Rick Santorum chomps a wing and catches a glimpse of the Pinstripe Bowl game.

Rick Santorum visited a crowded Buffalo Wild Wings in Ames, Iowa, Friday afternoon as the Pinstripe Bowl game between Iowa State University and Rutgers played on bigscreen TVs. Most of the restaurant's patrons paid no mind to the GOP candidate, who has shot to third place in recent caucus polls after a key endorsement from anti-gay activist Bob Vander Plaats and the implosion of rival Michele Bachmann's campaign. But his sudden relevance won him the attention of dozens of members of the press, who swarmed him as he snaked his way through the crowd to the only open tables in the room.

Between cheers from beer-guzzling football fans, Santorum slammed front-runners Mitt Romney as a liberal Republican with "better hair" and Ron Paul for being in the "Dennis Kucinich wing of the Democratic Party on national security." The family values right-winger pandered to tea partiers to safeguard his status as social conservative du jour, though members of an anti-abortion group calling itself The Iowans for Life stuck flyers denouncing Santorum as a "Pro-Life FRAUD!!" with a "long and storied history of campaigning for radical pro-abortion candidates for political office" on every car in the lot.

"Get out of the way, there's a game on!" irritated Iowa State football fans yelled as Santorum, swarmed by the media, blocked their views.: Joe Scott"Get out of the way, there's a game on!" irritated Iowa State football fans yelled as Rick Santorum, swarmed by the media, blocked their views. Joe Scott

"[Santorum's rise in the polls] does not reflect well upon us" as a state, Anders Dovre told me as the candidate stood just a few feet away. Dovre, who lives in the town of Slater just a few minutes outside Ames, came to watch the game and didn't know Santorum would show up, but said he follows politics closely. He voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but plans to caucus for Jon Huntsman on January 3 and said he could maybe support Romney too, but no other Republican. "We're smarter than this," he said. "We admitted the first woman to the bar. We have gay marriage in this state. But what are we portrayed as in the national media now? A bunch of bumpkins, meth addicts, and gay bashers."

Rick Perry stumbled on Thursday when he asked by a voter whether he still opposed the 2003 Supreme Court's ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down his state’s statute prohibiting homosexual conduct—gay sex, in other words. At the time of the ruling, Perry had defended the law, telling reports, "I think our law is appropriate that we have on the books." In his 2010 book Fed Up!, Perry included Lawrence in a list of cases he believes were wrongly decided.

But when the topic came up in Iowa, he drew a blank, and instead segued into a very broad answer about states' rights:

He ultimately admitted that he couldn't remember what Lawrence was about, telling reporters, "I'm not taking the bar exam." That drew a swift response from Perry's biggest rival in Iowa, Rick Santorum, whose passionate opposition to the Lawrence decision inspired sex columnist Dan Savage to redefine his name. As Santorum put it: "Rulings like Lawrence v. Texas would be a good thing to know if you are running for president."

But if Perry's memory failed, he hasn't changed his views any. Pressed on Thursday in Marshalltown on why he opposed hospital visitation rights for gay couples, Perry explained, in a blunt ending to a roundabout answer: "Listen, I love the sinner, I hate the sin." I asked his spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier on Friday whether, given his foggy response the day before, the Governor still opposed Lawrence. Answer: Absolutely. "The remarks in his book are still the case," Frazier said. As for Thursday's slip-up: "It was part of a point about the 10th Amendment."

It's not the first time the Governor—who leans heavily on notecards when he's on the stump—has done a faceplant. (Perry, for his part, acknowledges that "I'm not good at Jeopardy or encyclopedia.") But it's worth taking a step back and pointing out that, in 2011, two top contenders in the Iowa caucuses believe states should have the right to criminalize homosexual conduct.

"Taliban ringtones."

Right off the bat it sounds like a laughable rumor, perhaps on par with urban legends involving Hello Kitty cocaine. Sadly, the reality of Taliban cellphone jingles isn't a joke at all to the people of Afghanistan—and can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Afghan shopkeeper Nasratullah Niazai has developed a brisk new business over the past year. For about $2 a pop, he uploads into customers' cellphones a collection of Taliban songs and ringtones...[T]he songs and ringtones romanticizing the insurgents' jihad against the infidel invaders serve as potentially lifesaving travel insurance for Kabulis who brave increasingly perilous countryside roads.

Sentries at improvised Taliban checkpoints, some only an hour's drive away from central Kabul, routinely check travelers' cellphones. As a result, government officials, police, soldiers, security guards, university students, translators for Western companies, construction workers and scores of others go to extraordinary lengths to scrub their phones of any evidence of links to the coalition and the Afghan government—and to masquerade as Taliban sympathizers.

The WSJ report cites the expanding industry of Taliban songs, chants, and ringtones—a Taliban spokesman claims that insurgents manage dozens of singers "each of whom produces on average of one 12-song album every month" to help "ensure that people don't turn to ungodly secular music." Much of the lyrical content focuses on lessons in Islamism and "bravery, manliness and protecting the country from the invaders," and many of the top-selling tunes are sung by kids with "beautiful and attractive voices."

Newt Gingrich.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

When House Democrats refused to seat Indiana Republican Rick McIntyre in 1985 because of an ongoing recount, Newt Gingrich was quick to cry foul. When Democrats eventually seated McIntyre's opponent, Frank McCloskey, who won by just four votes, Gingrich scanned the pages of history to put the event in its proper context. He settled on the Holocaust.

As he explained in a floor speech:

We have talked a lot in recent weeks about the Holocaust, about the incredible period in which Nazi Germany killed millions of people and, in particular, came close to wiping out European Jewry. Someone said to me two days ago, talking frankly about the McIntyre affair and the efforts by the Democratic leadership not to allow the people of Indiana to have their representative but, instead, to impose upon them somebody else, something in which he quotes [German poet Martin] Niemoller, and I have never quite until tonight been able to link it together—Niemoller, the great German theologian, said at one point: "When the Nazis came for the Jews, I did nothing…and when the Nazis came for me, there was no one left."

And when the Nazis came to Indiana, we did nothing, because that never happened. Gingrich hasn't mellowed with age, either. When he failed to meet the requirements for the Virginia ballot last week, his spokesman told the press that "Newt and I agreed that the analogy is December 1941"—Pearl Harbor.

A US soldier briefs US Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, as he conducts an on-site survey of outposts in Paktika province, Afghanistan, December 19, 2011. US Army photo by Sgt. April Campbell.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

When Michele Bachmann was riding high, her campaign had a certain Hollywood feel. Hundreds of supporters packed into a steamy, smelly revival tent in Ames to hear her and country superstar Randy Travis before the Iowa Straw Poll. She kept a county fundraiser in Waterloo waiting until the lights at the Electric Park Ballroom hall had been set to her preference, and everything was just so, before bounding onto the stage—to Elvis, her favorite. The Bachmann campaign played up her celebrity appeal, the idea that you weren't showing up to see just another presidential candidate. At her campaign kickoff event in Iowa, I met a family who had driven five hours from St. Cloud, Minnesota, in matching t-shirts emblazoned with "Michele Bachmann, Super Hero" on the front. Has anyone ever bedazzled anything for Rick Santorum?

Things are different now, in the final days before the Iowa caucuses. The media gaggle that once traipsed after Bachmann has thinned out. She no longer ends speeches by inviting supporters to stick around for souvenirs (although she still signs them) and apple pie. And instead of Elvis, Bachmann's jingle of choice is now Train's "Hey Soul Sister," a song the Village Voice once described as a "warm washcloth of facepalmy puns and cutey-poo pukulele." In the parking lot of Legends American Grill in Marshalltown, the 98th and penultimate stop on her weeklong tour of Iowa's 99 counties, Bachmann bounces out of her bus, pukulele on the speakers, doles out a few hugs and handshakes, and spends about 30 seconds cutting the rug with a 9-year-old boy in a blue Marshalltown Bobcats t-shirt. "I'll dance with you anytime," she says, high-fiving. "Do you know that song? Do ya?" He nods yes. They pose for a photo, Bachmann crouching at the boy's side, and she makes him a promise: "I'm gonna dance with you again sometime, okay?" The iPhone cameras pop out, reporters scramble for the kid's name, all seems well in Bachmann world.

Fourteen-year-old Frankie Hughes, right, was one of 12 Occupy Iowa protesters arrested Thursday in Des Moines.

Occupy Iowa continued a string of protests on Thursday, this time outside Democratic Party headquarters in Des Moines, resulting in the arrests of 12 people. Among them was 14-year-old Frankie Hughes, who was released into her father's custody at the scene and may face a juvenile court proceeding. The overall tenor of the arrests was peaceful and symbolic.

When the protesters first arrived, Iowa Democratic Party chairwoman Sue Dvorsky and executive director Norm Sterzenbach came out to greet them. The two party officials spent about 20 minutes expressing their frustrations with what they considered to be a distraction, but also their willingness to listen to the protesters' grievances. Then they went back inside to prepare for the January 3 caucuses, and soon called the police.

The protesters originally planned to demonstrate outside Barack Obama's campaign headquarters, after having focused their attention Wednesday on Mitt Romney. They changed their plans after an impromptu early morning protest at Ron Paul's headquarters, and after hearing that Obama's headquarters had closed for the day. At the new location, about 40 protesters focused their attention on Obama's ties to Wall Street and his support of the National Defense Authorization Act, which codified the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects arrested on US soil.

"We are here to listen to you. We are not trying to ignore you," Dvorsky had told protesters before the arrests. "But we don't know what you want," she added, expressing frustration that, after eight protesters were arrested at the same location 10 days prior, some occupiers had turned down a subsequent offer to meet with her and instead showed up to protest on Thursday unannounced. When protesters asked Dvorsky to make a phone call to the White House to request that the president meet with Occupy Iowa, she refused, calling the demand unrealistic. "You guys are working outside of electoral politics," she added. "We work inside of it. That's the best answer I can give you."

This is a painting of Newt Gingrich.

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich put his foot squarely in his mouth last March when he condemned the enactment of a no-fly-zone in Libya just two weeks after calling for a no-fly-zone in Libya. It was an obvious reversal—but not without precedent.

In November 1994, Gingrich balked at a $5 billion aid package for Bosnia, calling the conflict in Yugoslavia "a European problem" that should be resolved by America's European allies. Just one month later, though, he'd had a change of heart. That December, Gingrich called for the complete removal of European peacekeepers, to be followed by a stepped-up American air presence leading up to a Bay of Pigs-style exile invasion (again with American air support). The idea, as reported by the New York Times' Elaine Sciolino, was as follows:

After the peacekeepers withdrew, "You would say to the Serbs, 'We insist on a general cease-fire and we are telling you right now we reserve the right to hit every target in every part of the country simultaneously if you don't stand down,'" he said. "We're not going to play games. We're going to take out your command and control. We're going to take out all of your inventory. We're going to take anything that moves on your roads. We're going to take down every bridge in your part of the country. We're going to break you, and we're going to do it in three days."

Meanwhile, the United States would mount a covert operation to airlift part of the Bosnian Government Army to a friendly country such as Egypt, Israel or Morocco for training and arming by the Americans.

And Mr. Gingrich would do that even though, as he told the town meeting, "I don't think the Bosnians are any angels either."

"If they were winning, they'd be about as brutal as the Serbs."

Gingrich's reasoning was simple. Although he now considers the UN to be a "corrupt, inept, bureaucratic machine" that infringes on American sovereignty, Gingrich felt that the Serbs had disrepected the international body and needed to be taught a lesson. It was a dramatic reversal—one that made the conservative foreign policy establishment more than a little uneasy.

But at least Gingrich had an exit strategy. As he told Sciolino, "If they can't win, we should surrender."

Following an afternoon of protests outside both a Wells Fargo branch and Mitt Romney's Des Moines headquarters on Wednesday, 15 or so Occupy Iowa demonstrators regrouped at their headquarters. Nathan Adeyemi, a member of Occupy Cedar Rapids hailing from eastern Iowa, called for volunteers to help disrupt a Ron Paul campaign appearance set to begin a half hour later. "I've been looking forward to it all day," Adeyemi told me on the short car ride to the State Fairgrounds.

But when the handful of protesters arrived at the building in which Paul would speak, it was clear that a last-minute mic check effort would be difficult to pull off. More than 500 people, many of them avid Paul supporters, were waiting out a series of endorsement speeches and patriotic sing-alongs that felt a bit like the opening act of a rock show.

Paul soon took the stage, and as Adeyemi started shouting for the mic-check he was quickly surrounded by Paul supporters. Many began cheering to drown out Adeyemi's recitation of the script he'd brought, which criticized Paul for opposing abortion rights and supporting the elimination of social programs. One Paul supporter escorted him out of the building while members of the media crowded around Heather Ryan and her 16-year-old daughter Heaven Chamberlain, two of about 12 protesters left in the building (another four had yet to arrive). The mother and daughter linked arms with the other protesters and were forced to the back of the auditorium as Paul supporters yelled at them. The small group had barely been able to disrupt Paul's speech, with just a brief chuckle coming from the candidate when he heard Adeyemi's initial "mic-check!" call.

Despite the tension between the protesters and Paul supporters, they shared some common ground. Occupier Clarke Davidson carried an "End the Fed" sign, echoing a key demand of many Paul supporters. But Davidson said he refuses to support Paul because he isn't running as an independent and remains a participant in a broken political system.

For some of the protesters, the thwarted mic-check was still a worthy effort to call attention to what they see as the candidate's pseudo-populism. "I particularly dislike Ron Paul because of his use of popular language to try to make himself appear to be a person who represents the interests of the poor and the middle class," Adeyemi explained. "He's trying to basically co-opt the vote of people who are frustrated with the establishment."

Ryan, a veteran of the Gulf War, said that although she is a peace activist she considers Paul's non-interventionist foreign policy to be "naive."

Other protesters were plainly frustrated with the lackluster results of their effort to disrupt the event. "It was bad, it was a bust," said Katie Coyle, of Coralville, Iowa. "They out-shouted us." Still, she said, "we did get a lot of cameras on us."

UPDATE, Thursday, December 29: On Thursday morning, five Occupy Iowa protesters were arrested for blocking the entrance to Ron Paul's campaign headquarters in the Des Moines suburb of Ankeny. They protested Paul's opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency, and among those arrested was Clarke Davidson, who reportedly said that he was a Paul precinct captain as police cuffed him. "But I’m here in solidarity," he said. "I don’t support every single position Ron Paul holds."

US Army Spc. Devon Boxa, 7-158th Aviation Regiment, admires the Afghanistan landscape out the back door of her CH-47D Chinook helicopter as another Chinook follows. The choppers were flying from Kabul to Jalalabad December 17, 2011. US Army photo by Spc. Ken Scar, 7th MPAD.