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The Brief: Nov. 21, 2011

Rick Perry and Ron Paul were invited to bare their souls on Saturday night.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

The Big Conversation:

Rick Perry and Ron Paul were invited to bare their souls on Saturday night.

The invitation came during the Thanksgiving Family Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, a roundtable event for the Republican presidential field that focused largely on social issues and the role faith has played in the candidates' lives. “If there ever was a place to bare your soul, this is the place to do it,” the moderator, Republican pollster Frank Luntz, told the six candidates in attendance. (Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, even though his campaign now appears to be playing to win the state, passed on the event.)

Several of the candidates offered emotional testimonies, including Rick Santorum and Herman Cain, who teared up at different times. Perry — who must perform strongly in Iowa to revive his chances of winning the Republican nomination, his team has freely admitted — was less revealing but spoke frankly of the role religion has played in his life during his time in office.

“I’ve been driven to my knees multiple times as the governor of the state of Texas making decisions that are life-and-death," Perry said, according to The New York Times. "The idea that I would walk into that without God Almighty holding me up would scare me to death."

Perry also restated his opposition to gay marriage and, when the topic turned to foreign aid, said, "The idea that we are sending billions of dollars to China, who are aborting 35,000 children a day, is immoral and wrong and has to stop."

Paul, who has drawn attention in the last week for inching toward the top of two new Iowa polls, shied away from deeply emotional testimony but drew a strong contrast with his rivals when the discussion turned to foreign policy and moral justification for war. “It was mischief, getting involved where we don’t need to be involved,” Paul said of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “I think it is an utter tragedy.”

The unconventional forum, hosted by influential conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats, attracted about 3,000 attendees to a large evangelical church. The social-conservative vote factors heavily in Iowa, where, as The Associated Press notes, born-again Christians will make up about 40 percent of the GOP caucus electorate next year, according to recent polls.

Culled:

  • Rick Perry calls himself a Washington outsider "who's willing to step on some toes" in a new ad that started airing Saturday in Iowa and other parts of the country.
  • As the Los Angeles Times writes today, the failure of the Trans-Texas Corridor, the infamous 4,000-mile statewide transportation network, may provide insight into the management style that has saddled Rick Perry's presidential campaign with troubles. As Bill Allaway of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association says of Perry, "He makes a decision and he will back it until he can't any longer."
  • The mayors of two major Texas cities along the Mexican border, Laredo and El Paso, have split on a proposal in the U.S. House that would bring in equipment from overseas war zones to boost border-security efforts, the Tribune's Julián Aguilar reports. Opponents of the bill, like El Paso Mayor John Cook, say shipping war-zone equipment to the border would send the wrong signal to Mexico.

“I feel like Dr. Phil.” — Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who moderated Saturday's faith-centered Republican debate in Iowa, at which a few of the candidates grew emotional while answering questions about the role faith has played in their lives

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