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T-Paw plays 'low expectations' caucus game for Romney

I know the suspense heading into Tuesday’s caucuses is intense. But here are a few items to soothe your anxieties. A Politico story, by Juana Summers, reporting from Rochester, says: “With Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum locked in a tight race here, the two are battling for the upper hand on health care. One day before the Minnesota caucuses, the former Pennsylvania senator argued that Romney’s support for an individual mandate as part of his Massachusetts health-care plan could cost Republicans the general election if the ex-governor becomes the GOP nominee. In turn, the former Massachusetts governor — who is skipping Minnesota pre-primary — jabbed Santorum, saying he incorrectly characterized the Massachusetts law. [The campaign] also planned a conference call with Romney’s chief surrogate in Minnesota, ex-presidential rival and former governor Tim Pawlenty, attacking the ex-senator’s record on earmarks. ... The Romney campaign is zeroing in on Santorum as the two are deadlocked in Minnesota. A Public Policy Polling survey of Minnesota Republicans, released Saturday, shows Santorum with a slim two-point lead over Romney, 29 percent to 27 percent. Rivals Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are not far behind, with Gingrich scoring 22 percent of the vote and Paul finishing with 19 percent. While Santorum spent Superbowl Sunday and the following Monday in Minnesota in a last minute push for votes, Romney canceled a planned Minnesota event and is instead focusing on Tuesday’s Colorado caucuses where polls show him almost guaranteed to win. Instead, Pawlenty and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton will campaign on Romney’s behalf in Edina, Minn., the wealthiest suburb of the Twin Cities.” Wow. John Bolton. C.J. will be all over that sighting.

According to Felicia Sonmez at The Washington Post, Team Mitt has Our Guy T-Paw out playing the “low expectations” game here in Minnesota: “In a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon, former Minnesota governor and top Romney backer Tim Pawlenty (R) argued that Tuesday’s caucuses in his home state will be a close race. ‘It’s a relatively small turnout, and the caucus attendees here tend to gravitate to the most conservative candidate,’ Pawlenty said, quickly correcting himself to say ‘the most perceived conservative candidate.’ Pawlenty noted that in 2008, about 60,000 voters turned out for Minnesota’s GOP caucuses. If a similar share turns out this time around, it would represent about 2 percent of the state’s 3 million registered voters. In the Gopher State, voters do not register by party. Pawlenty contended that former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) has visited Minnesota ‘many, many, many times over the decades’ and has a ‘loyal following’ in the state. Romney, who is spending Monday campaigning in Colorado, has been to Minnesota ‘a bit,’ Pawlenty said. ‘I can’t tell you who’s going to turn out on top,’ Pawlenty told reporters, adding that he ‘could easily see a scenario where the top three or four candidates tomorrow are bunched together toward the top of the pack.’ ”

When I think “Duluth,” I think “beer.” So apparently does Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl at MPR. Chatting with Tom Crann, Dara says: “Let me dazzle you with some beer news from the great city of the north. First, let's talk new breweries. Last July, Dubrue opened a 15-barrel brewery, as big as Surly was when they opened — they're in downtown Duluth, and this summer they'll have a tap-room. The Irish bar Dubh Linn added their own brewing facilities last summer, they are making Irish beer. Another brewery, called Borealis Fermentery, is in the works. A fourth new brewery, from Bryon Tonnis — formerly the Minneapolis Rock Bottom's head-brewer — is working on opening another production brewery in Duluth this year. ... Secondly, let's talk new brew-pubs: This week the footings are going into place for Canal Park Brewing, a huge new 180-seat brewpub and 15-barrel brewery right on the Lake Walk downtown. Jan. 1, a new sister brewpub to Fitgers' Brewhouse called Tycoons opened. On St. Patrick's Day it will have a little sister of its own, a basement brewpub called the Ratskeller. And there are more coming. I talked to Dave Hoops, the brewer for The Brewhouse -- that's the huge brewpub on the water that used to be connected to Fitgers. They're separate businesses now, and the Brewhouse is the 28th biggest brewpub in the whole entire country — and the only one in the top 100 which sells all its beer onsite. In any event, the Brewhouse also owns Burrito Union, as well as Tycoon's, and Hoops tells me they're getting ready to build another brewing facility so they can open more brewpubs.”

Your (reborn) Minnesota Timberwolves will be without star player Kevin Love after the league suspended him for ... stomping on a guy’s face. The AP story (with video), says: “The NBA announced the suspension on Monday. The incident occurred when [Houston Rockets forward Luis] Scola fell to the court during the third quarter. As Love headed back to the other end, he stepped on Scola's face and upper body. Love said after the game that the stomp was not intentional and he went to the Rockets' locker room to apologize to Scola. The NBA also upgraded it to a Flagrant-Two foul on Love. The suspension means the Timberwolves will be without their leading scorer and rebounder for a home game against Sacramento on Tuesday night and a game at Memphis on Wednesday night.”

Today in stadium-ness ... It’s a “jobs program.” Mike Kaszuba and Paul Walsh at the Strib write: “Keeping up the pressure to forge an overall deal for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak will join labor and business leaders Monday in announcing ‘workforce agreements’ for the project. Rybak says the agreements will create good jobs building a new stadium next to where the Metrodome now sits. ... there appears to be only lukewarm support, at best, from leaders of the Republican majority at the State Capitol to complete a stadium deal this legislative session, and a stadium agreement still may not have the support of the majority of the Minneapolis City Council.”

We all remember the Bucklin family tragedy, with father Luke and three sons dying in a Wyoming plane crash over a year ago. The saga continues, says Abby Simons at the Strib: “Luke and Ginger Bucklin had been co-parenting five children from his first marriage to Michelle Bucklin, as well as Michelle Bucklin's 6-year-old son from another marriage. It was an amicable relationship. The five Bucklin children split time between their parents, while the youngest boy was able to remain close to his half-siblings and found a father figure in Luke Bucklin. Now, the two women — who have both cared for the boy after the crash — are locked in a custody battle, prompting cries from both sides about who is best suited to care for him in wake of the tragedy. Attorneys for Ginger Bucklin, who currently has court-ordered custody of the boy, maintain that she has and will continue to provide the best care for him because of his mother's instability and disregard for his emotional well-being. Michelle Bucklin's attorney counters that the accusations against her are distorted and that Ginger Bucklin's claims still would not meet the high legal threshold to remove a child from his biological parent.” Ohhh, boy.

Ladies in the North Dakota oil patch are taking no chances. The AP reports: “Self-defense products are becoming a hot item among women in western North Dakota's booming oil patch, as a burgeoning population and the apparent abduction of a northeastern Montana woman have heightened fears about violence. ‘My pepper spray, my stun guns, my handguns — I can't keep them on the shelves,’ Dickinson pawn shop manager Raymond Gentry told the Dickinson Press. ‘A year ago, where a handgun might stay in my case for two months, now I'm lucky to keep that gun in the case 48 hours.’ Gentry and operators of similar businesses say sales of personal protection products started rising along with the region's population and have spiked with the arrest of two men on aggravated kidnapping charges in the recent disappearance of Sidney, Mont., high school teacher Sherry Arnold, who is presumed dead.”

Missing: Large, live pig in 55-gallon drum in the vicinity of Woodbury. The PiPress’ Bob Shaw explains: “A large pig apparently fell off the back of a pickup truck Saturday, according to Stacy McDonald, site manager of the Woodbury branch of the Animal Humane Society. It was quickly corralled by Woodbury Police, then reclaimed by its owner Monday morning, McDonald said. At about 11 a.m. Saturday, the pig was riding in the truck at Tamarack Road and Woodbury Drive. It was inside of a 55-gallon drum — McDonald had no idea why. The drum apparently rolled from the back of the truck. McDonald said police later impounded the truck. The pig, a breed called Wessex Saddleback, was not seriously injured, she said. ‘It had a little road rash, but it was all right,' said McDonald.”

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Daniel Bice notes that Gov. Scott Walker wasn’t always so understanding and charitable about the illegal activities of aides. “Should the sins of political aides be visited upon their bosses? Gov. Scott Walker used to think so — when he was a candidate running for the office he now holds. In a 2006 news release, Walker blasted then-Gov. Jim Doyle when a state employee named Georgia Thompson was indicted on federal corruption charges. ‘Unfortunately, we have a Governor and administration that condones unethical and illegal behavior,’ Walker said in a statement on Jan. 24, 2006. ‘The people of Wisconsin deserve better’. ... Walker now finds himself under the microscope after four of his former county aides or appointees have been charged as part of an ongoing John Doe investigation into activities while Walker was Milwaukee County executive. The first-term governor announced Friday that he has hired two criminal defense lawyers and will meet with District Attorney John Chisholm on Monday. Throughout the secret investigation, Walker has defended himself and proclaimed that he does not believe he is the target. But he has said little about the former and current aides caught up in the 20-month probe.”

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