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Pure Horserace: A Two-Minute Warning?

We've seen plenty of ads already in the presidential election cycle, but tonight brings us the first example of a candidate purchasing a semi-sizable block of airtime tied to a specific event. John Edwards will provide his own two-minute response ad to President Bush's address to the nation on MSNBC.

According to early reports, Edwards will use the occasion to once again try and apply pressure to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over the war in Iraq. While all the Democratic candidates are calling for an end to the war, the former senator has been trying to position himself as the most anti-war candidate from the start of the campaign. Tonight, he will call on Congress (read, Clinton and Obama) to force the president to end the war.

Of course, two members alone can't cut off funding or force the administration to set up a timetable for withdrawal and Democrats in the Senate have yet to find enough Republicans for a veto-proof majority on those issues. But many party activists have grown restless with their leadership and it is that sentiment Edwards is aiming at.

"Tell Congress you know the truth," Edwards will say in the ad, according to the Associated Press. "They have the power to end this war and you expect them to use it. When the president asks for more money and more time, Congress needs to tell him he only gets one choice - a firm timeline for withdrawal."

The ad will air on MSNBC, where "Countdown" host Keith Olbermann has gained a progressive following with his commentaries castigating the president on Iraq. And the campaign is tying it to a fund-raising pitch. On Edwards Web site, an appeal reads, "Buying this kind of airtime is expensive, but we believe that President Bush's address must be countered with a strong voice in opposition to the failed policies that have kept our troops in harm's way for far too long."

Whether it's expensive or not (the AP quotes industry experts estimating the cost between $100,000 and $150,000), the ad will reach more voters than just those watching the coverage tonight. After all, we're writing about it aren't we?
--Vaughn Ververs

All The Wrong Moves? Fred Thompson is making a splash in the Republican presidential contest, but is it the kind of entrance that will endear him to the conservative base he seeks to woo? Campaigning in Florida today, Thompson seemed to come out against President Bush's signature education achievement. "No Child Left Behind - good concept, I'm all for testing - but it seems like now some of these states are teaching to the test and kind of making it so that everybody does well on the test - you can't really tell that everybody's doing that well. And it's not objective," Thompson said.

No Child Left Behind isn't exactly a core GOP primary issue, but his latest comments come in the wake of some rather apparent slip-ups. In recent days, Thompson has indicated that Osama bin Laden should get "due process" should he be captured (he later changed that somewhat). And he revealed that he doesn't attend church regularly - at least when he's in the Washington, DC area and added religion won't be a major part of his campaign.

It's all led to a rather scathing column by conservative George Will, who writes today that, "Fred Thompson's plunge into the presidential pool -- more belly-flop than swan dive -- was the strangest product launch since that of New Coke in 1985." It all seemingly hasn't hurt him too much at the polls so far, with Thompson landing in a solid second place upon entering the race. But it's hard to imagine that momentum continuing with those kinds of reviews.
--Vaughn Ververs

Room For One More? When Thompson finally entered the race earlier this month, the conventional wisdom all but declared the field to be set. But someone may have forgotten to forward that message on to Newt Gingrich.

The former House Speaker told the Washington Times yesterday that he's still considering a presidential bid. "I will decide based on whether I have about $30 million in committed campaign contributions and whether I think it is possible to run a campaign based on ideas rather than 30-second sound bites," Gingrich told the paper.

That level of financial commitment is a pretty high bar, especially given the fact that the rest of the GOP field has been shaking the money trees for a solid nine months now. But there are tantalizing signs that it's more than talk. Gingrich delivered a rousing speech at the Iowa GOP straw poll event in August which was well-received. And Jim DeMint, a senator from the early primary state of South Carolina, recently signed onto Gingrich's American Solutions effort, which includes workshops throughout the country later this month designed to foster discussion about solving the nation's problems.

But DeMint has already endorsed Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination and there seems to be little of the groundswell of buzz for Gingrich that surrounded Thompson when his candidacy was being floated last spring. In an interview with the Manchester Union-Leader's John DiStaso, Gingrich certainly sounded as though he wants to run, saying, "there is a vacuum in both parties not in the political sense of personalities, but in the larger sense of an understanding of the challenges America faces and what are they going to do about it."
--Vaughn Ververs

New Twist To Donor Story: The Wall Street Journal and Associated Press are reporting that Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu, who has made headlines lately for legal troubles going back to a 1991 grand theft case, sent a letter to a legal organization last week announcing his intention to kill himself.

Hsu, a highly-successful fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, has been in legal trouble going back to his failure to appear at sentencing for a 1991 grand theft case. Last week he was arrested in Colorado for missing a bail hearing in California.

The one-page, typewritten letter arrived at the New York offices of the Innocence Project, and the AP's anonymous source characterized it as "not rambling in nature."

Innocence Project officials faxed the letter to the California attorney general's office. ``We were all concerned for his safety," spokesman Eric Ferrero told the AP. "We knew we needed to try to reach him right away. We wanted to make sure he was safe.''
--Brian Montopoli

By Vaughn Ververs and Brian Montopoli

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