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Flirting with a kingmaker role, Sarah Palin bashed Mitt Romney and praised Michele Bachmann in an interview with Sean Hannity on Tuesday night.

"Bless his heart, I have respect for Mitt Romney, but I do not have respect for what he has done through this debt increase debate," she said. "He waited until it was a done deal that we would increase the debt ceiling and more money would be spent, more money would be borrowed and spent on bigger government, and then he came out and made a statement that he didn't like the deal after all. You can't defer an issue and assume that the problem is then going to be avoided."

Her words echoed similar attacks from Romney rival Jon Huntsman as well as Democratic strategists like Priorities USA's Bill Burton. Like Huntsman, she praised Bachmann for taking an early position on the debt ceiling (she was a firm "no" on any increase from the start).

"She spoke out and she cast her vote according to her principles, she stood true," she said.

Palin has shown little indication she'll enter the race, though she said in the interview she hasn't made up her mind yet. But her direct attack on Romney suggests that she might play a significant role from the outside. It's unclear if she still has the same influence she used to, however, even with her famously loyal base of followers. A heavily promoted pro-Palin film, Undefeated, proved a box office disaster this month even as Palin lent it her personal seal of approval.

After a lukewarm segment last night, Sarah Palin returned to Hannity tonight to defend the Tea Party from criticisms comparing them to terrorists. The topic put Palin squarely back in her element, and she took the opportunity to slam President Obama for not being more vocal in opposing the hyperbolic rhetoric. Arguing that the administration had been far too lenient on actual terrorists to permit such language, she quipped, "if we were real domestic terrorists, I don't think President Obama would have a problem with us."

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It's all sun and smiles for Michele Bachmann's latest Iowa ad, except for the dialogue. Titled "Believe It," the spot features Bachmann discussing her vote against raising the debt ceiling and slamming her colleagues for "looting the treasury and bankrupting the nation." Like the rest of the presidential field, Bachmann is rallying her supporters for the crucial Ames Straw Poll on August 13, and the ad asks voters to come join her for the big day.

Mitt Romney's jobs-focused message has proven effective thus far, helping him solidify his frontrunner position in the GOP primary while the other candidates are still caught up in the day-to-day chaos of the campaign. But it's also among the more depressing campaigns in recent memory, relying on a constant stream of hard-times imagery ranging from foreclosed homes to unemployed workers (metaphorically) lying down in the road waiting to be run over. The latest campaign video, on joblessness in Chicago, is even timed to kill the mood at President Obama's birthday party.

Is it a dark theme for dark times or just gratuitous misery? Either way, make sure you're far from any sharp objects or ledges before you look at the following lowlights.

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Rick Santorum fired a verbal salvo at early-education programs on Tuesday, telling an Iowa crowd that government pre-school programs are part of a hideous plot by the government to indoctrinate children.

"It is a parent's responsibility to educate their children. It is not the government's job. We have sort of lost focus here a little bit," said Santorum, the Des Moines Register reports.

"Of course, the government wants their hands on your children as fast as they can. That is why I opposed all these early starts and pre-early starts, and early-early starts. They want your children from the womb so they can indoctrinate your children as to what they want them to be. I am against that."

In order to shield his own family from indoctrination, Santorum and his wife have home-schooled their seven children through the eighth grade.

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