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The prelude to the 2008 election included months of speculation about how then candidate Obama might redraw the political map--and whether that rehash of the political fault lines would be permanent or temporary. Colorado was very much part of that discussion: a state with changing demographics that has elected both Democrats and Republicans to statewide positions in the past decade.

A new poll from Public Policy Polling (D) shows President Obama hasn't exactly endeared himself to the voters in Colorado, as his approval rating is at 46% against 50% disapproval. But the new survey really exposes a major indicator in the 2012 process: despite being at a low point in the current national polls, the GOP field is so weak that no Republican candidate even gets within the margin of error against the President in the Rocky Mountain state.

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You might say that 2012 really starts tonight. At 9pm Eastern time, the declared Republican presidential candidates take the stage at Iowa -- barely two days ahead of the Ames Straw Poll, which many consider the unofficial first round of the primary season.

Of course, this debate will also be interesting for who it doesn't have: Texas Governor Rick Perry. Today he made it official that he'll be declaring his candidacy on Saturday. His shadow is sure to loom large over tonight's proceedings.

TPM's livewire will keep you updated of the night's events as they happen. We'll also be posting blog posts, fuller articles, and video throughout the evening.

Meanwhile, in preparation for the debate itelf, here's TPM's advice on what to look for:

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Nebraska Attorney General and GOP Senate candidate Jon Bruning caused a stir this week when he compared welfare recipients to raccoons scavenging for insects. According to an aide, he's since realized he may not have picked the best metaphor for the poor.

"It was an inartful statement and one Jon regrets making," Bruning campaign manager Trent Fellers told the Associated Press in a statement. "As Attorney General, Jon's been a strong supporter of welfare reform and giving welfare recipients a hand up and not just a hand out."

In a video released by liberal tracker American Bridge 21st Century on Tuesday, Bruning told an audience about a misguided environmental program that collected endangered beetles in buckets using rat carcasses as bait -- only to be thwarted when raccoons raided the buckets for the tasty bugs.

"The raccoons figured out the beetles are in the bucket," Bruning said. "And its like grapes in a jar. The raccoons - they're not stupid, they're gonna do the easy way if we make it easy for them. Just like welfare recipients all across America. If we don't incent them to work, they're gonna take the easy route."

It sounds like something out of "The Minority Report," but apparently it's really happening:

Corporations are reaching into people's minds to mine their emotional reactions to their products and advertising campaigns and concepts.

This mind-blowing phenomenon is the subject of a fascinating -- yet at the same time incredibly creepy magazine story-- in the September issue of Fast Company by writer Adam L. Penenberg.

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Surely Super Committeeman Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) will appreciate his fellow Ohioan Sherrod Brown (D-OH) vouching for his willingness to compromise.

"Rob has shown a willingness to find common ground by looking at both tax reform and spending cuts in order to reduce the deficit," Brown said in a statement after GOP leaders announced their six appointees.

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Coming off of Tuesday's state Senate recall elections, Democrats remain determined to recall Gov. Scott Walker next year, though they were unsuccessful in their ambitious goal of taking a majority in the state Senate. But for his part, the prospective recallee Walker says the people of Wisconsin don't want yet another election.

"I think setting aside me, if you went around and talk to the average voter, the best thing they like about today is the ads are gone, at least outside of these two remaining Senate districts," Walker said, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

"I've heard repeatedly from people who are just disgusted at all the ads, disgusted at all the money. They're tired of seemingly year-round campaigning, and whether it's a gubernatorial recall, any other recall, I don't think there's a whole lot of enthusiasm for having a whole 'nother wave of ads and money come into the state of Wisconsin."

Democrats had hoped to flip the Republicans' 19-14 state Senate majority by gaining at least three seats. When the votes were counted in the six Republican incumbents' districts, though, the Dems gained two seats for a 17-16 GOP majority, with two remaining recalls next week in districts held by Democratic incumbents.

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