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Mitt Romney attacked as out of touch over $10,000 TV bet attempt December 12, 2011

Mitt Romney was accused of being out of touch with working-class America on Sunday, after the Republican presidential candidate tried to make an impromptu $10,000 bet during a TV debate.

The slip, at the time of high unemployment and a growing poverty divide, could damage Romney three weeks before the first of the Republican contests in Iowa.

His critics said the issue was not that he offered the bet but the size of it, consolidating Romney’s reputation as a very rich man seeking to buy his way to power.

Even before the bet offer, Romney, one of the favourites to win the Republican nomination to take on Barack Obama in November’s White House election, had been slipping in the polls. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is now the front-runner.The gaffe came when a rival candidate, Texas governor Rick Perry, claimed Romney had supported national healthcare reform in a passage in his book that was excised from the paperback edition.

Romney – who brought in healthcare reform in Massachusetts that was similar to Barack Obama’s, in a move unpopular with conservatives – denied he supported the measure nationwide or that the passage had been in the first edition.

“Rick, I’ll tell you what: $10,000 bucks? Ten thousand bet?,” Romney said, extending his hand to shake. Perry, a Christian evangelical who may have a principled stand on betting or maybe because he was wrong about the book, declined.

“I’m not in the betting business but I will show you the book,” Perry said.

It was the first time that a bet has been offered in more than 50 years of televised political debates in the US.

Alice Stewart, a spokeswoman for another candidate, Michele Bachmann, told ABC, who hosted the debate: “For someone to go and throw around a $10,000 bet, just goes to show even more that he’s not the same level as the people of Iowa or the country.”

Bill Burton, who is helping to organise Obama’s re-election campaign, wrote on Twitter: “Not a lot of 99%’ers are out there making $10,000 bets.”

Romney has struggled to win over Republican voters, failing to get his poll support much above 25%, partly because of suspicion of his Mormonism among the Christian right but also because of his wealth. In the 2008 campaign, he spent $42m of his own money.

Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s press spokesman, tried to laugh the incident off, saying it was not a serious bet. “I’ve made bets with friends and family for $1m,” Fehrnstrom said. He added that Romney had made the bet because he knew Perry would not take it. “This guy was wrong. It was a phoney allegation.”

The Republican race has been one of the most mercurial in recent history, as candidates have emerged only to fade after a few weeks. Polls show two-thirds of Republicans are undecided, dissatisfied with the entire field or prepared to switch. On Sunday a poll gave Newt Gingrich double-digit leads in South Carolina and Florida.

Gingrich, as frontrunner, was the main target in the Saturday night debate in Des Moines, the 13th so far, with one more scheduled before Iowa. His rivals focused on his alleged work as a lobbyist, his three marriages and his views on the Middle East.

Who is the wealthiest of them all?

Mitt Romney: The wealthiest candidate: in his last financial disclosure, during his 2008 White House bid, he put his personal wealth at between $190m and $250m, most of it from his time in business. About $42m has to be deducted from that, the amount of his own cash spent on the failed bid.

Jon Huntsman: Although at the bottom of the polls, he is runner-up in terms of wealth. He listed his personal assets this year as between $15m and $66m, much of it from a chemical company set up by his father.

Newt Gingrich: His finances appear shambolic, with his assets changing dramatically from year to year. He earned $2.5m last year, mainly, he says, from speeches and books but also, controversially, from his own consultancies, which his rivals say are for lobbying, a charge he denies. His consultancies have earned an estimated $100m over the past decade.

Ron Paul: His assets are between $2.29m and $5.3m, based on his disclosure in the 2008 White House race.

Rick Santorum: His personal assets, based on his financial disclosure when he was in the Senate in 2006, put him in the range of $522,000 to $1.8m.

Michele Bachmann: She is worth $1m to $2.5m, mostly profits from a therapy clinic (where gay people can allegedly pray to be “cured”). A family farm brings in $5,000 to $15,000. She is carrying $350,000 in debts: a $250,000 mortgage and a $100,000 business loan.

Rick Perry: A spokesman for the Texas governor’s office put his wealth as of 2009 as $896,000, held in a blind trust. He has made his money mainly from buying and selling houses. He has debts of about $70,000, including a car loan for a Mercedes.

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Gingrich Surging in Iowa Poll as Cain Exits December 4, 2011

December 4, 2011

by legitgov


Gingrich Surging in Iowa Poll as Cain Exits 03 Dec 2011 Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia has opened up a lead in the latest poll in Iowa, the state where the first votes in the Republican Party’s presidential nomination race will be cast a month from now. Gingrich has the support of 25 percent of likely caucus participants in the latest Iowa Poll from the Des Moines Register newspaper.

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Herman Cain ‘reassesses’ campaign November 29, 2011

Ginger White: “There were threats of people coming out with their version”

Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain is “reassessing” his White House campaign amid a claim he had a 13-year affair, he has told aides.

A 46-year-old woman, Ginger White, said on Monday that she had a relationship with Mr Cain, who is married.

In recent weeks Mr Cain has also faced a series of allegations of sexual harassment dating from his time as head of a restaurant lobby group.

Mr Cain has denied Ms White’s story and all claims of sexual harassment.

Before the accusations began to emerge, the Georgia businessman had enjoyed a lead in several opinion polls.

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We have to do an assessment as to whether or not this is going to create too much of a cloud”

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Herman Cain

But since then he has seen his ratings slip, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has surged ahead.

In a conference call with campaign staff on Tuesday, Mr Cain once again denied that he had ever had a sexual relationship with Ms White.

“I deny those charges, unequivocally,” he said.

“That being said, obviously, this is cause for reassessment,” he added.

“We have to do an assessment as to whether or not this is going to create too much of a cloud, in some people’s minds, as to whether or not they would be able to support us going forth.”

He concluded by telling his team: “If a decision is made, different than to plough ahead, you all will be the first to know.”

‘Consensual conduct’

Ms White said in an interview on Monday evening with an Atlanta-based TV channel that her alleged relationship with the presidential hopeful had been “pretty simple”.

“I was aware that he was married,” she said. “And I was also aware I was involved in a very inappropriate situation, relationship.”

Ginger White claims Herman Cain paid for her flights to meet him around the US

She also said their relationship ended about eight months ago, shortly before Mr Cain announced he would be running for the White House.

Hours before her interview was due to air, Mr Cain appeared on CNN and denied the allegations pre-emptively.

He acknowledged that he had known his accuser for some time and had helped her financially, but maintained their relationship had never been romantic.

“Here we go again. I didn’t do anything wrong,” Mr Cain said.

However, a statement from Lin Wood, the candidate’s lawyer, did not attempt to deny Ms White’s accusations.

It said: “The public’s right to know and the media’s right to report has boundaries, and most certainly those boundaries end outside of one’s bedroom door.”

He described the woman’s story as “an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults”, which was not a “proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public”.

Ms White’s allegations follow accusations from four women that Mr Cain sexually harassed them during his tenure as head of a restaurant lobby group in the 1990s.

He has admitted that a financial settlement was reached with one of his accusers, Karen Kraushaar.

Another woman, Sharon Bialek, went public with her accusation that Mr Cain groped her when she asked him for help finding a job.

Mr Cain has said all the allegations are “baseless” and that they were a “smear campaign” designed to sabotage his lead in opinion polls.

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Report: Ron Paul Leads the Field in Iowa Poll November 24, 2011

November 23, 2011

by legitgov


Report: Ron Paul Leads the Field in Iowa Poll 23 Nov 2011 A poll commissioned by Revolution PAC, a super PAC supporting Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s candidacy for president, shows that Paul is in first place in Iowa. Preliminary results posted on the PAC’s website show Paul leading with 25-percent support from Republicans, independents and disaffected Democrats. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich scored at 21 percent and businessman Herman Cain at 20 percent.

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Security focus for 2012 hopefuls November 23, 2011

Please turn on JavaScript. Media requires JavaScript to play.

The possibility of almost $1tn of defence and domestic spending cuts was criticised by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry (Footage courtesy of CNN)

The eight Republican presidential hopefuls have traded blows on national security at a wide-ranging debate in Washington DC.

Before an audience of foreign policy experts, candidates were probed on domestic and foreign issues including defence cuts, Iran and border security.

The latest debate put former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the spotlight after a recent surge in opinion polls.

The first Republican nominating contest will be on 3 January 2012 in Iowa.

Mr Gingrich is the latest in a series of Republican contenders to join former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney at the top of the polls.

Analysts say the conservative Republican base is dissatisfied with the prospect of Mitt Romney as their nominee, and has been searching instead for a known conservative candidate capable of taking on Barack Obama in November 2012.

With few of the candidates boasting significant foreign policy experience, the latest debate offered a new challenge for the leading contenders.

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Real, substantial differences between the candidates were exposed. There was something of a sorting of the grown ups from the kids”

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Mr Romney criticised the defence cuts triggered by the failure to reach a deficit-reduction deal and mounted a strong defence of Israel, while Mr Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry both spoke out on the emotive issue of immigration.

Ron Paul – a consistent anti-war voice – called for an end to US military adventures overseas, and former China ambassador Jon Huntsman, trailing in the polls but with with foreign policy experience, said troop levels in Afghanistan should be cut quickly.

Mr Huntsman found more speaking opportunities than usual, but Herman Cain, a confident voice on domestic economic issues, was less prominent than in recent debates.

‘Too nuclear to fail’

The likelihood of almost $1tn of defence and domestic spending cuts, now in prospect after Congress’ failure to reach a deficit deal, was roundly criticised by most candidates.

Mr Romney said the potential costs of Mr Obama’s healthcare bill matched the level of cuts to the Pentagon budget.

Continue reading the main story

“We need to protect America and protect our troops and our military and stop the idea of Obamacare,” he declared.

Mr Perry, once seen as Mr Romney’s chief rival but whose campaign gaffes have seen him lose support, said Defence Secretary Leon Panetta should resign in protest at the cuts his department could face.

Mr Gingrich, though, took a contrasting view. “It’s clear that there are some things you can do to defence that are less expensive,” he said.

On Pakistan, Mr Perry and Michele Bachmann sparred over US involvement with Islamabad.

Mr Perry said he would “not send them a penny” as the country has shown the US “time after time they can’t be trusted”.

Ms Bachmann cautiously said she would continue sending aid to Pakistan, because they were still sharing intelligence. Pakistan, Ms Bachmann said, was “too nuclear to fail”.

But Mr Romney described Pakistan as being in need of urgent development. “We need to bring Pakistan into the 21st Century – heck, into the 20th Century.”

Afghan pullout debate

There were few sharp exchanges between candidates in the debate, which was staged and moderated by CNN.

In a rare back and forth, Mr Huntsman and Mr Romney argued about the planned US troop drawdown in Afghanistan.

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We need to bring Pakistan into the 21st Century – heck, into the 20th Century”

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Mitt Romney
Former Massachusetts governor

Mr Huntsman said US troops should come home sooner than planned, with some acting as trainers to the Afghan army and a “drone presence” maintained in the country.

Mr Romney disagreed, arguing that leaving Afghanistan early would leave it open to more violence. The two former governors also argued over the president’s role as commander-in-chief.

On Iran, Mr Gingrich said Tehran’s leaders could be gone within a year if fuel supply to the government was restricted. A peaceful change of government in Iran would be vastly preferable to a war or military strikes, he said.

Mr Romney also said that his first international trip as president would be to Israel, to show US support for its long-term Middle Eastern ally.

On the question of the Arab Spring, Mr Huntsman said the US “did itself a dis-service” by acting too soon in Libya.

“Our interests in the Middle East is Israel and preventing from Iran from going nuclear,” he said.

Mr Perry, who declared support for a no-fly zone over Syria earlier in the day, appeared to soften his line somewhat, saying it was just one of several actions that could be taken against the Assad regime.

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GOP presidential debate in Washington – as it happened

7.00pm: The GOP presidential race is finally coming into the home straight as the Republican candidates gather for tonight’s debate – with just 42 days and only three more debates to go before a real election takes place in Iowa.

Tonight’s debate, hosted by CNN and the right-wing Heritage Foundation think-tank here in Washington DC, also sees a novelty on stage: Newt Gingrich, presidential frontrunner.

Yes, the man with more baggage than Dulles airport, whose opposition research department needs its own opposition research department, now sits atop of the latest opinion polls of likely Republican voters.

As someone once said: if Newt Gingrich is the answer, then what on earth was the question?

Let’s go back in time to the heady days of January 1997 – nearly 15 years ago – when Celine Dion was top of the charts, and recall this item appearing in the Washington Post:

The House voted overwhelmingly yesterday to reprimand House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and order him to pay an unprecedented $300,000 penalty, the first time in the House’s 208-year history it has disciplined a speaker for ethical wrongdoing.

But it is sign of the weakness of the current field of Republican candidates – and conservative disenchantment with the most obvious presidential nominee, Mitt Romney – that Newt has floated to the surface like … well, supply your own simile.

What can we look forward to tonight? The subject is “national security,” the moderator is Wolf Blitzer, and according to CNN the themes include “national defense, the economy, international relations and terrorism”.

Obviously, Rick Perry and Herman Cain will be looking forward to sinking their teeth into substantive matters of foreign policy such as … oh no they won’t. Both Cain and Perry will be concentrating so hard on not sounding stupid that it will be a miracle if they open their mouths. Although Cain may attempt to silence the voices in his head by shouting “9-9-9″.

The question is how the other candidates react to Gingrich’s sudden rise in the polls. Will they take shots at him – or will Gingrich’s reputation as a formidable debater scare them off? Most importantly, will either Romney or Gingrich have any appetite for picking a fight? If not then it could be a dull debate of non-stop Obama-bashing.

We’ll be live-blogging here from 7pm ET, with the debate starting at 8pm and being live-streamed by video on

Leave your comments below or follow me on Twitter.

7.13pm: Steve Brusk of CNN’s political unit is watching the candidates arrive at the hall in Washington (where it is a miserable, damp, almost British evening). He says that Rick Sanotorum arrived in a pick-up truck, although “a very nice pick-up truck”.

He tweets Herman Cain’s arrival:

Herman Cain arrived with his new Secret Service detail, complete with DC Metro police cruiser at front and back

7.24pm: Speaking of Herman Cain, we know he has a problem with women – allegedly! But he also appears to have a problem with Muslims as well.

In the campaign so far he has said he wouldn’t appoint a Muslim to a Cain cabinet, and that he has been told by a secret unnamed Muslim that many Muslims are fundamentalists.

Now it seems he got worried when his doctor looked a bit Muslim-y. Chris Moody reports on a Cain appearance at something called “The Holy Land Experience, a Christian-theme amusement park in central Florida where visitors pay $35 to watch a re-enactment of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ”.

Cain told the crowd:

He did have a slight worry at one point during the chemotherapy process when he discovered that one of the surgeon’s name was “Dr. Abdallah.”

“I said to his physician assistant, I said, ‘That sounds foreign – not that I had anything against foreign doctors – but it sounded too foreign,” Cain tells the audience. “She said, ‘He’s from Lebanon.’ Oh, Lebanon! My mind immediately started thinking, wait a minute, maybe his religious persuasion is different than mine! She could see the look on my face and she said, ‘Don’t worry, Mr. Cain, he’s a Christian from Lebanon.’”

“Hallelujah!” Cain says. “Thank God!”

7.32pm: Intra-mural Mormon political in-fighting here, as Jon Huntsman has a go at Mitt Romney for talking nonsense regarding China in the last debate.

So maybe there will be some fireworks tonight? The trouble is, Huntsman’s poll ratings are like the Chinese economy pre-1987: dire. But as Huntsman old friend Deng Xiaoping used to say: “Black cat, white cat, it doesn’t matter so long as it wins the Iowa caucuses”.

7.32pm: Calling Newt Gingrich fans! Or even, Newt Gingrich enemies! See if you can answer the first quiz question here:

Which one of the following Members of Congress was disciplined for ethical wrongdoing while serving as Speaker of the US House of Representatives?

7.38pm: So if you’ve been in a coma for a week or two – and this news may make you lapse back into it, so if you woudldn’t mind signing a disclaimer releasing the Guardian from liability etc – then the big surprise is that Newt Gingrich is ahead in the opinion polls.

Here’s the latest from Gallup: “Among Republican registered voters, Gingrich is at 22% and Romney at 21%.”

There’s also a national poll out from Quinnipiac:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich more than doubles his share of the Republican presidential vote to lead the presidential pack with 26% and in a head-to-head matchup tops former Massachusetts Gov Mitt Romney 49% – 39%, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

7.52pm: In case you missed it, here’s my debate preview from earlier today:

Once the shock of applying the words “hot” and “new” to the veteran Gingrich wears off, it’s no surprise that the former Speaker of the House has thrived during a presidential nomination campaign that has been dominated by debates.

7.53pm: My colleague Ewen MacAskill is at the Daughters of the American Revolution [DAR] Hall in downtown DC where the debate is being held, and he passes this along:

Security is surprising tight round the DAR hall. Police cars have blocked off all the roads round the debate venue, fences cut off the sidewalks and there are police in force at the handful of entrances for guests, politicians and journalists. There was nothing like this at the other ten debates round the country where life continued as normal in the streets round the venues.

Maybe the police are worried about terrorists because it is DC: but terrorists could just as easily have targeted Nevada or Iowa. Or are they worried about Occupy Wall Street which was not a force in the early debates? Or is it something to do with Herman Cain, who got secret service protection as of last week? ,/endquote

My money is on the Secret Service explanation. Everyone knows terrorists don’t target Iowa – we’ve all seen the movies. Do they have a sinister typewriter noise playing over a caption that says “Des Moines, Iowa. 08.00 hours”? No.

7.54pm: Ok, 15 minutes to go until we start. I want you all the close your eyes and say out loud: “President Gingrich”. How did that feel? Scary, huh.

7.59pm: OK, this is getting serious now. After this there are only two more debates before the 3 January Iowa caucuses. So time is running out – although sometimes it feels as if these debates will go on for ever.

According to the polls, Iowa is up in the air. The Los Angeles Times reports this nugget on how influential social conservatives in Iowa intend to vote:

The Family Leader, a leading group of conservatives hoping to play kingmaker in the Iowa caucuses, announced Tuesday that it had narrowed its endorsement choice to four of the Republican presidential hopefuls: Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum.

For any of those four, the group’s endorsement before the leadoff nominating contest could be a significant boost given the outsized role religious and social conservatives have in the Hawkeye State.

Just as notably, the organization’s board said it never even considered Mitt Romney, long among the national frontrunners for the GOP nomination.

After Iowa we have New Hampshire a week later, then two weeks until South Carolina – where Gingrich has spent a lot of time campaigning and as a southerner might be expected to do well. Then it’s Florida, and that could be 2012′s make-or-break state.

8.01pm: Here we go then … oh and the Iowa caucuses are six weeks away exactly.

8.02pm: Now CNN’s playing the Hollywood-style montage intro that we have come to expect/endure in these debates. Clips of FDR, Reagan … and Jimmy Carter. Can you spot the odd one out there?

8.05pm: According to CNN, Herman Cain “worked for firms with a global reach”. Is that the best they could do?

Oh, it’s Wolf Blitzer. “Every US president since Calvin Coolidge has been inside this historic hall,” says Wolf. Yeah, well, Calvin Coolidge would probably be leading the current Republican field if he was running, which says something. A lot in fact.

8.07pm: Newt wanders on stage. I hadn’t realised before just how … big boned, as my mother would say, Newt is.

Rick Perry
does a pistol-finger pointing thing at Wolf Blitzer as he walks past him on stage.

8.11pm: “Please rise for our National Anthem.”

Got to say, that guy from the cast of Jersey Boys kind of massacred it. But it is a devil to sing.

8.12pm: Right. Seconds out. Wolf is now telling them what a big deal being president is. They probably realise that. Maybe not Herman Cain.

Now the candidates are introducing themselves. Ron Paul uses it to talk about fighting “unnecessary wars”. Rick Perry uses it to introduce his wife.

8.12pm: Mitt Romney says: “I’m Mitt Romney and yes Wolf that is my first name.” No it’s not! Mitt Romney’s first name is in fact Willard. Flip-flop! His first of the night.

8.14pm: Man, Mitt Romney can’t even get his own name straight. But I’m sure he’ll explain it away, that sure yes his first name used to be Willard but that was because… something.

Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, shake hands prior to a TV debate in Washington, DC. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

8.20pm: The 120-year-old Ed Meese asks a question. He was Ronald Reagan’s right-hand man when the former president was governor of California. He’s now on the staff at the Heritage Foundation, co-sponsors of tonight’s debate.

Newt bangs on about how he has studied national security for forever, and the Patriot Act is fantastic and he plans to marry it as the fourth Mrs Gingrich.

Ron Paul has a nice line: “the Patriot Act is unpatriotic”. Now they are having an argument about the Oklahoma City bombing, with Gingrich saying it justifies the surveillance of the Patriot Act. “This is like saying we need to have a policeman in every house,” says Ron Paul, who is calling Newt Gingrich as a big government stooge.

First black eye for Newt there, among conservative Republicans. Interesting.

8.24pm: The debate about the Patriot Act burbles on, and turns into a discussion about TSA patdowns – this a reference to airport security, which gets a lot of conservatives bothered.

Romney is now hair-splitting about the difference between criminal law and “the law that applies to those fighting America”. Uh. At issue here was the application of the Patriot Act domestically.

Rick Perry says he would privatise airport groping, and gets a big round of applause.

Republican operative Mike Murphy tweets: “Look on Perry’s face watching Romney do his Harvard law school bit is priceless.”

8.29pm: Rick Santorum wants the TSA to grope anyone who looks like a “radical Muslim”. Ron Paul asks: “What if they look Timothy McVeigh?” He then attacks the “careless use of words” about America being at war. “I don’t recall voting on America going to war,” says Ron, who is on a tear here tonight.

Awesome peroration there by Ron Paul. Yikes.

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain shakes hands with former house speaker Newt Gingrich as Michele Bachmann looks on at the CNN Republican debate in Washington. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

8.30pm: Now it’s Herman Cain. He wants “targeted identification,” which is basically racial profiling. “Is it OK for Muslim Americans to get more intensive patdowns when they go through airports?” asks Wolf Bltzer. “Now Blitz, that’s over-simplifiying it … I’m sorry Blitz, I mean Wolf,” says Herman Cain.

“Thank you Cain,” deadpans Wolf Blitzer. Audience laughs.

So Mitt Romney can’t remember his first name and Herman Cain can’t remember Wolf Blitzer’s first name. Well, that’s an improvement I suppose.

8.36pm: “Pakistan has been at the epicentre of dealing with terrorism,” says Michele Bachmann, before breaking off to say for no particular reason: “I’m answering your question, this is a dual answer.”

Bachmann does get off a good line: “”Pakistan is too nuclear to fail.”

As in the last debate, Bachmann gives an impression of actually knowing what she is talking about regarding Pakistan.

8.37pm: Asked about Afghanistan, Mitt Romney runs off a bunch of numbers, showing off really, but sounds like the management consultant that he is.

Now he’s using Indonesia as an example of what to do in Afghanistan. As if there is any comparison between the two countries. Other than they are actually countries.

8.45pm: Romney and Huntsman go at it over US forces in Afghanistan. Romney tries to drop the to-and-fro, showing some bad body language here by turning away from Huntsman and lecturing Wolf Blitzer about the crusty old “listen to the leaders on the ground” line.

Huntsman comes back at him. “At the end of the day the president of the Unites States is commander in chief,” and mentions Vietnam.

Romney is still being fluent but there’s no substance there. Newt Gingrich: “Wolf I’m a little confused about what we are debating,” doing his loftier-than-thou act. Now he’s doing one of his lists-of-all-the-things-in-my-brain things.

Rick Santorum: “I agree with Ron Paul.” Awesome. His subsequent answer doesn’t suggest he does.

8.47pm: OK, this is a remarkably substantial debate so far, or maybe the other 10 debates have lower the bar so far that a child could step over it.

8.46pm: Yikes: “We’re going to come to Congressman Cain in a moment,” says Wolf Blitzer. Is that Wolf getting back at Cain for the “Blitz” stuff earlier?

8.48pm: Ad break! Phew. Ah, so where are we? It feels like trench warfare so far.

Jon Swain, Washington correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, thinks via Twitter all the name-mistakes are the result of low blood sugar: “I’m blaming hypoglycemia. There’s no food here.”

8.53pm: And we are back – and whoops! a question from the audience – but there is no question from the audience! Oh dear, oh dear.

Here’s he is. It’s about supporting Israel in a strike against a nuclear-armed Iran. Herman Cain says yes he would if the Israelis had a well-thought out business plan including franchise openings throughout the Middle East. I’m joking but not by much. Cain would expect Israel to share its plans with the US. Maybe not.

“Ron Paul, would you support Israel in an attack on Iran?” “No,” says Ron Paul. “They are capable of taking care of themselves…. the whole thing is going to backfire when we go bankrupt and withdraw all our troops.”

Hardball from Ron Paul there.

Now Herman Cain is banging on about the “mountainous terrain” in Iran which would apparently make bombing its nuclear facilities more difficult. Seriously.

8.55pm: Another Iran question: could any sanctions work against Iran? Suprisingly good question.

Rick Perry says sanctioning the Iranian central bank will do it. Ad he wants a unilateral no-fly zone over Syria. Doug Mataconis skewered that idea:

There’s only one problem with Perry’s idea. Unlike Libya, the majority of the action by the Syrian military against rebellious cities has been on the ground. A no-fly zone would do nothing to stop that and expanding a no-fly zone into something larger would essentially make us a combatant in what may be turning into a Syrian Civil War.

8.57pm: Newt Gingrich says America can bring Iran to its knees within a year by cutting off its gasoline sources. Yes, as always with Newt’s brain, it is really that easy. Sabotage an Iranian oil refinery? Sure, piece of cake. And we all know how much Newt likes his cake.

9.00pm: Hey, Paul Wolfowitz has been let out of his lead-lined cell to appear in public once more and ask a question here. He looks in good shape.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney listens to Texas governor Rick Perry during the CNN Republican debate in Washington, DC. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

9.05pm: Now Mitt Romney is giving Ron Paul a lecture about cutting government spending. Bad move Willard Mitt Romney: Ron Paul has been trying to cut spending since when you were a quasi-Democrat.

9.05pm: Mitt Romney is now bravely attacking the White House, doing his inevitable-nominee bit. “If I’m president of the United States my first trip, my first foreign trip will be to Israel,” says Mitt, reaching a new high in American political Israel-love.

9.12pm: I love the way Rick Perry says “leg-is-late-ors”.

Actually Perry having a good run here on the effect of the defence cuts coming under the automatic trigger following the failure of the supercommittee this week. He’s actually having a good debate tonight. Probably won’t last long. He’ll trip over his own shoelaces in a minute.

9.15pm: More from my colleague Ewen MacAskill, embedded within the debate venue armed only with his wits and an iPhone:

I am always being badgered by Ron Paul supporters after debates for not mentioning him enough, or even at all.

I suppose it had to happen sometime. Ron Paul has had a good debate, at least the first 45 minutes. Describing the Patriot Act as the UnPatriot Act and unconstitutional, and insisting that existing criminal law is good enough to deal with terrorism.

Michele Bachmann is guilty of excessive hyperbole in suggesting Obama has changed the course of history by not confronting Iran. Tehran was developing a nuclear programme throughout the entire eight years of the Bush administration, which pursued the same diplomatic route as the Obama administration, even considering reopening the US embassy in Tehran.

9.21pm: Now we are back on the economy, which is odd given this was supposed to be a “national security” debate. But then as Ron Paul points out, if the country is bankrupt it makes national security hard to pay for.

Michele Bachmann is very excited at the thought that since China owns US government debt, it earns the interest from the debt. And it (maybe) uses that money to pay for its military! So, according to Michele Bachmann logic, the US should just save time and bomb itself now.

9.23pm: A powerful moment: CNN cuts live to a shot of Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Clashes raged in Tahrir Square between police and protesters. Photograph: Mahmud Khaled/AFP

But then it’s another ad break. Way to spoil the mood, CNN.

Anyway, it’s been an interesting tonight, with far more meat in this debate. Maybe the candidates have run out of soundbites? Or maybe they just have new and improved soundbites.

The mystery of the night is how little screen-time Herman Cain got in that last section.

9.30pm: So far – as Texas Republican Josh Trevino points out – no questions on: the euro-zone crisis, Iraq, India or world trade.

And the first question after the ad break is … the border with Mexico. Rick Perry wants a “21st century Monroe doctrine“. He says “we know that Hizbullah and Hamas” are operating in Mexico. Do we know that?

Ron Paul wants to end another war: the drug war. Forget the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, says Ron, how about the border with Mexico? It’s the welfare state that draws them here.

“I think the federal war on drugs is failure. You can at least let sick people have marijuana if its helpful,” Ron Paul expands. “I fear the drug war because it undermines our civil liberties … and the kids can still get the drugs.”

All this common sense talk from Ron Paul, no wonder he hasn’t got a hope. In fact he’s getting more air time tonight than he has … ever that I can remember. Odds on a Ron Paul upset somewhere? Iowa?

9.32pm: Ah, here’s Herman Cain back again. And what a loss he has been to the nation’s gaity: “We know that terrorists have come into this country from Mexico.” Do we? I have no idea.

9.38pm: Ah, Newt Gingrich’s brain is on fire explaining his multiple choice ideas about immigration, with one of the many being handing out work visas to overseas students who gain a PhD in science. “Einstein came here as an immigrant,” says Newt. Ah, no he didn’t. He was visiting the US when Hitler came to power and as a Jew with a teaching job in Berlin he had no incentive to go back, especially after the Nazis attacked his house.

Republican presidential candidates during a Republican presidential debate in Washington, DC Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

9.40pm: It’s the magnet/amnesty/illegal immigrant part of the Republican debate, in which the candidates say they want to encourage some people to emigrate to the US and throw out the rest.

Newt Gingrich actually stands up for “illegal immigrants” who have been here for 25 years, saying he doesn’t believe the American people want to throw them out. That’s pretty brave of him in the current climate of the Republican party on immigration.

9.44pm: Romney says of 25-year illegal immigrants, “that’s the extreme example”. So will you throw them out, asks Wolf. “I’m not going to draw lines on who gets to stay and who gets to go,” replies Romney and retreats into blather about sealing the border.

Once again Mitt doesn’t want to be pinned down to actual things, like his first name. Mitt? Willard? Who knows, he just doesn’t want to be pinned down.

9.50pm: Larry Sabato, the political sage of Charlottesville, tweets:

Uh oh, Newt. Even PERRY has come across as tougher on immigration than you. Blue State Mitt strikes toughest pose of all.

Ha ha, “Blue State Mitt,” very good.

9.51pm: Now it’s a question from famous torture-enabler David Addington. Is the Heritage Foundation some sort of retirement home for ageing neo-cons?

Cute. They ask Herman Cain what he thinks about a “no-fly” zone against Syria. And he even answers, saying he’d “talk to our allies in the region”. Sadly, no one asks the obvious question: which allies in particular, Herman? Turkey? Denmark? Madeupistan?

9.52pm: Jon Huntsman is asked a question and he annoyingly pops the “sanctions against Iran” panacea that everyone else is so keen on, since China and Russia won’t play ball.

9.54pm: Question on Somalia. Ask Herman Cain, ask Herman Cain, please!

Dammit, they ask Ron Paul. “What if we had China put a no-fly zone over our territory, I don’t think we would like that,” says Ron Paul, sounding disarmingly like his Bad Lip Reading video.

In conclusion says Ron Paul: “Why don’t we mind our own business?”

On Somalia, Mitt Romney makes a generic attack on Barack Obama based on crappy misquotes. Why do the moderators let him get away with this nonsense? But Mitt doesn’t want to do anything about Syria other than what the Obama administration is already doing, which invalidates his previous line of attack.

10.03pm: Now Rick Santorum says he would also make his first presidential trip to Israel. Too late Rick, Willy Mittard Romney beat you to it.

Now there’s some silly open-ended “what’s the big threats out there?” question – and of course Newt mentions a massive electro-magnetic pulse that would destroy all of America’s electronics. Yes! Why has no one else mentioned this made-up B-movie sci-fi nonsense? Anyway it’s easily fixed by Will Smith armed with an Apple laptop, as I recall.

10.07pm: And that’s it! Phew. My colleague Ewen MacAskill has this instant reaction:

The story of the night is probably Newt Gingrich taking a gamble in advocating “humane” approach to illegal immigration. Perry was sunk by that in September but difference is that Perry characterised Republicans who did not agree with him as heartless. Maybe Gingrich will get away with his brave bout of honesty.

Yes, that might hurt him with conservatives, although he did make it sound so inconsequential that he may be able to explain it away. And there’s the difference between having an idea, as with Gingrich, and having a policy, as Perry had to defend.

Now the Bachmann campaign is accusing Gingrich of “amnesty,” a poison word for conservatives.

And Gingrich may have made it worse by saying in a post-debate chat just now: “There will be millions that will end up staying.” Millions of currently illegal immigrants? That will go down like a bucket of cold sick with many conservatives.

As usual with Newt, if you let him talk for long enough he’ll say something dumb.

10.17pm: On CNN now, Michele Bachmann is accusing Newt Gingrich of the A-word – no, not that one, but amnesty. “If you are legalising 11 million workers it sounds like amnesty to me,” says Bachmann.

Something tells me Newt will be rowing this one back in the next couple of days.

10.41pm: Larry Sabato agrees that Newt stepped in it over immigration, describing the former house speaker’s comments as “the mistake that mattered from this debate”.

Prof Sabato gives the following grades for tonight’s debate: Gingrich and Ron Paul: B+, Romney and Huntsman: B, Bachmann B-, Perry and Santorum C, Cain D.

10.49pm: Here’s the transcript of Newt Gingrich’s answer on the immigration question that has caused such a stir:

I did vote for the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. Ronald Reagan, in his diary, says he signed it – and we were supposed to have 300,000 people get amnesty. There were 3m. But he signed it because we were going to get two things in return. We were going to get control of the border and we were going to get a guest worker program with employer enforcement.

We got neither. So I think you’ve got to deal with this as a comprehensive approach that starts with controlling the border, as the governor said. I believe ultimately you have to find some system – once you’ve put every piece in place, which includes the guest worker program, you need something like a World War II Selective Service Board that, frankly, reviews the people who are here.

If you’re here – if you’ve come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home. period. If you’ve been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.

The Krieble Foundation is a very good red card program that says you get to be legal, but you don’t get a pass to citizenship. And so there’s a way to ultimately end up with a country where there’s no more illegality, but you haven’t automatically given amnesty to anyone.

Later Gingrich added:

I do suggest if you go back to your district, and you find people who have been here 25 years and have two generations of family and have been paying taxes and are in a local church, as somebody who believes strongly in family, you’ll have a hard time explaining why that particular subset is being broken up and forced to leave, given the fact that they’ve been law-abiding citizens for 25 years.

And later Gingrich responded again:

I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families, and expel them.

I do believe if you’ve been here recently and have no ties to the US, we should deport you. I do believe we should control the border. I do believe we should have very severe penalties for employers, but I would urge all of you to look at the Krieble Foundation Plan.

I don’t see how the — the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century. And I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving
them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.

It is actually quite a weird answer. Setting up a government board to vet who should stay and who should go? For millions of people?

It seems vague enough to let him out if he wants to back away from it. But it is also dangerously vague in terms of giving his rivals ammunition.

11.00pm: In summary: it looked for a while like Newt Gingrich was having a good night and living up to his front-runner status. But his open-ended answer on immigration hits a nerve inside the modern Republican party. It is one of the litmus tests applied by conservatives, perhaps more than even gun control or abortion, since those are now so settled within the GOP that there is practically no controversy over them, even at the margins.

But Gingrich has walked back from embarrassing positions before and he can do it again. And probably will.

One thing Newt did do well: adapt to the debate. Gone was the snippy, snide attacks on the moderators. And he even edited himself down a little, surprisingly.

For the others, Ron Paul had a stand-out night. He got some serious airtime, for a change, and he used it to challenge the party orthodoxy, the only one to really do so. I also thought Jon Huntsman had a good night but not enough to dramatically change his trajectory.

Was there a loser? One obvious one: Herman Cain. Cut off from his 9-9-9 tax reform lifeline he struggled like a drowning man looking for a lifeboat. He has nothing of interest or insight to add on national security, and it showed. He repeated his silly non-point about the mountainous nature of Iran making it resist attack. And he even got Wolf Blitzer’s name wrong. The Cain Train is officially off the tracks.

The other loser, less obviously, was Mitt Romney. He failed over his own first name, which was amusing. But more to the point, his carefully calibrated, focus-grouped answers generate no enthusiasm. With others getting more of a share of the limelight, and with his big policy plank on the economy taken away, Romney didn’t do much to build himself up.

Now there’s a break, until two debates that come close together: 10 December and 15 December. Both in Iowa. Not long to go now.

Finally, at last CNN runs a half-decent debate, it’s been a while. On the other hand, the list of huge foreign policy topics that weren’t questioned left some gaping holes: Euro-zone? Trade? Nothing. China even? Barely a mention except in passing.

What was easy to miss in this debate is that it had by far the lowest quotient of Obama-bashing by the candidates, for the simple reason that his foreign policy is the president’s one bright spot. Whoever wins the Republican nomination is going to find it very difficult to take on Obama on foreign policy outside the GOP echo-chamber. Luckily for them, there’s the economy.

Good night and happy Thanksgiving.

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Ex-boyfriend backs Cain accuser November 15, 2011

Recent opinion polls suggest the allegations against Herman Cain could be taking their toll

The former boyfriend of a woman who accuses Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain of groping her has corroborated her story.

Speaking at a news conference, Victor Zuckerman said Sharon Bialek told him Mr Cain made an unwanted advance shortly after it allegedly happened.

Mr Cain’s lawyer said there was nothing new in the claim, which he denies.

Meanwhile, Gloria Cain, the candidate’s wife, is appearing US television to defend her husband.

Recent opinion polls suggest the allegations could be taking their toll – former House Speaker Newt Gingrich overtook Mr Cain in one national survey released on Monday.

A CNN poll also released on Monday found Mr Cain slipping to third place behind former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Mr Gingrich.

‘Inappropriate manner’

Mr Cain, a former pizza executive who has never held public office, strongly denies allegations of sexual harassment stemming from his tenure as head of the National Restaurant Association, a lobby group, in the 1990s.

Ms Bialek is one of four women accusing him of improper behaviour.

Speaking at Monday’s news conference in Louisiana, Mr Zuckerman, a paediatrician, said Ms Bialek had told him about the alleged incident shortly after it took place in 1997.

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Sharon Bialek accuses Herman Cain

“She said that something had happened and that Mr Cain touched her in an inappropriate manner,” said Mr Zuckerman. “She said she handled it and didn’t want to talk about it any further.

“When Mr Cain came to the national spotlight, we reminded each other that this was the man we had met so many years earlier.”

Mr Cain says he has never met Ms Bialek.

Celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, who is representing Ms Bialek, accompanied Mr Zuckerman at the news conference and urged Mr Cain to “come clean with the American people”.

Mr Cain’s lawyer, Lin Wood, said of the news conference: “It is a step in a media campaign strategy of [Ms Bialek's attorney] to attack Herman Cain in the court of public opinion.”

Gloria Cain, the candidate’s wife of 43 years, is meanwhile appearing on US television on Monday night to defend her husband.

“I’m thinking he would have to have a split personality to do the things that were said,” she told Fox News, in excerpts of the interview that aired on Sunday.

“To hear such graphic allegations and know that that would have been something that was totally disrespectful of her as a woman and I know that’s not the person he is,” she added. “He totally respects women.”

Cain: Muslims ‘extremists’

Meanwhile, Mr Cain has said in an interview with GQ that he believes the majority of American Muslims hold “extremist views”.

“I have had one very well-known Muslim voice say to me directly that a majority of Muslims share the extremist views,” he said.

Asked if he believed that was true, Mr Cain said: “Yes, because that’s his community.” He said he could not name the person.

Mr Cain was criticised in March after saying he would not feel comfortable appointing a Muslim to his cabinet if he were elected president. He later apologised for the comment.

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Mitt Romney forges ahead weakened campaign field November 12, 2011

Mitt Romney may be in a position to land a knock out punch at the first Republican presidential nominating contest in the race to unseat President Barack Obama, as his two main rivals’ struggle with their campaigns in turmoil.

Romney is preparing for a higher profile at the 3 January Iowa caucuses, hoping Texas governor Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain can’t quickly fix their campaign problems and back-of-the-pack contenders don’t move quickly to energize voters.

After a crushingly disappointing loss there in 2008, Romney sharply lowered expectations in Iowa, whose caucus is less than two months away. If Romney, who recently filmed a TV ad in Iowa, airs them heavily in the state, it could signal a new strategy built on calculations that his weakened opponents handed him too tempting an opportunity.

Perry is trying to recover from a disastrous moment in this week’s Republican debate in which he could not remember the third of three agencies he had pledged to abolish. Perry, once the front-runner, has been trying to rebound from a precipitous drop in the polls.

Meanwhile, businessman Cain spent his 11th day on Thursday trying to get beyond sexual harassment accusations leveled against him by four women, two of whom received cash settlements from a trade association Cain once headed.

Cain and Perry’s difficulties leave few options for conservatives seeking an alternative to Romney as the Republican challenger to President Barack Obama. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich could emerge as their newest hope, but he lacks a strong campaign organization and will have to prove that his long and sometimes troubled political history can withstand closer scrutiny.

With Romney is looking strong ahead of Iowa he’s hardly home free. Many conservatives still resent his past support of legalized abortion and gay rights. They criticize the health insurance program he pushed through while governor or Massachusetts that served as a model for Obama’s national health care overhaul. Some conservative Christians are reluctant to vote for a Mormon like Romney.

But conservatives have failed to coalesce around a single alternative. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann briefly topped the polls, followed by Perry and then Cain. It’s unclear whether Cain can hold his position.

Perry on Thursday rearranged his schedule to try to mitigate his disastrous debate moment. He canceled a Tennessee fundraiser to appear on several TV networks and David Letterman’s late night talk show, pledging to stay in the race.

He repeatedly said he “stepped in it” at the Wednesday night debate but declared in an interview, “This ain’t a day for quitting nothing.”

Cain, the former pizza company executive, faced voters for the first time since the sex harassment allegations emerged, meeting with conservative, anti-tax tea party groups in Michigan. He hoped the friendly settings would preserve the lofty perch he enjoyed in Republican polls two weeks ago.

“How you beat Obama? Beat him with a Cain!” he told one supporter at a crowded diner. The crowd cheered.

Cain is airing his first TV ad in Iowa, and he has hired a new lawyer who is warning women they will be scrutinized for any charges made against the candidate.

Late Thursday word came that attempts to organise a joint news conference with the four women alleging Cain harassed them had fallen apart. Joel Bennett, the attorney for Karen Kraushaar, said his client had decided not to hold the news conference “unless and until the other women come forward and wish to participate.”

Some Iowa Republicans hope former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who emphasizes social conservative issues such as abortion and gay rights, can make a move. He has visited all 99 Iowa counties and aired radio commercials.

Other party insiders feel the person best poised to rise is Gingrich, the fiery Georgian who led the Republican Party’s 1994 takeover of the House of Representatives after 40 years in the minority. He eventually lost his leadership post and left the House after clashing with President Bill Clinton over taxes and an unpopular government shutdown.

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Will Gingrich’s ‘Contract with America’ for 2012 Beat Cain’s Plan, Romney’s? September 30, 2011

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the latest Man With the Plan in the 2012 GOP contest. Today, he submitted his “21st Century Contract with America” to join former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 59-point jobs plan and former Godfather’s Pizza magnate Herman Cain’s 999 economic plan as the latest attempt to differentiate a candidate as the one with the idea to best take the nation into the future.

The electorate is “so concerned about the long-term direction of this economy, they want someone who they think can fix it,” says Republican pollster David Winston, who worked for Gingrich when he was speaker. He says the candidates are asking themselves, “What’s that compelling idea that says to the electorate: You should be president?” he explains. “I think that’s what [Gingrich] would like to be able to present; I think that’s what all the Republican candidates would ultimately like to present.”

[Political cartoons on the 2012 GOP candidates.]

The plan is 26 pages detailing how Gingrich would repeal and replace the healthcare overhaul law he calls Obamacare, cut taxes and reform the Federal Reserve, tap into America’s natural energy resources, reform entitlements, loosen regulations, give more power to the states, and more.

Gingrich’s original 1994 Contract with America helped earn the Republicans a majority in Congress, but will the new plan from the candidate with a “smartest man in the room” reputation make the difference?

Winston says, “We’ll see.”

Republican strategist Luis Alvarado of Los Angeles-based Latino Political Consulting doesn’t think it will. “I am quite certain that it is a very well-thought-out, good plan,” he says, “but I don’t think it’s going to be enough to bring him back to contention.”

[Is Newt Gingrich 2012 Campaign Back on Upswing?]

Alvarado says Gingrich tends to come across as too academic. “We already have one president who is academic, that is Barack Obama,” he says. “The last thing we want is another academic in the White House, and that’s the way the party sees him. He’s too intellectual, too academic.”

The plan is already getting support from Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, who came out in support of Gingrich earlier this week. Phillips likes the plan’s framework, but his favorite part is a line at the end that suggests Gingrich plans to ask state and local leaders for advice in hashing out the details. “That’s kind of a novel idea from one of our leaders or somebody who wants to be a leader actually listening to us,” he says. “As opposed to most of the time just sitting around, letting us talk, and then going off and doing whatever else they want to do.”

Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond is confident in the plan, and believes his candidate is “offering big leadership with big solutions that are on a scale that no other campaign or candidate dares to match,” he says. Hammond describes the plan not as an end in itself, but as “the beginning of a year-long conversation about what the next president [meaning Gingrich] will do to lead the country,” he says, adding that Gingrich would “probably be the first president in history known as ‘President Newt’ instead of ‘President Last Name.’”

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Is Newt Gingrich 2012 GOP Campaign Back on Upswing? September 28, 2011

A new poll and a new endorsement marked a good start to the week for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign. As he gets ready to release his “21st Century Contract With America” Thursday in Iowa, some political watchers wonder, as Rep. Michele Bachmann’s and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaigns appear to stall, whether this is the beginning of a Gingrich surge. But others still see little appetite among Republicans for the former speaker.

Monday, a CNN/Opinion Research poll pegged Gingrich as third among his competitors in the wake of the recent slew of debates, with 11 percent. He still lagged double digits behind the leaders—Perry had 30 percent and Romney 22 percent—but his standing was a 4 percentage point jump from the same poll earlier in September, when he tied for fourth with Bachmann.

His debate performances likely contributed to the uptick. Gingrich, with a reputation for being “the smartest guy in the room,” stayed focused and coherent, according to political experts and strategists, and staying on point is typically not his strong suit. “He’s become much more disciplined in his word economy,” says Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, who represented Gingrich’s now-shuttered fundraising operation American Solutions until about three years ago. “You can still get the full treatment, but he’s also come up with the Cliff’s Notes version of Newt’s vision,” she says. “I think that’s helped him.”

[See a slide show of GOP 2012 contenders.]

Also in the wake of the debates, Gingrich pulled a valuable endorsement from Tea Party Nation founder and CEO Judson Phillips. This is the second nod from an influential Tea Partyer; Allen Olson left his chairmanship of Columbia, S.C.’s chapter earlier this month to help build grassroots momentum for the Gingrich campaign. Phillips says he decided to support Gingrich since he believes the former speaker is not only the best bet against President Obama in 2012 (“We’ve seen him on the debate formats; imagine him against Barack Obama,” Phillips says. “He cleans Obama’s clock.”) but also the candidate with the greatest ability to work within the White House to shrink federal government. He points to Gingrich’s successes as speaker for evidence, balancing the budget, reforming entitlements, and bringing the GOP back to the majority. “I want someone who is not going to simply repeal Obamacare, but who actually has the vision to go and start taking some of these agencies apart,” he says.

But Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, thinks Gingrich’s run looks relaxed, more of a victory round than a serious bid at this point. “He’s a realist, and he knows the odds are great that he will not be the nominee,” Sabato says, pointing out the negative end of Gingrich’s speakership and his multiple marriages as baggage. “Gingrich wants another chapter to the story,” he says, suggesting Gingrich might score a spot as an ambassador or cabinet member if a Republican wins next year.

Sabato says Gingrich doesn’t appear to be campaigning as hard as some of the other candidates. “He certainly not putting himself in a position for a heart attack or a stroke,” he says. “As campaigns go, this is fairly relaxed.”

[Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]

Los Angeles-based Republican political consultant Luis Alvarado of Latino Political Consulting agrees that Gingrich is probably using the campaign as a vehicle to communicate policies he thinks are important to the country. “The only time we see Gingrich is when there is a presidential debate,” Alvarado says. “I think he is working to position himself as party elder. To do so, he needs a platform, and this is the platform he’s utilizing.”

Even Saturday Night Live picked up on this ethos. In the comedy show’s opening skit, a mock of the GOP debates, the actor playing a Fox News moderator asks the Gingrich character, “Newt Gingrich, I’m calling your bluff: Do you really want to be president?”

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