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2012: Hawks and doves

Citing the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, the New York Daily News writes, “Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were the big winners after a week of self-inflicted wounds among GOP contenders, a new poll found.”

BACHMANN: The Boston Globe picks up on Bachmann saying on Meet the Presss “that the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State is a matter for the state, not Congress, to deal with.” She said, “This is a state matter, it needs to stay at a state level.”

She also tried to lay out the case between herself and Mitt Romney: “He has been pro-choice; I am prolife. He has been for marriage between people of the same sex; I’m for marriage between one man and one woman.”

At the debate Saturday, when talking about techniques many view as torture, such as waterboarding, Bachmann claimed President Obama is letting the ACLU run the CIA. The director of the CIA is Gen. David Petraeus.

The Bachmann campaign will announce this week that it has appointed South Carolina state Sen. Lee Bright its state campaign chairman, NBC’s Jamie Novogrod and Ali Weinberg report. Bright is known for his strong support of states' rights. He made news last winter for introducing legislation that would allow South Carolina to coin its own currency should the Federal Reserve collapse. 

CAIN: The New York Post on Gloria Cain’s, Herman Cain’s wife, appearance on FOX: “Standing by her Herman.” “Embattled GOP presidential contender Herman Cain’s wife last night spoke out for the first time about the sexual-harassment allegations against her husband, saying he would never do the things he’s accused of,” the Post writes. She said, “You hear the graphic allegations, and we know that would have been something that’s totally disrespectful of her as a woman. And I know the type of person he is. He totally respects women. … “I’m thinking he would have to have a split personality to do the things that were said.”

Huckabee redux? Cain says he couldn’t be Romney’s VP.

Cain holds two fundraisers in Wisconsin today, ending with a tailgate outside of Lambeau Field before the Green Bay Packers take on the Minnesota Vikings during Monday Night Football, NBC’s Andrew Rafferty reports. The Cain campaign has ties to the Badger State -- it is home to campaign director Mark Block, who was the State Director of Wisconsin Americans for Prosperity.

At the debate Saturday, aside from coming out in favor of waterboarding, Cain lacked specificity on a host of foreign-affair matters, repeatedly saying he would defer to advisers.

Cain criticized the Obama administration for its handling of the Arab Spring, claiming it has “gotten totally out of hand.” He claimed: “Our relationship with Egypt may not survive. Because when this president backed the opposition, it turned out that opposition was more of the Muslim Brotherhood, which could end up with a majority of control of this new government.”

Cain also seemed to flip-flop again, this time on the issue of Iran. After telling Bill O’Reilly that it would be “perfectly all right” to enter into a shooting war with Iran, because the U.S. has the “superior capability,” he backed off that stance at Saturday’s debate, saying, ‘‘I would not entertain military opposition.’’

Cain, who’s from Memphis, leads in a Tennessee GOP primary: “A new Vanderbilt poll shows him leading the GOP field in the state with 22%, followed by Mitt Romney at 12%, Rick Perry at 9%, Michele Bachmann at 6%, Newt Gingrich at 6% and Ron Paul at 6%,” Political Wire notes.

GINGRICH: NBC’s Alex Moe reports that a Newt Gingrich Super PAC launched mid-debate Saturday night, called, “Time for Newt.” But whoever created it, didn’t want to be found out. A First Read Internet domain registration search found the site was created through “Domains by Proxy,” a group that touts, "Your identity is nobody's business but ours." The Super PAC’s registration is not yet on the FEC site.

Gingrich was strikingly bold talking about what “covert operations” he would like to see done to affect regime change in Iran – “taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems. All of it covertly, all of it deniable. Second, maximum-- maximum coordination with the Israelis-- in a way which allows them to maximize their impact in Iran. Third, absolute strategic program comparable to what President Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher did in the Soviet Union, of every possible aspect short of war of breaking the regime and bringing it down.”

Questions: How is it deniable if you’re talking about it now, and John Paul II?

Gingrich’s Pawlenty moment? It was also striking that Gingrich backed off his criticism of Romney, having said on the Laura Ingraham radio show: "If you want a manager, I think Mitt's a very competent manager. “If you want somebody who is a change agent … who has substantial foreign policy and national security experience. I'm the only candidate in the race like that.”

Yet, when given the chance, he backed off that criticism at the CBS/National Journal debate. “I brought it up yesterday 'cause I was on a national radio show. I think he brings up things when he's on national radio shows. We're here tonight talking to the American people about why every single one of us is better than Barack Obama. And that's the topic,” he said, adding, “compared to this administration, talking about a friend who's a great business manager as a good manager is an enormous improvement over Barack Obama.”

By the way, Gingrich said Egypt’s Mubarak was “dumped overnight” by the U.S. But that’s not true. It actually took quite a while, which is why some criticized the U.S. for its slow embrace of the Egyptian Arab Spring.

Appealing to evangelicals? Gingrich also reiterated at the debate: “[C]andidly, the degree to which the Arab Spring may become an anti-Christian spring is something which bothers me a great deal.”

ROMNEY: “Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich said at the Republican presidential debate here Saturday night that they would be willing to go to war to keep Iran from attaining nuclear weapons if all other strategies failed,” CBS writes. Romney said, "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.”

“US President Barack Obama hit back at 2012 election rival Mitt Romney on Sunday over Iran, suggesting that people that try to simplify the nuclear issue are playing politics,” AFP reports. “Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, intimated at a foreign policy debate on Saturday that he could stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons while Obama could not. ‘Is this an easy issue? No,’ the president responded at a press conference in Hawaii after hosting a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders. ‘Anybody that claims it is is either politicking or doesn't know what they're talking about. Not only the world but the Iranian regime understands very clearly how determined we are to prevent not only a nuclear Iran, but also a nuclear arms race in the region,’ he said.”

Romney also claimed of Pakistan, “This is instead a nation which is close to being a failed state. I hope it doesn’t reach that point, but it’s really a fragile nation.”

Romney also endorsed using “covert activity” to overthrow Assad in Syria: “Of course it's time for the Assad dictatorship to end. And we should use covert activity.”

“Two of the Republican presidential candidates – Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul -- are accusing CBS News and the National Journal, which sponsored Saturday night’s debate, of bias,” the Boston Globe notes.

CNBC’s John Harwood reflects on the debate Wednesday.