TPM News

The Republican presidential candidates are stepping up Thursday night for another round of debates -- this time in the big swing state of Florida, ahead of the state GOP's straw poll on Saturday.

Gov. Rick Scott has been talking up the straw poll, seeking to raise the profile of his state party in the nomination fight, and even claiming that the winner of the contest will become president. A bit bold perhaps, but with polling indicating a close race at the moment between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry in the state, Florida's importance is growing rapidly in the primaries as well as the general election.

So in preparation for the debate, let's review some key things to look out for.

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The White House is pushing back against charges of favoritism towards a telecom firm Lightsquared, citing numerous instances in which administration officials have raised concerns about its plan to create a new wireless broadband network.

Lightsquared is trying to secure permission from the FCC to launch its new network, but there are concerns that its proposal would interfere with civilian and military GPS devices. The Daily Beast's Eli Lake reported recently that two government officials, including an Air Force General, William Shelton, were asked by the White House to alter their testimony to include a suggestion that the Pentagon could address these concerns with 90 days of testing. OMB routinely reviews officials' statements, so there's nothing inherently wrong in providing suggestions as a general matter, but both ended up rejecting the language and Shelton reportedly felt pressured. Now House Republicans are demanding an investigation into whether donations to Democrats from Lightsquared CEO Philip Falcone and his wife influenced the administration's behavior.

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ORLANDO, FL -- There's a myriad of Republican events here this week, from a CPAC convention to a massive gathering of state GOP members to a nationally-televised presidential debate. And a group of progressives intent on preserving the 2010 health care law hopes to cast a pall over all of them with a reminder of an ugly moment from the last time the Republican candidates for president stopped off in the Sunshine State.

Protect Your Care, which has been keeping the fire burning on the "let him die" moment from the Sept. 12 tea party debate in Tampa, is turning the heat up to 11 with events and a new TV ad that will broadcast for the rest of the week in Orlando, including during Thursday's Fox News debate.

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Former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold offered enthusiastic praise for President Obama's deficit plan, and particularly for the so-called "Buffett rule" -- a principle holding that people who make more than a million dollars a year should pay at least the same effective tax rate as middle class workers.

"I just want to say how pleased I am that the President is taking a strong stand with this Buffett rule," Feingold said in a Wednesday interview. "What excites me even more, is it's the only fiscally responsible approach."

Feingold's new advocacy group Progressives United will press the joint Super Committee to adopt the Buffett rule as part of a broader deficit reduction plan. In an email to supporters, Feingold will make it explicit. "[T]he influence of big corporations and the super rich is strong in Congress, and several senators -- including Democratic ones -- are already opposing this crucial effort," the solicitation reads. "Tell the super committee how important it is to make millionaires pay their fair share."

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Arnold Schwarzenegger’s has a book deal, the New York Times reports. It’s tentatively titled “Total Recall” and is due out in October 2012, published by Simon & Schuster.

Politicians hectoring the Federal Reserve is nothing new. Members of both parties have done it based on disagreements over myriad financial and economic issue over the years. In that way Tuesday's letter from GOP leadership to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, warning him against pursuing more monetary stimulus, was part of a storied American tradition.

In other ways it was extraordinary. This came from leaders speaking for an entire party, and more-than-plausibly represents an effort to prevent the Fed from improving the economy for political reasons.

In the end, the effort proved ineffective -- the Fed announced a new round of monetary stimulus as expected. But it exposed a widening rift between the GOP and the Fed, which until now had been limited to posturing GOP primary candidates and fringe members of the GOP caucus.

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Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) continues to press his attack against fellow GOP presidential contender Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX). In an opinion piece published this morning on, Romney once again accuses his rival of wanting to dismantle the program, rather than repairing it.

"In his 2010 book, 'Fed Up,' Perry calls Social Security 'a crumbling monument to the failure of the 'New Deal.' It is a program, he writes, that 'we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years' and was enacted 'at the expense of respect for the Constitution.' An absolute failure based upon 'fiscal insanity,' the program, he says flatly, should be dismantled and turned over to the states."

Romeny concludes that it would be “a moral wrong to renege on the ‘iron-clad commitment’ we have made as a society to our nation’s elderly and vulnerable. The American people are looking to keep Social Security alive and well, and I believe the Republican Party should be committed to doing just that.”

Both men have increased the intensity and frequency of their attacks on each other over the last few days. The scuffling will continue live and in prime time tonight during the Fox News/Google debate.

Governor Rick Perry may have a problem the next time he campaigns in North Carolina. According to “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue,” Perry tried some Eastern N.C. BBQ from King’s of Kingston during the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston, TX.

Upon tasting the meat, Perry weighed in on the pride of the region’s cuisine. “I’ve had road kill that tasted better than that,” he judged.

The South is split not just by States, but also by regions of BBQ. Whereas some regions prefer dry-rub, others prefer vinegar or molasses based sauces brushed on the slow-smoked meat, and there is fierce debate over exactly which region produces the best combination of meat, spice and sauce. Voters would generally prefer a politician that pretends to like all their food.

In an opinion piece published by Politico late Wednesday night, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) asked conservatives which they would prefer more: a Republican candidate with conservative values or a Republican in the White House.

He wrote, “considering what’s at stake—the possibility of four more years of President Barack Obama’s ruinously wrongheaded ideas—electability is a key factor. We have to win.”

The former GOP presidential candidate touted Romney’s experience in the private sector, pointing out that “He has an extraordinary command of the economic challenges we face, gained from day-in, day-out experience working in the marketplace. If ever America needed a leader who knows his way around the business world, it is now.”

The op-ed concludes with yet another dig at challenger Rick Perry’s statements on Social Security. The two campaigns have traded barbs with increasing frequency and intensity over the last few days, building tension before tonight’s debate.