The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY JEN­NIFER HARPER

Alas, “Op­er­a­tion Hi­lar­ity” was not so hi­lar­i­ous. The ex­pen­sive, ex­pan­sive ef­fort to per­suade Democrats to vote for Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hopeful Rick San­to­rum in the Michi­gan pri­mary in­cluded ev­ery­one from Michael Moore and to the Michi­gan Demo­cratic Party. To their cha­grin, Mitt Rom­ney won any­way. His nim­ble cam­paign al­ready has made choice ob­ser­va­tions about Demo­cratic frus­tra­tion. But they also ex­pect the shenani­gans to con­tinue.

“Now that Mitt Rom­ney has won in Michi­gan and Ari­zona, the Obama cam­paign will bring its ‘Kill Rom­ney’ strat­egy to the next level,” pre­dicts Rom­ney cam­paign spokes­woman Amanda Hen­neberg.

There’s some strong sen­ti­ment out there.

“This GOP cir­cus isn’t over yet, but you can bet on this: The nom­i­nee will be an ex­trem­ist and out of touch,” says Sen. Patty Mur­ray of Washington, in a Demo­cratic Se­na­to­rial Cam­paign Com­mit­tee fundrais­ing mes­sage. “He will op­pose birth con­trol. He will give tax breaks to multi­bil­lion­aires. ... These right-wing Repub­li­cans need to lose, and lose badly.”

“A vic­tory in Michi­gan for Rick San­to­rum would have em­bold­ened many Democrats. And if their strat­egy didn’t work this time, there ef­forts will likely be di­min­ished. But there’s al­ways some of them left who will still try the same tac­tics,” Re­pub­li­can strate­gist Ron Bon­jean tells In­side the Belt­way. Thurs­day when the Se­nate votes on a mo­tion to ta­ble Sen. Roy Blunt’s “Re­spect for Rights of Con­science Act.” The Mis­souri Re­pub­li­can’s leg­is­la­tion would ex­empt re­li­giously af­fil­i­ated em­ploy­ers from of­fer­ing health in­sur­ance plans that in­clude birth con­trol. Things will be par­tic­u­larly complicated in the wake of con­flict­ing press ru­mors that Mitt Rom­ney does not sup­port Mr. Blunt’s bill. The an­swer: He does sup­port it.

Mean­while, Democrats frame the leg­is­la­tion as a prime ex­am­ple of the “Re­pub­li­can at­tack on women.” Repub­li­cans counter that Mr. Obama’s man­date is an at­tack on First Amend­ment rights. A bat­tal­ion of con­ser­va­tives, mean­while, are ready to rum­ble, and now say they “will not rest un­til the man­date is re­scinded.”

Among the many ready for bat­tle: Penny Nance, pres­i­dent of Con­cerned Women for Amer­ica; Brian Burch, pres­i­dent of; Car­rie Sev­erino, chief coun­sel of the Ju­di­cial Cri­sis Net­work; for­mer Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion heavy­weight Ed­win Meese III, and Richard Land, pres­i­dent of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion’s Ethics & Re­li­gious Lib­erty Com­mis­sion.

“We are here to ad­vo­cate for ba­sic re­li­gious free­dom. I don’t give a rip what gen­der is speak­ing about re­li­gious free­dom, as long as some­body is talk­ing about it,” says Mag­gie Karner, di­rec­tor of health min­istries for the Lutheran Church of Mis­souri.

“This de­bate is not about con­tra­cep­tion. No­body is ad­vo­cat­ing for de­nial of ac­cess. No­body is threat­en­ing women’s health. No­body is out­law­ing any­thing for the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion,” she con­tin­ues. “This de­bate is sim­ply about us be­ing forced to pay for prod­ucts and ser­vices con­trary to our re­li­gious be­liefs. We can­not be ex­pected to check our faith at the door.”

Sen. Roy Blunt

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