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Political Notebook

Two Romney surrogates in Oklahoma don’t follow script

Danny Johnston/Associated Press

EMBRACING HEALTH - Michelle Obama hugged Air Force General Eden J. Murrie, director of Air Force Services, after speaking about nutrition at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, Ark. yesterday.

WASHINGTON - Two Oklahoma state officials supporting Mitt Romney’s presidential bid held their fire yesterday on a conference call arranged by the candidate’s campaign and billed as an attack on rival Rick Santorum.

“I think he’s a fine man,’’ State Auditor Gary Jones said of Santorum, who revived his campaign with a sweep of three contests this week. “He would be a tremendous improvement over Barack Obama.’’

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State Treasurer Ken Miller said Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, is a “fine man and friend.’’

The Romney campaign had said in a release promoting the call that it would feature Jones and Miller discussing Santorum’s “enthusiastic defense of earmarks and support of reckless spending.’’

Neither man mentioned Santorum’s record or earmarks, the federal funding of a lawmaker’s pet project, though both said they thought Romney was the best candidate.

Romney’s campaign organized the call as Santorum campaigned in Oklahoma after he won Missouri’s non-binding primary and caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado.

A Romney campaign spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the conference call.

Oklahoma holds a primary on March 6, Super Tuesday, when 10 nomination contests are held.

BLOOMBERG NEWS

Judge criticized by GOP delivers a stinging reply

SAN ANTONIO - A federal judge who was vilified by Republican presidential hopefuls for banning prayer at a Texas high school graduation delivered a scathing and unusually personal response yesterday, saying those who used the case to further political goals “should be ashamed.’’

In a court filing laying out the settlement terms of the prayer case, US District Judge Fred Biery wrote that he forgave Christians who “venomously and vomitously’’ threatened his assassination. He also thanked the US Marshals for providing him additional security and, without singling anyone out by name, offered a self-deprecating nod to those wished him the worst.

“To those who have prayed for my death: Your prayers will someday be answered, as inevitability trumps probability,’’ Biery wrote.

The unusually personal comments in a federal court order overshadowed the actual settlement. The case had been closely watched by social conservatives, and on the campaign trail, Newt Gingrich has portrayed Biery, a 1994 Clinton appointee, as the embodiment of so-called activist judges.

After winning the South Carolina primary, Gingrich singled out Biery as a “dictatorial religious bigot’’ for his decision in the San Antonio court case.

Under the settlement, the Medina Valley Independent School District will not officially make prayer part of graduation ceremonies. The settlement does not, however, prohibit valedictorians or other student speakers from praying during their remarks.

Last May, Biery granted a temporary restraining order filed by an agnostic family who claimed that traditions at their son’s graduation, including the invocation and benediction, excluded their beliefs and violated their constitutional rights.

Biery’s ruling prohibited Medina Valley seniors from asking audience members to join in prayer, bow their heads, end remarks with “amen,’’ or even use the word “prayer.’’ A federal appeals court later reversed the ban before the ceremony took place.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Obama playlist heavy on country and soul

NEW YORK - Three musical touchstones that have probably never been associated with President Obama are country, “raw choral pop,’’ and REO Speedwagon. Yet those are three of the disclosures of a Spotify playlist created by the president’s campaign staff, released via a Twitter message yesterday.

Some of the 28 songs on the list follow the president’s tastes, like Al Green’s classic “Let’s Stay Together,’’ a few seconds of which he sang at a fund-raising event at the Apollo Theater last month. Also present are Aretha Franklin (her cover of “The Weight’’ by the Band), the latest single from Bruce Springsteen (“We Take Care of Our Own’’), and the Impressions’ classic soul number “Keep on Pushing.’’

As Obama heads toward a reelection campaign, those songs, along with others by Electric Light Orchestra (“Mr. Blue Sky’’) and Raphael Saadiq (“Keep Marchin’’’), convey themes of persistence, patience, and a light at the end of the tunnel.

Seven songs - one-fourth of the list - are in the country or country-rock genres, including two each by Sugarland and Darius Rucker, plus Dierks Bentley, the Zac Brown Band, and Montgomery Gentry. U2 (“Even Better Than the Real Thing’’), James Taylor (“Your Smiling Face’’) and, yes, REO Speedwagon (“Roll With the Changes’’) represent mainstream rock, and the indie-rock world comes through strong with Wilco, Arcade Fire, and AgesandAges, a little-known band from Portland, Ore.

NEW YORK TIMES

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