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CAMPAIGN 2012

Survey: Faith factor bigger in primaries

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's Mormon faith is likely to be a factor in the primary elections, but not the general election, says a Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday.

White evangelical Protestants - a key component of the Republican base - are more inclined than the general public to view Mormonism as a non-Christian faith, and support candidates who are from mainstream Christian faiths, says the center's "Religion and the 2012 Election," which tallied responses from 2,001 adults Nov. 9-14.

Thus, white evangelical Protestants' strongest support goes to Georgia businessman Herman Cain, a Baptist (26 percent), followed by former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a Catholic (19 percent), Mr. Romney (17 percent) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an evangelical Christian (12 percent).

This echoes a comment Mr. Cain made to The Washington Times editorial board in July, that "Romney would be a good choice, but I don't believe he can win" because of his religion. "I know the South, and you have to win the South," Mr. Cain said.

However, the Pew survey finds that when Republicans of all faiths are asked whom they prefer, Mr. Romney edges Mr. Cain, 23 percent to 22 percent.

And when Republicans are asked whether they would vote for Mr. Romney or President Obama in a November matchup, they overwhelmingly go for Mr. Romney - including 91 percent of white evangelical Protestants.

PRO-LIFE

Romney, Huntsman last holdouts on pledge

Herman Cain signed the Susan B. Anthony List's pro-life pledge Tuesday, leaving Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr. as the last major GOP presidential hopefuls to refuse to support the pledge against abortion.

"This decision is consistent with the Herman Cain we have come to know," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List. "He understands the wound abortion is to America and especially to the most vulnerable among us - people that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger labeled 'human weeds.' "

The announcement comes as Mr. Cain is losing ground in national polls, thanks in part to old allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior that led to financial-separation agreements with two women who worked under him while he served as head of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. Republicans also say that he has struggled to translate his grass-roots appeal into strong ground operations in the early primary states.

TEXAS

State lawmaker pleads guilty in travel flap

AUSTIN | A Texas state representative has pleaded guilty to a felony charge that he used tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to reimburse himself for travel expenses his campaign already had funded.

Prosecutors say Dallas-area Republican Rep. Joe Driver pleaded guilty Tuesday to a charge of official abuse of capacity. His sentencing is set for Dec. 19.

Prosecutors are recommending Driver be sentenced to five years' probation and pay a $5,000 fine. They've also asked that he repay more than $14,000 to his campaign account and undergo any treatment and counseling recommended by the probation department.

Driver, who has already repaid more than $49,000, has announced plans to retire when his term ends in January 2013.

Messages seeking comment about the plea have been left at his offices.

NATIONAL DEBT

Bachmann: Obama 'AWOL' at deficit crunch time

Rep. Michele Bachmann says America runs the risk of going the route of Greece on fiscal affairs, saying it's time to "pick up a mirror and look into it."

The Minnesota Republican, who's seeking her party's presidential nomination, tells "Fox and Friends" it's tragic that the congressional supercommittee failed to reach agreement on a $1.2-trillion deficit-reduction deal.

And she blames President Obama for the problem, saying he was "AWOL" when crunch time came. Mrs. Bachmann says the president still "blames the people who are in the middle of the problem." She asks, "We didn't see this coming?"

Mrs. Bachmann added in the interview Tuesday: "We look at Greece, and it's obvious what needs to be done. ... We can't afford a welfare state, so don't do it anymore."

HOUSE

Lawmaker to pay back cost of Scotland trip

A New Jersey congressman says he's going to refund his campaign about $10,000 that it spent last June on his trip to the wedding of a donor and campaign adviser in Edinburgh, Scotland. He says the campaign will then donate the money to charity.

Democratic Rep. Robert E. Andrews said Tuesday that the campaign expense, which included $7,725 for a three-night stay at a five-star hotel, was legal, but that criticism of it was interfering with his work.

The campaign did not name the donor whose Scottish wedding Mr. Andrews attended.

The expenses that Mr. Andrews said were campaign-related will be repaid from his personal funds and then that money donated to a group dedicated to helping local homeless veterans. The expenses were first reported by the Star-Ledger newspaper of Newark.

FOREIGN POLICY

Security adviser defends U.S. handling of Iran

National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said Tuesday that Iran has been weakened under the Obama administration, rebutting Republicans and other critics who have called the White House policy on Iran ineffective.

Mr. Donilon's remarks at the Brookings Institution came just hours before a scheduled foreign-policy debate by GOP presidential hopefuls, several of whom have called for a tougher line against Iran. The White House said that the timing was coincidental.

Mr. Donilon told experts at the Brookings Institution that when President Obama took office in January 2009, Iran seemed to many in the region to be "ascendant," its regime faced no significant challenge at home and the international community was divided over how to deal with Tehran's nuclear program.

He said that after Iran rejected U.S. overtures for dialogue, the administration ramped up sanctions, sought to isolate Tehran diplomatically, thwarted Iran's efforts to "meddle" in its neighbors' affairs and strengthened military cooperation with Persian Gulf states. "We have steadily increased the pressure on the Iranian regime and raised the cost of their intransigence," he said.

Mr. Donilon said the administration's international sanctions, internal divisions and the revolts of the Arab Spring have reduced Iran's influence in the Middle East and beyond.

WHITE HOUSE

President to hold third American Indian conference

President Obama will address American Indian leaders Dec. 2 as they gather for a White House-sponsored tribal nations conference at the Interior Department. It will be Mr. Obama's third conference with American Indians. Mr. Obama first met with tribal leaders in November of 2009.

The White House says Mr. Obama has made a commitment to strengthen government relations with American Indians. The conference will give leaders of the 565 federally recognized tribes an opportunity to interact directly with Mr. Obama and with top administration officials.

The 2009 event was the first meeting of its kind in 15 years.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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