The Big Conversation:
On caucus eve, the political fortunes of the two Texans running for president stand in stark contrast.
For Rick Perry, who as recently as three months ago looked like the only plausible Republican alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney, Tuesday's Iowa caucuses have become a battleground in the race for third place. With Romney and Ron Paul presumably fighting for first place, the Perry campaign must now fend off Rick Santorum — whom polls have shown enjoying a last-minute surge — and a fading Newt Gingrich in hopes of surpassing expectations. The governor, who this weekend faced scrutiny over a barn-burning Politico story on the internal strife that appears to have riven his campaign, will today bring in hundreds of Texas volunteers — including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs — to help with the effort.
For Paul, what's done is largely done. The Texas congressman, who four years ago finished in fifth place in Iowa with 10 percent of the vote, has emerged as a wild card, vaulting to the top of several state polls recently, presumably with the help of his enthusiastic supporter base and powerful ground organization. But for Paul, who took a break from campaigning this weekend, finishing in the top three — which for him appears all but assured — may be victory enough. "This is ideological," he said Friday in Iowa, according to Politico. "So it isn’t a numbers game. It has to do with determination." Paul plans to return to the state Monday.
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The latest polling shows Romney in front but Paul in the mix and Santorum gaining. A Des Moines Register poll released Saturday showed Romney leading with 24 percent, Paul on his heels with 22 percent and Santorum on the rise with 15 percent. Polling from the Register famously predicted Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 Democratic caucuses.
The most recent numbers, from Public Policy Polling, released late Sunday, show Paul, Romney and Santorum in a virtual three-way tie: Paul at 20 percent, Romney at 19 percent and Santorum at 18 percent.
The New York Times' polling projections now put Romney's chances of winning Iowa at 38 percent, Paul's at 34 percent and Santorum's at 24 percent.
- To close out 2011, the Tribune has taken a look at what lies ahead for Texas politics and policy in 2012. Among the questions asked (and answered to the best of our ability): How will Rick Perry’s presidential bid play out? How will lawmakers’ multibillion-dollar budget cuts affect education, Medicaid and health care? And will the courts ever decide on new state House, Senate and congressional districts so Texas can hold elections this year?
- In a blow to environmentalists, a federal court on Friday halted the Environmental Protection Agency's controversial cross-state air pollution rule, which would have sought to reduce certain emissions from power plants in Texas and 26 other states. Texas officials, including Gov. Rick Perry, praised the move. "The court was right to stay this highly flawed, job-killing rule that was based on inaccurate and incomplete information," Perry said in a statement.
- Supporters of Donald Trump have filed paperwork to get the business mogul and reality TV star on the Texas ballot as a third-party presidential candidate, according to the conservative news site The Blaze. Trump said in a statement that he hadn't authorized anyone to act on his behalf but was flattered by the attention. "I will not, however, rule out a third-party candidacy if the Republicans nominate a candidate who cannot defeat Obama," he said. "And I recently changed my party registration in New York state to preserve my legal option to appear on the ballot in all 50 states if I do decide to run."
"There has never been a more ineptly orchestrated, just unbelievably subpar campaign for president of the United States than this one." — An unnamed senior adviser to Rick Perry as quoted in Politico
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