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Starting Gate: Crunch Time Drawing Closer

(CBS/AP)
After eight months of constantly being reminded that "it's still early" in the presidential election cycle, it's easy to miss the fact that it's really not that early anymore. Yesterday's fisticuffs sparked by the John Edwards campaign should remind us of that.

In an e-mail to supporters, Edwards adviser Joe Trippi launched a blistering attack on a Washington fundraiser held by Hillary Clinton yesterday – one which brought donors (presumably including lobbyists) into contact with members of Congress with positions on various homeland security committees. The bottom line, according to Trippi: Clinton is padding her coffers by connecting lobbyists with the members of Congress who can shuffle federal largesse their way.

"That no one in the Clinton campaign—including the candidate—found anything wrong with holding this fundraiser is an indication of just how bad things have gotten in Washington—because there isn't an American outside of Washington who would not be sickened by it," Trippi wrote.

Just an attack by a "flagging" campaign said the Clinton camp. Flagging or not, the window of opportunity for Edwards is narrowing by the day. Once a front-runner in Iowa, Edwards finds himself in a tough three-way battle there with Clinton and Barack Obama. It's shaping up to be the defining battle of the Democratic race – a Clinton win in Iowa might just launch her to the nomination. A win, or very close second, for one of the other would likely elevate them into a two-person fight with Clinton.

But the beneficiary of any intra-party fireworks between Edwards and Clinton is almost certain to be Obama. A candidate who has promised to change politics as we know it, the Illinois senator has to tread carefully in his critiques of Clinton. If someone else can chip away at the front-runner, it fits perfectly with his message. And, Iowa voters don't have a history of rewarding negative politics. In 2004, Dick Gephardt took on Howard Dean – John Kerry scored a surprising win in the caucuses.

Fred Flubs Again? "We'll have to look at that" has become a pretty familiar response from Fred Thompson on the issues he's been asked about while on the trail. But the "I'm playing catch-up" excuse is only going to work for so long. Yesterday in Florida, Thompson professed to be unaware of the fact that there are oil reserves in the everglades – or that the state's GOP governor opposed drilling there.

As the Orlando Sentinel puts it today, "on Florida issues, Thompson may not be ready for prime time.
On the idea of the federal government starting a national catastrophic fund to ease the cost of hurricane insurance, Thompson was wary, but said, 'We'll learn more about it as we go along.'

On oil drilling, Thompson said he was surprised to learn that reserves may exist in the Everglades. 'But maybe that's one of the things I need to learn while I'm down here,' said Thompson, seated next to Crist in the Governor's Office.
'I really prefer that we not do that," Crist quickly added.'"

A "Gentle" Reminder For Greenspan: It's not often that Vice President Cheney feels the need to publicly respond to critics of the administration (who's got the time, after all). But the Veep takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to rebut some of the criticisms leveled by former Fed chair Alan Greenspan in his new book, "Age of Turbulence."

Responding to Greenspan's disapproval of the administration's fiscal policy, Cheney responds, "the fact is that in a time of unprecedented challenge, the United States has experienced nearly six years of uninterrupted economic growth and added more than eight million new jobs since August 2003--more than all other major industrialized nations combined."

Left unaddressed is Greenspan's contention that Saddam Hussein needed to be removed from power in order to secure the world's oil supply, which has led to the impression that the war in Iraq is a war for oil.

Around The Track

  • Idaho Senator Larry Craig was once a key part of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Now, he's the focus of the candidate's criticism in a new TV ad to go up today in Iowa and New Hampshire. Romney takes his "change" theme to the next level in the ad, according to the AP: "If we're going to change Washington, Republicans have to put our own house in order," Romney says, speaking directly to the camera. "We can't be like Democrats a party of big spending. We can't pretend our borders are secure from illegal immigration. We can't have ethical standards that are a punch line for Jay Leno." Update: Watch the ad on PrezVid.
  • Romney also launched a new radio ad in Iowa yesterday emphasizing his support of a federal marriage amendment, a shot at rivals like Rudy Giuliani and another play for conservative hearts and minds. From the ad: "Not all Republican candidates for president agree, but defending marriage is the right thing to do."
  • A new Franklin Pierce University/WBZ poll shows Clinton and Romney maintaining their New Hampshire leads. Clinton leads Obama 36 percent to 18 percent with Edwards at 12 percent. On the GOP side, Romney is ahead of Giuliani 30 percent to 23 percent with McCain at just 14 percent. Fred Thompson, whose recent entry thrust him near the top in national polls, finds just 8 percent support in this poll.
  • The Manchester Union Leader reports: "The deputy political director of John Edwards' New Hampshire campaign has resigned after writing what the campaign describes as distasteful internal e-mails critical of fellow New Hampshire Democrats."
  • The Boston Globe chronicles one of the most under-covered angles to Clinton's health care plan – it's similarities to the one Romney signed into law as Governor of Massachusetts.
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