(CNN) - It's early, and State of the Union is bringing you the best of the morning headlines to go with your cup of coffee.
On our radar: A win in Kansas for Rick Santorum; another month of job growth; and the political reality for the Republican presidential hopefuls, President Obama's re-election team and Senate Democrats who are holding fast to their majority.
Check out what we're reading, and be sure to watch our exclusive interview with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. State of the Union airs today at 9am/12pm ET.
2012 / POLITICS
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum cruised to victory in Saturday's Kansas caucuses, gathering momentum for two upcoming Southern primaries. But top rival Mitt Romney's campaign said the candidate won more delegates over the weekend, with the help of three other races and updated results in one state.
Santorum received 51% of the votes, according to a Kansas Republican Party initial count. Romney was second with 21%, followed by Newt Gingrich at 14% and Ron Paul at 13%.
Santorum picked up 33 delegates in the Jayhawk State; Romney won seven.
President Obama’s re-election campaign is beginning an intensified effort this week to build support among women, using the debate over the new health care law to amplify an appeal that already appears to be benefiting from partisan clashes over birth control and abortion.
[...]The campaign is trying to use the political climate to regain the traditional Democratic advantage among women, even as moderate Republican and independent women voice disenchantment with the Republican focus on social issues.
Women were 53 percent of the national vote in 2008, and given Mr. Obama’s and his party’s continuing weakness among white men, they are crucial to his re-election. Though Mr. Obama won 56 percent of their votes four years ago, women narrowly went for Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections that cost Democrats control of the House.
On Friday night, Obama argued that his reelection will ensure that the economy continues to improve, suggesting that a Republican president would throw the recovery off track.
“But our ability to bounce back and then thrive is also going to depend on some choices that we make right now,” he said.
“And as important as 2008 was, I think this election is even more important. Because very rarely are you going to see such a stark choice about how one party sees the country and where we need to go and how the other party sees the country and where we need to go.”
A group of conservative leaders pledged to raise a combined $1.78 million for Rick Santorum's campaign and SuperPAC after meeting privately in Texas this weekend with the Republican presidential hopeful, POLITICO has learned.
More than 200 conservatives from all over the country convened at the Houston Omni for a Friday fundraising reception for Santorum's campaign. They then met to plot strategy with the former senator Saturday morning, discussing how to overcome Mitt Romney's growing advantage in the GOP primary and fend off Newt Gingrich.
"The message was, 'we're all in,'" said South Dakota businessman and conservative organizer Bob Fischer, one of the event’s co-hosts.
[…]“It was not a discussion of who to support, it was a consolidation of support,” said [Tony] Perkins, differentiating the meeting with the January session. “There was a big push to raise funds. There was a sense of, ‘Now is the time to step up.’”
As top union leaders gather in Florida on Tuesday to determine labor's political strategy this year, the influential AFL-CIO appears poised to endorse President Obama's reelection — despite some lingering dissatisfaction with his record.
But the way in which unions back him and other Democrats this year is likely to take a very different form than in past campaigns.
Concluding they need to be more independent of the Democratic Party, many unions are increasingly financing their own efforts instead of writing large checks to candidates and the party.
Watching with growing unease as the GOP presidential nomination fight promises to stretch into the spring, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are making moves to protect their own reelection prospects in the fall.
[…] While GOP leaders are eager for a nominee to emerge so they can begin a coordinated campaign against the Democrats, they are increasingly convinced that they must move ahead with an agenda of their own.
Last week, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said that regardless of who the nominee is and when he assumes the role, the core of the GOP argument against the president will be the same.
Rick Santorum suggested on Saturday that a nuclear-armed Iran may be the emerge as the most important issue of the 2012 election and told a crowd of voters here that his foreign policy experience may make him the most qualified candidate for the presidency.
"That may be the issue of the day come this fall - a nuclear Iran. Or on the precipice of it [with] Israel potentially having to go to war to stop that development," Santorum told a crowd of more than 500 at an electronics security systems manufacturing plant here shortly after declaring victory in the caucuses in neighboring Kansas.
IN OTHER NEWS…
The last three inmates still in prison who had been pardoned by former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour were released on Saturday, two days after the state's highest court cleared the way for their freedom.
The release of the prisoners could be the final chapter in a controversial saga that began in January when Barbour issued more than 200 pardons as he left office, the most in modern Mississippi history.
The Obama administration and its allies and international partners have begun serious discussions about potential military involvement in Syria, even as they continue to press for nonviolent solutions to the carnage there.
[…] Possibilities include directly arming opposition forces, sending troops to guard a humanitarian corridor or “safe zone” for the rebels, or an air assault on Syrian air defenses, according to officials from the United States and other nations opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But the governments remain deeply divided over the scope of any intervention, how and when it would happen, and who would participate. With Russia still opposed to a U.N. mandate, many question the legitimacy of any military options under international law.
Rocket attacks on Israel continued Sunday morning after over 100 rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip over the weekend.
With a moment of silence, prayers and anti-nuclear rallies, Japan marked on Sunday one year since an earthquake and tsunami killed thousands and set off a radiation crisis that shattered public trust in atomic power and the nation's leaders.