Morning Briefing: February 29, 2012

Mitt Romney won Republican primaries in Michigan and Arizona last night, narrowly carrying his home state over Rick Santorum and winning Arizona comfortably. As in other states, Romney struggled with the middle class in Michigan, where Santorum topped him among voters making less than $100,000.

Despite Romney’s wins, the race is far from over — a dozen states will hold primaries next week on Super Tuesday, when all eyes will turn to Ohio. A new poll there shows Santorum up by 11 points over Romney. The poll is similar to other recent surveys that give Santorum a lead, but it also shows that 47 percent of likely voters could change their minds before next week.

Leaving a previously safe Republican seat wide open, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) announced she will not seek re-election. Her decision is a blow to Republican chances of taking control of the U.S. Senate. Popular progressive Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) is considering a run for the open seat.

The economy grew at a slightly faster pace in the final three months of last year, and Americans earned more income than previously reported,” according to the latest figures from the Commerce Department. GDP grew 3 percent from October through December, exceeding the previous estimate of 2.8 percent.

Evangelist Franklin Graham apologized for questioning President Obama’s Christian faith and said religion has “nothing to do” with his decision not to support the president’s election. “I apologize to him and to any I have offended for not better articulating my reason for not supporting him in this election,” Graham added.

Keeping one soldier in Afghanistan for a year costs between $850,000 and $1.4 million, depending on differing estimates offered in a Senate hearing yesterday. The official Pentagon estimate is $850,000 and rising. “That kind of takes my breath away,” Senate Budget Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND) said at the hearing.

President Obama laid out a new policy directive concerning suspected terrorists, making it clear that some Al-Qaeda suspects will not be held in military detention facilities and instead be subjected to trials in civilian courts. The directive comes after the Obama administration expressed concerns over the rigidity of the controversial National Defense Authorization Act.

The mortuary at Dover Air Force Base disposed of body parts of some victims of the September 11th attacks by burning them and dumping the ashes in a landfill, according to an independent report. Mortuary officials were already under fire for what the Air Force called “gross mismanagement” after losing body parts of two service members, among other failures.

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) signed a repeal of his state’s one-gun-a-month law, which limited the number of guns a person could buy, despite strong objections raised by family members of vicitims of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.

And finally: Today is Leap Day, and everyone is celebrating. There’s a 24-hour party at Disneyland and about 5 million people are celebrating their quadrennial birthdays. Everyone, that is, except for Iowa, where the Globe Gazette felt the need to write a story about how Leap Day is “like any other for Iowa state government.”

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