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The Brief: Jan. 10, 2012

Tonight, the first primary of the 2012 election cycle may determine Ron Paul's path forward.

U.S. Rep Ron Paul before going onstage at a Rock the Caucus event at a Des Moines high school on Jan. 3, 2012.

The Big Conversation:

Tonight, the first primary of the 2012 election cycle may determine Ron Paul's path forward.

The big contest, in New Hampshire, a week after the Iowa caucuses, might look settled: Mitt Romney appeared to have locked down the state months ago, with polls since then consistently having shown him with a commanding lead. The New York Times' polling projections now show Romney, the Republican front-runner, likely to claim first place with nearly 40 percent of the vote.

But the race remains a test for Paul, whom the Times projects finishing second, at 19 percent.

While Paul has assembled strong ground organization in the state, a weaker-than-expected showing — third place or worse — could slow his campaign, which faced a minor setback last week in Iowa when the congressman, whom some polls showed leading, finished a close third, behind Romney and Rick Santorum.

Paul may also have to worry about Jon Huntsman, whom several polls have recently shown enjoying a bump in the state. While the former Utah governor appears unlikely to threaten Romney, he could make a play for second place.

“There’s still some volatility out there, which could produce a surprise,” Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, told the Tribune. “I don’t know that [Paul has] got a second burst of energy that would drive him forward in the polls. One thing he does have to his advantage is he’s one of only three candidates on the air consistently right now.”

As for the other Texan in the race, Rick Perry has barely registered in recent Granite State polls. The governor instead has begun crisscrossing South Carolina, where his campaign just added $300,000 worth of TV ads, according to The New York Times, and where on Monday the governor joined his Republican rivals in slamming Romney over his business history.

Culled:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday appeared to wrestle with Texas' crucial redistricting suit, a voting rights case that will also determine how (and likely when) the state holds its elections in 2012. As the Tribune's Ross Ramsey reports, some of the justices, while attempting to determine whether a federal panel in San Antonio overstepped its authority when it redrew the state's original maps, floated the idea of further delaying the state's primaries, which have already been pushed from March 6 to April 3. "They seem to really want to make sure that when the election is held, that it's not hastily done," said state Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, a plaintiff in one of the redistricting suits. "They asked several times how far they could push the election back." A transcript of Monday's oral arguments is available on the Supreme Court's website.
  • The New Hampshire Union Leader, which has endorsed — and aggressively defendedNewt Gingrich, today features on its front page an above-the-fold editorial slamming Mitt Romney and urging the state to keep up its "funny little habit of turning conventional wisdom on its head and deciding things for itself."
  • Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee endorsed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for U.S. Senate on Monday. "Dewhurst is a strong fiscal conservative, with a record to show for it," Huckabee said in a statement. "He’s been an ardent supporter of legislation to create jobs and improve the economy of Texas." The endorsement, as National Journal notes, has again pitted Huckabee against the conservative Club for Growth, which has endorsed Ted Cruz, one of Dewhurst's Republican rivals.

"I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."Mitt Romney in a lengthy spiel Monday in New Hampshire on how his private-sector experience would influence his presidency. Romney's rivals pounced on the comment.

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