Beltway Briefing

The top five stories from US politics today.

Michelle Bachmann

1. Michele Bachmann is just as well-known for her gaffes as fellow Tea Party icon Sarah Palin. This morning, she defended herself on CNN's American Morning show.

"People can make mistakes and I wish I could be perfect every time I say something, but I can't," she said. "But one thing people know about me is that I'm a substantive, serious person and I have a strong background."

She also explained her recent slip up, when she said of her hometown that "John Wayne was from Waterloo" and "that's the kind of spirit that I have, too." The actor was born nearly 150 miles away, although the serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr. lived in Waterloo at one point. She told CNN that these comments "were just misspeaking", and she meant she identified with his patriotism.

Unfortunately, she also managed today to claim that John Quincy Adams was a founding father on ABC's Good Morning America (he was a president, but not a founding father).

2. Mitt Romney's Utah advisers are reportedly attempting to get the date of the state's Republican presidential primary next year moved from late June to earlier in the spring, because it might play a bigger role in the nomination process.

The Salt Lake Tribune's Robert Gehrke writes: "If the Romney camp is successful, it could set up an early showdown between Romney, chief of the 2002 Olympics in Utah, and former Gov. Jon Huntsman in Huntsman's old backyard -- and it is a contest that, according to recent statewide polls, Romney would likely win."

However, he also notes that it could also end up costing taxpayers between $2.5 million and $3 million to stage the primary. Holding it on 26 June 2012 as planned would mean it could be held on the same day as the statewide primary election for other Utah offices. Despite this extra cost, the change has not been ruled out.

3. Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois and one-time presidential hopeful, has been found guilty of corruption. After 10 days of deliberation, a jury found him guilty of 17 charges, including trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and attempting to shake down executives for campaign cash. He was acquitted of another bribery charge, and the jury was undecided on charges of attempted extortion. The convictions carry a combined maximum prison sentence of around 300 years, although the judge is expected to sentence him for around 10.

As governor of Illinois, it was Blaojevich's responsibility to name a senator to replace Obama after he was elected president in November 2008. He planned to sell the seat. Federal agents were tipped off and recorded hundreds of hours of tapes. He was arrested two years ago, but an earlier trial ended in deadlock.

4. Bristol Palin said today that her mother "definitely knows" whether she will run for president next year. "We've talked about it before," the 20 year old told Fox and Friends. "Some things just need to stay in the family."

 

This comes on the same day as the older Palin travels to the key primary state of Iowa for the premier of Undefeated, a documentary about her time as governor of Alaska. This has renewed speculation about whether she will put herself forward for the presidency.

5. The powers of social media have long been something that those at the top of the political game wish to harness. Tim Pawlenty has become the latest to try, with the somewhat bizarre Pawlenty Action.

PawlentyAction

Jason Linkins at the Huffington Post is unimpressed:

See, back in the day, the average voter might sign up with a presidential candidate because of values they had in common and the shared belief that grassroots action could facilitate sweeping political change. But the Pawlenty campaign understands that deepening the connection between campaign and volunteer requires much more. That is, it requires points and badges!

You get 10 free points for signing up to help "T-Paw" (yes, the website really refers to him as that), 10 for connecting your Facebook, five for connecting your Twitter, and so on. It's not clear exactly what you can do with all your points, but perhaps that is besides the...point.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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François Fillon's woes are good news for Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron

It is too late for the Republicans to replace their scandal-tainted candidate.

It's that time of the week again: this week's Le Canard Enchaîné has more bad news for François Fillon, the beleagured centre-right candidate for the French presidency. This week's allegations: that he was paid $50,000 to organise a meeting between the head of the French oil company Total and Vladimir Putin.

The story isn't quite as scandalous as the ones that came before it: the fee was paid to Fillon's (legitimate) consultancy business but another week with a scandal about Fillon and money is good news for both Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.

The bad news for the Republicans is that Fillon is on the ballot now: there is no getting off the train that they are on. Destination: blowing an election that was theirs to be won.

Who'll be the ultimate beneficiary of the centre-right's misery? Although Macron is in the box seat as far as the presidential race is concerned, that he hasn't been in frontline politics all that long means that he could still come unstuck. As his uncertain performance in the first debate showed he is more vulnerable than he looks, though that the polls defied the pundits - both in Britain and in France - and declared him the winner shows that his popularity and charisma means that he has a handy cushion to fall back on.

It looks all-but-certain that it will be Macron and Le Pen who face each other in the second round in May and Macron will be the overwhelming favourite in that contest.

It's still just about possible to envisage a perfect storm for Le Pen where Fillon declares that the choice between Macron and Le Pen is a much of a muchness as neither can equal his transformative programme for France, Macron makes some 11th-hour blunder which keeps his voters at home and a terrorist attack or a riot gets the National Front's voters fired up and to the polling stations for the second round.

But while it's possible he could still come unstuck, it looks likely that despite everything we've thought these last three years, the French presidency won't swing back to the right in 2017.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.