; and

29) Viejas Casino in Alpine, California.

Two other defendants, Ha Thuy Giang and Tammie Huynh, pleaded guilty to tax offenses stemming from the investigation, and Khai Hong Tran admitted to the offenses alleged in a 2007 U.S. indictment when he pleaded guilty to casino-cheating offenses in Canada.

On December 15, 2010, defendant Mike Waseleski, a former casino card dealer, was found guilty by a federal jury in San Diego for his role in the Tran Organization’s cheating scheme to steal approximately $1.5 million from Resorts East Chicago Casino.

The case is being investigated by the FBI’s San Diego Field Office; the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation; the San Diego Sheriff’s Department; and the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Gambling Control. The investigation has received assistance from federal, state, tribal, and foreign authorities, including: the Ontario Provincial Police; the National Indian Gaming Commission; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington; FBI Resident Agencies in Gulfport (Mississippi), Tacoma (Washington), and Toledo (Ohio); the Indiana State Police; the Rumsey Rancheria Tribal Gaming Agency; the Sycuan Gaming Commission; the Barona Gaming Commission; the Mississippi Gaming Commission; and the Washington State Gambling Commission.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Mississippi and Alabama primary day – US elections live” was written by Richard Adams, for guardian.co.uk on Tuesday 13th March 2012 23.04 UTC

7.04pm: Now time for a quick summary of the action this afternoon. Then Richard Adams will be back for the blow-by-blow of tonight’s contests.

A large number of voters in Mississippi and Alabama rate “electability” or the ability to beat President Obama as the issue most important to them, according to exit polls. That’s a good sign for Mitt Romney. Both states also are seeing high turnouts of evangelical and “very conservative” voters. That’s not such a good sign for Romney.

• Newt Gingrich faces a moment of truth. It will be extremely difficult for the former speaker to continue to speak of a winning strategy involving southern states if he cannot win southern states.

Rick Santorum is hoping for at least one outright win, to combat Romney’s increasingly aggressive argument that Santorum ought to step aside. As of this writing the Intrade market has Santorum the 49-25 favorite to win in Alabama. Stay tuned.

6.20pm: It turns out that, popular perception notwithstanding, Mitt Romney has not been running for president or planning on running for president for what might as well be his whole life. At least by his telling.

6.15pm: A first wave of ABC News exit polls from Mississippi and Alabama seems to hold copious bad news for Mitt Romney – a high evangelical turnout, a high proportion saying it matters that a candidate shares their religion, and a high turnout of “very conservative” voters – until you get to this last datum:

Nonetheless, Romney leads his opponents in perceptions of electability – the sense he’s best able to defeat Barack Obama in November – and that’s the most-desired candidate attribute among voters in both states. Romney pushes back against his ideological and religion-based deficits in another way as well: Voters in both states cite the economy as the top issue in their vote choice, an area in which Romney has done consistently well this cycle.

5.45pm: Santorum wants Gingrich out. Now Romney is on CNN saying Santorum’s finished. If only Gingrich would call on Romney to get out this all would wrap up nicely.

5.41pm: Our first exit poll results now. The turnout of voters who identify as evangelical Christians appears to up in Mississippi and down slightly in Alabama compared with 2008, according to CNN:

The comparable 2008 numbers are 69% in Mississippi and 77% in Alabama.

5.22pm: Inside the Hawaii Caucuses: We wish. Instead we’re covering the race from Manhattan. Here’s what you need to know: It’s the state’s first Republican primary caucus ever. They’re calling it a caucus, at least, but as far as voting process it appears to be more of a primary, with 41 polling stations and a secret ballot.

The money here is on Romney, who has won the backing of the state’s Republican dons. Hawaii will award its 17 delegates proportionally, and then in November it will vote for Barack Obama.

The Hawaii Reporter has video of Elizabeth Santorum in Hawaii making the pitch for her father. Candidate offspring Ronnie Paul and Matt Romney also are reportedly in Hawaii. Which, fine.

4.47pm: Good question Ethan! So readers which is it for you tonight – March Madness or election madness? Or would that be c) None of the above.?

4.41pm: And… Rick Santorum STILL thinks Newt Gingrich should get out of the race. Here’s what he told radio host Glenn Beck this afternoon:

Congressman Gingrich has really shown no ability to get votes outside of the State of Georgia and, you know, those primaries are all over. All the states that border Georgia are now, as of today, will have had their primaries.

Gingrich supporters might point out that Santorum is conveniently forgetting Gingrich’s 40-28 shellacking of Mitt Romney (and Rick Santorum) in South Carolina.

Why is Santorum so eager for Gingrich to exit? Two words: Michigan and Ohio. Santorum lost to Romney by 32,378 votes in Michigan, a race in which Gingrich got 65,016 votes. Santorum lost to Romney by 10,288 votes in Ohio, where 175,554 voters went Gingrich.

4.20pm: A new Moveon.org ad builds on the perception that women voters are turning their backs on the Republican Party. “Judging from their comments, the GOP must have a serious problem with women,” the ad asserts.

Women voters actually gravitated toward Republican candidates in 2010. And that much-talked-about NYT/CBS poll from this morning had one doozie of a number: President Obama’s approval rating tanked among women over the last month, falling 12 points from 53 to 41 percent, according to the poll. A Washington Post/ABC News poll out yesterday reached a substantially different result, however, finding Obama’s approval among women holding steady from a month prior.

(h/t: Taegan Goddard)

4.05pm: Never take candy from a stranger, and don’t believe early afternoon exit polls.

4.00pm: For Democrats hoping to retain control of the Senate, former Sen. Bob Kerrey’s decision to run for his old Nebraska seat is on par with Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe’s decision to retire. (Kerrey, also a former governor of Nebraska, would replace retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson in a state that otherwise likes to vote Republican.)

Now Kerrey’s out with his first ad: “America needs to step up its game.”

 

3.48pm: The Google Politics and Elections team has put together charts tracking searches for the GOP candidates’ names in Alabama and Mississippi. Santorum’s clearly out front in Google searches despite running neck-and-neck in the polls. Strange. Why would “Santorum” attract disproportionate search engine interest?

(h/t: BuzzFeed)

3.32pm: Did you see “Game Change,” the HBO movie based on the book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin about Sarah Palin and the McCain candidacy?

Wonder which narrative from the 2012 race will be turned into a movie.

3.10pm: And now, the fable of Barack Obama, magical petrol fairy. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has attacked President Obama over rising gas prices. The New York Times reports on a campaign stop in Kirkwood, Mo.:

Mr. Romney first offered up some suggestions for why gas prices are skyrocketing, including Mr. Obama’s objection to drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “Maybe it’s related to the fact that you said we couldn’t get a pipeline in from Canada known as Keystone,” he continued. “Those things affect gasoline prices, long term.”

Rising gasoline prices across the country are thought to be a primary cause of the president’s falling approval rating. A Times/CBS News poll out today found that 54 percent of respondents believed that a president can do “a lot” to control gas prices, as opposed to 36 percent who believe they are beyond a president’s control.

Jamie Haber, 39, “an independent voter of Orlando,” told the Times: “I think just being the president of the United States of America, you would have some type of control over gas pricing.”

Let us recklessly spend a moment thinking about this. Is it true? Does the president control gas prices? What would it take for Barack Obama to be able to control gas prices?

He would have to be able to control the price of crude oil, meaning he would have to be able to control the conduct of states like Iran and China as well as the psychology of oil futures traders. He would have to be able to control the capacity and behavior of U.S. oil refiners. He would have to be able to control the marketing and distribution strategies of those fine companies with the big logos that sell gas to station owners. He would have to be able to control station owners and how much markup they tack on to each gallon. He would have to be able to control US drivers and how frequently and far they decide to drive. He would have to be able to control the weather, preventing atmospheric events such as Hurricane Katrina that send crude prices soaring. Alternatively (and least plausibly of all), he would have to be able to control the US Congress, which might be persuaded to pass a Gas for America Subsidy.

A tall order, it seems.

2.50pm: A note on Mississippi:

Exit polls from the 2008 GOP primaries show a slightly smaller proportion of evangelical Christian voters in Mississippi than in Alabama. Sixty-nine percent of GOP primary voters in Mississippi in 2008 identified as Born Again or Evangelical. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had withdrawn from the presidential race a week earlier, leaving the field open for Sen. John McCain to romp to a 79 percent win. Ron Paul grabbed 4 percent.

Why tally evangelical voters? As our pollster Harry J Enten first pointed out some time ago, “Mitt Romney’s vote in each state is linear to the percentage of evangelicals that make up each state’s electorate.” Meaning that evangelicals are a good inverse predictor of Romney’s chances.

2.41pm: Some notes on Alabama:

• Rick Santorum may not pick up as many delegates as he might have here because his campaign failed to qualify in four Alabama districts. The campaign similarly botched the Virginia and Michigan qualifying tests.

Exit polls from the 2008 GOP primaries show the influence of evangelical Christian voters in Alabama. Seventy-seven percent of GOP primary voters in that race identified as Born Again and Evangelical. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee beat eventual nominee John McCain 41-37. Romney grabbed 18 percent of the vote.

By the way: Why is Mitt Romney having such a tough time with evangelical voters? It’s not his Mormonism, according to Michael Tesler:

My analysis of seven surveys conducted by YouGov from late January to early March 2012 … suggests that Romney’s religion is not the main reason why he has not won over these voters. … The answer most likely resides in moral issues like abortion and gay marriage. For, unlike attitudes about Mormons, Evangelical Republicans are much more conservative on these issues than their fellow partisans.

(Tesler h/t: Daily Dish)

2.24pm: So who’s going to win tonight? It depends which poll you believe.

Amy Walter of ABC News observes:

We like this idea a lot. Covering the GOP primaries without having to come into direct contact with the candidates, but instead focusing on the horse race among pollsters.

Here’s a table created by HuffPollster of Alabama and Mississippi polling:

A big disagreement in MS: ARG sees a slim 2-point lead for Romney in Mississippi, while Rasmussen sees a whopping 8-point lead.
A big disagreement in AL: ARG sees a 3-point lead for Gingrich in Alabama, while Rasmussen sees Gingrich-Santorum-Romney all within 2 points of one another.

Ryan Lizza sees potential hidden strength for Santorum and Gingrich:

2.11pm: Titters spread across the Twittersphere awhile ago over a Santorum campaign typo.

2.08pm: Hello there – Tom McCarthy in New York here, pitching in on the live blog this afternoon. Richard Adams will be back this evening as the returns from Alabama and Mississippi (and Hawaii and Samoa) start rolling in.

Some fightin’ words moments ago from Axelrod:

1.45pm: Some good news for Rick Santorum in Alabama: the state’s governor voted for him. The NYT’s Caucus blog reports:

A spokesman for Governor Bentley, Jeremy King, confirmed the vote, saying that Mr Bentley viewed Mr. Santorum “as the most conservative candidate” in the field.

But Mr Bentley chose not to issue a public endorsement or make a statement himself, Mr King said, because “he believes a vote is a personal decision that should be based on a voter’s values and principles, not on someone else’s opinion.”

1.30pm: Rush Limbaugh‘s apology to Sandra Fluke hasn’t gone down well with advertisers or the general public, it would appear.

Rasmussen polls potential voters:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows that only 29% believe Limbaugh’s apology for his recent comments was sincere. Fifty-three percent (53%) do not think his apology was sincere, and another 18% are undecided.

1.10pm: The New York Post wins the battle of the headlines today with its effort “It’s redneck-and-neck” on the southern primaries today, in a piece that includes another bout of Mitt Romney shooting himself in the silver spoon:

While Romney tried to press his down-home credentials, he couldn’t help another bout of embarrassing name-dropping when he was asked about quarterback Peyton Manning during an Alabama radio interview.

“I’ve got a lot of good friends – the owner of the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets – both owners are friends of mine,” Romney said.

The gaffe is similar to when Romney earlier said he didn’t follow Nascar closely but knew team owners.

Does Mitt Romney have any friends who don’t own a Nascar team or NFL franchise? George Bush was an owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team but he managed not to make a big deal of it.

12.45pm: When we get the results tonight from Mississippi and Alabama we may have a better idea of how long and how far the Rwpublican presidential race has got left to run.

But it may yet be a long slog, which is the the mildly depressing calculation made by Sean Trende, the senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He argues that the race so far has been remarkably stable in terms of who has what what:

So we don’t see much evidence of momentum in the primaries thus far. This, of course, could change in the future, and perhaps once Romney passes a certain threshold, it will. Certainly if he were to win Mississippi or Alabama, we would expect it to be a declared a very good night for him. The model suggests that he should pull in about 32% of the three-way vote in Alabama, and about 31% in Mississippi. But with Santorum and Gingrich now splitting the non-Romney vote in the Deep South, Romney might actually pull off the upset in Alabama (assuming the model underestimates him a touch there).

So until Romney shows signs of going on a roll, this thing could run and run.

12.30pm: Will Barack Obama be serving David Cameron wine out of a box? Maybe some cheaper plonk that the White House picked up from Trader Joe’s? We just don’t know, although Bloomberg News tries hard to find out:

The White House declined to comment for this article or to make available Daniel Shanks, the usher who has managed wine selection since the Clinton administration, or social secretary Jeremy Bernard. First Lady Michelle Obama’s office referred questions to the White House press office.

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest declined to disclose which wines were served at the German or Korean state dinners, identify wines from non-state dinners, make menus of past meals available for inspection or answer questions about the shift in practice.

Earnest also declined to say whether the White House would release the names of wines at the Cameron dinner.

Apparently the White House doesn’t want to be embarrassed about the serving of fancy, expensive wines at state dinners.

12 noon: It’s true: Dick Cheney won’t visit Canada because it is …. too dangerous?

And as is usually the case when Dick Cheney thinks a place is too dangerous – Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan – he gets younger men to go. In this case it is noted Canadian Mark Steyn.

11.55am: This is slightly old but finally an appreciation of the discreet wit of Mitt Romney, via the Atlantic’s excellent Molly Ball:

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to question or distrust Mitt Romney. But the fact that he went to Mississippi and said “y’all” doesn’t make him a phony – it makes him that rare thing in politics, a guy with a sense of humor.

The problem with Romney’s humour, I’d suggest, is in his delivery. A Mitt Romney speech is where jokes go to die.

11.40am: Obama now moves on to the trade case the administration is taking against China over rare earth materials used in electronics manufacturing such as advanced batteries used in hybrid cars and Blackberrys.

“If China would simply let the market work on its own, we would have no objections,” says Obama, outlining the case the US is taking alongside Japan and others through the WTO.

China produces more than 90% of the world’s output of such materials but has recently squeezed exports, hurting manufacturers elsewhere. Last year the price of rare earth materials rose sharply after Chinese traders started stockpiling rare earth reserves.

Chinese exports restrictions are said to force manufacturers to pay double the price of their Chinese competitors for rare earth materials.

The Financial Times reports:

Beijing on Tuesday rejected the claims by the US, EU and Japan, saying China would “continue to implement effective management of rare earths exports in accordance with WTO regulations”. The foreign ministry said China hoped that “other countries with rare earths will also actively develop their rare earths resources to share the burden of global rare earths supply”.

In more pointed comments, Xinhua, the state press agency, said the move was “rash and unfair”, adding that it “may hurt economic relations between the world’s largest and second-largest economies”.

“A better choice for the United States would be sitting down with China face to face and solve the problem through negotiations instead of making it an internationalised issue,” Xinhua said in an opinion piece.

11.35am: Slightly late, President Obama appears in the Rose Garden.

Although the announcement is meant to be about prosecuting a trade case via the World Trade Organisation against China, Obama begins by discussing the recent killings in Afghanistan and vowing to hold a full investigation.

“America takes this as seriously as if it were our own citizens and our own children who were murdered,” Obama says, in reference to the 16 Afghan civilians killed in a shooting spree by a US soldier on Sunday.

11.04am: What are the Republican voters of Alabama thinking before today’s primary in the Yellowhammer State? Film-maker Kat Keene Hogue travels to Alabama to ask them, the latest in our Primary Voices series.

10.45am: One event that really was taking place was to be Newt Gingrich‘s visit to the Birmingham Zoo in Alabama. But it has been cancelled. (Apparently the animals objected because they didn’t want to be cast in a bad light.)

10.25am: Here’s a brief timeline of events* that are happening today.

11.10am: President Obama declares war on China. Trade war, that is. Well, officially the president “delivers a statement announcing ‘new efforts to enforce our trade rights with China and level the playing field for America’s businesses and workers’.”

11.11am: Mitt Romney denounces whatever President Obama does regarding trade with China as inadequate.

11.50am: Mitt Romney meets voters in Missouri, which holds caucuses on Saturday. At 11.56am Romney will say something silly about eating a regional speciality and mis-pronounce the name of the city as “St Louie”.

12.45pm: Newt Gingrich addresses the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce. in Birmingham, Alabama. No one cares.

6.30pm: President Obama and British premier David Cameron attend a NCAA basketball game in Dayton, Ohio.

6.39pm: President Obama suddenly realises that David Cameron has never watched a basketball game before and is sick of explaining what a three pointer is.

8pm: Polls close in Alabama and Mississippi.

10pm: Both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum gracefully withdraw from the GOP primaries and endorse Mitt Romney in a stirring call for party unity. Romney appears and hugs both men, saying “I love you guys.” Then, a unicorn appears on stage.

*Note: events listed here may not match reality as currently understood.

10am: Well here’s some good news. Despite some rumbling to the contrary, it appears there will not be yet another Republican presidential debate next week.

I think I speak on behalf of a grateful nation and possibly the GOP when I say: awesome.

The Oregonian reports that Mitt Romney has turned down his invitation to the debate scheduled for next Monday – hardly a surprise but likely to be the death knell for any hopes of recycling some Portlandia jokes.

9.30am: Another Tuesday, another set of primaries, and this time the focus is on the Deep South – Mississippi and Alabama, to be precise – where Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are running neck-and-neck in the polls.

Polls are open in both states and will close tonight at 7pm EST – when we will be live blogging the results. Much later are caucuses in Hawaii and American Samoa but because of the time differences we’ll be covering them tomorrow.

Here’s all you need to know from our reporter Ryan Devereaux:

• Mitt Romney is hoping to clinch the nomination with wins in Mississippi and Alabama, where primary voters are heading to the polls today. Accomplishing the goal is easier said than done, however, as the candidates are locked in an exceedingly tight race. While Romney is regularly viewed as the candidate with the greatest potential to beat President Obama, the former Massachusetts governor has had a difficult time winning the hearts of southern conservatives. He is challenged by Rick Santorum, who is locked in a struggle to appear as socially conservative as possible, and Newt Gingrich, who was born in Georgia and has focused nearly all of his campaign energy on the region.

• Today’s contests come as new polls show President Obama’s approval rating has dropped substantially. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, 41% of respondents approve of the job the president is doing, while 47% disapprove. The latest figures come just one month after the president managed a critical 50% approval rating. Rising gas prices, escalating tensions regarding war with Iran and major security setbacks in Afghanistan are believed to have contributed to the president’s sudden drop in popularity.

• Meanwhile, a new poll from Public Policy Polling adds a whole new dimension to the question of how some Americans view the president. According to PPP, 45% of Republican respondents in Alabama think President Obama is a Muslim, while in Mississippi that number is 52%. In Alabama, 60% of respondents don’t believe in evolution, and in Mississippi 66% don’t. It turns out Rick Santorum is the most popular candidate among evolution-deniers, while Newt Gingrich has the majority of the support from those who believe interracial marriage should be illegal.

• In his never-ending quest to seem like a regular guy, Mitt Romney toured Alabama with Southern comedian Jeff Foxworthy. Famous for his “You might be a redneck if …” jokes, Foxworthy tried to help Romney make light of himself. At one point on Monday, Romney quipped that he hoped to set out with an Alabama friend who “can actually show me which end of the rifle to point.” Ever his own worst enemy in efforts to seem normal, however, Romney managed to tell a radio show host that “good friends” of his own NFL teams. Last month the former governor caught flak for saying some of his friends own Nascar teams.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Alabama and Mississippi primary results – live” was written by Richard Adams, for guardian.co.uk on Tuesday 13th March 2012 23.00 UTC

7pm: Welcome to our live coverage of the Republican presidential primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, in which three men are struggling to see who will come out on top. The polls suggest any one of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich has a chance of winning either or both of the Deep South contests – and who wins what will determine the length of the GOP nomination race.

Polls close in both states at 8pm EST so it could be a mercifully short night compared to the marathons in Iowa and Ohio that the campaigns have had to endure so far this year.

We’ll be following the run-up to the count and then the results and reactions, so stayed tuned.

One thing we won’t be getting tonight is a speech from the Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, who is likely to be in the air when the results come in. That suggests his campaign is braced for bad news – especially as Romney spent the day campaigning in Missouri, which holds its vote on Saturday.

But don’t worry: Rick Santorum will speak to supporters in Lafayette, Louisiana, where he has been campaigning ahead of that state’s primary on 24 March, and Newt Gingrich is to address his fans in Birmingham, Alabama.

Given the two races and the range of outcomes, here’s a preview of how things may shake out when the votes have been counted:

• Romney wins both Alabama and Mississippi: that could suddenly increase the pressure on Santorum and Gingrich to end their campaigns, since it would kill off their argument that Romney fails to appeal to Southern Republicans. In any case it would be a big boost for Romney and probably all but end the contest, to the relief of many in the GOP and media.

• Split decision: a Romney win in one and a loss to either Gingrich or Santorum in the other would be a blessing for the frontrunner but would probably fail to settle the matter – and the long slog towards winning the delegate majority would continue. Similarly, a brace of second places by Mitt with Santorum and Gingrich taking one state apiece

• Clean sweep by Santorum: the worst possible outcome for Romney, since it may force Gingrich out of the race, ending the handy divide and conquer routine that has helped him to date and making Santorum the unchallenged “Anyone-but-Mitt” candidate.

• Clean sweep by Gingrich: a bloody nose for Santorum may actually help Romney, since Gingrich is a weaker national candidate and far less appealing to Romney’s Achilles heel alliance of evangelicals and conservatives.

In all these scenarios the size of the vote share is also important: narrow losses of a few percentage points by Romney and a bag of delegates wouldn’t cause him any panic. But deep, double-digit losses and third-place showings could knock his campaign off its march towards the nomination.

So there we have it: four (or five) potential scenarios. Now all we have to do is wait for the voters of Alabama and Mississippi to finish voting.

In the meantime, a themed joke from a three-year-old:

Q: How can you spell Mississippi with only one i?

A: Close one of your eyes. (It works better out loud.)

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “GOP nomination fight goes on to Mississippi and Alabama – live” was written by Richard Adams, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 12th March 2012 21.20 UTC

4.48pm: Sigh. Depressing news that far too many Republicans in Alabama and Mississippi think that Barack Obama is a Muslim:

The poll of Mississippi Republicans found that 52% said they believe Obama is a Muslim, 36% weren’t sure and only 12% said they believe he is a Christian. He fared slightly better in Alabama, where 45% said he is a Muslim, 41% weren’t sure, and 14% said he is a Christian.

4.33pm: Mitt Romney can’t even get it straight whether or not he likes catfish. In South Carolina he’s not that into catfish. But in Alabama this week, catfish is “delicious”.

Oh and Rick Santorum uses a teleprompter.

Maybe this is the first post-modern presidential primary, where there is no connection between what candidates say and what they do?

4.04pm: Not content with banning teleprompters, Rick Santorum is now just making stuff up:

In response to the obvious reply of “Ha ha ha ha, seriously, what has Rick Santorum ever been commander in chief of exactly?” the Santorum campaign says Santorum was “referring specifically to his service on the Senate Armed Services Committee”.

Ah, that was quick.

3.49pm: It’s that Mormon business again – in answer to a question on Fox News earlier today, Alabama governor Robert Bentley said Mitt Romney‘s religion remains a “problem”:

I think that’s a very subtle issue that probably – may be a problem in many states, not just in Alabama. But I do believe that Republicans are looking to see who can win the presidency and they’re going to look at that more than anything else.

Bentley says he thinks Romney will win the Alabama primary, although he hasn’t endorsed him.

3.18pm: A brief glimpse inside the happy home life of the Romney family, via the Washington Post and a long and – let’s be honest – deeply tedious article about Ann Romney’s interest in equestrian sports:

The best gift her husband ever gave her was a horse, Ann Romney told the New York Times late last year. Her son Josh told another New York Times reporter in 2007 that he had given his dad a rubber horse mask so that if he wore it, “maybe Mom will pay as much attention to you as she does to the horses.”

That is the highlight. The rest of the article is basically just cut and paste from a lawsuit in which Ann Romney gave testimony.

You may be thinking, “really, who cares?” and you’d be right. Tye bad news is there is more fodder for Gail Collins’s equally tedious obsession with that story about Mitt Romney strapping the family dog to the roof of the car:

In one harrowing episode, [Ann Romney] recalled, Marco Polo, the other German horse, was in a container that tipped on an airport runway during transit.

2.56pm: Buzzfeed Politics has some figures on TV ad spending in Alabama and Mississippi. Surprise, surprise, Mitt Romney and his campaign have spent about $2.5m, while Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have spent about $1.3m combined.

2.19pm: The 2012 Republican primaries have been the season of the Super Pac attack ad – and the Guardian’s Ana Marie Cox rounds up some of the harshest ads of the last few months.

An ad’s effectiveness is rated on a 1 to 5 “Horton Scale”, so named after the devastating “Willie Horton” ad implemented against Michael Dukakis in 1988. An ad with a “5” rating is, of course, the highest and has the potential to fatally wound a candidacy. An ad at the other end of the scale – “1” – has the effectiveness of the 2010 ad by California GOP Senate candidate Carly Fiorina against rival primary rival Tom Campbell, known as the “Demon Sheep ad”: hilarious, potentially viral, dubious impact.

2pm: Mitt Romney is still working on that connecting with the voters down South thing, as AP reports:

As is often the case, Romney showed an engaging side and stiffness, at almost the same time. When the rain-soaked crowd sang “Happy Birthday,” Romney exclaimed: “That’s a fine Alabama good morning,” as if such greetings are somehow different in other states.

Moments later, he showed good-natured self-awareness, saying he hoped to go hunting with an Alabama friend who “can actually show me which end of the rifle to point.”

No word whether the trees of Alabama were the right height.

1.41pm: Finally, a GOP presidential contender takes a brave stance on the real issues of this election: teleprompters.

No seriously, Rick Santorum really did say this on Sunday, in public, in Gulfport, Mississippi:

See, I always believed that when you run for president of the United States, it should be illegal to read off a teleprompter. Because all you’re doing is reading someone else’s words to people.

You know, when you’re running for president, people should know not what someone’s writing for you after they’ve had pollsters and speech writers test it.

You know who used teleprompters? Ronald Reagan.

But according to Rick: “You’re choosing a leader. A leader isn’t just about what’s written on a piece of paper.”

But what if the candidate writes their own words? Shouldn’t it be speechwriters who are banned? But we risk taking this at all seriously, when it is obviously mad.

1.20pm: Lucky Puerto Rico: the island nation is going to have visits from Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum soon, ahead of the caucuses there on 18 March:

The former Pennsylvania senator will arrive in Puerto Rico on Wednesday and will meet with Governor Luis Fortuño at La Fortaleza. After a press conference, Santorum will visit the Veterans Hospital in Río Piedras.

Santorum and the governor worked together in Congress when Fortuño served as resident commissioner and are friends. Still, the governor has endorsed the presidential bid by Mitt Romney, the front-runner who is also scheduled to stump in Puerto Rico this week.

1pm: Mitt Romney is doing pretty well in the Deep South, according to new polls of Alabama and Mississippi today from ARG, which has done a good job forecasting this election cycle so far:

• Alabama: Newt Gingrich leads with 34%, followed by Mitt Romney with 31%, Rick Santorum with 24%, and Ron Paul with 6%

• Mississippi: Mitt Romney leads with 34%, followed by Newt Gingrich with 32%, Rick Santorum with 22% and Ron Paul with 8%

ARG finds lower levels of support for Rick Santorum in both states than the earlier PPP polls out today, which suggests a different likely-voter model.

On ARG’s Mississippi result, an earlier survey by the same firm conducted on 7-8 March found Gingrich was leading Romney 35% to 31%. That’s some change in four days, but within the margins of error.

ARG finds that in Alabama, Romney is winning the most support from Democrats and independents: “Among self-identified independents and Democrats, Romney leads with 33%, followed by Santorum with 28%, Gingrich with 17%, and Paul with 15%.”

12.27pm: So the delegate math says that Mitt Romney is the inevitable nominee? That may be so but people such as Rick Santorum aren’t dissuaded by things like “math” or “science” or “fact” – these are people who deny climate change and evolution, so what would you expect?

But this new argument from Santorum’s campaign is the “least-convincing campaign strategy memo ever,” according to Jonathan Bernstein in the Washington Post:

Santorum strategist John Yob argues that Santorum will win … by seeding the convention with stealth delegates who will switch to Santorum after the first convention ballot is cast, and they are no longer bound. This is, to be blunt, nonsense.

Yes but that’s from what the Bush administration once called “the reality-based community,” and so should be disregarded.

12.07pm: Sad news! To help his supporters celebrate Mitt Romney’s birthday, the Romney campaign wanted them to use the #hbdmitt hashtag. Over three days only about 17 did.

11.24am: To celebrate Mitt Romney‘s birthday today, here’s Steve Benen in the New York Daily News:

The party that nominated self-described “maverick” John McCain and swaggering George W Bush – and that reveres Ronald Reagan for his clarity and fortitude – looks set in 2012 to choose someone who never met a constituency he was prepared to offend.

11.01am: I’d like to start the latest “Mike Bloomberg for Treasury Secretary” rumour, on the back of this New York Times piece on a low-key lunch meeting between President Obama and the New York City mayor:

Over a long private lunch at the White House, President Obama posed a question to Mayor Michael R Bloomberg: what are you interested in doing next?

Mr Bloomberg’s precise response is unknown. But their meeting a few weeks ago, confirmed by aides to both leaders and previously undisclosed, was potentially significant for both men, as Mr Obama seeks support for his presidential campaign and Mr Bloomberg ponders his post-mayoral career.

And then Mike Bloomberg can run as a Democrat for the 2016 presidential nomination.

10.39am: I think we now know why Rick Santorum decided to run for the Republican nomination: to improve his Google ranking.

Prior to the 2012 primary season, as you may recall, the top Google.com search result for Santorum was the result of a Dan Savage prank, defining Santorum as “frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter”. Now, though, thanks to all the news stories about Santorum’s nomination bid. that site has slipped way down the Google results front page and is not far off dropping onto the second page (which no one ever reads in Google searches).

All he has to worry about now is the Wikipedia page “Campaign for ‘santorum’ neologism” which still comes in second.

10.15am: It looks like Mississippi and Alabama are going down to the wire, based on a brace of polls by PPP released early this morning.

• Alabama: A virtual three-way tie with Mitt Romney at 31%, Newt Gingrich at 30% and 29% for Rick Santorum, with Ron Paul way back with 8%.

• Mississippi: Newt Gingrich holds a slim lead with 33% to 31% for Romney, 27% for Santorum, and just 7% for Ron Paul.

So any combination of results is possible, from Mitt Romney winning both – and perhaps ending the GOP race right there – to Romney coming third in both contests behind Santorum and Gingrich, which would ensure it continues for some time to come.

Here’s PPP’s analysis of why Romney is competitive, despite Gingrich and Santorum both being more popular than Romney in each states:

The reason Romney has a chance to win despite being less popular in both states is the split in the conservative vote. In Mississippi 44% of voters describe themselves as ‘very conservative’ and Romney’s getting only 26% with them. But he’s still in the mix because Gingrich leads Santorum only 35-32 with them. In Alabama where 45% of voters identify as ‘very conservative,’ Romney’s at just 24%. But again he remains competitive overall because his opponents are so tightly packed with those voters, with Santorum at 37% and Gingrich at 31%.

It’s not really clear who, if anyone, has the momentum in these states. In Mississippi folks who’ve decided in the last few days go for Gingrich over Santorum 37-29 with Romney at only 15%. But in Alabama the late deciders go 38-29 for Romney over Santorum with Gingrich at 23%.

10am: It’s the final day of campaigning in the Southern states of Mississippi and Alabama, the latest set of must-win primaries between GOP contenders Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

With the polls showing a tight race between the three, after a weekend that saw wins for Romney and Santorum, we’ll be following the candidates and their campaigns live.

Here’s a summary of the latest events from Ryan Devereaux:

• The GOP’s presidential hopefuls are working to secure southern voters ahead of tomorrow’s primaries in Mississippi and Alabama. Depending on how they play out, the contests could narrow the field or lead to more weeks of inter-party fighting. National polls have the leading candidates in a virtual dead heat, suggesting tomorrow come down to the wire.

• Over the weekend, Santorum continued his efforts to urge Newt Gingrich to drop out of the race. On Sunday, Santorum said a one-on-one race between himself and Romney would need to “occur sooner rather than later”. The day before Santorum decisively won the Kansas caucuses. For his part, Gingrich has remained defiant but losing tomorrow’s contests could spell the end for the former house speaker’s campaign. Meanwhile, if Mitt Romney manages to come out on top tomorrow it could effectively seal the nomination for the former Massachusetts governor.

• Romney is reported to be looking to Illinois to make his stand against Santorum, in the event that he can’t seal the deal tomorrow. Taking the midwestern state, however, may prove difficult for the Romney campaign. A new Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll finds little space between the two candidates. According to the survey Romney has the support of 35% of likely voters, while Santroum has 31%, well within the 4% margin for error.

• Despite the muddled appearance of the race for the Republican nomination, Santorum has predicted that he will be the victor if the party remains undecided by the time the Republican national convention rolls around this summer. Despite trailing Romney by more than 200 delegates, Santorum told NBC’s Today Show this morning: “We’re going to be the nominee. Governor Romney will not make it.”

• A new ABC News/Washington post poll finds a steep decline in support for the war in Afghanistan, even among Republicans, which could change the landscape of the battle for president. According to the poll, 60% of Americans do not feel the war efforts have been been worth their immense costs in blood and treasure, nearly double those who feel the opposite. For the first time in five years, Republicans are evenly divided on whether the war has been worth it. As reports surfaced of a US army sergeant massacring over a dozen Afghan civilians–including numerous women and children–over the weekend, Newt Gingrich expressed a surprisingly critical analysis of the war. Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Gingrich said, “I think it’s very likely that we have lost, tragically lost, the lives and suffered injuries to a considerable number of young Americans on a mission that we’re going to discover is not doable.”

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “US elections live: Mitt Romney endorsed by Mississippi governor” was written by Richard Adams, for guardian.co.uk on Friday 9th March 2012 18.24 UTC

1.02pm: Barack Obama: mercantilist. Speaking at a car plant somewhere in America this afternoon, the president said:

I don’t want stuff made there and sold over here. I want stuff made here and sold over there.

D’oh. In fact “stuff” can be made here and there, and sold both here and there. It’s called comparative advantage, and everybody wins.

An odd example from the latest trade figures published today: US imports and exports of cars rose during February.

12.46pm: So what happens if Mitt Romney actually wins one of Alabama or Mississippi next Tuesday? It could be all over, according to an enthusiastic Romney staff member:

In a message obtained by Politco, regional political director Michael Joffrion asked Romney volunteers in Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia to pitch in for next week’s elections – and close out the 2012 primary season.

“I know everyone is exhausted and still scatter brained from Tuesday. With that said, I need a HUGE favor. We are within one point here in Alabama. A win in Alabama will end this process,” Joffrion wrote.

Larry Sabato, the Oracle of Charlottesville, appears to agree:

And not just Newt but Rick too, surely.

12.22pm: Hey it’s another poll from Mississippi, this time from Rasmussen Reports:

A new statewide telephone survey of Likely GOP Primary Voters in the Magnolia State shows Romney with 35% of the vote, while former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich each draw support from 27%. Texas Congressman Ron Paul runs last with six percent (6%).

11.56am: Oh god: get ready for the third coming of Newt Gingrich, based on today’s polls from Alabama and Mississippi.

Mississippi: according to a post-Super Tuesday ARG poll, Newt Gingrich leads with 35%, Mitt Romney with 31%, Rick Santorum with 20%, and Ron Paul with 7%.

Alabama: according to Rasmussen Reports, Gingrich is just ahead with 30%, compared with 29% for Rick Santorum and 28% for Mitt Romney. Ron Paul trails with 7%.

Yikes. If that patterns holds, then no one is dropping out anytime soon. Except in this scenario: Mitt Romney wins both Alabama and Mississippi, which he could easily do based on these polls. In that case, it might very well be all over.

In conclusion: only time will tell.

11.29pm: Before HBO’s Game Change makes you all sentimental about Sarah Palin, the real life Sarah Palin smacks you across the face like a Rush Limbaugh apology.

Appearing as herself on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show last night, the former governor of Alaska accused Barack Obama of being a pre-Civil War Southern confederacy slave-supporter, or so it would appear. Yes, it’s that crazy.

11.05am: And some more good news – in one sense – from the US economy, in the form of a widening trade deficit.

The US trade deficit hit $52.6bn last month, with both imports and exports up. Why a deficit is good news: it suggests domestic demand is picking up, enough to suck in more imports.

And it wasn’t oil: there was a 10% increase in imports of cars and auto parts, and more importantly in imports of capital goods such as computers and industrial machinery.

10.40am: The reviews are in for Game Change, the 2008 election-o-drama debuting tomorrow night on HBO.

The Los Angeles Times likes it and supplies a thoughtful review:

It is impossible, and superfluous, to attempt a letter-perfect chronicle of almost any historical event, especially a political campaign, and no doubt Palin and others depicted here will argue that the script takes liberty with the facts, if only in the selection of which events or conversations are presented and which are not.

But the overall atmosphere of the film is surprisingly kind to all, much more fatalistic than hypercritical and certainly not derisive. Palin’s rise and fall is depicted as series of bad decisions made in relatively good faith that lead up to a hideous car crash.

The Wall Street Journal goes with a lazy, snotty review:

Truth be told, “Game Change” does not make anyone look good. John McCain, as portrayed by Ed Harris, comes across as an insecure figure, part Bubba, part booby, with repetitive expletive syndrome.

10.30am: More detail on the rosy jobs numbers, from the CEPR’s Dean Baker:

The rise in manufacturing employment was impressive; with upward revisions to the prior two months, the sector has added 111,000 jobs over the last three months. The auto industry has been a driving force, directly accounting for 20,700 of these jobs. The pace of growth may slow, but it seems likely that manufacturing will be a major force in the recovery going forward.

That’s also good news for the White House, since its support of the auto industry has been a subject of much debate, and similarly bad news for Mitt Romney, who wanted Detroit to drop dead (I paraphrase).

10.20am: The RomneyBot 2000 software had another bug yesterday, revealed when the Mitt Romney avatar said the following in a speech in which he described how he was being turned into “an unofficial Southerner”:

I am learning to say ‘y’all’ and ‘I like grits,’ and things. Strange things are happening to me.

What a stroke of luck that Mitt Romney should learn to like grits just before a crucial election. And it’s not at all patronising.

The Associated Press, meanwhile, suggests that while Romney has endorsements from almost all of the state GOP hierarchy in Alabama and Mississippi, the actual voters are not so convinced:

Waiting to hear [Newt] Gingrich speak Thursday in Jackson, Shane Brown, a 43-year-old nondenominational Christian minister, said he and his wife are not Romney fans but they’re resigned that he will probably win the nomination.

“He just does not seem like a real person,” Brown said. “We’re going to end up getting a candidate that the base doesn’t really love. You may go vote for him, but you’re not going to tell 10 people to go vote for him.”

He said that enthusiasm gap will hurt the Republicans. “I think that’s something the party establishment doesn’t quite understand.

Not a real person? But he likes grits, since yesterday.

10am: The latest job figures are unalloyed good news for the White House and President Obama’s re-election hopes – and put the Republican party and its presidential candidates into a pickle.

US employers added 227,000 jobs in February, and January and December figures were revised up by 61,000, meaning the economy has now generated an average of 245,000 jobs in the past three months.

And while the unemployment rate was unchanged at 8.3% despite the job growth, that was also a form of good news: previously discouraged workers were being attracted back into the labour force and were out looking for work.

While 8.3% unemployment is still not a great number for the White House, the trend is more important. And it places the Republican party in a tough spot: Mitt Romney, its front-runner and presumptive nominee, has based his candidacy on his private sector record as a businessman. Remove that plank, and what’s left?

9.30am ET: It’s another day of campaigning in the Republican presidential contest between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, with events overshadowed by more good news on the economic front, with the US adding another 227,000 jobs last month.

Here’s a summary from Ryan Devereaux with what to look out for today:

• Ahead of Mississippi’s primary, Mitt Romney received a key endorsement from the state’s governor, Phil Bryant, who said he thought Romney had the best chance of beating President Obama. The endorsement is an important gain for Romney as heads into southern Evangelical territory. On average, exit polls have indicted that in the five states where the majority of GOP primary voters are born-again Christians, Romney has trailed his rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich among Evangelicals by 20 points among evangelicals. Among Romney’s qualities that enthused Bryant were his ability to hold a baby: “I like to see a man when he’s holding a baby. And he looks like he’s held a baby before.”

• Rick Santorum has attempted to appeal to Christian conservatives in the south by renewing attacks on John F Kennedy. Running for president in 1960 Kennedy said he believed “in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” Speaking at a banquet in Alabama on Thursday, Santorum said: “That’s not America. That’s France. That’s a naked public square where people of faith are out of bounds.”

• Despite their candidate choosing not to appear in Kansas this week, Gingrich’s Super Pac has outspent competitors in the state by a wide margin. According to Politico, Winning Our Future has spent $180,185 on television ads in the first week of March, well ahead of his rivals.

• The candidates have a full day of campaigning ahead of them. Romney and Gingrich will both be rallying support in Mississippi and Alabama. Santorum will be in Alabama this morning and then is scheduled to appear in Kansas by early afternoon. Texas congressman Ron Paul, who is indeed still in the race, will be in Kansas all day

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