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2012: Who's in and who's out?

National Journal's Ron Brownstein writes of the 2012 presidential contest, "The debate will revolve around a big question more often dodged than confronted: How much government are Americans willing to pay for? Before the conversation is over, the answer could produce uncomfortable moments for President Obama and Republicans alike, not to mention voters themselves."

Politico notes that the next two weeks will finally shine more light on the GOP nomination race: who's in, who's out, and who steps up when some of the contenders finally share a stage.

So far not one Republican presidential candidate – not even the ones who’ve said they’ll participate – actually fit all the criteria for the May 5th presidential debate in Greenville, South Carolina, the Spartanburg Herald Journal writes. While some have already met part of the criteria, none of the candidates have filed paperwork to be on the ballot in the state. 

BARBOUR: There are eight days left until all of Haley Barbour’s self-imposed deadlines for a presidential announcement have past, the Jackson Clarion Ledger points out: the legislative session is over, and the month of April has only eight days left. Barbour’s ambivalence has left some Mississippians miffed: “Let us know instead of running from state to state. If he's not going to run, we need him home in Mississippi," retired school nutritionist Lola Ducksworth said.

GINGRICH: Gingrich moved away from Paul Ryan’s budget this week, writing in a Facebook post on Wednesday that he would embrace “a voluntary plan that would give seniors the option to choose private plans without explicitly abolishing Medicare as we know it. That is in line with a Medicare proposal by former Democratic Congressional Budget Office director Alice Rivlin and former Republican Sen. Pete Domenici, once embraced, then rejected by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan,” the Wall Street Journal writes.

HUCKABEE: “Mike Huckabee on Thursday criticized fellow Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck for calling the former governor and potential White House hopeful a ‘progressive’ for supporting first lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity efforts,” the AP says. Huckabee said Beck’s statement was an attempt to “create yet another ‘bogey man’ and said the first lady’s program “is about personal responsibility, not the government literally taking candy from a baby’s mouth.”

PAWLENTY: One of Pawlenty's New Hampshire steering committee members is a convicted felon who served jail time after his third drunk driving arrest.

ROMNEY: Romney dinged Obama over Libya policy yesterday on National Review Online: "It is apparent that our military is engaged in much more than enforcing a no-fly zone. What we are watching in real time is another example of mission creep and mission muddle."

SANTORUM: Rick Santorum has hired Cody Brown, the campaign manager for a “hard-fought but unsuccessful” congressional campaign last fall, to manage his testing-the-waters effort in Iowa, the Des Moines Register reports.

TRUMP: The Donald's media blitz doesn't appear to be boosting ratings for 'The Apprentice.'

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer fielded a call from Trump, and now he says the tycoon sounds serious about a run.