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The Download: Presidential campaign idol

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The just-concluded Conservative Political Action Conference marks the unofficial start of the presidential campaign season, and the months ahead will be full of fundraising, speechifying and quiet outreach. That’s the old model for running for president, anyway: Raise a ton of money, create an aura of inevitability (or at least possibility), and use both to wrap up key staffers and supporters in strategic early primary states. After all, it’s only a year until the New Hampshire primary.

That old model will be sorely tested in the upcoming election cycle. At a breakfast hosted by O’Neill and Associates last week, ABC News producer (and former Boston Globe reporter) Rick Klein outlined a number of ways that the 2012 presidential race will be fundamentally different than any in recent memory. If candidates don’t run with an eye toward those shifts, Klein argued, they’re sunk.

For one, news moves far more quickly today than they did even three years ago. “The idea of having a handle on the political situation is really outdated,” Klein said. Last week, Chris Lee went from obscure upstate New York politician to Gawker cover boy to disgraced former congressman in the span of four hours. It’s far easier to be reactive than proactive in such an environment.

And whether it’s a driver or a symptom of hour-long news cycles, there’s a distinct lack of guidance coming from the electorate. The past three national elections have been mandates for change – empowering a Democratic Congress, then a change-agent president, followed by a wild swing against the policies of both. The only consistent message has been the inadequacy of the now. It’s been a rejection of the present, without a vision for the future. So it’s difficult to play to the crowd when the crowd doesn’t seem to know what it wants.

All of that makes the organizational battles of Iowa and the small-scale retail politics of New Hampshire difficult plays. In their place, we’re seeing the further ascendancy of the politics of personality.

“The way you run for president has changed,” Klein said. “The early primaries and bundled donations are out the window. All you need to do is get famous. And if you don’t, you can’t win.”

Thus, Donald Trump can sweep into CPAC, bluster a bit, and get press for upstaging the conference’s serious presidential wannabes.

Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee prepare potential runs by plastering their faces all over the nation’s television screens, which only encourages the Michelle Bachmanns of the world.

Newt Gingrich, who fumbled real power the last time he had it, isn’t laughed off because he’s a known quantity, which is more than said for some of the governors eyeing a White House run.

Gary Johnson can’t lay claim to the GOP’s libertarian wing because he’s more reasonable than Ron Paul, a fact that makes him far less famous on the Internet.

So it’s probably best to keep an eye on New Jersey governor Chris Christie. He’s positioning himself as a likeable alternative to the likes of Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, and as a tough-talking pol who can save the GOP from its dangerous fringes. How did he come to be a contender for this mantle? He has an account on YouTube.

                                                                                                                                                                        --PAUL MCMORROW

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

WBUR profiles Ayanna Pressley, a compelling but vulnerable Boston city councilor.

The Bay State Banner has a line-up of the seven candidates running in today’s special preliminary election to replace Chuck Turner, the ousted and convicted former city councilor. The runoff will take place March 15.

Salisbury voters pillory town officials for their handling of the scandal that took down the town’s police chief.

WBUR offers the first of a two-part series on why Boston’s cabs are the most expensive in the nation.

A state investigation cleared Mashpee rescuers from any wrongdoing in a woman’ choking death, saying the fire department’s ambulance crew encountered “extenuating circumstances” in its response time.

COUNTY POLITICS

Berkshire County Republicans are trying to increase their presence and cash in on last year’s GOP successes elsewhere by energizing the town committees. Only one-third of the 32 communities in the county have active GOP committees.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A grand jury refuses to indict the police officer who shot DJ Henry of Pace University, but his father says his pursuit of a murder indictment is not over. NECN has the story.

The Brockton Enterprise has details about the Ecuadorean woman whose body was found in a Dumpster along with the body of her toddler son.

ELECTION 2012

Democratic strategist Doug Rubin and Republican state Sen. Robert Hedlund join Jim Braude to discuss the “GOP Idol” auditions for 2012.

Massachusetts may be preoccupied with its loss of a congressional seat, but that’s only part of a much larger power shift from North to South, Governing magazine reports.

Haley Barbour, a southern gentleman who wants to be president, isn’t sure whether his home state of Mississippi should give Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest his own license plate.

BUDGET SEASON IN WASHINGTON

The White House’s proposed 2012 budget presents more modest cuts than his Congressional counterparts on the right had hoped for.

The budget blueprint ramps up education spending, while pledging $8 billion toward clean energy, but it has also has set off griping across the Commonwealth among everyone from advocates for the poor to the biotech sector. Among those programs on the chopping block is an initiative to combat asthma that CommonWealth reported on last fall.

Congressional leaders respond to the budget proposal by calling the document mean names, such as an “unserious document” and an “abdication of leadership.” The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page does them one further, dubbing the proposal “the Cee Lo Green Budget,” a reference to the R&B singer’s profane kiss-off mega-hit. But a wait-and-see attitude on deep spending cuts is also pervasive in Congress, the Journal’s Gerald Seib argues.

The National Review has the conservative wrap of Obama’s budget message, including a challenge from Daniel Foster to Tea Partiers and the GOP in general to make some “courageous” cuts to entitlement programs.

The National Journal explains why it will be tough sledding for President Barack Obama's clean energy agenda in the current (political) environment in Washington.

Pigs are flying, and Globe columnist Derrick Jackson and tea partiers are walking in lockstep, slamming efforts to keep alive a military jet engine project at GE in Lynn that neither the White House nor Pentagon want.

The Atlantic’s Joshua Green recalls that, even under Ronald Reagan, meaningful budget cuts were all but impossible to achieve.

Slate’s John Dickerson has an entirely different take – this budget proposal is so breathtakingly un-ambitious, he says, there must be some other real budget being hashed out in secret that nobody can talk about yet.

WASHINGTON

Shirley Sherrod, the US Department of Agriculture official who was wrongly fired, filed suit against Andrew Brietbart, the conservative blogger who took a portion of her speech out of context to present her as a racist.

HEALTH CARE

Smaller health insurance rate hikes are on tap this year in Massachusetts, but it's not necessarily because anyone has really figured out a way to deliver care more efficiently.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

Never say die. Or wind, apparently: The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound has filed an appeal with the Environmental Protection Agency, saying the permit process for Cape Wind is faulty because the company moved its planned staging area from Rhode Island to New Bedford.

These are dark days for the environmental movement, but Time suggests the food movement is picking up steam.

ECONOMY

Newsweek talks with Dambisa Moyo, a brainy, beautiful Zambian economist who says America is in a downward spiral caused by too much borrowing and a failure to incentivize young people to study math and science.

EDUCATION

For the third straight year, New Bedford’s high school graduation rate dropped, down to 53 percent, placing it at the bottom of the Gateway Cities.

On “Greater Boston,” Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley and abstinence advocate Chris Pham debate a plan before the City Council today that will make condoms available at all high schools in the city.

On the City Journal site, a Connecticut high school teacher laments all the learning that is sacrificed because of teen pregnancies, which he says are now a social norm in his urban school.

MEDIA

Alternative news legend Clif Garboden, who began his career as a photographer and rose to senior managing editor at The Phoenix over a 39-year career at the weekly and its predecessors, lost a long battle with cancer. Dan Kennedy has a remembrance at Media Nation.

ROMANCE

Every Valentine’s Day, around 5 pm, love-struck Americans swamp Google with search requests for the Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Applebee’s.

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