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Hotline Sort: Santorum Surge... In Iowa

4) Less than two weeks before state Republicans will huddle to decide who they want to endorse in the GOP Senate race, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is throwing his weight behind Steve Welch, the wealthy businessman who is also a former Democrat. It's a big get for Welch, who loaned his campaign $1 million in the fourth quarter, but some party loyalists may still be hesitant to back Welch due to his party background. Meanwhile, southeast Pennsylvania GOP leaders declined to hold a straw poll on Wednesday night -- a development businessman Tom Smith lauded in a statement, and one that does not look great for Welch, espeically since southeast is his home geographic base. 3) The Des Moines Register has the final Iowa Caucus tally and Rick Santorum finished ahead of Mitt Romney by 34 votes. But there is yet another twist in the whole process:

Results from eight precincts are missing -- any of which could hold an advantage for Mitt Romney -- and will never be recovered and certified, Republican Party of Iowa officials told The Des Moines Register on Wednesday.

Sure, Santorum will claim victory in the state, but it's difficult to imagine that this moves the needle too much in the lead up to Saturday's South Carolina primary. The fact that eight precincts are missing muddles the results even more, dampening any bounce Santorum might get from the updated count. 2) Romney's personal wealth record is under heavy national scrutiny today, as he heads into the final debate before Saturday's Palmetto State vote. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times both feature front page pieces on Romney's money and the Washington Post also digs in. It's not the narrative Romney wants to see as he seeks to win the state in which polling shows him to be the favorite heading into Saturday. But there are also encouraging signs for the frontrunner: Ron Brownstein points out that in new South Carolina polling Romney is winning more support from the groups favorable to him than anyone is winning from the groups that have resisted him. And Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is endorsing him. 1) Obama has released his first TV ad of the 2012 election, a commercial that responds to an Americans for Prosperity ad, and is a spot that is emblematic of the current political paradigm, notes Reid Wilson:

Obama's re-election campaign is using its first foray into paid media to lay a foundation against the outside groups that benefit from the Citizens United v. FEC ruling. ... But that's the new political reality Team Obama faces: In the post-Citizens United world, presidential campaigns must pay as much attention to outside groups that attack their records as seriously as they do attacks from their rivals. ... The 30-second ad will run in Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, according to Obama's campaign -- the same six states where AFP is running their ads (The ads hadn't actually been purchased by close of business, according to a Republican source who watches political ad markets).

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