A political tipsheet for the rest of us

AP News
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Posted: Jan 06, 2012 7:09 PM
A political tipsheet for the rest of us

Friday, Jan. 6, 2012

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

PILING ON ROMNEY: With days to go before New Hampshire's primary, rivals for the Republican presidential nomination are hammering away at leader-of-the-pack Mitt Romney, contending he lacks of a core set of beliefs. They're hoping to exploit one of Romney's biggest vulnerabilities _ his shifts on issues that have led to charges of political opportunism _ while pushing character issues to the forefront of a contest that has been dominated by the economy. For now, the former Massachusetts governor appears set to win New Hampshire, with his rivals now eyeing South Carolina to slow his momentum.

PILING ON SANTORUM: Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is drawing heat from rivals for his votes to extend the debt ceiling and for pet projects for his state. Both Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who finished behind Santorum in Iowa, and his son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, criticized Santorum for voting several times to raise the debt ceiling and fund the Education Department, one of the Cabinet-level agencies Paul would cut. Sen. John McCain, campaigning with Mitt Romney in South Carolina, criticized Santorum for voting for pet projects that often lard budget bills. "Earmarks are the gateway to corruption," McCain said. "Rick Santorum sponsored earmark after earmark."

LOOKING AHEAD: South Carolina voters got a peek Friday at new television ads that focus on values, one released by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and another by a group backing former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Perry's ad emphasizes his humble beginnings and service in the Air Force, while the ad released by a group backing Santorum calls their candidate "the principled conservative ... the conservative we can trust."

BY THE NUMBERS: The latest TIME/CNN/ORC poll was a sobering one for Mitt Romney's rivals in South Carolina. The former Massachusetts governor has 37 percent support, a 17-point gain since early December. Rick Santorum was at 19 percent, a 15-point surge, and in a statistical tie with Newt Gingrich, who plummeted from 43 percent support.

WHERE THEY WERE:

Five of the six contenders for the Republican presidential nomination campaigned in New Hampshire on Friday. Romney, Santorum, Huntsman, Paul and Gingrich crisscrossed the state, meeting voters. The state's primary is Tuesday.

Romney was also looking ahead to South Carolina's Jan. 21 primary, campaigning in that state with Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the party's 2008 nominee.

Only Texas Gov. Rick Perry stayed off the trail Friday.

President Barack Obama had a power lunch with the not-so-powerful Friday. He and four winners of a contest for those who contribute small sums to his campaign _ the suggested donation to enter was $3 _ gathered at a trendy, Asian-inspired restaurant in Washington. The winners included a teacher and an Afghanistan war veteran. The Obama re-election campaign has offered the meals with the president, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to boost online contributions.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ME:

MY WALLET: Republican Rick Santorum is calling for immediate reductions to Social Security benefits that would include raising the eligibility age and tightening restrictions on benefits for upper-income people. Americans now qualify for reduced Social Security benefits at age 62 and full benefits at 66, which will soon rise to 67. Santorum offered only modest details on how he'd implement his proposed changes and has not said how much money his plan would save. Texas Gov. Rick Perry came under attack for calling Social Security a "Ponzi scheme," but he tried to recover by saying that changes in benefits would not affect current or soon-to-be retirees. Romney has said current retirees should not face benefit cuts, but like Santorum, he's called for increasing the eligibility age for Social Security and slowing benefits for upper-income recipients. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has said younger workers should be given the option of diverting Social Security taxes into private retirement accounts.

IN THEIR OWN WORDS:

_"Thirty-five consecutive months of unemployment above 8 percent is no cause for celebration." _ Mitt Romney, in a statement on unemployment figures dipping.

_"The only way Republicans lose is if we screw this up and nominate another moderate who has taken multiple positions on every major issue of our time." _ Rick Santorum, in a fundraising letter.

_"What I object to is bringing forward pictures and videos of my adopted daughters and suggesting there's something sinister there." _ Jon Huntsman, on ads from Ron Paul supporters that question Huntsman's patriotism because two of his adopted daughters are foreign-born.

_"I understand it's an ugly ad and I've disavowed it." _ Texas Rep. Ron Paul, on the ad that swipes at Huntsman for adopting foreign children, calling the ad "way out of order."

_"Now, there's no neighborhood I know of in America where, if you went around and asked people would you rather your children have food stamps or paychecks, you wouldn't have a majority saying they'd rather have paychecks." _ Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, expanding on previous comments regarding African-American communities.

DEBATE DOUBLE-HEADER:

A pair of debates will bring the candidates together for the first time since Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul finished first, second and third in the Iowa caucuses, the first voting of the season. It's also the first debate without Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who dropped out earlier this week.

Saturday night's face-off is sponsored by ABC News and New Hampshire TV station WMUR. It starts at 9 p.m. EST, at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. ABC's Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos moderate.

Sunday morning find the candidates in Concord, N.H., in a debate sponsored by NBC's "Meet the Press" and Facebook. The program's host, David Gregory, will moderate.