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The Brief: Jan. 17, 2012

A confident Rick Perry and a typically unwavering Ron Paul helped make Monday night's debate one of the most fiery face-offs of the season.

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The Big Conversation:

A confident Rick Perry and a typically unwavering Ron Paul helped make Monday night's debate one of the most fiery face-offs of the season.

But the Republican presidential field's sustained, aggressive attacks on front-runner Mitt Romney's business record and character did little to alter the dynamics of the race.

In one of his strongest debate performances, a confident, more relaxed Perry, drew cheers for attacking the Obama administration on states' rights and accusing the president of waging a "war against organized religion." Perry also criticized President Obama's condemnation of four Marines who were videotaped urinating on Afghan corpses.

Turning to Romney, Perry tweaked his "vulture capitalist" business attack by calling on the former Massachusetts governor to release his tax returns.

"Mitt, we need for you to release your income tax so that the people of this country can see how you made your money," Perry said. "As Republicans, we cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now." Romney said he might do so by April.

Paul struggled for airtime in the first quarter of the debate but soon took a beating for calling on the U.S. government to capture terrorists like Osama bin Laden instead of killing them.

Newt Gingrich called Paul's argument "utterly irrational." Romney said bin Laden deserved the "bullet in the head that he received." The crowd booed Paul loudly at times, like when he spoke of a "golden rule" foreign policy in which Americans  “don’t do to other nations what we don’t want them to do to us.”

As for Perry, who on Monday for the first time appeared to have come to terms with the long odds facing his candidacy, a strong debate performance has likely come too late to make a difference.

As Time's Mark Halperin writes, while Romney lost focus during the night as Gingrich and others scored points, his performance isn't likely to hurt him with many voters.

Culled:

  • A group of influential evangelical Christians voted over the weekend to coalesce behind Rick Santorum, but new revelations indicate that the religious-conservative vote remains fractured. Doug Wead, a former aide to President George H.W. Bush who represented Ron Paul at the event, told The Washington Times that he suspected organizers "manipulated" the meeting and may have even rigged the vote in favor of Santorum. "By the time the weekend was over, it was clear that this had been definitely planned all along as a Rick Santorum event," Wead said. Another evangelical attendee said he saw one of the participants writing Santorum's name on four ballots before dropping all four in the ballot box. On Monday, four attendees of the meeting also issued a statement that said, "Many there were and still are for Newt Gingrich."
  • Wikipedia will shut down the English-language version of its website on Wednesday to protest the Stop Online Privacy Act, a piece of anti-piracy legislation authored by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, that has drawn fierce opposition from technology companies. "If passed, this legislation will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States," the Wikimedia foundation said.
  • Citing the ongoing legal fight over the state's redistricting maps, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn told The Associated Press that he doesn't expect Texas' primaries to be held on April 3. And that prospect, as the Tribune's Ross Ramsey reports, is creating a fundraising hurdle for many candidates, whose contributors are holding on to donations as they await a federal ruling.

“Obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists."Rick Perry on Turkey at Monday night's debate. (Turkey is a crucial U.S. ally.)

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