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March 25th, 2012
04:29 AM ET

Early Bird Morning Research for Sunday, March 25, 2012

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: The latest on Dick Cheney's condition after undergoing heart transplant surgery on Saturday; the status of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law; the state of the GOP race after another decisive victory for Rick Santorum in the south; and the biggest test of all for President Obama's health care reform law: a Supreme Court challenge.

Check out what we're reading, and be sure to watch our exclusive interviews with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham. We'll also speak with White House senior adviser David Plouffe. State of the Union airs today at 9am/12pm ET.

OVERNIGHT NEWS – CHENEY, OBAMA

Dick Cheney undergoes heart transplant surgery

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was recovering Saturday evening after undergoing heart transplant surgery, his office said.
Cheney, 71, had surgery at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia.

He had been on the cardiac transplant list for more than 20 months, a statement from his office said.

Obama visits Korean DMZ ahead of nuclear summit in Seoul.

President Barack Obama used his first visit to the demilitarized zone that splits the Korean peninsula to peer through binoculars into North Korea where flags flew at half-staff to mark the 100-day anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il.

The stop at the border Sunday marked the start of a three-day trip to South Korea where the American president is to attend an international nuclear summit.

FLORIDA / TRAYVON MARTIN CASE

Gov. Rick Scott signs school prayer bill

The burden is now on school districts to decide whether to allow students to pray or deliver "inspirational messages" during public events.

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Friday a controversial proposal authorizing school prayer. ...

The law, effective July 1, allows school districts to create policies that authorize students to deliver "inspirational messages" at public events.

Teachers and employees still cannot.

Florida Democratic chief backs 'stand your ground'

Plenty of Florida Democrats are saying "We told you so" and calling for repeal of the "stand your ground" law in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, but not Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith. …

"I've tried and defended stand your ground cases, and I've prosecuted murder cases," Smith said. "This individual (Zimmerman), as I understand the facts, moved the ground toward the confrontation. That's not a stand-your-ground defense. Unless there are facts that I'm not aware of, I think you'll see an arrest made. … It's hard to believe that someone was not arrested that night."

Zimmerman’s attorney says ‘Stand Your Ground’ law was correctly applied

...an attorney representing the neighborhood watch captain, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, broadly defended his client and said he believes evidence will show that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law was properly applied. ...

Sonner declined to detail what transpired between Zimmerman and the 17-year-old Martin, but he said he believes the case falls under Florida's stand-your-ground law, which dictates that a person has the right to stand his or her ground and "meet force with force" if attacked.

"I believe what the evidence will show is that this case does fall under that," Sonner said. "I believe we have a good case."

Florida killing raises questions about 'stand your ground' laws

It has been called "obscene," "stupid" and the "right-to-commit-murder law."

It has also been credited with protecting people like Sarah McKinley, a young widow who killed a knife-wielding man after he broke into her Oklahoma home.

Opinions about so-called "stand your ground" legislation — at the center of the Trayvon Martin killing in Sanford, Fla. — are as vastly different as the cases in which it has been invoked since Florida in 2005 became the first state to adopt such a statute. But now, even defenders of "stand your ground" laws say they may need tweaking to clarify the stew of interpretations that critics say are letting people like George Zimmerman, who shot the unarmed 17-year-old, get away with murder.

Tampa rally for slain teen draws hundreds

It was a rally with the flavor of a 1960s civil rights march. But this one came in the age of Facebook and the smartphone.
Between 600 and 1,000 people marched to one of Tampa's busiest intersections Saturday in a call for justice in the case of Trayvon Martin. He's the unarmed, black 17-year-old who was shot and killed on Feb. 26 by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford.

POLITICS / 2012

Santorum wins Louisiana primary

Rick Santorum won the Louisiana primary on Saturday, boosting his claim as the leader of the conservative wing of the Republican Party even as his odds of beating Mitt Romney in the overall delegate race appear slim.

With nearly 95 percent of precincts reporting, Santorum led Romney 49 percent to 27 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was third with 16 percent and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) was taking 6 percent.

Rick Santorum appears to have picked up supporters from Newt Gingrich in Louisiana victory

Rick Santorum notched a decisive victory in Saturday's Louisiana Republican presidential primary, sweeping virtually every demographic category and apparently picking up supporters from the fading candidacy of Newt Gingrich. Santorum appeared on his way to winning close to half the vote in what promised to be a roughly 2-to-1 victory over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who remains a strong favorite to ultimately win the Republican nomination.

‘Math isn’t adding up,’ Gingrich delegate says

As the delegate count has become increasingly stacked against Newt Gingrich, the candidate has stood by his pledge to carry the fight to the Republican convention this summer, or at least until a GOP nominee is determined.

But after the former House speaker’s third place finish in Louisiana on Saturday, one amongst his slate of possible delegates called him a “one trick pony in the South.”

“I think at a certain point – and it’s probably going to be in the near term rather than the long term – that Newt Gingrich is going to step aside, because he has only won two contests,” Crystal Wright, a Washington, D.C., delegate for Gingrich, said on CNN Saturday night.

Could Democratic fears of a Republican super PAC ‘avalanche’ be exaggerated?

A month after Democrats warned that Republicans and conservative super PACs were poised to outspend President Obama in the fall, new fundraising reports suggest that such fears could be overblown.

Obama and his key political allies had more than twice as much cash on hand at the beginning of March as presumptive rival Mitt Romney and his supporters, who continue to burn through most of their money in a nasty and interminable nomination feud, according to disclosure reports. …

The figures suggest a new possibility: that super PACs could have a more limited impact on the general election than it appears from the Republican primaries, where they have dominated spending in part because most of the candidates have raised relatively little.

HEALTH CARE

Groups Blanket Supreme Court on Health Care

Justice Clarence Thomas likens all the outside political pressure that the Supreme Court is facing over its review of the Obama administration’s sweeping health care law to the distraction faced by a free-throw shooter confronted with fans waving wildly behind the basket. Neither, in his view, has much impact in the end. …

In all, groups involved in the debate have spent tens of millions of dollars in the last two years to steer the political and legal debate. And a record number of organizations — 136 so far — have filed amicus curiae or “friend of the court” briefs, densely packed with historical citations and legal arguments, to urge the court to either strike down or uphold the law.

AFGHANISTAN / MIDEAST

Bomb kills 8 Afghans on patrol in south

A bomb exploded as a foot patrol of Afghan and NATO forces was passing by in the south of the country, killing eight Afghans and one international service member, an Afghan official said Sunday.

Syria Continues Drive to Retake Rebel Strongholds as Diplomacy Suffers a Setback

Syrian troops continued their drive on Saturday to retake rebel strongholds, even as there were indications that diplomatic efforts to end the violence could still prove elusive just days after Western officials had claimed a breakthrough. …

On Saturday, Syrian troops intensified a renewed attack against the beleaguered central city of Homs, activists said. The city was the site of a major offensive earlier this year that heavily damaged the restive neighborhood of Baba Amr, but had been calmer in recent weeks.

1,000 march in Tel Aviv against war with Iran

In the first significant antiwar- with-Iran protest held in Israel, around 1,000 people marched through central Tel Aviv on Saturday evening to voice opposition to those calling for a military strike to stop the Islamic Republic’s quest for nuclear weapons.

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