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Twitter was briefly on fire through Friday afternoon with jokes about Rick Perry who – it was implied in an LA Times article – had apparently called upon a mannequin to speak during a campaign rally in South Carolina.

But ABC News is up with video proving that the Texas Governor was clearly joking. A source close to the Perry campaign told TPM the same shortly before this video became available.

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France has confirmed that it has lost its AAA credit rating, the BBC reports. Standard & Poor’s downgraded France to AA+. Austria is also expected to lose its top credit rating. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, is not expected to.

Mitt Romney is looking to steady his ship in South Carolina after overcoming a week of tough attacks on his Bain Capital days in New Hampshire. But while Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and assorted Democrats have all gone after him from his left flank on the issue, there are signs that he may have weaknesses on the right as well.

In Romney's first ad following the Bain debacle, the campaign turns the focus towards the firm's success stories -- a handful of companies, including Staples, Sports Authority, and Steel Dynamics who grew tremendously under Bain's watch.

"We expected the Obama administration to put free markets on trial," the ad's narrator intones. "But as the Wall Street Journal said, 'Mitt Romney's GOP opponents are embarrassing themselves by taking the Obama line.'"

But a story in the Los Angeles Times today on the aforementioned Steel Dynamics undercuts Romney's free market pitch by highlighting just how much help it received from the government along the way. According to the article, the company received some $37 million in taxpayer-funded grants and subsidies to build a factory in Indiana. Another steel company that went bankrupt after being bought out by Bain sought a $50 million federal loan guarantee to keep it afloat.

"This is corporate welfare," Tad DeHaven, an analyst with the libertarian Cato Institute told the LA Times, calling the Steel Dynamics story "an example of the government stepping into the marketplace, picking winners and losers, providing profits to business owners and leaving taxpayers stuck with the bill."

If the GOP field picks up on the angle, it's possible Romney could face tough attacks on his Bain record from both the right and left heading into South Carolina's Jan. 21 vote.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul returned to the Treasury Department $500,000 — or about 16 percent — of his annual $3 million budget, CNN reports. Paul suggested other members of Congress do the same. “If every senator did the same and every congressman did the same, it would be about $130 million,” he said. “And we’ve got to start somewhere.”

Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will be on CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday. Santorum will also appear on Fox News Sunday, and Gingrich will be a guest on NBC’s Meet the Press. Rick Perry will appear on CNN’s State of the Union.

More listings here.

A federal judge on Friday said that a cardiologist has sent her two letters saying former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has a life-threatening condition that will require surgery in February, the Associated Press reports.

Not surprisingly, third place New Hampshire finisher Jon Huntsman is having some trouble retaining campaign staff, reports Buzzfeed’s Zeke Miller:

Days after his third place finish in New Hampshire, some Huntsman for President staffers have already left the campaign, while others tell BuzzFeed they wish the former Utah governor would drop out so they could join Mitt Romney’s team.