MORNING ROUNDUP: Obama Campaign shifts focus; avalanche kills 3

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Here are the top headlines for Monday, Feb. 20:

Obama campaign shifts focus

Long expecting to face Mitt Romney in the fall, President Barack Obama’s campaign team has shifted gears in recent days to consider the possibility his GOP opponent will instead be Rick Santorum.

Campaign officials confirm Obama’s Chicago-based organization has begun combing through the former Pennsylvania senator’s background looking for possible lines of attack. It also emailed Obama’s Pennsylvania supporters last week asking for material that could be used against Santorum in upcoming speeches and ads.

The move reflects Santorum’s sudden surge in nationwide opinion polls and a spate of recent primary-season victories over Romney.

“Circumstances have changed,” explained Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, still leads the delegate race with 123, compared with 72 pledged to Santorum and 32 to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, according to the most recent AP tally.

Avalanche kills 3

STEVENS PASS, Wash. – Well-equipped and familiar with the terrain, about a dozen expert skiers were making their way through a foot-and-a half of fresh snow when an avalanche hit them in an out-of-bounds area near a popular Washington ski resort.

Three men were killed Sunday when they were swept about a quarter-mile down a canyon, and a fourth skier caught up in the slide was saved by a safety device, authorities said. The large group had split into three smaller groups before the avalanche, but all the backcountry skiers were buried to some extent. Those who were able to free themselves rushed to dig out the victims and unsuccessfully performed CPR on the three, believed to be in their 30s and 40s.

"Most of the people involved in this were well-known to the ski community up here, especially to the ski patrol," said Deputy Chris Bedker of the King County Sheriff's search-and-rescue unit. "It was their friends who they recovered."

The Stevens Pass fatalities were part of a deadly Sunday on Washington ski slopes. A male snowboarder was killed in a separate avalanche incident at the Alpental ski area east of Seattle, authorities said.

The men who died on Stevens Pass tumbled approximately 1,500 feet down a chute in the Tunnel Creek Canyon area, King County Sheriff's Sgt. Katie Larson said.

The fourth skier who was swept down the mountain about 80 miles northeast of Seattle was a woman who appeared to avoid a similar fate because of the avalanche safety device she was wearing, Larson said.

Helicopter, plane collide


A helicopter and a small plane collided in midair in Northern California on Sunday but no one was seriously injured, according to a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Ian Gregor said the accident took place near Rio Vista Municipal Airport, about midway between Oakland and Sacramento. He said details were sketchy.

The FAA received a report that a Beechcraft Bonanza and a Robinson R22 helicopter had collided, Gregor said.

The two-seat helicopter landed about eight miles south of Rio Vista Municipal Airport. The pilot declined medical treatment, he said. The plane landed near the Byron Airport, about 20 miles south, and the pilot said he was not injured, Gregor said.

The Associated Press reported that the pilots were taken to hospitals with minor injuries. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate, Gregor said.