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When President Obama and the GOP's primary contenders talk up the 2012 election as a choice for voters between two visions for the country's future, it's only about half hyperbole.

We'll see a prelude of this fact in the months between now and November both on the campaign trail and on Capitol Hill as politicians club each other with their past votes and statements on taxes, Medicare, Social Security, and other potent issues. But it's not just rhetoric.

To an unappreciated extent, the legislative whipsawing in 2011 has set the country and the parties up for a major reckoning about the role and size of government at the end of next year. And the outcome of the election will help determine which side of the argument wins.

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At an event in Iowa Thursday, Mitt Romney took on President Obama for saying the economy could be worse, saying: “When the president’s characterization of our economy was, ‘It could be worse,’ it reminded me of Marie Antoinette: ‘Let them eat cake,’” reports the Huffington Post.

The comment fits into Romney’s latest attacks on Obama, trying to paint him as a pessimist while Mitt, as he says in his ads, believes in America.

Rick Perry got his court date. On January 13, Perry will go to court in a legal challenge alleging Virginia’s requirements for getting on the ballot are too stringent, reports NBC News:



A hearing on the request from Texas Gov. Rick Perry for a federal court order to place him on the Virginia primary ballot has been scheduled for Friday, Jan. 13th in Richmond before Judge John Gibney, Jr.

Ron Paul on Thursday downplayed the fringe aspects of his old newsletters, saying on an Iowa radio program that the most offensive passages were probably only a small portion of the overall content.

"There were many times I did not edit the entire letter and other things were put in," he told a caller on the Jan Mickelson radio show. "I was not aware of the details until many years later. These were sentences that were put in, eight or 10 sentences. It wasn't a reflection of my views at all. It got in the letter and I thought it was terrible."

He added that the newsletter content in question was "probably ten sentences out of 10,000 pages," and that he only focused on producing the "economics" part of the publication.

But the promotional materials advertising the newsletter from the time indicate that the most out-there racist and homophobic lines were far from a rare sideshow.

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Keith Olbermann, Current TV host and former MSNBC anchor, is largely missing in action on the campaign 2012 front, notes the New York Times.



His absences suggest that there may be new tension between Mr. Olbermann and the managers at Current, who are trying to create a progressive-oriented cable news channel.

In a video to supporters Thursday, Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina made public the many paths to 270 electoral votes he sketched out for reporters last month.

The major highlights: Messina says the campaign is working with more than 40 pathways to victory next year, including strategies that run through Florida and the Midwest (where team Obama has pointed to Democratic organizing in Ohio during the SB5 fight as a key to holding the Buckeye State.)

Perhaps most interesting is the campaign's continued confidence in the South and the confirmation that the Obama campaign thinks Arizona is in play.

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Under attack from Rick Perry for voting for ‘The Bridge To Nowhere’ and other assorted earmarks in the Senate, Rick Santorum told reporters that he would still defend his record even amidst a surge of anti-pork GOP sentiment.

“Absolutely I had earmarks while I was in the United States Senate. Look at the Constitution. Who has the responsibility to spend money?” Santorum said. “Please go take a look at my earmarks. Are there things in there I’m proud of? You bet there are.”

The latest from Public Policy Polling in New Hampshire shows Romney remains in the lead with 36% to 21% for Paul. The only real movement over the last few weeks has been with Newt Gingrich, who has fallen to13% from 17% in their last poll. Jon Huntsman, who seems to have put all his eggs into the New Hampshire basket, dropped one point from 13% to 12%.

A slice of what campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in Iowa looks like: Michele Bachmann expressing her deep, personal connection with the home version of an M-16 rifle.

Republican voters love guns in general, and Iowa is firearm country. The political pheasant hunt has been a key campaign stop for Rick Perry and Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty on the Iowa campaign trail. Bachmann's set to go on her own pheasant hunt Friday.

So that's how you get to Thursday morning's segment on WHO-AM radio in Iowa, where Bachmann talked up the virtues of her favorite assault rifle like a pro.

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It’s always good when an endorsement comes with a little campaigning too. Bob Dole is calling Republicans and urging them to support Mitt Romney. The former Kansas senator still has allies in the state from his own 1996 presidential campaign when he won Iowa, and is calling up old friends from that campaign, reports CNN. Both Dole and his wife, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, have endorsed Mitt Romney.

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