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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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GOP candidates December 11, 2011

As the first votes of the primary season approach, the BBC looks at the Republican candidates hoping to stand against President Barack Obama in November.

Continue reading the main story

  • Michele Bachmann

  • Herman Cain
    Campaign suspended

  • Newt Gingrich

  • Jon Huntsman

  • Ron Paul

  • Rick Perry

  • Mitt Romney

  • Rick Santorum

Michele Bachmann

The Minnesota congresswoman is an outspoken favourite of the Tea Party who rose to prominence with her strident cable television attacks on President Barack Obama and the Democrats.

Ms Bachmann built her campaign from a small core of staunch supporters and briefly led in the polls in the early caucus state of Iowa before falling into the second tier of candidates.

A devout evangelical Christian, Ms Bachmann has a law degree and worked as a tax attorney. Before her election to the House in 2006, she was a state senator in Minnesota.

On the campaign trail, she refers frequently to her five children and the 23 young women she took into her home as a foster mother.

See a full profile of Michele Bachmann.

Story of the polls

Select a candidate on the left to see poll figures.

Select a poll from the row above to see how figures vary.

On the issues

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Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich set for showdown in crucial GOP debate December 10, 2011

After seeing his rivals for the GOP presidential nomination self-destruct one by one, tonight’s debate in Iowa offers Mitt Romney his best opportunity to arrest Newt Gingrich‘s sudden surge in popularity.

As poll after poll in recent days has shown that Gingrich has replaced Romney as undisputed frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Romney’s campaign has been forced onto the offensive – a policy that Romney will have to continue in tonight’s debate in Des Moines.

Romney previewed the tactics he is likely to use against the former Speaker of the House on Friday, poking fun at a series of Gingrich’s more fanciful ideas, including a permanent moon base and paying children from improverished families to clean school bathrooms.

Meanwhile, prominent Romney supporters lashed out at Gingrich in harsher terms, calling him unstable and untrustworthy, and a brutal new ad attacking Gingrich as a flipflopper who would lose in the general election to Obama has been released by a political action committee that backs Romney through a site called

Gingrich was quick to reply in kind on Friday with a stinging claim that Romney’s 1994 Senate bid saw him campaign “to the left of Ted Kennedy,” thus tying Romney to the Massachusetts liberal icon.

For months Romney has remained above the fray, generally avoiding interviews and using his debate appearances to focus on Obama. In the dozen previous debates Romney and Gingrich have circled each other wearily, but Gingrich’s slender poll ratings earlier in the contest meant Romney wasted little energy in attacking him.

Those long stretches of front-runner status, as challenges from Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Perry and Herman Cain all came and went, now seem like wasted opportunity for Romney, as his solid if underwhelming polling position in the key early primary states has been eroded by Gingrich.

Gingrich’s rise has been on the back of his pugnacious debate performances, in which the media as well as the Obama administration has been his target.

But Romney has shown himself to be a tenacious, disciplined debater – and his clipped manner could see him match Gingrich’s sniping. Earlier debates saw Romney prepared to trade verbal blows with Texas governor Rick Perry – and with Perry folding under the glare of the debate spotlight.

Aside from Romney versus Gingrich, the other five candidates on stage will be lining up to take a swing at the front-runners in an effort to boost their own chances with a little more than three weeks remaining until the Iowa caucuses.

Reports from Iowa and strong recent polling suggest that Ron Paul, a libertarian-leaning veteran candidates, could cause an upset by winning the caucuses thanks to a groundswell of support and a vibrant campaign in the Hawkeye state.

Paul’s threat could see him attract more hostility from his rivals on stage, who are likely to take aim at his opposition to US military involvement abroad.

Tonight’s debate starts at 9pm ET from Drake University in Des Moines, jointly hosted by ABC News, the Des Moines Register and Yahoo. The Guardian will be live-blogging the debate with contributions from correspondents in Washington DC and Des Moines.

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GOP race: does Iowa still matter?

Almost all the Republican presidential candidates have dispensed with the traditional campaign playbook this year. Normally at this point in the race, they will have spent hours in Iowa, criss-crossing the state addressing small gatherings in church halls, libraries, schools and private homes.

Not this time round. Candidates such as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have largely ignored Iowa, dispensing with the ritual of small-town, meet-and-greet campaigning for which the state is famous.

The leading contenders have delayed until now, with only four weeks left, making any serious commitment to campaigning in the state. Almost all of the candidates will be in Iowa this weekend for a presidential debate and another next week, and they will all be back in the week running up to the caucus on January 3, the first of the states to hold a contest.

But for most of this year they have chosen to campaign elsewhere and in different ways, reaching out to potential supporters mainly through the new platform of nationally-televised presidential debates or regular appearances on Fox News.

Professor David Redlawsk, one of the co-authors of ‘Why Iowa?’, published this year, recognises the unique role of the presidential debates this time. “The result is that instead of campaigning on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire as much, candidates are presenting themselves on the national stage far earlier than usual,” Redlawsk said.

Spending in the first nine months of this year is less than in 2007, 2003 and 1999. According to Kanar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, Iowans have been bombarded with just 8,697 ads this year so far compared with 26,037 in 2007. Spending by the campaigns in Iowa this year so far has been just $2.4m compared with $21.6m in 2007.

Only Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and, to a lesser extent, Ron Paul have followed the traditional playbook, devoting day after day to campaigning in Iowa and attempting build large networks of volunteers. It worked for Barack Obama in January 2008, giving him the propulsion that carried him all the way to the White House.

So far it has not worked for Bachmann and Santorum, stuck in single-digits in most polls. But will all their face-to-face meetings and slow build-up of volunteer networks turn surprise results on the night?

The wisdom of the two approaches – sticking to the traditional route or bypassing it – will be clear on January 3.

That night, supporters of each candidate will attempt to gather votes in potentially 1,784 precincts throughout the state. They will usually express their support in a secret ballot, though in some precincts there may be a simple show of hands. From Iowa, the campaign moves on to New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.

Iowa has a mixed record in choosing the eventual Republican candidate. In 2000, George W Bush won the caucus and the nomination, as did Bob Dole in 1996. But last time round, in 2008, Mike Huckabee won the caucus but not the nomination: the same for Dole in 1988 and George H W Bush in 1980.

Iowa has traditionally been more important for Democrats than Republicans. For Republicans, it has been New Hampshire and, even more so, South Carolina, the first of the southern states to vote.

In 2008, John McCain decided that Iowa was too conservative for him and opted not to campaign there, focusing instead on New Hampshire. It worked for him, taking New Hampshire and then South Carolina and eventually nomination. Rudy Giuliani tried something similar the same year, ignoring Iowa and New Hampshire and focusing almost exclusively on Florida. But by the time the campaign reached Florida, it was too late.

Romney this year initially adopted a similar strategy to McCain, focusing on New Hampshire and ignoring Iowa. When no clear candidate emerged in Iowa, at least until Newt Gingrich over the last fortnight, Romney could not resist the temptation and decided, albeit tentatively, to campaign a bit more than he had planned in Iowa. He has begun advertising there.

Jon Huntsman, an outsider polling in single digits nationally, has also opted against campaigning in Iowa, focusing instead on New Hampshire.

The campaign in Iowa seems quieter this time round in part because 2008 was an unusual year, with both the Republicans and Democrats holding caucuses. With only half as many candidates, it was always going to be quieter.

Republican caucuses also tend to be quieter than Democratic ones. Redlawsk, in an email exchange, said Republicans do not need to build the same kind of campaign as Democrats because of the nature of the Republican caucus: a secret ballot rather than the lengthy, open affairs that the Democratic ones involve.

“The result, from our research in Why Iowa?, is that Republican campaigns are not as grassroots as Democrats. That doesn’t mean grassroots doesn’t matter – it still takes work to get people to come out on caucus night – but the on-the-ground work is less visible publicly and seems more focused on existing groups like church congregations, home schooling groups, and other social conservative organisations,” Redlawsk wrote.

“We found, for example, that in 2008 few Republican caucus-goers had anyone knock on their door, while most Democrats had at least one person come to their home.”

Iowa’s ‘first-in-the-nation’ status is resented elsewhere in the country, with big states such as Florida challenging the notion that such a small state should have such a big say in deciding who the next president should be. These challengers point out that it is predominantly rural, overwhelmingly white and far removed from the experience of most Americans. In the case of the Republicans, the challengers also point to the disproportionate number of Christian evangelicals.

Redlawsk thinks it all evens out over the various contests. “Ironically, for the Republicans, Iowa is probably pretty representative of a key wing of the party – social conservatives. More than half of Republican caucus-goers generally call themselves evangelicals. On the other hand, New Hampshire Republicans are more libertarian and business-oriented conservatives. Put these first two contests together and you have pretty much the range of the Republican primary electorate,” Redlawsk said.

Charlie Cook, a political analyst, speaking in a lecture in Iowa last month, noted the relative absence of many of the candidates this time round and the predominance of the televised debates. He thought this might have been a mistake for some of the candidates.

He said candidates such as Perry, who made a series of mistakes early on in the debates and in television interviews, might have benefited from rehearsing his lines in some small-town campaigning in Iowa before launching himself straight into a national campaign.

“If he says something that may not have been particularly politically opportune, it might have been in front of a rotary club and not on national television,” Cook said.

“You know, there’s a reason why Broadway plays usually don’t preview in New York City.”

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Republican candidates appeal to pro-Israel vote at coalition forum December 8, 2011

Republican presidential candidates made a prolonged pitch for the pro-Israel vote on Wednesday with calls for regime change in Iran and even hints at military action.

Newt Gingrich, the leading Republican contender who holds a double digit lead in three of the first four states to hold nomination contests, backed his hawkish position by announcing that if he wins the election he wants his secretary of state to be John Bolton, the abrasive neoconservative and former ambassador to the UN who has derided Palestinian claims to a state as a “ploy”.

Gingrich was speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) in Washington along with other presidential candidates, except Ron Paul who was barred for his views on Israel. Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann joined Gingrich in stinging attacks on Barack Obama’s Middle East policy, accusing him of weakness in the face of the Jewish state’s enemies and failing to be sufficiently supportive of Israel.

They also sided with Israel in demanding a much tougher stand against Iran over its nuclear programme.

Gingrich said his aim would be to “overtly sabotage (Iran) every day”.

“The only rational long-time policy is regime replacement,” he said.

Romney demanded “crippling sanctions” against Tehran and suggested the US could resort to force against the nuclear programme.

“Ultimately regime change is necessary. We should make it very clear we are developing and have developed military options,” he said.

The calls were met enthusiastically by the Jewish coalition’s audience but were also aimed at a wider consumption of strongly pro-Israel voters.

The latest opinion poll shows Gingrich pulling further ahead of Romney in early races for the nomination, particularly the southern states of South Carolina and Florida. The CNN poll says that Gingrich has strong support among Tea Party followers and Christian evangelicals, groups that are strongly pro-Israel and far more significant in electoral terms than American Jewish voters who, in any case, lean more toward the Democratic party.

The poll gives Gingrich 43% of the Republican vote in South Carolina, the first southern state to vote. Romney is a distant second at 20%. Gingrich also has a 23-point lead in Florida and is ahead of Romney by 13 points in Iowa. Only in New Hampshire does Romney lead among the first four states to vote, although the gap is shrinking with Romney at 35% to 26% for Gingrich. Paul is in third place in all four states.

All six of the Republican candidates addressing the RJC attacked Obama’s attitude toward Israel as disloyal and endangering its security.

Gingrich slammed Obama for pressuring Israel on issues such as Jewish settlement construction in the occupied territories, which is a major obstacle to negotiations.

“This one side that says it’s always Israel’s fault no matter how bad the other side is has to stop,” he said to enthusiastic applause.

Gingrich called on Obama to reprimand his defence secretary, Leon Panetta, over implicit criticism of Israel last week. Panetta’s bluntness came after a speech in Washington in which he was asked about what could be done by Israel to advance the peace process. He replied: “Just get back to the damn table.”

The comments, which unusually in US politics put the emphasis for the stalemate on Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, have infuriated pro-Israel hawks who see anything but unflinching loyalty to the Jewish state as endangering its security.

In a demonstration that he would run an administration far more sympathetic to the right wing Likud-led government in Israel, Gingrich said he would appoint Bolton in part to “liberate the intelligence community” to focus on covert operations, such as against Iran.

Gingrich won sustained applause for saying that as president he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is not internationally recognised as Israel’s capital.

Romney launched a broad attack on Obama’s foreign policy.

“Abroad, he’s weakening America.” he said. “He seems to be more generous to our enemies than he is to our friends. That is the natural tendency of someone who is unsure of their own strength, or of America’s rightful place as the leader of the world.”

He accused Obama of “not finding time” to visit the Jewish state, drawing some boos and hisses from the audience. Romney promised to make a trip to Jerusalem his first foreign visit as president.

The Republican contender accused Obama of “insulting” the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and of “emboldening Palestinian hardliners”.
“President Obama has immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East,” Romney said.

Perry attempted to put right the damage done last month when he said he would cut all foreign aid and let countries justify the need. Asked then if that would apply to Israel, he said yes. That brought a storm of protest from Israel’s supporters who said that it would endanger the security of the Jewish state.

On Wednesday, Perry tried to work his way around that by saying that he was referring to “traditional” aid – presumably economic and development – whereas Israel gets more than a $1bn a year in military assistance.

“Israel is our strategic ally. America long ago ended the traditional foreign aid to Israel. Strategic defensive aid to Israel is what we provide. Strategic aid in all forms under a Perry administration will increase to Israel,” said Perry.

But the Texas governor made another passing gaffe by referring to new Jewish housing in occupied East Jerusalem as “settlements”. Israel says they are “neighbourhoods”.

Perry was criticising the Palestinian attempt to get UN recognition of a state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But the slip of the tongue in following the terminology used by the Palestinian and much of the international community will not have bolstered confidence in Perry among Israel’s hardline supporters.

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Cain suspends presidential bid December 3, 2011

Atlanta (CNN) — Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain told supporters Saturday that he is suspending his presidential campaign, which has become hobbled in recent weeks by allegations of sexual harassment and an Atlanta woman’s claim that they carried on a 13-year affair.

While he will still be able to raise and spend campaign funds because he did not officially drop out, his White House bid is effectively over.

Cain said he came to the decision after assessing the impact that the allegations were having on his wife, his family and his supporters.

He repeatedly called the allegations “false and untrue,” and added that “the (media) spin hurts. “

Even as he stepped aside under the weight of the allegations that have dogged him, Cain said that he was at “peace with my God” and “peace with my wife.”

“I am not going to be silenced and I will not go away,” Cain said, announcing what he called his Plan B: A website,, through which he will continue to advocate for his platform.

His catchy “9-9-9″ economic plan is not going anywhere, he said.

“Your support has been unwavering and undying,” Cain told his supporters.

He will endorse another of the Republican presidential hopefuls soon, he said.

Some of the other candidates were quick to react.

“Herman Cain provided an important voice to this process,” Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said in a statement. “His ideas and energy generated tremendous enthusiasm for the conservative movement at a time it was so desperately needed to restore confidence in our country.”

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said Cain brought “a unique and valuable voice to the debate over how to reform our country’s uncompetitive tax code and turn around the economy. I understand his decision and wish him and his family the best.”

Cain’s announcement came a month before the Iowa caucuses, the first formal test of the primary season, scheduled for January 3.

Recently, Cain acknowledged that Ginger White’s allegations of an affair have led to a drop in campaign contributions, and a Des Moines Register poll showed his support among likely Republican Iowa caucus-goers has fallen to 8%, down from 23% in October. The poll has a sampling error of plus or minus 4.9 points, the newspaper said.

Respondents said they were most concerned that Cain does not understand important issues, but said the allegations against him contribute to their concern, the newspaper said.

This week, White told the news media that she and Cain engaged in an on-and-off affair for more than 13 years. She described the affair as “very casual.”

Two women — Sharon Bialek and Karen Kraushaar — previously accused Cain of sexually harassing them in the 1990s while he was head of the National Restaurant Association. Two other women also have said Cain sexually harassed them while they worked at the association, but they have declined to be identified.

Cain told the Union Leader that he repeatedly gave White money to help her with “month-to-month bills and expenses.” But he denied the relationship was sexual, as White contends. He said the two were friends.

“I send checks to a lot of people; I help a lot of people,” Cain told Fox News on Thursday. “That in itself is not proof. So the other allegation in terms of it being a 13-year physical relationship, that is her words against my word.”

In the interview, Cain said his wife, Gloria Cain, knew nothing about White nor his financial support for her until the mother of two came forward last week.

“My wife now knows,” he told the newspaper. “My wife and I have talked about it, and I have explained it to her. My wife understands that I’m a soft-hearted, giving person.”

Cain told staffers this week he was reassessing his campaign in the wake of White’s allegation of an affair, and he acknowledged to reporters Wednesday that her account had led to a drop in contributions to his campaign.

He said in the Thursday Union Leader interview that his wife’s feelings, as well as the reaction from supporters and donors, would be important factors in deciding whether he will stay the race.

Cain told the newspaper he would drop out of the race if his wife asked him to, but quickly added that she wouldn’t.

Though Gloria Cain rarely makes public appearances or statements, she told Fox News last month that she believed the sexual harassment allegations were “unfounded.”

On Thursday, White described her relationship with Cain to MSNBC as a casual sexual affair, and told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Cain gave her money and gifts for more than two years.

Cain acknowledged helping White financially, but has denied their relationship was sexual.

“She was out of work and had trouble paying her bills, and I had known her as a friend,” Cain told the Union Leader. “She wasn’t the only friend who I had helped in these tough economic times, and so her messages to me were relating to ‘need money for rent’ or whatever the case may be. I don’t remember all the specifics.”

Asked by the newspaper about reports of text messages he had exchanged with White, Cain confirmed that the woman had sent him about 70 such messages between October 22 and November 18, including some “asking for financial assistance.”

Cain’s attorney, Lin Wood, told CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” on Thursday that White has provided no proof of an affair or associated financial receipts.

He said that his client has been a victim of unproven allegations and that the news media should be asking tough questions of White, whom Cain described in a fund-raising letter as “troubled.”

White said on “Good Morning America” that she had not saved receipts and notes throughout the affair because she never planned to make the relationship public. She said it was “very disappointing that he would call me troubled.”

While the controversy raged in the media, Cain’s campaign continued; the campaign sent an e-mail message Friday asking for moral and financial support.

“I am inviting you to share your voice with me, my family and staff, and the nation,” Cain said in the message. “In short, I need to know that you are behind me 100%. In today’s political environment, the only way we can gauge true support is by the willingness of our supporters to invest in this effort.”

On Thursday, a campaign spokeswoman said Cain’s chief of staff met with the campaign’s four-person Iowa team to emphasize that the election drive was moving forward.

“Mark Block, Herman Cain’s chief of staff and chief operating officer, just left a meeting at the Iowa headquarters with all four Iowa staffers,” said a statement by Lisa Lockwood, the communications director of Friends of Herman Cain’s Iowa staff. “The emphatic message is that the campaign is full steam ahead. Herman Cain is in it to win it. He always has been and that has not changed.”

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Ron Paul labels Newt and Mitt muppets | Paul Harris November 29, 2011

Ron Paul’s attack ad ‘Who Can You Trust?’ Video: 247FreedomOps/YouTube


It’s Ron Paul, the long-time Texan congressman and favourite of libertarians who subscribe to his anti-government, pro-individual policies. Paul’s team must be wondering what they have to do to get a break. Paul is a conservative, family man, veteran and has a fervent base of super-keen supporters. Yet Paul has watched as candidates and non-candidates of the dubious calibre of Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and now Newt Gingrich have led the race to be the Non-Romney of the GOP race.


What they have to do, apparently, is produce web videos like this. At a mammoth two minutes and ten seconds long, it tries to make up for the time that Paul’s fans say (with some merit) that he is consistently denied in the TV debates. This ad is Paul’s attempt to take down the current top of the field: Gingrich and Mitt Romney. It’s called “Who Can You Trust?” and makes no bones about it’s conclusion: not those two dodgy chancers.


It went up today and – if Team Paul’s dreams come true – it will zoom around the internet and become a talking point on CNN, Fox News etc, and generate huge free publicity. Or, more likely, it will die a neglected YouTube death like most of these efforts.


Paul needs to make a move. Polls shows this might be his moment. He is edging up in key states, though not in the same way as the Perry/Cain/Gingrich surges which catapulted their candidates, albeit briefly, to the top tier. But Paul has to believe his moment will come, so it’s time to start trying to take a chunk out of your opponents. As Paul’s team look at the field, they want to hit two targets. First, go for Romney to establish Paul as the alternative candidate to His Mittness. Second, slam the guy currently sitting in that spot: His Newtness. Other candidates – Bachmann, Perry and Cain – are clearly seen as having wasted their moment in the sun.


Let’s get the obvious thing over with first. Just when you are ready to accept Paul’s campaign is going to shed its candidate’s reputation for being a little wacky, they set an entire two-minute campaign ad to a famous song from the Muppets. Yes, the background to the entire thing is the “Mahna Mahnam” song. Thanks, Ron.

It is actually quite funny. After all, he is effectively calling Romney and Gingrich a pair of muppets. But given the content of the rest of the ad, it feels far too frivolous. It distracts from the way that the video actually goes on to hit Romney and Gingrich in ways that are serious and profound.

It is a devastating example of how to use a candidate’s own words to hurt them – and the execution is simple. It begins with Paul saying: “All this talk is just talk.” Then the dissection begins. The methodology is simple. First, you show Romney saying he supports something. Then, you show him saying he is against it. Then, you show Gingrich praising an issue. Next, you show him condemning it. On and on and on it goes. On healthcare, Libya, abortion rights, the stimulus, global warming and income inequality, the same technique is repeated.

They even hit Gingrich for going after Bill Clinton and his marital problems when he himself was having an affair. Whatever your political views, it’s grim viewing and plays skilfully to Paul’s strength: his consistency. Whatever one thinks of some of the more “out there” of Paul’s opinions (such as scrapping huge chunks of the government, mainly), even his harshest critics admire him for not bending to focus groups or opinion polls. That has been shown most strongly in TV debates, where Paul is happy to shock GOP audiences with a strong critique of American foreign policy (one that few liberal politicians would ever dare utter).

It’s strong stuff, but then the ad goes off the rails. Besides the continuing irritant of the Muppets song, Romney’s and Gingrich’s heads are superimposed comically on the bottom of a pair of flip-flops (geddit?). Finally, to a sudden deafening eagle screech (apparently stolen, without irony, from the Colbert Report), a raptor-shaped American flag is shown looking slightly battered and blood-stained, and the words “Ron Paul 2012″ appear. What? Is this Comedy Central?

Again, just when you think Paul is hitting his stride, he does something weird. Which sums up this ad. It is brutally effective in its attacks on the other GOP candidates, but then it reminds you why Paul himself is hardly likely to put the fear of God into the Obama campaign. And that is a further sign that the final stages of the GOP race resemble nothing so much as a circular firing squad.

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Newt Gingrich facing GOP backlash over ‘humane’ immigration policy November 24, 2011

Link to this video

The latest frontrunner in the Republican presidential race, Newt Gingrich, faced a conservative backlash on Wednesday after advocating a “humane” approach to illegal immigrants, a red hot issue for Tea Party activists and other rightwingers.

His proposal to allow most of the country’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to remain in the US – which he made during Tuesday night’s nationally televised GOP debate in Washington – runs counter to Republican orthodoxy, which is opposed to amnesty and in favour of expulsion.

Conservative activists predicted that the comments from Gingrich, who has enjoyed a surge over the last week that has seen him rise to the top of polls of likely Republican voters, will explode in his face.

“I think he will take a hit,” said Ryan Rhodes, leader of the Tea Party in Iowa, where the first of the Republican presidential contests is to be held on January 3. “I think that is an issue where he parts company with conservatives.”

He added: “He has opened up a chance for someone else to step up again.”

The Republican hunt for a candidate to take on Barack Obama for the White House has been volatile. As conservatives search for an alternative to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, regarded as unreliably moderate for their tastes, alternatives have risen and slipped back: congresswoman Michele Bachmann in August, Texas governor Rick Perry in September, former pizza company and chief executive Herman Cain in October. Now it is Gingrich’s turn.

The latest poll, from Quinnipiac, has Gingrich on 26%, Romney on 22%, Cain on 14%, Perry on 6%, Ron Paul on 6% and Bachmann on 4%, with Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman tied at 2%.

The US media was divided over whether Gingrich’s views on immigration should be lauded as a rare example of courage and honesty on the part of an American politician or another example of him shooting himself in the foot.

During the debate, Gingrich said: “I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who’ve been here for a quarter of a century … [and] separate them from their families and expel them.”

He added: “I don’t believe that the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to say it’s going to destroy families that have been here for more than a quarter of a century. I’m prepared to take the heat in saying: ‘Let’s be humane in enforcing the law.’”

His Republican rivals, mainly Romney, Bachmann and Santorum, jumped on the remark, describing it as a mistake. They described Gingrich’s plan as amounting to amnesty, that crime should not be rewarded and that the priority should be securing the border.

Illegal immigration is a sensitive political issue. Party members say illegal immigrants have committed a crime and should be deported. But Democrats say that the mass expulsion of the estimated 12 million is not feasible and that anyway it would do enormous economic damage.

Illegal immigrants, the majority from Central and South America, do jobs on farms, in factories and in hotels, and in domestic settings, which many Americans appear unwilling to do.

With Latinos making up the fastest-growing minority in America, Republicans from George Bush to John McCain have backed immigration reform but been forced to retreat in the face of party grassroots hostility.

Speaking in the spin room after the debate, Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s spokesman, sought to exploit what he viewed as Gingrich’s vulnerable spot.

He described it as a mistake. “I think it is a legitimate and major difference between Romney and Gingrich,” Fehrnstrom said.

But Gingrich’s spokesman, RC Hammond, refused to backtrack, describing his candidate’s position as reasonable, and stressing that he had also called for the border to be secured.

Immigration is a big issue in both Iowa and South Carolina, where the Republican primary is to be held on January 21.

It was immigration that led to Perry losing his frontrunner status. In an earlier debate, Perry advocated paying for the children of illegal immigrants to be educated, and said that anyone who did not agree with him did not have a heart. Many Republicans took umbrage at being called heartless.

Rhodes, speaking from Iowa in a phone interview, saw Gingrich’s remark about his immigration policy being “humane” as a liberal one, comparable to Perry’s remark in its capacity to offend. He said he does not think there is an easy fix on illegal immigration but a blanket amnesty was not the answer.

Rhodes, who is backing Bachmann, estimated that about 60-70% of Republicans likely to vote in the caucus had not yet made up their minds. He is opposed to Romney and predicted he would get no more than 15-20% of the vote in Iowa.

Charlie Gruschow, the chairman of the Tea Party of America, shared the view that Gingrich might be damaged by his remarks. “It could hurt him,” he said.

He added: “I like Newt. He has a tremendous mind and is a phenomenal historian. But there are some issues and garbage in his past.”

For the party of family values, Gingrich’s two affairs and three wives, one of whom he reportedly left while she was ill with cancer, is a black mark.

Gruschow is backing Cain, in spite of allegations of sexual harassment of staff in the 1990s and gaffes on foreign policy.

Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, who is based in California, said Gingrich’s views on immigration were well-known and should not have come as a surprise. He felt the vital issue was to firstly to secure the border. “Once that is done, we will be able to have a more mature and less emotional debate,” he said.

He has not yet decided who to support. “Frankly, I do not trust any of them. It is a matter of who I distrust the least, who will win the presidency and toe the line once in office,” Meckler said.

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The lost cause of Newt Gingrich’s immigration gambit | Rodrigo Camarena

From conspiratorial claims that Hezbollah and Hamas are actively plotting to attack the US from Mexico, to proposals for shutting down the US-Mexico border, Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary candidates’ national security debate was rife with the sort of wild assertions and alarmist rhetoric that GOP strategists must believe excites the party’s base.

In this two-hour spectacle of half-formed positions, no portion of the program was more vacuous than that dealing with immigration and border security (a pairing of topics that, to me, has always seemed to imply a relationship between immigrants and terrorists).

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann channeled her Tea Party base in refusing to accept any path to naturalisation for the nation’s undocumented (read “amnesty”, in GOP speak), while being unclear on what the alternative to this would be. Governor Mitt Romney mimicked Bachmann’s non-position but expanded on her business-friendly caveat of wanting to naturalise highly-skilled immigrants. Texas Governor Rick Perry distanced himself from his own state’s sensible policy of granting in-state tuition for undocumented persons, and chose instead to tout his questionable role in securing his state’s border with Mexico.

Only the new “frontrunner”, Newt Gingrich, broke ranks by suggesting that we “be humane” in enforcing immigration law and consider normalising the legal status of at least some of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. Referring to the Kiebler Foundation’s Red Card Solution (pdf), Gingrich’s plan would offer two legal paths for the nation’s undocumented: one granting citizenship for those wishing to reside in the United States in the long term, and another path offering employer-managed temporary work permits to seasonal workers and other short-term laborers.

The Red Card Solution has a number of faults: no right to US citizenship for children of temporary workers; no provisions regulating the treatment and protection of employer-managed workers; as well as an ominous and dehumanising system for tracking workers through electronic “red cards”. But the proposal at least offers something that the GOP’s nativist tendency could begin to consider.

As the commentator class weighs in on whether Gingrich’s moderate position on immigration will hurt him with primary voters – which it will – this is beside the point, as the former House speaker was never a serious candidate to begin with. Lacking a competent or competitive campaign, Gingrich seems happy enough to be on a public stage, peddling a few books and DVDs while he’s at it.

The true meaning of the Republicans‘ position on immigration will be on how it will impact voters in the 2012 presidential elections. As both parties vie for the estimated 21.5 million Latino voters in play in 2012, and with a growing number of states look to their elected leaders to fix the nation’s broken immigration system, the lack of solutions offered by any candidate but Gingrich should be worth remembering.

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Newt Gingrich calls for ‘humane’ policy on illegal immigration November 23, 2011

The latest front-runner in the Republican presidential race, Newt Gingrich, took a gamble on Tuesday night by advocating a “humane” approach to illegal immigration, one that risks alienating conservatives.

Gingrich, the former House Speaker, was conscious that he was entering an area that was potentially dangerous for him. “I am prepared to take the heat for saying let’s be humane in enforcing the law,” he said.

An earlier front-runner in the race, Texas governor Rick Perry saw a sharp drop in his support in September after advocating a similar immigration approach.

Gingrich was speaking during a Republican presidential debate in Washington in the run-up to the nomination contests, which begin in Iowa on 3 January. The debate on foreign policy and security was dominated not only by immigration but Iran, Pakistan and the Patriot Act.

Gingrich is the newest candidate to achieve front-runner status in the polls. Others – Michele Bachmann, Perry and Herman Cain – have enjoyed being out in front, billed as rivals to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

The former Speaker has secured the front-runner status through his debate performances, demonstrating a knowledge of issues missing from some other candidates.

He is given to speaking his mind, sometimes in a temper or in an ill-judged momemnt. But he was well aware during the debate of the consequences of backing a policy unpopular with Republicans.

He argued the children of illegal immigrants should not be ripped away from their families. He said that he did not believe Americans wanted to take people who have lived in the country for 25 years and expel them over a crime committed long ago.

It is a sensitive issue for Republicans, many of whom want to expel illegal immigrants, even though they are critical to the economy and many have lived almost their entire lives in the country.

Spin-doctors for his rivals, including Romney, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, jumped on Gingrich’s comment, viewing it as a mistake. A spokesman for Romney pointed out that Gingrich had supported ‘amnesty’ legislation for illegal immigrants in 1986 and “was repeating the mistake now”.

But Gingrich was unrepentant, his team saying that it was unrealistic to expel an estimated 12 million people.

Conservatives might admire him for his bravery in standing up for a policy that could cost him votes. Although his stance is the same as Perry’s, the problem for Perry was that he went on to describe as heartless Republicans who did not agree with him. Gingrich was more subtle, saying that the Republicans were the party of the family and should not be the party that breaks them apart.

Romney, the candidate that is still likeliest to win the party nomination to take on Barack Obama for the White House next November, had a relatively subdued night.

The latest poll, from Quinnipiac, has Gingrich on 26%, Romney 22%, Cain 14%, Perry 6%, Ron Paul 6%, Bachmann 4%, Santorum 2% and Jon Huntsman 2%.

On Iran, Gingrich was as measured as he was on illegal immigration, at least compared with other candidates. While some leaned towards supporting an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, Gingrich expressed scepticism because an attack would still leave the regime in place. He advocated instead covert actions, taking out their scientists and undermining the regime. One of the benefits of such an approach, he said, was that it deniable.

Perry, who made headlines in the last debate with a memory lapse when listing one of his key policies, got through the night without making any further gaffes.

Cain, following a bad week in which he was caught on video demonstrably ignorant about US policy on Libya, did little in the debate to give voters confidence he had a handle on foreign issues. He backed the idea of an attack on Iran but added the caveat that it would have to be done with care because it was “a mountainous region” and there were about 40 sites where nuclear facilities could be hidden.

Romney said he would be willing to take military action but favoured firstly imposing crippling sanctions.

The candidates were harsh in denouncing Pakistan, particularly Bachmann who expressed concern that its nuclear facilities were vulnerable to terrorists. Perry proposed withdrawing US aid to the country.

Paul, a libertarian and maverick, had a feisty debate, critical of the US response to terrorism. “I think the Patriot Act is unpatriotic because it undermines our liberty…I have a personal belief that you never have to give up liberty for security. You can still provide security without sacrificing our Bill of Rights.”

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Bachmann’s campaign manager calls CBS exec ‘a piece of sh–’ after debate November 15, 2011

November 15, 2011

by legitgov


Bachmann’s campaign manager calls CBS exec ‘a piece of sh–’ after debate 14 Nov 2011 Michele Bachmann’s campaign manager lashed out at a CBS executive after he was accidentally cc’d on a network email detailing a plan to marginalize the Minnesota Congresswoman at Saturday night’s Republican debate. “John Dickerson should be fired,” the Rep.’s political handler Keith Nahigian told reporters after the debate, CNN and Fox reported. “He is a piece of sh–. He is a fraud and should be fired.”

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GOP Debate: Herman Cain, Sen. Michelle Bachmann would reinstate waterboarding

November 15, 2011

by legitgov


GOP Debate: Herman Cain, Sen. Michelle Bachmann would reinstate waterboarding –Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman criticizes practice, Sen. Ron Paul calls it illegal [And Bank of America's Mitt Romney got a *pass* on the question by CBSlime as they didn't bother to ask. --LRP] 13 Nov 2011 Herman Cain and Rep. Michele Bachmann both said on foreign policy that they would reinstate waterboarding, an interrogation technique designed to simulate drowning and widely considered torture. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said use of the procedure diminishes U.S. standing in the world and Paul said it is illegal.

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US politics: da goods in da box | Editorial November 12, 2011

Those who wish to serve the American people in the republic’s highest office embark on an almost medieval series of trials of character and endurance. They must avoid the political equivalents of the slough of despair, the sucking bog of emotionalism, the dreaded stupidity tree, the equally dreaded pit which awaits the overly clever, the dungeon of sexist blunders and other Pythonesque terrors on their way to the castle in which languishes the enchanted princess, otherwise known as their party’s nomination for president. It is a harsh business: one misstep, one ill-chosen word, one witness to earlier misdeeds can bring you down and, often, not just down but out.

The intricate arabesque the successful candidate must trace can resemble that of a skier zigzagging down a slope dotted with barrels of nitroglycerine. The process has a farcical dimension, and sometimes induces a state of almost catatonic caution in the candidates. But it is pretty good at weeding out people who ought not to be the president of the United States, and the way the Republican field is now narrowing is heartening. Michele Bachmann’s early star has fallen, while this week Rick Perry oopsed his way to likely oblivion when he couldn’t remember a major government department he had proposed abolishing.

Oddly enough, given Texas’s oil history, this was the department of energy. As Perry subsides into the scenery, so Herman Cain is flailing because of allegations of sexual harassment. Even though these have so far not damaged him as much as was expected, there seems to be a growing understanding among voters that the United States of America is not a pizza, or even a pizza company. To riff on the jingle from the Godfather’s restaurant chain he once ran, da goods may not be in da box.

Then there is Newt Gingrich, who has had so many incarnations in American politics he could be a figure in one of his own alternate history books. He has a new support group, entitled Time for Newt, and has been gaining ground, yet wherever he goes he is accompanied by the faint rattle of skeletons in the closet.

So, for the moment, the finger points to Mitt Romney. To date there is nothing much against him except that 30 years ago he strapped his dog to the roof of the car when he and his family went on holiday to Canada. Nothing much, that is, except his constantly changing positions on a variety of important political issues. Yet, while he is undoubtedly a devious man, he is also a serious politician running a serious campaign. If he became president many Americans would be unhappy, but they wouldn’t be scared that they had put a fruitcake into the White House. This is important because the Republican tilt toward saner choices, if that is what it is, is taking place in a new context. It is not just the Occupy movement which suggests that American public opinion may have finally begun to focus on questions of inequality and class, with the old hot-button issues of the American culture wars fading in importance.

Voters this week rejected an anti-abortion proposal in Mississippi; struck down, by a large majority, a law restricting the collective bargaining rights of public employees in Ohio; and restored same-day registration at the polls in Maine. They also got rid of an Arizona senator who had pursued anti-immigrant legislation.The results in these and other votes represent not so much a victory for the Democrats as a victory for common sense. If it was not Mark Twain who said that the trouble about common sense is that it is not so common, he certainly did say: “Really, what we want now is … a law against insanity.” Americans are not about to pass such a law, but they are beginning to look askance at extreme legislation. As the columnist Gail Collins put it this week: “From sea to shining sea, there was a very strong anti-nutcase tenor to the results.” Amen to that.

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GOP set to embrace Mitt Romney as candidate who can beat Barack Obama November 6, 2011

Mitt Romney walked into the old Town Hall in the New Hampshire town of Exeter late last week already looking like an American president sent straight from Hollywood. He had the square jaw, the perfect smile and, walking beside him, his gorgeous blonde wife, Ann. He also had a speech that read like a horror movie and described an America in mortal peril of bankruptcy and social chaos.

“If we keep spending like we are spending and borrowing like we are borrowing, at some point we can face what Greece faces,” he told a room that was packed to overflowing.

But Romney does not just look the part of president. In the race to be the Republicans‘ 2012 nominee, and challenge Barack Obama for the White House, Romney is riding high. And with Obama facing the challenge of a worsening economy and anaemic approval ratings, a growing number of commentators believe that the former governor of Massachusetts could be the next occupant of the Oval Office.

He is the undoubted frontrunner in the Republican race, with the rest of the field scrabbling to be the sole “anti-Romney” candidate. One by one, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry looked likely contenders before their bubbles burst and support withered. Now the latest anti-Romney candidate, former pizza magnate Herman Cain, is mired in a sexual harassment scandal.

With less than two months until Iowa and New Hampshire kick off the vital early contests, Romney is sitting pretty. More than a few of those 200 people inside the hall felt they just might be looking at their nominee: their great hope of making Obama a one-term president. “He has the money. He has the experience. Romney is the most well-rounded candidate,” said Rene Bonnin, 63, a local retired naval worker.

The 2011 version of Romney appears different to the man who failed to win the 2008 nomination. That Romney, whose team resurrected the unflattering nickname from his business days of “Sweaty Armpit Mitt”, was a ditherer, uncertain and overly cautious. This Romney, while hardly the greatest politician of his day, is forceful, calm and heading a campaign that has shown quiet ruthlessness.

His stump speech is a carefully crafted piece of work designed to scare more than inspire, but in America’s current Age of Anxiety that is more than enough to sound effective. He acknowledges the struggles of America’s middle class, the increasing rates of poverty and high unemployment. America is threatened, he says, and only he can stop it.

“The concept of America needing a bailout is hard to think about. There is no nation big enough to save us,” he told the Exeter crowd.

Romney’s campaign is based around his experience in the private sector and how he turned around Salt Lake City’s Winter Olympics bid. He has coupled this with a vehement anti-government agenda designed to appeal to the Tea Party activists who drove the party to victory in the 2010 midterm elections. In Exeter, he vowed to slash federal government by 10%, reduce foreign aid and end Obama’s healthcare reforms.

But, in such company as Bachmann, Cain and Perry, anti-government sentiments are common. What has made Romney so formidable is that – unlike his primary foes – he has been through this process before. What few scandals lie in Romney’s past, such as once hiring a gardening firm that employed illegal immigrants, are old news. Romney’s secret strength is that he has made no headlines. “He’s been thoroughly vetted and other candidates have not,” said Steve Mitchell, chairman of Republican polling firm Mitchell Research.

But Romney’s path still has obstacles. Many conservatives distrust him. Ryan Rhodes, founder of an Iowa Tea Party group, said: “Mitt Romney is still the east coast liberal he has always been. I am not going to campaign for him.”

His other problem is with the religious right. Many there distrust Romney’s Mormon religion, seeing it as outside the bounds of mainstream Christian theology. Overall, this explains why Romney’s support in national Republican polls rarely tops 25%.

“A lot of people out there can’t make up their minds about him yet,” said Patrick Griffin, a political consultant to numerous Republican campaigns and now an expert at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St Anselm’s College. But there is one thing nearly all Republicans agree on: what will be the main issue in the coming contest with Obama. “The economy,” said Scott Filiauld, a 46-year-old owner of a local software firm. Even in Exeter, with its quaint main street lined with antique shops and prosperous-looking homes, the times are tough, with little optimism of a recovery any time soon.

The economic facts do indeed paint a grim picture. Unemployment is stubbornly stuck around 9%. The number of Americans living in poverty is put at a staggering 46 million. Worst of all, the US could easily double-dip back into recession. Romney, like other Republicans, puts the blame on the vast American deficit and government spending. Obama pins the blame on previous governments deregulating Wall Street and the actions of big banks. But the unwritten rule of American politics is that the president is responsible for the state of the economy: good or bad, fairly or unfairly. “If you are the White House and looking at this economy, then you can’t be happy,” said Mitchell.

Obama also faces a highly motivated and angry Republican base, coupled with a disenchanted wing of his own party. Current polls reveal the extent of his task. A CBS poll found that only 21% of Americans thought the country was going in the right direction. A survey from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut showed that 54% of respondents thought Obama did not deserve a second term.

In a Gallup poll, Romney tied Obama on 47% nationally and was 1% up in swing states. One key thing to emerge from that last poll was that Romney was a better performer against Obama than Perry or Cain. “Romney is not every Republican’s first choice but he is going to be an acceptable choice,” said Griffin. The very things that can hurt Romney in this primary – his moderate policies as governor of Massachusetts – could help in a presidential election where it will be hard to paint him as an extremist. Romney is already the subject of Democratic attack ads seeking to paint him as uncaring and too pro-Wall Street. But to many experts that only shows how much they fear him.

After Romney’s speech in Exeter, former New Hampshire governor John Sununu urged the crowd to spread the word about the candidate. “Mitt Romney is the man this country needs to be the next president,” he said. Then, as people rushed forward to grab autographs, the man who would be president tried to leave. It took him a full 20 minutes to get to a door just 10 paces away.

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US politics live blog: Tea Party urges Michele Bachmann to quit October 29, 2011

Good morning: What the Tea Party gives, the Tea Party can take away. As Michele Bachmann‘s presidential campaign dissolves, her former allies on the conservative right are losing patience.

Last night Barack Obama held a dinner with four donors who won the right to dine with the president after making donations to his campaign. But it came as analysis by the Associated Press found that Obama’s early donors from the 2008 campaign are proving less enthusiastic in this election cycle..

Meanwhile, Rick Perry‘s campaign team are rowing back on suggestions that their candidate might skip some of the coming GOP presidential debates. Because the only thing worse than Rick Perry appearing in a debate appears to be Rick Perry not appearing in a debate.

All this and more, as the clock ticks on the deliberations of the congressional super-committee, while Republicans and Democrats tussle over the $1.2tn cuts required.

10.04am: For some reason Herman Cain is appearing in Anniston, Alabama at a Tea Party breakfast:

We need to put some fuel in the engine of this economy. This administration put a trillion dollars in the caboose, and the economy didn’t grow…. this administration expects the caboose to push the engine.

All very well and good but when was the last time you saw a caboose on a train?

10.23am: The call for Michele Bachmann to step down comes from Ned Ryun of the American Majority – one of the many Tea Party organisations.

On the group’s blog Ryun writes: “It’s time for Michele Bachmann to go.” It’s a crushing piece:

Bachmann has ridden her tea party credentials from obscurity to a national platform like no other…. In Bachmann’s case, it is clear that the campaign has become less about reform and more about her personal effort to stay relevant and sell books; a harsh commentary, but true. It’s not about tea party values or championing real plans to solve real problems. While other campaigns are diving into the substance, the supposed tea party candidate Bachmann is sticking to thin talking points and hanging on for dear life.

Every day the campaign flounders, it risks hurting the credibility of the movement. If she really is about the tea party, and making it successful, it’s time for the Congresswoman to move on. The Tea Party doesn’t have a spokesperson, and it’s certainly not Michele Bachmann.

Part of the reason behind this, surely, is that Bachmann’s tepid performance is making the Tea Party movement look bad.

10.31am: Other wings of the Tea Party aren’t jumping off Bachmann’s bandwagon just yet.

Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots – the faction that Bachmann has been most closely identified with – told CNN:

Michele Bachmann has fought and championed the tea party core values – the fiscal responsibility, the constitutional and limited government and free markets on Capitol Hill – oftentimes when very few others were willing to take up the mantle. And tea party supporters appreciate her for championing their cause repeatedly and consistently.

10.45am: The Bachmann campaign pushes back on the Tea Party group calling on Bachmann to quit:

Michele Bachmann enjoys strong support from Americans across party lines that that certainly includes the Tea Party.

Not according to all the opinion polls in the early states, she doesn’t. The latest CNN/Time magazine poll [pdf] put Bachmann at 6% in Iowa, 4% in South Carolina and Florida, and 2% in New Hampshire.

Taxi for Ms Bachmann.

Fun fact: Paul Mulshine, a columnist for New Jersey’s Star Ledger, notes that American Majority Tea Party leader Ned Ryun is the son of Jim Ryun, the famous US middle-distance runner and former Republican congressman.

Why is Herman Cain so happy?

11.05am: Like most people you want to know more about Mark Block, the cigarette-smoking savant seen in the widely-ridiculed Herman Cain campaign ad that we have all enjoyed.

The Associated Press’s Shannon McCaffrey and Ryan Foley do the spadework and find out more about Cain’s Marlboro Man:

Meet Mark Block, Cain’s unorthodox campaign manager. Perhaps no one is more responsible for the Georgia businessman’s meteoric rise in the presidential polls than Block, a Republican strategist and tea party leader who’s left a trail of questionable campaign work behind him.

Block has been accused of voter suppression and was banned from running Wisconsin political campaigns for three years to settle accusations he coordinated a judge’s re-election campaign with a special interest group.

Records show Block has faced foreclosure on his home, a tax warrant by the Internal Revenue Service and a lawsuit for an unpaid bill. He also acknowledges he was arrested twice for drunken driving.

On the presidential trail, some former Cain staffers say Block broke promises. Traditional GOP strategists have been scratching their heads at his renegade tactics to win the White House, all but ignoring some early states in favor of a book tour and swings through states without early primaries.

Who would hire someone with such a chequered past? Guess who:

Block engineered a comeback when he was hired in 2005 as the Wisconsin director of Americans for Prosperity, the group founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. He also helped organize the tea party in Wisconsin and in that role met Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive who’d come aboard as a speaker after a failed US Senate campaign in Georgia.

11.26am: Jon Huntsman’s run for the Republican presidential nomination is already going badly enough – but did his own father really have to put the boot in like this?

Jon Huntsman Senior told the Deseret News in Utah:

If he were running for president of China, he would have already won the election.

As Bart Simpson’s father once said: “D’oh!”

Barack Obama hosts a dinner with four lucky donors to his re-election campaign, winners of a competition to dine with the president. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty IMages

11.40am: What if Zombie FDR replaced Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee and ran in the 2012 election? We’ll never know. And we’ll never know what would happen if Hillary Clinton did the same thing. But that didn’t stop Time magazine polling a few voters on the subject:

A national poll conducted for Time on Oct 9 and 10 found that if Clinton were the Democratic nominee for President in 2012, she would best Mitt Romney 55% to 38%, Rick Perry 58% to 32% and Herman Cain 56% to 34% among likely voters in a general election. The same poll found that President Obama would edge Romney by just 46% to 43%, Perry by 50% to 38% and Cain by 49% to 37% among likely voters.

12.28pm: Yikes. Possibly in a bid to overshadow his father’s contention that he would be elected president of China, Jon Huntsman decides to call Mitt Romney “a perfectly lubricated weathervane”:

“You can’t be a perfectly lubricated weathervane on the important issues of the day,” Huntsman said. “Romney has been missing in action in terms of showing any kind of leadership.”

Some people may find the image of a “perfectly lubricated” Mitt Romney too much to bear. Rick Santorum, for example.

1pm: In case you were wondering, there will be a Democratic primary in New Hampshire in January. Barack Obama is running, of course, as are a few other oddballs.

Anyone can register to run in New Hampshire, so long as they pay the $1,000 filing fee and fulfill the constitutional requirements.

Rick Perry’s latest ad

1.24pm: Jay Newton-Small of Time has a crack at the “where did it all go wrong Rick Perry?” piece, and offers this explanation:

Perry and his team haven’t been in a close contest in more than a decade. The last time most former staffers remember seeing Perry work hard on the campaign trail was in 2002, when he was running against Democrat Tony Sanchez. Back then he campaigned in one big market and two medium-sized markets each day and attended fundraisers every other night. (These days he’s doing one, maybe two, public events a week.) “They got soft,” says Paul Burka, a longtime political columnist for the Texas Monthly.

Hmm, I’d say Perry’s 2010 gubernatorial primary against Kay Bailey Hutchison wasn’t exactly a barbeque.

The American Enterprise Institute has a “symposium” on whether or not Perry’s flat tax proposal earlier this week can save his campaign. The consensus is: maybe.

2pm: Now, according to the polls, former senator of rock-ribbed social conservative Rick Santorum hasn’t got a hope in Hades of winning the Iowa caucus (or anything else) but one wonders. Santorum is certainly doing everything he can – here’s his schedule for Monday:

8am CT: Hosts a meet-and-greet. Garner Education Center, 325 West 8th Street, Garner, Iowa

9.45am CT: Hosts a meet-and-greet. Northwood Civic Center, 627 Central Avenue, Northwood, Iowa

11.15am CT: Hosts a meet-and-greet. Osage Public Library, 406 Main Street, Osage, Iowa

12.45pm CT: Hosts a meet-and-greet. Sue Z-Q Restaurant, Highway 9 East, Cresco, Iowa

2pm CT: Hosts a meet-and-greet. Pizza Ranch, 212 College Drive, Decorah, Iowa

3.30pm CT: Hosts a meet-and-greet. Gus Tony’s Pizza and Steakhouse, 508 West Main Street, Waukon, Iowa

5.30pm CT: Hosts a meet-and-greet. New Hampton Public Library, 20 West Spring Street, New Hampton, Iowa

On the other hand, maybe Santorum just likes pizza. And libraries.

Santorum also this bare-knuckle attack ad aimed at Herman Cain’s shifting positions on abortion.

2.29pm: After a set of debate disasters, Rick Perry’s campaign mused about its candidate skipping some of the many debates among Republican candidates still to come.

But the candidate hilmself doesn’t think he will. Perry was speaking to journalists earlier today:

I don’t know whether we’re going to forgo any debates,” the Texas governor said in a question-and-answer session with reporters at the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office, where he filed for that state’s primary. “There are a lot of debates. Shoot, I might be a good debater before this is all over.

Barack Obama was no great shakes as a debater when the primary campaign started in 2007. So, who knows.

3.02pm: It’s a shame Jon Huntsman doesn’t have a hope of winning the Republican presidential nomination, because otherwise this spoof ad by his daughters – the “Jon2012girls” – would be pretty cool.

But he doesn’t, so it’s not. Nice spoof though.

3.13pm: Larry Sabato, America’s political guru, has the last word on impenetrable Herman Cain analogies:

Finally it hit me. Herman Cain is Hal Phillip Walker in Robert Altman’s 1975 masterpiece movie, Nashville. Look it up.

OK then. According to an IMDB plot summary for Nashville:

An independent presidential candidate is running, bold and cheap, under the banner of the Replacement Party: their unbelievable platform includes banning lawyers from Congress and re-writing the national anthem. This uncanny Perot-like figure is never seen, but his campaign wagon blares out rambling, pre-recorded speeches as it lumbers through the film unnoticed. The backdrop is Music City, the characters a myriad and hero-less cross-section of America. The lone foreigner is an insufferable reporter from BBC whose aimless monologues provide satirical counterpoint to the film’s deadpan delivery.

Yes that sounds exactly like contemporary US politics. (No it doesn’t.)

Oh dear, it had Jeff Goldblum in it.

3.28pm: The White House has been forced to address the buzzing mini-controversy over the government’s failed loans to the failed Solyndra solar panel manufacturer.

President Obama visited the Solyndra plant in May 2010. Photograph: Paul Chinn/AP

AP reports:

The White House is ordering a review of loan guarantees made by the Energy Department after a California solar company that got a half-billion-dollar federal loan went bankrupt.

Congressional Republicans have been investigating the bankruptcy of Solyndra amid revelations that federal officials were warned it had problems but nonetheless continued to support it. The House Energy and Commerce Committee could vote as early next week to subpoena White House records related to the loan.

White House chief of staff Bill Daley says the new independent review will assess the condition of other loan guarantees made by the Energy Department. There are more than two dozen of these to a variety of clean energy companies.

Daley said he’s tapping a former Treasury official to conduct the review.

It’s Friday afternoon – and what better time to announce mildly embarrassing news. The toal amount of the loans or guarantees outstanding is about $35bn.

3.49pm: Here’s another good video today from the Jon Huntsman campaign:

That’s the most effective ad to hit Mitt Romney on flip-flopping so far in this election cycle. The monkey is a nice touch.

3.55pm: Charlie Cook, another of America’s prized political pundits, says it’s the approval ratings, stupid:

The best barometer of how a president is going to fare is his approval rating, which starts taking on predictive value about a year out. As each month goes by, the rating becomes a better indicator of the eventual results. Presidents with approval numbers above 48 to 50% in the Gallup Poll win reelection. Those with approval ratings below that level usually lose. If voters don’t approve of the job you are doing after four years in office, they usually don’t vote for you. Of course, a candidate can win the popular vote and still lose the Electoral College. It happened to Samuel Tilden in 1876, Grover Cleveland in 1888, and Al Gore in 2000. But the popular votes and the Electoral College numbers usually come down on the same side.

Currently Obama’s approval ratings are mired in the low 40s. So if that doesn’t start moving upwards, he’s in trouble.

4pm: Remember the $16 muffins that the taxpayer paid for faceless government bureaucrats to stuff into their faces? A terrible business according to the Washington Post … ah, what’s this? [pdf]

Audit of Department of Justice Conference Planning and Food and Beverage Costs (Revised Version), Audit Report 11-43, October 2011 (Originally Issued September 2011)

Revised version? How interesting….

This revised report supersedes the original version of the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) report, “Audit of Department of Justice Conference Planning and Food and Beverage Costs,” Audit Report 11-43, published in September 2011. The original report, which examined event planning and food and beverage costs at 10 Department of Justice (the Department) conferences between October 2007 and September 2009, contained a discussion of costs for food and beverages purchased for an Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) conference at the Capital Hilton in Washington, DC, in August 2009. Among other things, the report concluded that the EOIR had spent $4,200 for 250 muffins, or $16 per muffin, a finding that brought significant negative publicity to the Department and the Capital Hilton.

After publication of the report, we received additional documents and information concerning the food and beverage costs at the EOIR conference. After further review of the newly provided documentation and information, and after discussions with the Capital Hilton and the Department, we determined that our initial conclusions concerning the itemized costs of refreshments at the EOIR conference were incorrect and that the Department did not pay $16 per muffin. We have therefore revised the report based on these additional documents and deleted references to any incorrect costs. We regret the error in our original report.

That’s that then.

4.30pm: That’s enough politics for one week. Thank god for YouTube videos, that’s all I can say.

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Rick Perry may pull out of Republican debates October 28, 2011

The Texas governor, Rick Perry, may skip some upcoming Republican presidential debates, his campaign says, after he saw his frontrunner status fizzle out after a string of poor performances.

A decision to sidestep a campaign staple could cause other Republicans to bow out of the more than half-dozen face-offs scheduled between now and the first primary voting at the Iowa caucuses on 3 January.

The former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is considered the Republican candidate to beat because of his leads in national polls, fundraising and organisation, has also not committed to debating beyond Michigan.

Perry was a late entry in the race to challenge the president, Barack Obama. He missed the first debate, and quickly became the frontrunner only to fall behind after a series of mistakes.

Romney has failed to break away from the pack in polls, unable to ignite the party’s conservative base who are suspicious about some of his liberal positions and his Mormon faith. Perry has attacked Romney on both points.

Perry is essentially returning to the play-it-safe strategy he successfully employed in running three times for governor of Texas.

The state’s longest-serving governor, he has never lost an election and has debated with his rivals only when it could not be avoided. Perry has long conceded that he is not a strong debater, and he contends that his up-close charisma and ability to take a more personalised message directly to voters is key. His closest advisers have built campaigns around that approach and their candidate’s ferocious campaign-trail energy.

It remains unclear whether this approach will work in a national campaign, where debates provide candidates new to the national stage with a huge dose of free media as they look to make themselves better known to primary voters. The stakes are high. Do well, and you could enjoy a burst of momentum, as the Minnesota representative Michele Bachmann did over the summer. Perform poorly, and you risk falling out of favour, as Perry can attest.

Perry does plan to participate in a debate on 9 November, his sixth, but he has not committed to any others.

“We haven’t said no, but we’re looking at each debate,” a spokesman, Mark Miner, said. “There are numerous – 15, 16, 17 – debates, and we’re taking a look at each one and we’re making the appropriate consideration.”

This year, the Republican primary debates have drawn large audiences and have significantly shaped the contours of the race. Eight debates have been held, and nearly a dozen more are scheduled before the end of January.

In the debates so far, Perry has fluffed his lines of attack and rambled through answers. He has looked unprepared, if not angry and confused at times. In one debate, in which Perry’s advisers thought he had improved, some observers felt he acted as a bully.

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US politics live blog: Obama’s new housing plan, Republican presidential candidates in a tangle October 24, 2011

3.08pm: Oh dear – it seems cruel cyber-squatters have been buying and abusing slight variations on the spelling of Michele Bachmann’s name.

Shame on the webmasters of and

2.47pm: The latest staff reshuffle is taking place on the Rick Perry team, with some interesting news: Joe Allbaugh, George Bush’s campaign manager in 2000, is said to be joining the Perry campaign.

The Texas Tribune’s Paul Burka reports the news:

I have also learned from a source in the Perry camp that Joe Allbaugh, who ran Bush’s campaign in 2000, will join the campaign. Allbaugh had previously offered his services but – again, from sources close to the Perry campaign – he was turned down.

I have written on several occasions that there is something wrong inside the Perry campaign. The campaign has been terribly run to this point. I can’t imagine that Allbaugh would come on board if he were not going to be in charge, which means that David Carney may be taking a back seat. It’s about time (from the viewpoint of Perry supporters). The Perry inner circle just doesn’t have enough talent or experience to run a national campaign.

This comes on top of news that Perry has hired three staff members from the successful 2010 gubernatorial campaign of Rick Scott in Florida. On that, Burka says: “It is my understanding that Anita Perry was the driving force who insisted upon a reorganization.”

2.23pm: The article we’ve all been waiting for: “Herman Cain’s Top 7 Policy Reversals

2.12pm: The most hilarious part of the Bachmann campaign destruction was that Bachmann herself had no idea her New Hampshire campaign team had quit at the end of last week:

That is a shocking story to me,” Bachmann reportedly told Radio Iowa during a call-in. “I don’t know where that came from. We have called staff in New Hampshire to find out where that came from and the staff have said that isn’t true, so I don’t know if this is just a bad story that’s being fed by a different candidate or campaign. I have no idea where this came from, but we’ve made calls and it’s certainly not true.

But it was true.

Michele Bachmann: dead meat. Photograph: Charlie Neibergall/AP

2.06pm: The implosion of Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign is a delicious slice of fun for a Monday, thanks to the statement issued by the “Team NH” band of former Bachmann staff in New Hampshire, who resigned en masse over the weekend.

According to the statement – which you can read in pdf format here – during Bachmann’s most recent visit to the state, “several incidents happened that concerned some members of Team-NH. Those incidents will remain private, but they were serious enough for some members to depart the campaign.”

Until these incidents become “unprivate” sometime soon, there appears to have been in-fighting between Bachmann’s national campaign staff and those on the ground in the Granite State:

The manner in which some in the national team conducted themselves towards Team-NH was rude, unprofessional, dishonest and at times cruel. But more concerning was how abrasive, discourteous and dismissive some within the national team were towards many New Hampshire citizens. These are our neighbors and our friends, and some within the national team treated them more as a nuisance than as potential supporters.

Not that Michele Bachmann was ever in with a chance in New Hampshire anyway. Will she stay in the Republican race beyond 4 January 2012? Unlikely.

1.51pm: Earlier today the president of the New York Federal Reserve, William Dudley, gave an unusually excellent speech about the woes of the US economy – and correctly points the finger at the state of the housing market as being a cause and not a symptom of eceonomic malaise:

Problems in the housing market are a serious impediment to a stronger economic recovery. Residential construction – which typically boosts economic activity during a recovery – is at a standstill. Moreover, many homeowners are now consuming less because the decline in house prices reduced their wealth and they are concerned that the decline in home values and wealth may not be over.

Mortgage rates are at record lows and house prices no longer appear overvalued on affordability measures. But obstacles to refinancing and access to credit for home purchases are limiting the support provided by low rates to house prices and consumption. Meanwhile, the large supply of foreclosed homes for sale—and the prospect that unemployment and negative equity will continue to feed the foreclosure pipeline– continues to put downward pressure on home values. The risk of further house price declines in turn discourages would-be buyers from entering the market.

Continued house price declines could lead to even more defaults, foreclosures and distress sales, undermining wealth, confidence and spending. Breaking this vicious cycle is one of the most pressing issues facing policymakers.

A foreclosure auction in Pasadena, California. Photograph: Reed Saxon/AP

So here’s the bad news: Moody’s expects that home foreclosures will hit a record 1.5m in 2012 – that’s an almost unbelievable 30% of all existing homes sales. What will that do to Florida and Nevada?

In his speech today, Dudley says fixing the housing market is “particularly important”:

This calls for a comprehensive approach to housing policy, starting with an urgent effort to remove the obstacles that make it difficult for all borrowers to refinance at today’s low mortgage rates but extending beyond this to tackle other problems weighing on housing.

Taken together, such efforts could help shift people’s expectations about future house prices. If prospective homeowners no longer fear that prices could decline further, they will be more willing to enter the market to take advantage of reduced prices and low financing costs, and existing homeowners will feel more confident about spending. A vicious cycle could be replaced by a virtuous circle, in which stabilization in house prices supports spending, growth and jobs.

1.32pm: Other than the birther-lite remarks by Perry referenced below, the interview in Parade has some other cute stuff that suggests the entire interview wasn’t exactly Meet The Press:

You were once a Democrat, correct?
Right. I never met a Republican until I was 25.

Have you ever voted for a Democratic candidate for president?
Yes, ma’am. In 1976, I voted for Jimmy Carter, because I was in the air force, and I came from an agricultural family. A peanut farmer from Georgia had to be better than anyone else on the Democrats’ side. He was the last Democrat I voted for for president—in fact the only Democratic -president I ever voted for. Holy mackerel, what a mistake.

In 1988, you supported Al Gore’s presidential campaign. Why?
In that group, he was by far the most conservative Democrat. But between Ronald Reagan and seeing what the Democrat Party was becoming, I came to the conclusion in 1989 that I needed to become a Republican.

Have you seen the film An Inconvenient Truth?
No, ma’am.

Have you read the book?
No. I generally don’t watch or read a lot of fiction.

1.07pm: Herman Cain’s rise in the polls has seen him raking in the dollars from Republicans:

Herman Cain’s presidential campaign has been raising more the $1m a week since Oct 1, campaign spokesman JD Gordon told NBC News.

That means his total fundraising this month has already eclipsed the $2.8m Cain raised in the third quarter.

12.45pm: Guess who has raised the most money from the health insurance industry so far in this election cycle? Why, Mitt Romney with $43,750 versus Barack Obama’s $42,675, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

12.23pm: More details on the new mortgage refinancing initiative announced by the White House today, via the Associated Press:

The changes to the so-called Harp program will be implemented by the independent Federal Housing Finance Agency. At its core, the initiative will relax eligibility standards, allowing those who are 25 percent of more underwater on their mortgages to take advantage of loans with lower interest rates.

The administration is also extending the program through the end of 2013. The program was originally slated to end in June 2012.

The federal refinancing program only covers mortgages created before June 2009 and owned or backed by government-controlled mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Borrowers also must be current on their payments.

When the program began in 2009, administration officials hoped at least 4 million Americans would take advantage. But as of August, about 894,000 homeowners had refinanced their mortgages through the program.

The unanswered key question is: how many mortgage-holders will benefit? The White House said it had no estimates for how many homeowners would now be eligible or how many might take up the offer. Without knowing that, it’s hard to pronounce either way on the usefulness of the new plan.

12.03pm: Of the Republican presidential trio, Herman Cain makes his now-traditional flip flop to try to avoid offending part of the GOP base – this time on gay marriage.

New York magazine finds Cain appearing to contradict himself only a week apart. A week ago, it seems, Cain said he didn’t support a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage. But the week before, he appeared to be saying one is needed.

When they say Herman Cain is a “non-traditional candidate,” they are right but for the wrong reasons.

Think Progress goes even further back to find Cain doing a flip-flop-flip on same-sex marriage:

Cain in 2004: “The courts have failed the American people. Congress needs to enact a constitutional amendment to protect the sacred institution of marriage.”

Cain on October 16, 2011: “I wouldn’t seek a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but I am pro-traditional marriage.”

Cain on October 22, 2011: “I think marriage should be protected at the federal level also. I used to believe that it could be just handled by the states but there’s a movement going on to basically take the teeth out of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and that could cause an unraveling, so we do need some protection at the federal level because of that and so yes I would support legislation that would say that it’s between a man and a woman.”

To be fair to Cain: his latest comments – the 22 October remark – doesn’t actually require a constitutional amendment. In fact he does say “I would support legislation”, which could be read as the Defence of Marriage Act or similar, rather than a full-blown constitutional amendment. But still.

11.48am: Mitt Romney has his own problems. After going at Rick Perry hammer and tongs over Texas providing cheaper tuition fees for the children of undocumented immigrants, it turns out that Romney’s own Albatross – his statewide Massachusetts healthcare scheme – also provides one of the “magnets” that Romney has been complaining about:

Uninsured, poor immigrants can walk into a health clinic or hospital in the state and get publicly subsidized care at virtually no cost to them, regardless of their immigration status.

The program, widely supported in Massachusetts, drew little attention when Romney signed the trailblazing healthcare law. But now it could prove problematic for the Republican presidential hopeful, who has been attacking Texas Gov. Rick Perry for supporting educational aid for children of undocumented immigrants in Texas.

Rick Perry: ‘I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night’

11.38am: Meanwhile, Rick Perry appears to be underwater thanks to some silly remarks he made to Parade magazine (a Sunday newspaper freebie) about Obama’s birth certificate. Here’s the transcript:

Governor, do you believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States?
I have no reason to think otherwise.

That’s not a definitive, “Yes, I believe he ” –
Well, I don’t have a definitive answer, because he’s never seen my birth certificate.

But you’ve seen his.
I don’t know. Have I?

You don’t believe what’s been released?
I don’t know. I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night.

That came up.

And he said?
He doesn’t think it’s real.

And you said?
I don’t have any idea. It doesn’t matter. He’s the President of the United States. He’s elected. It’s a distractive issue.

Oh dear. As a general rule of thumb, if you have to cite Donald Trump as an authority on anything it’s a warning sign you are in trouble.

11.16am: Earlier this morning the administration held a conference call to discuss some attempts to unfreeze the housing market, especially those “underwater” through having the value of their outstanding mortgages worth more than the market value of their homes.

The White House says it wants to ease the complex rules of the Home Affordable Refinance Programme (Harp), which allows mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to be refinanced at lower rates.

To date Harp has been something of a failure: instead of refinancing millions of mortgages it has only managed 860,000 by the middle of this year. By lowering the barriers to participation, the administration hopes that many more home-woners will be able to take part.

Good morning. As the ruins of the US housing market continues to throw a dark shadow across the rest of the US economy, the White House has a new plan to help struggling mortgage-holders … and the Republican presidential campaigns continue to revolve around gay marriage, immigration and the veracity of President Obama’s birth certificate.

To start the week, a small but significant proposal to help home owners refinance their mortgages has been announced by the administration – and is quickly criticised for being too modest in its attempt to grapple with the overhang that blights so many states.

Meanwhile, Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are all finding themselves in water of various temperatures over real or imagined sins resulting from past policies or statements.

The good news, for what it’s worth, is that the presidential primary calendar is all but finally fixed, after Nevada backed down in the face of threats and arm-twisting by New Hampshire. Nevada has decided to move its caucus date back to 4 February, leaving the way free for New Hampshire to choose a primary day in mid-January and maintain its unadulterated status as “the first in nation” (other than Iowa).

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Bachmann denies ‘staff walkout’ October 22, 2011

A series of poor debate performances may have impacted Michele Bachmann’s early lead in the polls

Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann has denied reports that her New Hampshire campaign staff have quit.

“I don’t know where that came from,” she told Radio Iowa.

US media reported a walkout by her five team members in the early voting state, which the Minnesota Congresswoman has been accused of ignoring.

Analysts say Mrs Bachmann is focused on winning the presidential nomination contest in Iowa, where her conservative message may have more appeal.

Mrs Bachmann told Radio Iowa: “We have called staff in New Hampshire to find out where that came from and the staff have said that isn’t true, so I don’t know if this is just a bad story that’s being fed by a different candidate or campaign.”

Earlier, Bachmann campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart said she had not been able to contact the New Hampshire staff to confirm they were still on the campaign.

And former Republican state legislator Fran Wendelboe told Reuters news agency that Mrs Bachmann’s perceived lack of focus on the state “underscores the impression that New Hampshire isn’t a priority for her. She’s totally written us off”.

Mrs Bachmann enjoyed an early lead in opinion polls after winning the influential Iowa straw poll in August.

But she lost ground after Texas Governor Rick Perry entered the race and has since dropped to fourth place in many polls.

Her campaign manager, Ed Rollins, quit in September.

Mrs Bachmann has also struggled to win donors for her campaign.

She raised around $4m (£2.5m) in the third quarter, less than Mr Perry, who raised $17m, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who pulled in about $14m.

Iowa is currently due to hold the first caucus in the presidential election cycle in January.

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GOP presidential debate: Herman Cain steps into the spotlight October 11, 2011

As the Republican presidential candidates prepare for yet another televised debate, the greasy pole of GOP opinion produces yet another frontrunner: Herman Cain.

Following in the footsteps of would-be leaders Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry comes the former pizza company chief executive, who boasts of his lack of elected experience, disdains foreign policy and offers simple policy prescriptions that include deep tax cuts, unbending social conservatism and little else.

It’s enough, though, to make him the “flavour of the month” – to quote Sarah Palin – for Republican grassroots looking for a saviour; those who distrust Romney, spurned Bachmann as too lightweight and were disappointed by Perry’s inept entry into the contest.

Over the weekend Cain was feted at the Values Voters Summit in Washington DC, thanks to his rousing address to the conference of religious conservatives and a second-place showing in the summit’s presidential straw poll, behind the methodically-organised Ron Paul.

Now Cain literally finds the spotlight on him in Tuesday night’s debate in New Hampshire, televised by Bloomberg TV. His surge in national opinion polls means he will sit in centre-stage, next to Romney, in the debate itself. And his new status as a frontrunner may see him under attack from other candidates such as Paul and Bachmann.

Cain’s sudden popularity isn’t unusual in the history of Republican politics, where outsiders have caused some startling upsets in the early stages of GOP presidential campaigns. Pat Robertson, Steve Forbes, Pat Buchanan and even Mike Huckabee are some of the names that flared briefly, only to sputter out.

Cain’s rise in national polls can be directly traced to the disappointing performance of Rick Perry, after several uninspiring debate performances and Perry’s inability to overcome a few distinctly unconservative policies as governor of Texas.

The conservative and Tea Party wings of the modern Republican party – which is to say the majority of the GOP – have four core issues: abortion, gun rights, taxation and immigration. Perry fails on the immigration question, because he opposes the simplistic reaction of building a massive fence along the border with Mexico. “If you build a 30-foot wall from El Paso to Brownsville, the 35-foot ladder business gets real good,” was Perry’s pithy response. More crucially, with Perry as governor, Texas offers favourable local tuition fees to some children of illegal immigrants living in the state.

(To explain: US states routinely offer cheaper tuition fees for in-state residents attending a state or public university, such as the University of Texas or Texas AM, considerably below the fees charged to students from out of state. For example: at the University of Texas at Austin, in-state tuition for an undergraduate engineering course is $5,000. For non-residents, the fee is nearly $17,000.)

Perry has nothing to fear on the other three conservative shibboleths, but immigration remains his weak spot, especially when coupled with his apparent inability to hold his own in a debate.

All is not yet lost for Perry. He showed his fundraising prowess by taking in $17m in contributions, the most of any candidate in the latest fundraising round. And one good debate performance may be all he needs to get back on track – especially if the relatively inexperienced Cain finds the spotlight a little too hot.

The other main contender remains Mitt Romney. He appears to have gained nothing from Perry’s slump – a worrying sign that he has too much baggage to win the Republican nomination.

As a former governor of Massachusetts, Romney enjoys very high name recognition in neighbouring New Hampshire, site of the first Republican primary. But even there, his polling lead is just 38% to Cain’s 20% – while only about one in four of those said they would “definitely” vote for him come the election. That’s a disturbingly soft level of support in what should be Romney’s strongest state, and a sign that his history of policy flip-flops leaves him vulnerable.

Tuesday debate in New Hampshire is on the economy, with the three main rivals all having a strong suit. Perry can point to Texas’s record of growth and job creation under his governorship, while both Cain and Romney have a business background – Cain as a chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza and Romney as a venture capitalist. And all three have something to prove.

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Herman Cain: Pizza boss, radio host, ballistics expert, minister. President? October 9, 2011

He is the latest Tea Party favourite to burst through in the increasingly heated race for the Republican presidential nomination and see their poll numbers rocket them to frontrunner status.

However, unlike previous rightwing darlings such as Texas governor Rick Perry and Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, wealthy businessman Herman Cain, 65, can claim to be cut from a very different sort of cloth from the average Republican candidate.

First, he is not actually a politician. Cain, whose CV includes being a radio show host, a navy ballistics expert, a Baptist minister and a Federal Reserve official, has never held elected office in his life. His most famous job was as chief executive of the fast-food firm Godfather’s Pizza.

Yet none of that seemed to matter to the cheering crowds at the Values Voter Summit in a Washington DC hotel late last week. There was much to celebrate. A Zogby opinion poll had just boosted Cain into first place in the race, with 38% of the vote, compared with 18% for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Perry trailed in third place with 12%. The study even showed Cain beating President Barack Obama in a match-up by 46% to 44%.

Cain’s strong debate performances have propelled him forward in the polls at the same time as he has hit the TV networks. He won the Florida straw poll and suddenly pundits are taking him seriously. They are even raising the prospect of 2012 being a fight for the White House between two black candidates. “Cain versus Obama in 2012 – It’s Not Just a Fantasy,” blared the headline on a Fox News story written by black columnist Juan Williams.

That may be going a little too far. Many experts believe Cain is simply the latest beneficiary of a conservative distrust of the presumed frontrunner Romney. Many Tea Party activists and the religious right distrust Romney for his actions on healthcare reform and his policy flips on issues such as abortion.

The nomination race so far has been marked by the rise and fall of a succession of conservative heroes, beginning with billionaire Donald Trump and cycling through Bachmann, Perry and now Cain. “It is like going to the fridge when you are hungry and opening the door and not being able to decide which particular thing to eat. That is what conservatives are doing. They want to pick someone who is not Romney,” said Professor Shaun Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California.

Yet Cain is now faced with a remarkable and unexpected opportunity. He began the race as the sort of unknown candidate that rapidly becomes the butt of late-night TV comedians. His background in the pizza business certainly provided a natural punchline to scores of gags. But now serious Republican figures understand that he can capitalise on his current position. “He has caught the attention of the Republican party. But now he has to hold on to it for the next 100 days,” said Scott Reed, a Republican consultant and campaign manager for Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign. Reed said Cain had to use his high polling numbers to raise some much-needed money and build a “ground organisation” in key early-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Currently Cain is concentrating more on selling his latest book than spending endless days in those tough first states. But he faces a much harder task than simply pressing the flesh with voters: he has to survive the coming media onslaught. “When the spotlight gets brighter you have to be able to handle it. That is the place he is going to go now,” said Reed.

It is not likely to be a happy place for Cain. His polling numbers will now justify the sort of intense scrutiny of his past statements and business dealings that have proved difficult for previous figures like Trump, Perry and Bachmann. There is a lot of material for journalists to get stuck into – Cain is notoriously outspoken and once had his own radio show. His off-the-cuff remarks on numerous subjects could get him into trouble; he has already drawn the ire of many for comments that Muslims could be banned from building mosques and warning that Sharia law might be implemented in the US.

But that outspokenness is also key to Cain’s appeal. His blunt talk and excellent comic timing when making spontaneous remarks have endeared him to many. “Herman Cain is a bright guy that connects intellectually and emotionally with the voters. As we get closer and closer to voting, Cain is likely the last real opponent for the anti-Romney part of the party: the people who want to find anyone else,” said Republican consultant Steve Mitchell, chairman of Mitchell Research and Communications.

Born into a poor household in Tennessee, he was the son of a car driver and a cleaner and during his childhood Cain experienced firsthand “whites only” water fountains and being forced to ride in the back of public buses. His family moved to Georgia and he went to Morehouse College in Atlanta. From there he eventually joined the Navy before going into the business world.

He rose to be chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, where he slashed costs at the troubled chain and closed scores of stores, but dragged the group back into profitability. By the mid-1990s he was working as an official for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City but getting increasingly involved in politics. He advised various politicians on their campaigns – he even ran for president in 2000. “That’s an impressive rise. He was born in the segregated south. We can only imagine what he went through as a kid,” said Bowler.

Almost everyone wrote Cain off as a joke when he began his latest campaign, but Cain made no secret of his ambitions: ” America has problems. I’m a problem solver. That’s why I’m running.”

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