Starting Gate: Closing Time

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
The calendar says there are 24 days left before the Iowa caucuses convene on January 3rd. But for practical purposes, this could be the last full week for the candidates to begin delivering their closing arguments in the state.

Barack Obama appears to have already begun that process, using appearances by Oprah Winfrey in three early primary states to hammer home his message of "change." For all the words spoken at rallies before tens of thousands of potential voters over the weekend, it can all be summed up with this simple statement she delivered in Columbia, South Carolina: "I'm sick of politics as usual. We need Barack Obama."

Hillary Clinton, aided by her husband and a new ad beginning today, will counter with her message of experience. John Edwards an 8-day "Main Street Express" bus tour throughout the Iowa, where he maintains a strong organizational presence. Joe Biden gets into the act, as he will reportedly launch a $1 million ad campaign this week. Mitt Romney will try to regain his footing and Mike Huckabee will try to hang on in Iowa.

Closing arguments usually wait for the last week of the campaign, but with the crunch of the holiday season looming, we may be close to the time where all the ads and campaign events in the world won't be effective. Starting next week, people all over the country will begin their holidays in earnest. Last-minute shopping, travel, family, and all that goes along with this time of year will take precedence over politics. Or so the betting goes. By the time America pushes itself away from the table this season, the voting in Iowa will be well under way.

The campaigns aren't about to shut down after this week, there's too much at stake, too many of those wavering voters to try and reach. But we are getting down to the last chance for the candidates to draw the kinds of distinctions that are so often done in negative ways. It's unknown how voters would react to finding a campaign mailing attacking one or another candidate in the midst of a stack of Christmas cheer but those holiday greetings have started to trickle out and the volume will only increase. And how effective would a negative ad be sandwiched in the middle of the warm-hearted movies and shows which will be inescapable soon?

By our calculations, there are about 12 days left before the holidays officially take center stage and the campaign locks down to some degree, at least for four or five days. What will the first day of Christmas campaigning bring to us?

Play-By-Play Coverage From The Trail: has launched a new blog, From The Road, where you can follow the daily action and interaction from the campaign trail. Written by CBS News off-air reporters, producers and correspondents, From The Road provides a first-person look at the candidates and voters as the primary frenzy enters its final phase. Check in early and often for breaking news, video and inside information on campaign 2008.

GOP Poll Watch: Huckabee's Iowa rise has yet to translate to New Hampshire, according to a new Marist poll. The survey found that Romney leads in the Granite State 29 percent, with Rudy Giuliani and John McCain tied at 17 percent and Huckabee at 11 percent. A new series of MSNBC/McClatchey/Mason Dixon polls, however, shows Huckabee with a lead in South Carolina. Huckabee leads in the Palmetto state with 20 percent, followed by Giuliani at 17 percent, Romney at 15 percent and Fred Thompson at 11 percent.

More Than A Whisper: The Clinton campaign has dismissed a second volunteer coordinator in Iowa who forwarded an e-mail falsely linking Obama to Islam, the AP Around The Track

  • Are the presidential candidates getting a break
  • from the Hollywood writer's strike? No late-night monologue jokes to deal with.

  • During his 10 and a half years as governor of Arkansas, Huckabee granted 1,033 pardons and commutations, the AP reports.
  • The Obama campaign finesses labor union after booking a non-labor venue for Sunday's Oprah rally in New Hampshire, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet.
  • Just when you thought you knew just about everything about Hillary Clinton, the Washington Post Sunday reminded readers that the New York senator tried to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1974. The Post dug up her rare retelling of the attempt to female military veterans as First Lady in 1994. She told then she was turned down, the recruiter telling her, "you're too old, you can't see and you're a woman."
  • Home-schooling advocates are helping propel Huckabee's Iowa campaign, reports the Des Moines Register.
  • Twenty-eight candidates have been invited to attend the New Hampshire Political Library's traditional "Lesser Known Candidates Forum" Thursday in Manchester.