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Inside Politics

- - Thursday, December 15, 2011

IOWA

Skeleton team leaves Gingrich few choices

DES MOINES — Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has little choice but to rely on momentum to carry him to victory in the Iowa caucuses.

He has a skeleton campaign organization in a state where successful caucus candidates typically have had well-built machines aimed at turning out supporters. To build a stronger operation with less than three weeks until the leadoff 2012 contest, he has to scramble.

The former House speaker is hoping the typical rules don't apply to him in a campaign that already has been far from typical.

"You're not going to have a successful campaign in the caucuses on organization alone," said John Stineman, an uncommitted Iowa Republican who ran Steve Forbes' 2000 caucus campaign. "You have to have some heat. Newt's getting hot at the right time. It's a matter of whether he can sustain the heat."

Getting a winning share of support from caucus goers in 1,774 precinct-level party meetings across the state on a cold, early January night requires some level of coordination, such as nailing down supporters in each of Iowa's 99 counties.

Mr. Gingrich, whose mass staff departures in June stunted his Iowa campaign, is trying to cobble together his Iowa team using emerging social media methods and time-tested grass-roots work.

He has just nine staffers in Iowa, fewer than most of his rivals. He opened his campaign office just two weeks ago, while others have had state headquarters for months.

HOUSE

GOP lawmakers critical of high-speed-rail project

Republican lawmakers are casting doubts on the viability of California's high-speed-rail project and suggesting they're ready to halt federal funding to build the proposed 800-mile line.

A House panel held a hearing Thursday on the viability of the project, which has more than doubled in cost to $98.5 billion. GOP Rep. John L. Mica of Florida, the panel's chairman, described the project as "imploding." Others called it a boondoggle.

But Democratic lawmakers said the state's transportation network is overwhelmed and alternatives are needed to keep the state economically competitive.

Democratic Rep. Jim Costa of California said that with low interest rates and inflation, now is the perfect time to invest heavily in the high-speed rail line.

IOWA

Perry links himself to military, cites record

COUNCIL BLUFFS — Rick Perry is turning to his military service as a selling point to voters looking for a veteran in the Republican presidential campaign.

The Texas governor is looking for a second wind with mere weeks until Iowa starts the nominating process with its Jan. 3 caucuses. He is lagging in the polls and working hard to recapture the fervor of his August entry into the race.

Heading into Thursday's debate in Sioux City, Mr. Perry is expected to highlight his service. He is looking to use his record to tap into veterans, older voters who helped Sen. John McCain win the nomination in 2008. The only other military veteran in the GOP race is Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

WHITE HOUSE

Administration stands by Marine's award

President Obama is standing by his award of the Medal of Honor to a Marine in the Afghanistan war despite a published report charging exaggerations and untruths in the official account of the Marine's bravery.

Mr. Obama presented the award to Sgt. Dakota Meyer on Sept. 15, calling him the "best of a generation" that joined the military after the Sept. 11 attacks. He described a day in 2009 when he said Sgt. Meyer braved enemy fire in eastern Afghanistan to save U.S. and Afghan comrades.

But McClatchy Newspapers said its review of documents turned up numerous assertions that are "untrue, unsubstantiated or exaggerated."

Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that the award was based on sworn testimony and reviewed by the Marine Corps, and Mr. Obama "remains very proud" of Sgt. Meyer and his "remarkable acts of bravery."

The Marine Corps also said it stands by the process that determined Sgt. Meyer deserved the medal.

"The rigorous award investigation process focuses on source information from direct eyewitnesses and other contemporaneously or near-contemporaneously recorded information," said the statement from Marine headquarters at the Pentagon.

The Marines acknowledged that the process was not flawless.

"Because of the nature of the events supporting awards for valor, it is normal for minor discrepancies to appear when reviewing the source information and collecting eyewitness statements," it said.

The Marines also acknowledged that the public narrative of Sgt. Meyer's actions on the battlefield, as it appeared on the Marine Corps website, was his "personal account" of what happened. "We supported this communication method in large part because of Sgt. Meyer's personal desire to not retell with each interview, and thereby relive, what he calls the 'worst day' of his life."

IOWA

GOP governor unsure of Gingrich's discipline

SIOUX CITY — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, says he's unsure presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has the discipline and focus to be president.

In an Associated Press interview Thursday, Mr. Branstad was asked if the former House speaker, who is leading in Iowa polls, had the discipline to be president.

Mr. Branstad said of Mr. Gingrich, "Whether he has the discipline and the focus, I don't know."

Mr. Branstad said he probably won't endorse a candidate before the Jan. 3 caucuses in Iowa.

He described the Republican race in Iowa as volatile and said missteps count in the final days.

CONGRESS

College playoff supporters start national campaign

Proponents of a college football playoff are launching a national campaign aimed at taking down the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).

The We Want a Playoff Now campaign was introduced Thursday on Capitol Hill. It includes the lobbying firm the Moffett Group, headed by former Rep. Toby Moffett, Connecticut Democrat, and the communications firm, New Partners.

Along with that effort, two congressmen are forming the Congressional Collegiate Sports Caucus. The congressmen, Texas Republican Joe Barton and Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen, are reintroducing Mr. Barton's 2009 bill aimed at forcing college football to switch to a playoff system. The long-shot bill would ban as unfair and deceptive the promotion of a postseason NCAA Division I football game as a national championship unless it's the outcome of a playoff.

Bowl Championship Series Executive Director Bill Hancock said coaches and athletes prefer the bowl system to a postseason tournament, adding that decisions about college sports are best left to those in higher education, not politicians.

From wire dispatches and staff reports