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The Brief: Sept. 9, 2011

Suddenly, the race for the Republican presidential nomination has narrowed to a fight over Social Security.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national conference in San Antonio on Aug. 30, 2011.

The Big Conversation:

Suddenly, the race for the Republican presidential nomination has narrowed to a fight over Social Security.

A day after Wednesday's Republican debate, at which Mitt Romney slammed Gov. Rick Perry for doubling down on his characterization of Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie to our kids," Romney again went after his chief rival on the entitlement program, exposing a simmering debate between the two leading candidates over electability and a gaping divide over strategy.

“I want to save Social Security,” Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said Thursday on Sean Hannity’s radio show. “It is an essential safety net for the American people. And No. 2, it is terrible politics. If we nominate someone who the Democrats could correctly characterize as being against Social Security, we will be obliterated as a party.”

Earlier in the day, Romney's campaign released an opposition research document titled “RICK PERRY: RECKLESS, WRONG ON SOCIAL SECURITY.

Romney's argument that fiery attacks on Social Security — often called the third of American politics — could hurt the Republican Party stands in sharp contrast to Perry's pointed, sustained critiques of the entitlement system, which he also laid out in his book Fed Up! The debate, though, extends beyond Social Security: For Romney, it's about broad appeal, which a Republican would need to win; for Perry, it's about blunt talk, which the country needs right now to succeed.

The Perry campaign says it has no problem with that distinction.

“People want a leader who is passionate,” Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner said Thursday, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Perry, in California on Thursday to raise money, drew praise from supporters for his debate performance. “Ponzi scheme!” a crowd yelled out when asked what they'd call Social Security, The Washington Post notes.

As The New York Times puts it: "For the next several months, the Republican contest may shape up as a fundamental question for Republican voters as they seek a candidate to challenge Mr. Obama for the right to occupy the Oval Office: whether they want a Texas Republican or a Massachusetts one."


  • Central Texans on Thursday began returning to their homes after unprecedented wildfires started tearing through thousands of acres on Sunday. Officials now say that about 1,400 homes have been destroyed — nearly double earlier estimates. But the Houston Chronicle reports that the fires now appear headed toward Harris County.
  • Enlivening a race that stayed relatively quiet over the summer, former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz on Thursday accused fellow U.S. Senate candidate David Dewhurst of avoiding Republican grassroots activists, saying that "no candidate is going to be able to simply write a check and win." Dewhurst, who began drawing criticism last month for skipping Tea Party forums, defended his campaign: “I don’t respond to silly comments,” he said, according to The Dallas Morning News. “It’s been a full-time job for me to find good staff and get our fund-raising operation going.
  • A conservative Christian group has mounted a final push to gather signatures to recall El Paso Mayor John Cook and two city representatives for their votes in favor of extending health benefits to gay and unmarried partners of city employees. Cook, as the El Paso Times reports, may sue to challenge the signatures, some of which he says have been gathered — in violation of election code — by preachers in churches.

"It just looks like a war zone." — A Bastrop County resident to the Austin American-Statesman on what remains of his wildfire-charred ranch


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