The Brief: Top Texas News for Dec. 20, 2011

The Big Conversation:

The Republican field remains splintered, but many conservatives have found common ground over their deep concern about one increasingly likely scenario: Ron Paul winning Iowa.

Paul, whom a Public Policy Polling survey recently showed moving into the lead in Iowa, has a 52 percent chance of winning the Iowa caucuses, according to FiveThirtyEight's projections, which account for recent polls, polling firm accuracy and candidates' momentum.

Paul's rise, which has coincided with Newt Gingrich's streak of falling poll numbers (he ties, rather than leads, Mitt Romney in a batch of polls released this week), has jolted Republican activists and elites, many of whom think a Paul victory would harm the reputation of the Iowa caucuses, as Politico reports.

"It would make the caucuses mostly irrelevant, if not entirely irrelevant," Becky Beach, an Iowa GOP activist, told Politico. "It would have a very damaging effect because I don’t think he could be elected president, and both Iowa and national Republicans wouldn’t think he represents the will of voters."

Some Republicans also fret that the independents and Democrats who could propel Paul to victory in Iowa will either stay home in November if another Republican wins the nomination, or push Paul to run as a third-party candidate (a prospect he has denied).

"If we empower somebody who turns around and elects Obama, then that’s a major problem for the caucuses," said U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.

Paul's rise has also brought increased media scrutiny to a candidate whom the media, his supporters say, has often ignored. The New York Times today has a look at the Ron Paul Political Report, Paul's 20-year-old political newsletter, which contained racist, anti-gay and anti-Israel passages that the congressman disavowed in 2008.

Culled:

  • Former state Rep. Paul Sadler, D-Henderson, on Monday filed to run for U.S. Senate, two days after retired Lt. Gen. Ric Sanchez, the only major Democratic candidate in the race, dropped out citing personal challenges and fundraising difficulties. Sadler, a former House Public Education Committee chairman, served in the lower chamber from 1991 to 2003. Democratic strategists expressed hope at the prospect of Sadler representing the party, which hasn't won statewide office since 1994. "People who are open to funding a Democrat for U.S. Senate are going to be very open to him," strategist Harold Cook told the San Antonio Express-News. Houston lawyer Jason Gibson also announced Monday that he'd seek the party's nomination.
  • Michael Morton, imprisoned for 25 years for the murder of his wife, was formally cleared of murder charges Monday. But as the Tribune's Brandi Grissom reports, Morton and his lawyers on Monday also asked a state district judge to launch an unprecedented court of inquiry to determine whether Ken Anderson, the prosecutor who Morton says withheld evidence that could have led to his acquittal, broke state law and violated ethics codes while prosecuting Morton.
  • Rick Perry, in the middle of his two-week Iowa bus tour, went after Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney on Monday, accusing them of supporting the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program, which the governor called the "single greatest act of thievery in American history." As the Tribune's Reeve Hamilton reported, Perry also failed to acknowledge during an exchange over immigration that undocumented college students in Texas have access to state financial aid.

"My president’s black, he snorts a lot of crack. Holla. #2012 #Obama." — University of Texas College Republicans President Cassie Wright on Twitter. Wright recently replaced Lauren Pierce, who caught fire for an anti-Obama Tweet suggesting that shooting President Obama was "tempting."

Must-Read:

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