The Brief: Top Texas News for Dec. 16, 2011

The Big Conversation:

In the last debate of the year, Rick Perry survived, but Ron Paul thrived.

During the two-hour event in Sioux City, Iowa, as the Tribune's Jay Root and Thanh Tan report, Perry avoided any serious gaffes, drawing positive reaction from the crowd while discussing border security and touting his proposal to make Congress a part-time governing body.

Perry, whom recent polls have shown inching up in Iowa but still stuck in third or fourth place, said he was prepared to face President Barack Obama in a general election.

"I'm kinda getting to where I like these debates," Perry told the crowd of about 1,500. "As a matter of fact, I hope Obama and I debate a lot, and I'll get there early. We will get it on and we will talk about our differences."

Perry also delivered one of the night's most memorable lines when referring to his hopes for a comeback. "I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses," he said.

Paul, whom several polls have recently shown breaking into the top tier of Iowa contenders, did little to expand his appeal beyond his core group of supporters. But the event offered him considerable face time and, in an exchange with U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in particular, an opportunity to further distinguish himself from the Republican field.

"We don't need another war!" an exasperated Paul said as the topic turned to whether Iran possesses nuclear weapons. Bachmann called Paul's views "dangerous."

Overall, the candidates kept their exchanges more civil than in past debates, likely in hopes of crafting positive closing messages for Iowa voters, who caucus in less than three weeks. Front-runner Newt Gingrich, though, faced an onslaught during the first half of the debate, mostly for his acceptance of $1.6 million in consulting fees from mortgage lender Freddie Mac.

Culled:

  • The Perry campaign will move some staff from its Florida, South Carolina and Texas offices to Iowa in the coming weeks, CNN reports. A senior campaign adviser called the move an attempt to satisfy eager staffers interested in helping the campaign before the crucial first-test caucuses on Jan. 3.
  • Rick Perry suggested Thursday that even if he places as low as fourth in next month's Iowa caucuses, he won't be dropping out of the race any time soon. "You’ll still see me in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida," Perry told Fox News.
  • Politico reports that Mitt Romney has scored the endorsement of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, whose support could prove critical ahead of the state's primary next month. Haley said today that she'd spoken with every Republican candidate except Ron Paul, who she said "never made the call."
  • Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., who endorsed Rick Perry last month, has violated the civil rights of Latino inmates and acted a “systematic disregard” for the Constitution, according to a scathing report released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"Don't believe everything you read in the Austin American-Statesman."Rick Perry during Thursday night's debate in response to questioning about a Statesman report from earlier this year on a loan guarantee program he oversaw in the 1990s. The Statesman's editor said that Perry did not object to the story at the time and that the paper stands by its reporting.

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