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Associated Press/Photo by Henny Ray Abrams

Two-tier contest

Politics | As six candidates appear on Huckabee, a new Iowa poll shows a clear divide in the GOP race

DES MOINES, Iowa-The Des Moines Register's latest poll confirmed that the Republican presidential race has split into two tiers in the state and a forum on Fox News highlighted issues of federalism over a busy political weekend one month before the Iowa caucus.

According to the poll, Newt Gingrich leads in Iowa at 25 percent, followed by Ron Paul at 18 percent and Mitt Romney at 16 percent. Released on Saturday, the same day Herman Cain announced the suspension of his campaign, the poll taken Nov. 27-30 by Selzer and Co. placed Michele Bachmann and Cain at 8 percent each, while Rick Perry and Rick Santorum both stood at 6 percent. Jon Huntsman trails at 2 percent. Cain said he expects to endorse one of his former rivals.

On Saturday night, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee hosted the forum on his Fox News Channel show Huckabee, but he left the questioning to three elected GOP state attorneys general. They focused on the Constitution and limits on national power over the states. Six GOP hopefuls participated, and each sounded themes of returning power to the states, particularly in education policy.

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Viewers in Iowa saw political spots throughout the program from Perry, Romney, and Cain, despite his announcement a few hours before. Romney unveiled a new ad featuring a debate clip in which he calls for spending cuts, with one frame reminding Republicans of South Dakota Sen. John Thune's support. Perry aired three separate messages during the forum, part of an aggressive ad campaign that began just days ago (see "Seeking to surge," Dec. 2).

Perry openly asked the electorate to give him a "second look" and called for a part-time Congress. When Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli pressed him three times to identify by what authority he could follow through on his plan to not implement much of "Obamacare," Perry insisted he could strike down parts of the policy through executive orders.

Paul, widely credited with having one of the better campaign organizations in Iowa, said the nation is destroying liberty in its impossible effort to prevent all violent acts. He also said that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are unconstitutional acts that should be phased out. "If we want to save this country we have to cut [spending]," he said.

Gingrich, under questioning about his standing with conservatives since appearing with Nancy Pelosi in a commercial, said he could best be trusted with balancing a budget because "I've actually done this before." The former House speaker defended his call for dissolving a federal court that banned prayer at a Texas high school graduation as a "Jeffersonian solution" with precedent in 1802. He proposed local selective service-styled boards to examine whether some illegally in the United States for a long time should be able to stay.

Calling the Environmental Protection Agency out of control, Romney came out strongly for hydraulic fracturing, a method of energy extraction that is often targeted for a ban by environmentalist groups. "Look, we all like the renewables," he said, "but renewables alone are not going to power this economy."

Bachmann said that President Obama's healthcare mandate "is the social engineering playground of the left and it has to be stopped." She was pressed on the practicality and costs of her call for deportation of people in the country illegally, believed to number 11 million, and called it the "thorniest" of the immigration policy concerns.

Santorum called for capping federal spending at 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product and supported a constitutional amendment to prevent abortions. "America is a moral enterprise, and we are sick from the inside," he said.

Under the forum's rules, candidates had equal time, but could not-and did not-criticize each other.

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