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One of Rick Santorum’s top aides in South Carolina is a former lobbyist convicted of bribing a Senate aide in connection with the Jack Abramoff scandal. James Hirni avoided prison by working as an informant, according to a Daily Beast profile in 2010. Now, Buzzfeed reports, he’s working on the Santorum campaign, though whether he’s a paid staffer or not is unclear.

TINA CASEY

Scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory are developing a small robotic planetary exploration vehicle that weighs about two pounds, powered by the unique electricity-generating properties of a mud-dwelling microorganism called Geobacter.

The Geobacter would be used in a fuel cell powerful enough to run the microrover's basic functions while also charging a small battery. The battery would kick into use as needed to run additional equipment and to operate the microrover's propulsion system.

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MANCHESTER, NH -- The GOP field will get its first shot at trying to slow Mitt Romney's Iowa momentum at Saturday night's ABC/Yahoo!/WMUR debate at St. Anselm College.

For months, the field has remained largely divided and ineffective in its attacks on Romney, opting just as often to take shots at each other in debates as a parade of dark horses briefly rose to the top tier only to quickly collapse, But there's no question who the frontrunner is on Saturday: polls show Romney well positioned for big wins in New Hampshire, which has long been expected, and South Carolina, which is more recent and surprising. If he wins the latter, the nomination fight could be over fast.

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Newt Gingrich’s campaign staff are firing supporters up for a confrontation with Mitt Romney in Saturday’s debate, suggesting that Gingrich’s increasingly tough attacks will make their way to the stage.

In an e-mail entitled “Last Chance To Challenge Romney,‘ Gingrich aide Kellen Giuda promised a tough fight. Take a look:

Dear Friend and Supporter,

After months of grueling campaigning, the next couple of weeks present the last opportunity to stop Mitt Romney from being the Republican nominee for President. As an early Tea Party organizer and committed conservative, I cannot fathom undoing all of the incredible things regular Americans accomplished since the birth of the Tea Parties by nominating a Massachusetts moderate like Mitt Romney to carry the banner of the Republican Party.

This nomination is a critical point in the direction of our party. Will we be able to claim the conservative mantel of limited government, personal responsibility, and free markets by electing a Reagan conservative like Newt Gingrich, or will we spend the next 4-8 years lost in the hypocrisy wilderness with a big-government Republican like Mitt Romney? The establishment has executed a brilliant campaign strategy on behalf of Mitt Romney by methodically tearing down each potential conservative challenger so that Romney could win with less than 30% support, but they saved their nastiest attacks for Newt Gingrich because they understand that he is the only candidate who poses a threat to the Romney coronation.

Tonight Newt will take the debate stage, and he will once again show why he is the only candidate with the bold conservative ideas to lead this nation. This is your call to action: we must make our stand in South Carolina and we need all the help we can get. 70% of Republican voters reject the idea of a Romney candidacy, but we must unite behind a single candidate before South Carolina in order to win. Please contact every conservative you know, and together we can elect the only candidate with the debate skills, experience and ideas to repudiate the failed policies of Barack Obama.

Romney and his Super PACs will continue their vicious smear campaign against Newt, because right now he is all that stands between them and the nomination. Please make a donation and help us respond!

Thank You,

Kellen Giuda Newt 2012 National Coalitions Director

Fresh from all the excitement that was the Iowa Caucuses, the circus is now rolling in to New Hampshire. The scrutiny is landing on the new rising star, but the leader of the pack has decided the state is not worth his attention. Because he's already won it.

And, as the song says, "the animals came in two by two", now it seems so do the debates. With barely even enough time to blink, the Republicans are dumping two debates within the space of less than a day on us. So, prepare yourself for that...

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On Friday, the Justice Department did something it hasn't done since 1929: it changed the definition of rape.

For over 80 years, for the purposes of crime collection data, rape was defined as forcible male penile penetration of a female. This excluded a vast number of sexual crimes including oral and anal penetration, or instances when a victim was unable to give consent. The new definition makes up for these oversights. It also expands the definition to reflect that anyone -- male, female, or transgender -- can be a victim of rape.

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Update: Roll Call reports he's dropped out of the race.

South Carolina state Rep. Thad Viers, who's running for a seat in Congress and was named a one of the National Republican Campaign Committee's "On The Radar" candidates, was arrested on Friday for allegedly harassing a 28-year-old woman who broke off her relationship with him in July.

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Throughout his campaign, Newt Gingrich has painted himself as the Republican candidate who will reach out to minority voters, particularly the African American community. Gingrich escalated those comments Thursday when he expressed a willingness to address the NAACP on "why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps." When the NAACP called Newt's comments "divisive," Newt appeared baffled by their unenthusiastic response. Here's the problem.

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