Variations on a theme: Grant Wood's American Gothic (left), and the label for New Hampshire-based Smuttynose IPA

New Hampshire voters are different than you. So we've been told, anyway. "New Hampshire voters are no pushovers," writes the Los Angeles Times, informing us the the residents of the Granite State are, variously, "cranky," "obdurate," and "independent." They're also "Yankee stoics," "no-nonsense," and "rock-ribbed," adds McClatchy's David Lightman. Conservative talk radio host Mark Steyn calls New Hampshirites "crusty," "cranky," and "contrarian." Hardball host Chris Matthews attempted to sum up the state's electorate as "real," "American," and "flinty." "We take the vetting of the candidates very seriously," says Republican Kelly Ayotte, the state's junior senator.

New Hampshire voters are many things (or at least many different varieties of rock), but one thing they are absolutley not is Iowan. That's the message that's seeped out over the last 12 months or so from politicians, editorial boards, and even a few candidates. "They pick corn in Iowa; they pick presidents in New Hampshire," said Jon Huntsman, who's banking his presidential fortunes on the relative cranky flintiness of Granite State residents. MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell best captured the conventional wisdom, explaining that, contra New Hampshire, Iowa is "too white, too evangelical, too rural" to make much of a difference on the GOP nominating race. (New Hampshire is 93.9 percent white; Iowa is 91 percent).

But are they really so different? My colleague Andy Kroll busted the myth of New Hampshire maverick voter on Friday. And a quick comparison of the two states' legislative activity over the last three years reveals some serious overlap. Is Iowa the crazy one? Or was it New Hampshire? Match the nutty proposal with the appropriate state:

Gage Skidmore/FlickrGage Skidmore/Flickr

It was a homecoming, of sorts. On the eve of the New Hampshire presidential primary, Jon Huntsman returned to the Exeter Old Town Hall Monday night for his final rally in this state. Huntsman had launched his campaign in Exeter back in June, but the two events couldn't have been more different. This summer, as Huntsman recalled, "a few people" showed up for his Exeter launch, an indifferent crowd with "a look of disbelief." And why wouldn't they have? Huntsman was an ex-diplomat, just returned from years in China, unknown to most anyone outside Utah.

Fast forward more than 170 public events, and the hall shook with excitement Monday. Reporters and cameras crowded into the upper balcony; before speaking, Huntsman did interviews with the popular talking heads Greta van Susteren of Fox News and CNBC's Larry Kudlow. Then, as the hundreds of supporters jammed into the 157-year-old hall grew restless, Huntsman and wife Mary Kaye emerged. The crowd roared with approval. Both Huntsmans looked at ease at the center of it all, more comfortable than they have in the past week. Mary Kaye led with a genuine, heartfelt, and—most important of all—brief introduction, and then Huntsman took control. The crowd hung on his every word.

"Ladies and gentlemen, can you feel a little bit of momentum in the air?" he exclaimed. "Can you feel the energy out there, ladies and gentlemen?" When he finished, duel confetti guns went off, raining down flakes of red and white and blue. U2's "Beautiful Day" filled the hall.

Huntsman is peaking at just the right time. A recent American Research Group poll showed him in second place in New Hampshire, surpassing Ron Paul, while others show him further back but still surging.

Yet there was an inescapable feeling in Exeter that this is as good as it gets for Jon Huntsman. This is Peak Huntsman.

Here's why. Huntsman has staked his entire campaign on a strong showing in New Hampshire; anything less than second place and poof, all of his momentum here in the Granite State is gone. A second-place finish behind Mitt Romney, not unlike Rick Santorum's near-win in Iowa, could bring in some much-needed donations to help him compete in South Carolina, the next primary fight. But even then, Huntsman's prospects are dim.

Huntsman has little, if any, campaign infrastructure in South Carolina—or anywhere else, for that matter—and notched 1 percent there in a recent CNN/Time poll. That's not surprising: Huntsman's more moderate positions on social issues don't appeal to South Carolina Republicans in the same way they do to New Hampshire voters. "Jon Huntsman's profile as the most liberal candidate in the field really limits his growth potential and makes him very unlikely to gain any meaningful traction," South Carolina pollster Jon Lerner told the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. And at any rate, Huntsman doesn't have time for 170 events in South Carolina to win over skeptics. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has campaign operations in almost every state, and leads in South Carolina polls.

Even before primary day, there were reminders of Huntman's limits. National Journal reported Monday night that Huntsman failed to qualify for the ballot in Arizona due to a "notary issue." (The campaign says it will challenge the state's decision.)

This isn't to say it's impossible for Huntsman to defy political logic. He could, in theory, inject millions of his own money to keep his campaign alive after new Hampshire. Or his billionaire dad, Jon Huntsman Sr., could step up with a six-figure check to keep Huntsman 2012 or a pro-Huntsman super-PAC chugging along. And that could put enough fuel into Huntsman's tank to keep him alive through South Carolina's primary on January 21 or Florida's at the end of the month.

Barring a minor miracle, however, it's hard to see how Huntsman's campaign survives for much longer, much less generates the kind of support seen here in New Hampshire. The scene inside the Old Town Hall, then, was a glimpse at what might've been, but ultimately was not, for Jon Huntsman.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich points at something.

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.

This quote, from Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, is about as spirited defense of big government you'll ever see, outlining the foundational—and irreplacable—role played by public institutions in creating a prosperous society:

The era of Republican domination back between 1856 and 1932 was a period of tremendous government experimenting, a period of building the transcontinental railroad...a period of encouraging homesteading through the Homestead Act, a eriod of the agricultural college and the Morill Act which led to the land grant colleges and the agricultural agent system. 

The test I always give conservatives is to say "How many of you wanted to save the Panama Canal?" Most of my conservative friends promptly raise their hands. But the fact of the matter is that the Panama Canal was built by government engineers, because government doctors cured yellow fevers. It was run by a government corporation and it was constructed by government Army and Navy, the largest public works project in history at the time was it was set up.

Except that quote didn't actually come from Elizabeth Warren (this one did). It came from a young Rep. Newt Gingrich, in 1983.

During a campaign stop at an Elks Lodge in Salem, New Hampshire, on Monday, Rick Santorum fielded a question about his stance on immigration, to which he provided his rote response: If you're in the United States illegally, he believes, you're breaking the law and should return home to pursue the immigration process through the proper channels. Period. End of story. As a first-generation American himself, his black-and-white position had nothing to do with a lack of empathy or compassion, he explained, but merely his belief in justice and law and order. He stressed that he certainly had no antipathy towards our neighbors to the south.

Then he launched into a curious tangent: "I thank God for America that our southern border is Mexico," he said. "And it's not Libya, and it's not Tunisia, and it's not Iran. Mexican culture and American culture is Western civilization, and the basic values and understanding of our laws and our government are based in those Western civilization traditions. That is not the case in Europe, and you're seeing the effects of it. I have nothing at all against people in this hemisphere who want to immigrate."

But what about immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere? Santorum seemed to be implying that he was uncomfortable with immigrants from other parts of the world—namely Muslims—who do not share America's Judeo-Christian values. Santorum has previously stated that Islamic "Shariah law is incompatible with the Constitution"—and, as the event in Salem progressed, Santorum's view of a civilizational clash between the Muslim and Western worlds came further into focus.

While talking about Iran—whose nuclear facilities the former Pennsylvania senator recently said he would bomb if they weren't opened to international arms inspectors—Santorum noted that one of the regime's enrichment facilities is located near the city of Qom, home to the Jamkaran mosque, which houses an ancient well considered sacred to some Shia Muslims. According to local belief, Santorum said, the Mahdi—"he's the equivalent in some respects to a Jesus figure—was going to come back at the end of times and lead Shia Islam to the ruin of the world and peace and justice. That's what their end of times scenario is." He continued:

Well he comes back at a time of great chaos. So there are many who speculate that there are folks over in Iran who wouldn't mind creating a time of great chaos for religious reasons. And the fact they built this nuclear program in the city next to where this man is supposed to return leads one to the think that there may be more to it because they could have picked anywhere else in do so...

Contrary to what Santorum suggests, this is not a mainstream theory, but a fringe one that holds that the Iranian regime is trying mightily to sow chaos in the world—through any means at its disposal—to usher in the arrival of the Shia messiah. The fact that there's an enrichment site near Qom is hardly evidence of an Iranian strategy to bring about the Islamic apocalypse. That Santorum suggests it is speaks only to his perception of the Muslim faith as one either intent on undermining American values or eradicating America outright.

Soldiers from the 73rd Engineer Company, Brigade Troops Battalion, in support of the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, perform a "blow in place" during a mission in Panjwa'i district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The technique is an effective way of detonating unexploded ordinances in a safe manner. Photo by the US Army.

CFPB head Richard Cordray in 2008.

President Barack Obama has finally done something that makes even the Bush administration attorneys who helped craft the legal rationales for torture, warrantless wiretapping, and indefinite detention tremble with fear: Last week, he made recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The Constitution allows for the president to appoint people to positions that normally require Senate confirmation while Congress isn't in session ("in recess" in Washington-speak). In an effort to prevent Obama from making those appointments while they're on break, Republicans in Congress have been forcing seconds-long "pro-forma" sessions featuring no actual work. Last week, the White House decided to make the appointments anyway.

David Addington, the former legal counsel to then-Vice President Dick Cheney who helped construct the legal justifications for Bush-era torture policies, argued the president had the "inherent" authority to ignore federal law when spying on American citizens, and put forth the novel view that the vice president's office is not a part of the executive branch and therefore not subject to congressional oversight, told the New York Times that Obama's recess appointments were "flabbergasting and, to be honest, a little chilling."  

John Yoo, the former attorney with the Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel who suggested the president could order a child's testicles crushed, massacre a village of civilians or unilaterally suspend free speech in the event of a terrorist attack, also fears for the future of the republic if the president is able to bypass Senate procedural gimmicks meant to block recess appointments. At National Review, Yoo attacks Obama for his "abuse" of executive power in appointing Richard Cordray to head the CFPB. 

There's a genuine legal argument over whether or not Obama has the authority to make recess appointments when the Senate is in pro forma sessions, even those explicitly designed to foil such appointments. As the New York Times' Charlie Savage has written, the appointments raise a number of questions: Whether the Senate is technically in session when it is incapable of conducting business, and what should happen when the Senate's constitutional authority to make its own rules clashes with the president's constitutional responsibility to keep the federal government running properly. At the very least, Democrats may come to regret setting this precedent when Republicans regain control of the White House, which could be very soon. 

But John Yoo and David Addington are not good people to make these arguments. Watching two men who argued for years that the president could pick and choose which laws to follow wring their hands over Obama's recess appointments as an abuse of power is so absurd that one practically has to reach into fiction to find parallel analogies. If we could only get Lex Luthor's feelings on financial regulation or Emperor Palpatine's thoughts on the importance of checks and balances.

It was a town hall meeting for Ron Paul at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The room last Thursday night was packed with hundreds of college students. They were excited. They were eager to hear "Dr. Paul"—as the moderator repeatedly called him—expound on assorted libertarian matters. He claimed the US currency system was near collapse. (Go silver and gold!) He decried empire. He hailed freedom and denounced government. All government. He called for destroying a host of federal agencies—including the Department of Education. The crowd went wild.

During the Q&A, the queries were mainly soft balls. One student asked why he did not have the same right to use Medicare as all those old folks. The only odd moment occurred when a woman who identified herself as an advocate for disabled students asked what he would do to provide insurance coverage to the hard-to-insure. Paul went on about slashing government to increase economic prosperity, suggesting that would lead to the creation of more charity hospitals that would be able to tend to the poor and the uninsured. It was not quite a plan.

When the event was done scores of students rushed to stand on a long line to pose for a pic with Paul, who then appeared to be heading toward a second-place finish in the first-in-the-nation primary.

I grabbed one of the students milling about and asked him how many students in the room receive Pell grants from the (diabolical!) federal government through a program administered through the must-be-destroyed Education Department. His estimate: one-quarter to one-half. Maybe he was right. It was too late in the day to check. But he gave me an idea.

I approached the stage, as Paul was heading toward the photo line.

"Dr. Paul,"  I said. "Can I ask a question?"

He paused on his way toward his young fans. He turned toward me to listen. I had his attention.

"Do you support continuing Pell grants?"

He opened his mouth. He was about to speak. He was about to answer this question. Then—he seemed to change his mind. His mouth closed. He turned away, and resumed his walk toward the Paulites awaiting him.

I don't think that was a yes.


Jacob Lew

As White House budget director Jack Lew prepares to take over for departing chief of staff Bill Daley, it's worth revisiting Shahien Nasiripour's blow-by-blow of Lew's brief, less-than-illustrious stint at a unit of Citigroup that made money by betting against the housing market as it prepared to implode:

Multi-Adviser Hedge Fund Portfolios LLC was a unit of Alternative Investments' Hedge Fund Management Group, the 36th-largest such "fund of hedge funds" in the world when Lew came aboard, according to a ranking by Alpha magazine, a publication that covers the hedge fund industry.

That Multi-Adviser fund in particular had $407 million by the end of 2007, a week before Lew was named as Alternative Investments' chief operating officer…At that time, it had $18 million invested in Paulson Advantage Plus LP, worth $26.4 million, comprising about 6.5 percent of the Multi-Adviser fund's total capital.

The Paulson fund was run by hedge fund king John Paulson, the man who made billions off the deterioration of the housing industry by making bearish bets on securities tied to home mortgages—particularly subprime home mortgages.

Mitt Romney

On Sunday, Mitt Romney said he knew the pain felt by Americans on the brink of unemployment. "I know what it's like to worry whether you're going to get fired," he said. "There were a couple of times I wondered if I was going to get a pink slip." But when pressed by the New York Times later that day, the Romney campaign couldn't come up with a single occasion when Romney thought he'd actually get the pink slip.

A day later, at a factory in Hudson, Romney was asked for specifics on his pink slip claim. He replied, "I came out of school and I got an entry level position, and like anybody who starts at the bottom of an enterprise, you wonder when you don't do so well, whether you're going to be able to hang onto your job."

Here's his full response:

"Well, as you probably know in your profession, you never quite know what's gonna happen. And I think people imagine that I came in at the top of Bain and Company, the consulting firm, or the Boston Consulting Group. I started at the bottom.

"I came out of school and I got an entry level position, and like anybody who starts at the bottom of an enterprise, you wonder when you don't do so well, whether you're going to be able to hang onto your job and you wonder if the enterprise gets in trouble, will you be one of those that's laid off. That's what happened to a lot of people around the country today and it breaks your heart to see people lose their jobs. Like anybody else in the private sector knows, there's some prospect that you might lose your job."

To be clear, accounts of Romney's rise at Boston Consulting Group and Bain and Company (not be confused with Bain Capital, the private equity firm he was tapped to lead) don't quite depict him as a Horatio Alger-type. His story is certainly a far cry from that of, say, Lewis Ranieri, the legendary investor who started at Solomon Brothers in the mailroom. Romney was a prized commodity coming out Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School, and succeeded right out of the gate at both BCG and Bain.

The question is, will voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere sympathize with Romney's claim that he feared the pink slip at BCG and Bain? Or will they chalk it up as the usual faux populism spouted all too often on the campaign trail?

Newt Gingrich campaigns in Manchester, New Hampshire in January.

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. And today, in honor of Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, you get a bonus Daily Newt!

For the last week, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has been hammering Gingrich for his record during the Vietnam war, when the former speaker, then a graduate student at Tulane, avoided service through a series of deferments. Gingrich, Paul asserted, was a "Chicken-hawk"—someone too cowardly to go to war himself but more than willing to send others into battle. At Saturday's debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, Paul doubled down: "I'm trying to stop the wars, but at least, you know, I went when they called me up."

If there's ambiguity about Gingrich's record, it's because of his own statements. On Saturday, Gingrich claimed that he wasn't eligible for the draft: "The fact is, I never asked for deferment," he said, in a visibly irate response to Paul. "I was married with a child. It was never a question. My father was, in fact, serving in Vietnam in the Mekong Delta at the time he's referring to. I think I have a pretty good idea of what it's like as a family to worry about your father getting killed. And I personally resent the kind of comments and aspersions he routinely makes without accurate information and then just slurs people with."