Jeb Bush opposes Arizona immigration law

From Politico:

"I think it creates unintended consequences," he said in a telephone interview with POLITICO Tuesday. "It's difficult for me to imagine how you're going to enforce this law. It places a significant burden on local law enforcement and you have civil liberties issues that are significant as well."

The measure, signed into law last Friday, would require police to check the immigration status of any individuals they reasonably suspect are illegal immigrants and arrest them if they can't prove legal status.

Bush said he understood the anger that prompted the bill, but that immigration should remain a federal issue.

Interesting to see him be out ahead of the pack--and right!--could be signaling national ambitions some time, whether or not in 2012.

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Review: The Losers (2010)

Sylvain White's The Losers, based on the comic books by Andy Diggle (which I have not read), is a wisecracking, rip-roaring action film with a tight-as-a-drum plot, fun acting and character development which elevate some stereotypical tropes, and sharp dialogue and editing. It's fun, fast, exciting, surprising, and could be the best A-Team movie of the year.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan, still an emerging movie star, but definitely a movie star, sort of reprises his role as The Comedian from last year's Watchmen as Clay, the leader of a military squad which may nor may not get its orders from the CIA, but which takes its role displaying American might quite seriously, and definitely more seriously than its invisible handlers. Morgan, who also shot to fame on a t.v. hospital show, dresses like George Clooney and reminds the audience of him in other ways here, but seems to have an extra action gravitas.

My viewing of The Losers was definitely informed by some of my recent movie-watching and reading, including Watchmen, The Hurt Locker, and also the books and movies of The Men Who Stare at Goats and Green Zone (partly based upon Rajiv Chandrasekaran's stunning non-fiction Imperial Life in the Emerald City), and I would certainly recommend them to anyone. The recent actions of our own government make this film's comic-book plot seem almost tame rather than cartoonish or far-fetched.

Clay and his men are on a fairly routine mission in Bolivia, tasked with placing an electronic beacon at the villa of a top drug dealer, Fadhil (Peter Francis James), for a bombing run, when they notice things starting to go wrong. For one thing, there are children in the villa. For another, nobody up the chain of command seems to care about this information. With time short, Clay decides to alter their mission. This earns them the enmity of Max (Jason Patric, awesome), the shadowy CIA figure running their operation. In fact, they all end up dead (no spoilers).

The rest of Clay's squad is made up of Idris Elba as Roque, who likes knives, Chris Evans as Jensen, a computer expert, Columbus Short (Death at a Funeral) as Pooch, in charge of transportation, and Oscar Jaenada as Cougar, the team's sniper. All the acting is excellent; the actors work seamlessly together and are credible as well as entertaining in their roles.

Back to our dead men in progress, following that unfortunate event, the Losers quickly realize they need to drop off the face of the earth and try hard to figure out a way to make it home. Some revenge on Max couldn't hurt either, though there is some disagreement about this at times, until a mysterious woman, Aisha (Zoe Saldana, the excellent Uhura of Star Trek, Neytiri of Avatar and Elaine from Death at a Funeral) offers them exactly that chance, along with funding and other assistance for such an operation. Saldana and more Saldana please.

Of course, everything is not as it seems, and the twists, when they come, are genuinely surprising and played well. The dialogue, by screenwriters Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, is about as good as it gets. The rhythm and pace of the story are just right.

A special note about Jason Patric--yes! As absurd and silly as Max as Val Kilmer looks to be as Dieter in the upcoming MacGruber, he does play his part for plenty of laughs, but still has a convincing arrogance and chilly demeanor which help him manage to be a serious villain. If nothing else in The Losers had worked, his part as played might not have worked either, but as the film is firing on all cylinders, it does work, and even elevates the intelligence and irony levels of the film. The last we see of Max reminded me of the opening of Andy Kaufman's My Breakfast with Blassie, when he says, "It's sort of like the way people make fun of the transportation system in Los Angeles. Go ahead and laugh all you want, but I can still take a bus to anywhere in the city for just fifty cents." Pooch echoes another famous Kaufman punchline almost immediately afterwards: "Traffic."

I wholeheartedly recommend The Losers to anyone who likes action movies, comedies, fun and self-aware performances by great actors, surprising dialogue and plot twists, or just good times at the movies. It's got it all. It's set up for multiple possible sequels, they could even borrow a page from the upcoming Marvel Avengers series and plop the Losers right into the next Batman movie (if Evans has time between playing Captain America, or unless they reboot and need Morgan to play Batman or Saldana for anything).

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Review: Death at a Funeral (2010)

Neil LaBute's Death at a Funeral, based on the 2007 British movie of the same name (which I have not seen), is a passable funeral farce, with some good laughs interspersed with some at times boring complications and some more obnoxious hit-or-miss jokes which are sometimes funny.

The events of the film surround the funeral of the family patriarch, Edward (Bob Minor), whose not-so-carefully kept secrets occasion much of the slapstick humor. Most of the film is told through the experience of Aaron (Chris Rock), the oldest son, an aspiring writer living in the shadow of his brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence), a bestselling author.

Aaron is married to Michelle (Regina Hall, excellent), who wants a baby, to move out of Aaron's parents' house and to read Aaron's long-aborning novel. She also makes an effort to be there for Aaron's mother, Cynthia (Loretta Devine, note-perfect), despite obviously having no rapport there.

Aaron himself is grieving for the father he loved (and thought he knew better) and is nervous about paying for the funeral and giving the eulogy.

Meanwhile, multiple seeds of angst and trouble get aimed toward the memorial service as more mourning friends and relatives converge. The great Ron Glass plays Uncle Duncan, the brother of the deceased, and with his son Jeff (Columbus Short, very good), a "pharmacology student," daughter Elaine (Zoe Saldana, excellent), her intended, Oscar (James Marsden, great), and a former boyfriend of Elaine's and golfing buddy of Duncan's, Derek (Luke Wilson, pretty good), constitute one main thread of craziness which runs through the picture. It might have raised the emotional stakes and smoothed the plot to make Elaine a daughter, rather than a niece, of the deceased.

Tracy Morgan is very good as Norman, a family friend with lots of theories he wants to expound upon and ask about, who gives Derek and Uncle Russell (Danny Glover), a ride to the service. Glover as Uncle Russell is almost in his own movie, and it seems slightly funnier than this one. And then there's "the dude in the leather jacket," Frank (Peter Dinklage, low-key but pretty funny), a mysterious friend of the deceased, who isn't really looking for hospitality and really doesn't find it. Dinklage reprises this role from the original movie.

Like this year's Youth in Revolt, this film probably goes to the drug well a bit too often for its humor. There's a point where a character drops a bottle of hallucinogenic pills on the ground, and I could swear it looked more like he threw them on the ground on purpose. Anyway, it made it quite clear there would be further drug complications, so not much surprise there. Nevertheless, Marsden's performance of Oscar's particular trip is always funny and played quite well.

Chris Rock is by far the least talented actor in the ensemble, and this unfortunately seems to unbalance the story a bit. It might have been more interesting if he and Lawrence had switched characters. There are moments when Rock is acting when all you can think of is the word "acting." He's given stronger performances before, even for this director.

Death at a Funeral has a lot to recommend it, but only lives up to about half of what one might expect from its potentially funny set-up and strong cast. If you're hungry for a comedy, and a fan of the actors, you'll likely leave pretty satisfied, if you're not too put off by some gross-out jokes or the times when it drags a bit.

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Review: Crazy Heart (2009)

Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart, based upon the novel by William Cobb (which I have not read), is a simple, authentic, moving film about an aging country music singer/songwriter, Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges, incredible), who's tangled up with alcohol, trouble and his art.

Produced by Robert Duvall, like Sling Blade and The Apostle, it continues in that tradition (even with some of the same actors, minus Billy Bob) of straightforward, often brilliant storytelling with an astonishing lead performance.

The strong lead performance here is Bridges's Oscar-winning turn as Blake. Blake's story is purposely, I think, left hanging a bit. It's like a template into which you can read aspects of the stories of your own favorite hard-charging country stars, whether Hank Williams, Sr., Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, etc.

You feel like you know Blake, because the story is simple and universal, and especially because of Bridges's own film persona and performance, and how they inform one another. Duvall adds heft in a similar way as Blake's old friend and fishing buddy.

Blake is pretty down in the dumps when he meets Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal, excellent), a local reporter and niece of one of Blake's ever-changing cast of back-up performers, Wesley Barnes (Rick Dial, of Sling Blade and The Apostle). Despite the hits they've taken in their own personal and professional lives, there's a charming and believable instant chemistry between them.

But Jean is the more careful one, a young single mother of a young son. It takes a while for them to get to trust each other and form a real relationship, despite the multi-layered attraction between them.

As their relationship progresses, there's also positive news on Blake's career trajectory, as he cautiously navigates a reconciliation with an old apprentice, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell, good) who has become a big star of his own, in no small part due to his association with Blake and Blake's songs. But as we see all of this developing well for Blake, the suspense builds as to how his addictions may sabotage him. Things don't happen exactly as one might suspect, which is refreshing and feels honest and almost subdued, largely avoiding melodrama or cliché.

In addition to Bridges's Oscar win and Gyllenhaal's nomination, the film also won an Oscar for Best Song for Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett for "The Weary Kind." I don't know if I would have voted for that if anybody asked me, but all of the music fits well into the story, and, at times, truly rocks.

Crazy Heart is a remarkable first directorial and screenwriting bow for Scott Cooper, and Bridges's Oscar win is richly deserved and worthwhile to discover. It all leaves you wanting more, you want to spend more time with these characters and this story.

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Review: Kick-Ass (2010)

Kick-Ass, based on the comic book written by Mark Millar and John S. Romita, Jr. (which I have not read), contains the seeds of greatness in the vein of John Ritter's 1980 Hero at Large, 1981's Condorman (which it directly references visually), the eighties television series "The Greatest American Hero" (soon, I'm sure, coming to a theater near you in remade feature form; we'll probably see the trailer before the new A-Team flick), or the recent, superior Unbreakable, Skins or Watchmen, but it doesn't quite make it to any of those heights.

Instead, it's meta-comic book movie hampered by its own comic-bookiness. It can't find its footing. You may know from the trailers that the movie is the story of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a comic-book geek with lots of identity issues who decides to don a green-and-yellow leotard and fight crime just like in the funny pages. If you've seen any of the trailers, you've also had the opening sequence spoiled for you. It would have been a great opening sequence if it hadn't been spoiled, so I won't respoil it here.

But, unfortunately, this is emblematic of the rest of the film. It starts in the clouds and keeps seeming like it's looking up, but never quite satisfies in a way one might hope.

The joke of the movie is supposed to be grandiose idealized visions of superherodom getting busted by hard-bitten reality, and there are some nice set-ups which fill that out in a cruel slapstick comedy kind of way. But punchline death upon death and murder upon murder and wound upon wound mount up so heartlessly and meaninglessly that the joke gets old fast.

A lot of the problems are superhero clashes or disconnects. There are four main superheroes in the film, Dave Lizewski's titular one, the team of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz, (500) Days of Summer) and Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and with the exception of the funny one developed between Kick-Ass and Red Mist, which is just right, their relationships are odd, hastily sketched, thin or timid at best.

There's no real backstory (though there is an animated backstory segment) or father/daughter chemistry between Cage's and Moretz's characters, nor superhero nor character chemistry among Big Daddy, Hit-Girl and Kick-Ass. They all sort of walk past each other, with few revelatory conflicts.

I didn't mind the depiction of action violence involving a young girl, Hit-Girl, as a superhero, or her swearing or unusual competence with weapons. My complaint is that none of that made much sense or went anywhere. It looks cool, though it is jarring to see her seeming to take real physical hits. This movie is not, repeat not, for the youngsters. I'll repeat it again later. It's rated R, but could have easily been an NC-17, those decisions are mostly quite arbitrary as everyone knows by now. More than anything else, Hit-Girl reminded me of a weird child ghost from one of those weird Asian ghost movies like The Ring....

That said, the effects, costumes, music, pace, and even some of the bit players are entertaining, like Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes) as mob boss Frank D'Amico, Evan Peters and Clark Duke as Dave's buddies, Lyndsy Fonseca as Dave's gal pal Katie, Michael Rispoli (While You Were Sleeping, "The Sopranos") as a mob goon with unexpected dramatic flair, and Stu "Large" Riley as Huge Goon, who somewhat predictably gets Pacino's line.

This movie will likely inspire some pretty nerdy enthusiasm, and I don't mind particularly. It's fun in places and has a better overall feeling to it than compared to its actual quality level. It's not for kids. It is foul-mouthed and violent as anything, and much of that is gratuitous and not really smart or necessary. (Note aside to filmmakers: People who want to see human beings microwaved don't get out to the theater much from their prison cells.) My two-and-a-half-star rating is a bare recommendation, for extreme comic-book fans, fans of this comic in general, or of the stars, who do more for the movie than could be reasonably expected. But it's a teetery recommendation, as in general Kick-Ass is one of those meta-movies that metas itself practically out of the cosmos without much lasting visceral or ground-level impact.

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Review: A Single Man (2009)

Tom Ford's A Single Man is one of the best films of 2009. Like the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man of the same year, or like Raging Bull or Jackie Brown, it's a mesmerizing, meditative, poetic, absolutely authentic character study painted in lavish detail.

The film opens with a vision of death which appropriately hangs over the rest of the film, leaving some questions to consider and some persuasively effective suspense.

Also as in A Serious Man, we are watching hours in the crisis of one man's life as major events change things quickly and dramatically around him. Both main characters are college professors, but instead of a Jewish teacher of mathematics in the sixties in Minnesota, the lead in A Single Man is George (Colin Firth, absolutely astonishing), a gay British teacher of English in the early sixties in Santa Monica.

And instead of major crises at work and his wife leaving him as in Serious, George takes on a single day, some time after the death of his partner Jim (Matthew Goode, very good). A Single Man doesn't have as complex a plot as the other film, but as complicated emotions.

I read the book. by Christopher Isherwood, years ago, and haven't reread it since, but would. I chiefly remember its being beautiful and melancholy, and the same could be said of the film, so, for me, the tone was captured perfectly. Tom Ford was the director of the House of Gucci, so I expected the film to have great clothes, and it does. But every detail also is exquisite, from period cars, clothes, attitudes, hairstyles and interiors to how they are lit, shot and shown.

A lot of the film could be silent as we simply watch George moving step by step through his appointed rounds. It's the outside view of exactly what's going on inside of George, through his actions and moving across Firth's face.

George is an aesthete, a man of great appetites and world-weariness, and he loves his vices, his beautiful house, his beautiful lover, his beautiful dog, his beautiful neighbors and students and Santa Monica. He loves his world-weariness and even his melancholy. He and his point of view are absurd and wonderful, beautiful, very like life.

Besides George, all of the other characters are minor, but effectively played and incorporated. Julianne Moore plays Charley, a longtime friend from London with a deep crush on George. She's very good. I expected to be annoyed by her British accent, but she pulls off a kind of gone-L.A. hybrid which is just right. Nicholas Hoult is excellent as Kenny, one of George's students who's nearly as persistent and clever as Clive Park in A Serious Man. Jon Kortajarena is good as Carlos, a hustler who bumps into George at the liquor store.

A Single Man is gorgeous, with not much wasted. Colin Firth's Oscar-nominated performance alone makes it worth seeking out, but the film is of a solid piece. The book is lovely, and the movie may be just as good or better. Tom Ford makes a major directing debut here.

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Review: Date Night (2010)

Date Night is a pretty gentle, amiable comedy of errors along the lines of After Hours or The Hangover, which allows stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey to show off their subtle senses of humor for some big and not-so-big laughs. They have some real charisma and chemistry together which is quite watchable and entertaining.

Fey and Carell play a married couple, Phil and Claire Foster, who begin to wonder, prompted by the breakup of another married couple they see regularly, whether or not they've fallen into a rut in their marriage. They both work, he as a tax attorney, she as a real estate agent, and they have two children who take up a lot of whatever time's left over. Sometimes they forget it's their weekly date night until the babysitter shows up. (Still, smart move scheduling the babysitter weekly ahead of time.)

One date night when Claire dresses up and Phil arrives home looking beat, they decide to venture out of their New Jersey town to the Big Apple, hoping to arrive early at a tony restaurant they heard about and get in without a reservation. When this proves impossible, Phil makes the fateful decision to claim a reservation for "The Tripplehorns."

Dinner's great until two thugs show up looking for the "real" Tripplehorns, and drag them to the back alley for a conference about a missing flash drive. The Fosters proclaim their innocence as long as it seems advisable, then pretend to go along with their captors in hopes of finding an escape if they can stall for time.

The rest of the plot flows, of course, from this initial misunderstanding, and balloons. There follow breaking and entering, gunplay, spy legerdemain, car chases, gangsters, shady cops, blackmailing babysitters, and other assorted misfires and screw-ups. It's pretty fun, and even has an air of realism which aids the suspension of disbelief for some of the more outrageous incidents. It's all excuses for Fey and Carell to wisecrack and lose their minds.

There are some very good cameos by, notably, William Fichtner, Mark Wahlberg as James Bond Underwear Model, James Franco, Mila Kunis (basically reprising her role from last year's Extract), Taraji P. Henson, J.B. Smoove and Jimmi Simpson (Lyle the Intern from "The Late Show with David Letterman"). Ray Liotta and Kristen Wiig also appear briefly.

Let's see, it's not quite as good as either of the aforementioned After Hours or The Hangover, though it has a similar feeling as each. It's not as good as Tina Fey's Mean Girls, but it's probably better than Evan Almighty or Get Smart. I'd compare it to "30 Rock" or "The Office," but I've only ever seen a few partial episodes of either. I may be saving them for later. Date Night does fit well with the comedic personas of Fey and Carell. They're credible and work well together.

There are some genuinely funny outtakes at the beginning of the credits, so don't jump up too quick. They reveal a bit about the hard work that went into crafting the dialogue into the tasty, well-edited scenes which came before.

Date Night is a warm, funny, slow burn of a movie. It doesn't pop a lot, it's quieter than that, but the laughs are organic and have a nice rhythm. Lots of what's funny is pure attitude, just seeing Carell and Fey play off of one another and their wacky circumstances. It's sly.

The Magic of the Movies



From USA Today:

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, an unassuming Chicagoan in bow ties who became a shrewd strategist and liberal leader of the modern Supreme Court, announced his retirement Friday morning. He has served nearly 35 years and is about to turn 90.

In many ways, Stevens' departure may be more significant for the Supreme Court than fellow liberal David Souter's retirement last year. Stevens, more than any other justice on the left, has taken the lead to craft coalitions that include swing-vote conservatives, allowing liberals to prevail in some key cases that limited the death penalty and expanded gay rights even as the court shifted increasingly to the right.

Stevens has been an outstanding, important justice for a long time. My only prediction: the nominee to replace him will be a woman. Also, it should be a woman, there are many who are well-qualified and the Court needs more women.

In unrelated related news, Rep. Bart Stupak, the mixed-record congressman from Michigan who held up health care reform over abortion concerns, will retire after his current term in Congress. He'll be easier to replace.

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Review: How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

How to Train Your Dragon, based on the book by Cressida Cowell (which I have not read) is a bit hackneyed, but not enough to overcome or spoil its amazing depiction of a world of Viking warriors under siege by a fascinating assortment of dragons, nor of the dragons themselves. The t.v. ads are running quotable quotes from quotable critics which compare it to E.T. and say the dragon stuff is better than in Avatar. For a change, these quotes are right on the money.

Not only does the film bring these landmark films to mind for positive comparison, but aspects of other good ones like The Secret of Roan Inish, Kung Fu Panda, Pete's Dragon, Braveheart, Superman, The Empire Strikes Back, Free Willy, My Neighbor Totoro, Reign of Fire and the best of the very good Harry Potter films. From that list, one might assume it to be quite derivative. It is, but it feels fresh and original the way it's handled.

The film tells the story of Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel), a teen Viking and the son of the island village's chieftain, Stoick the Vast (voiced by Gerard Butler). Hiccup works as a blacksmith's assistant while nursing dreams of one day becoming a dragon-killing warrior like his dad (and everyone else in town).

Hiccup's big chance comes during a major dragon siege, when he tries out a spear-throwing device on a dim, distant target, a "Night Fury," a mysterious and dangerous black dragon who spits white-hot fire and destroys whole towns with amazing speed and accuracy. He believes he hit his target; nobody else does.

But he's not easily disheartened, and sets out to find the place the dragon must have landed if he was brought down. And he finds something wonderful which changes his life and the life of the town. The dragon has survived, under circumstances favorable to Hiccup's befriending and training him.

The sequences between Hiccup and the dragon, who comes to be named "Toothless" for his retractable teeth, are the reason for the film. From their first, fraught encounter to Hiccup's learning about Toothless, and dragons in general, by spending time gaining his trust, feeding him and helping him recover from his injuries, all of this is magical, beautiful, mesmerizing, and absolutely convincing (for a fairy-tale story). Toothless seems like a real character of his own.

There is one complication during all this--finally won over by Hiccup's previously constant badgering to let him learn how to fight dragons, his father at last consents to enter him in dragon-fighting training, a village-wide effort to find and equip the next generation of fearsome Viking dragon-killers. By this time, Hiccup has determined never to kill any dragon, but his newfound confidence and skill with a real one allow him to fake his way successfully through most of the training.

That's it for the plot points I can discuss here. Of course there are confrontations and battles galore in the parts I can't talk about, and this is handled well. The music by John Powell deserves a special mention. It's mostly hardly noticeable, then soars when that's called for. Aside from Baruchel and Butler, who are fine, other nice voice work is done by t.v.'s Craig Ferguson as Gobber, Hiccup's blacksmith boss, America Ferrera as Hiccup's love interest, Astrid, and Jonah Hill, channeling Jack Black, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as fellow dragon-fighting trainees.

The human stuff is underdeveloped a bit, Jay Baruchel is fine, but the voice of Hiccup probably should have been done by someone younger. Still, the contrast between Hiccup's nerdiness and the town's enthusiasm for blood and glory are nicely played. The film doesn't get boring, obnoxious or clash too much with the wonderful main narrative. The effects are spectacular, and spectacular in 3-D, with usually more than two or three levels of action going on at once, in clever and not overly distracting ways, and different textures giving a great feeling of photoreality that's like really good stop-motion freed up with solid computer effects, à la Coraline. I've seen it twice by now, it's great....

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Thune (again) leads 2012 GOP presidential nominee web poll results for March

Sen. John Thune (SD) led March voting for who respondents thought would be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. As usual, this is of self-selected voters of any party who found my website, so it is not scientific in any way. (This means you should not complain that it was not scientific because it's never going to be.) Voting is just for fun, please no wagering. Here are this month's results:

March 2010

#1 - Sen. John Thune (SD) ... 21.6%
#2 - Rep. Ron Paul, M.D. (TX) ... 15.2%
#3 - Rep. Mike Pence (IN) ... 13%
#4 - Gov. Tim Pawlenty (MN) ... 12.1%
#5 - Fmr. Gov. Sarah Palin (AK) ... 10.8%
#6 - Other ... 7.4%
#7 - Gov. Haley Barbour (MS) ... 4.3%
#7 - Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA) ... 4.3%
#8 - Fmr. Vice Pres. Dan Quayle (IN / AZ) ... 3%
#9 - Fmr. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (GA) ... 2.2%
#9 - Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) ... 2.2%
#10 - Senate Min. Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) ... 1.3%
#10 - Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney (MI / UT / MA) ... 1.3%
#11 - Sen. Sam Brownback (KS) ... .4%
#11 - Fmr. Gov. Jeb Bush (FL) ... .4%
#11 - Fmr. Gov. Tom Ridge (PA) ... .4%

231 total votes cast / Margin of error ±100%

You can vote for this month's new poll here, or click the vote button from any of the Choose Our President 2012 pages.

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