Inside Politics

WHITE HOUSE

Obamas attend church across from White House

President Obama and his family attended a worship service Sunday morning at an Episcopal church just across the Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House where presidents frequently have visited.

The president, first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia made the short walk across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Church.

The sermon by the Rev. Luis Leon was based on the story of John the Baptist, who told the religious leaders he was neither the messiah nor the prophet, but a voice calling in the wilderness. Mr. Leon likened the story to the president and voters having mistaken expectations of what Mr. Obama realistically could accomplish. He urged the congregation to open its eyes not to what they want him to be or how they wanted him to change life in America but “to who he really is.”

The congregation laughed in amusement before the announcements as a young boy ran to the front of the church to get a good look at the Obamas.

The first family participated in Holy Communion before strolling back through the park to the executive mansion.

Mr. Obama has worshipped at St. John’s previously, including Easter services in 2009. He also has attended other churches in the city.

One of the church pews has a small brass plaque designating it as “The President’s Pew.” Church history claims that every president since the nation’s fourth chief executive, James Madison, has visited.

IOWA

Santorum, Perry say marital record matters

DES MOINES — Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry and Rick Santorum say a candidate’s fidelity to their spouse is a factor voters should consider, subtly distinguishing themselves from national poll leader Newt Gingrich.

Mr. Perry, the governor of Texas, said: “If you cheat on your wife, you’ll cheat on your business partner. It’s a characteristic people look at.”

Mr. Perry and Mr. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, are both aggressively courting social conservatives and touting their family lives. “Certainly, it’s a factor, and it should be a factor when you’re electing a leader,” Mr. Santorum said.

Mr. Gingrich, who has been divorced twice and admitted past infidelity, was asked the question last and confronted it as he has throughout the campaign.

“I think it’s a very important issue,” he said. “I’ve made mistakes at times, and I’ve had to go to God for forgiveness.”

CONGRESS

Supreme Court halts new Texas electoral maps

The Supreme Court blocked the use of Texas state Legislative and congressional district maps that were drawn by federal judges to boost minorities’ voting power.

The court issued a brief order Friday that applies to electoral maps drawn by federal judges in San Antonio for the Texas Legislature and Congress. The justices said they will hear arguments in the case Jan. 9.

Texas says the federal judges overstepped their authority and should have taken into account the electoral maps that were drawn by the Republican-dominated Legislature.

The order brings to a halt filing for legislative and congressional primary elections that began Nov. 28.

The primaries had been scheduled to take place in March, but with the Supreme Court’s intervention, those elections almost certainly will be delayed.

The maps issued by the judges appeared to give Democrats a greater chance of winning seats in the state House and Senate than did the plans approved by those bodies and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry.

ENERGY

GOP group’s ads to hit Obama about Solyndra

A Republican-leaning group will begin airing a major advertisement this week critical of the Obama administration’s pouring of government stimulus money into a now-defunct solar energy company backed by Obama supporters, the Associated Press has learned.

Crossroads GPS will spend $500,000 on three cable network ads that hit President Obama for “crony” government spending in his administration’s half-billion-dollar-loan guarantee to Solyndra.

The Fremont, Calif.-based solar-panel maker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September and was the first renewable-energy company to receive a loan under a stimulus-law program to encourage green energy.

The “nationwide ad by Crossroads GPS is aimed at exposing this ugly underbelly of Obama’s vision,” according to a memo from Crossroads President Steven Law. It calls the Solyndra case “a powerful cautionary tale about big-government hubris and the cronyism it invariably invites.”

CAMPAIGN

Obama says Romney, Gingrich both different from him

In making the case for his re-election, President Obama argued Sunday that it doesn’t matter who the Republicans nominate to run against him because their candidates’ core philosophy is the same and will stand in sharp relief with his own.

In a wide-ranging interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, Mr. Obama said that if voters believe in the Republican agenda of less regulation and lower taxes, including on the wealthy, then he will lose.

But “I don’t think that’s where the American people are going to go,” he added, “because I don’t think the American people believe that based on what they’ve seen before, that’s going to work.”

For some time, Democrats have anticipated running against Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, but with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich atop many polls now, Democrats have begun to turn their fire on him. Mr. Obama argued that the two Republicans represent the same fundamental set of beliefs.

“The contrast in visions between where I want to take the country and what … where they say they want to take the country is going to be stark,” he said.

He rejected questioner Steve Kroft’s suggestion that the public was judging him on his performance as president.

“I’m being judged against the ideal,” he said. “Joe Biden has a good expression. He says, ‘Don’t judge me against the Almighty, judge me against the alternative.’ “

CAMPAIGN

Tea party group denies Obama-as-skunk joke racial

HUTCHINSON, Kan. — A tea party group in Kansas says its depiction of President Obama as a skunk is satire, not racism as claimed by the leader of a iberal black group’s local chapter.

Hutchinson-based Patriot Freedom Alliance says on its website that like the president, the skunk is “half black, half white, and almost everything it does stinks.”

According to the Hutchinson News, local NAACP President Darrell Pope sees no humor in the depiction, which he calls a blatant statement of racism.

Local tea party supporter Chuck Sankey said the item is satirical and that former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has been the target of worse insults than what’s on the website.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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