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Starting Gate: Fighting Fatigue

Going into tonight's Democratic debate, it only feels like the 300th time presidential candidates have stood on a stage with one another for an in-depth discussion of the important issues of the day – or at least deliver their 30-second talking points. But while this pre-primary debate season has delivered plenty of talk, it's important not to yield to debate fatigue. After all, everything up to now has been mostly a warm-up for what's coming – and the regular season may be kicking off tonight.

As the clock continues to tick on 2007, these debates will take on more significance – and begin to receive more attention not just from the media but from voters themselves. And indications are they will be getting a little more interesting from here on out.

The Democratic field will get together tonight in Philadelphia where their number will be reduced by one. Mike Gravel, often a source of amusement and righteous indignation in the contests thus far has not been invited. That should clear out a minute or two for the remaining seven candidates to take. And, if the last couple of days are any indication, they might be used to create some real debate.

Both Barack Obama and John Edwards have renewed pledges to offer more contrast with Hillary Clinton on the issues. Obama started over the weekend by suggesting that the New York senator has failed to answer questions about how she would deal with the issue of Social Security should she win the White House. Edwards has once again begun questioning whether Clinton is too closely tied to a "corrupt" Washington system to implement the change Democratic voters are seeking.

We've been down this road before, it seems, with Obama and Edwards trying to engage Clinton on issues ranging from the war in Iraq to campaign contributions from lobbyists. But that was pre-season. With just ten weeks before the Iowa caucuses (and much of that time gobbled up by the Holidays), the tempo is increasing. Clinton remains the prohibitive front-runner in all the leading indicators with the exception of an tight race in Iowa. And, while voters there traditionally don't make up their minds until the closing weeks of the campaign, the earlier-than-ever calendar means those weeks will include Christmas and New Years, not the first three weeks of January.

Nobody knows what impact the January 3rd caucuses will have on the process this time around. But a glance at the calendar shows November about to turn and expectations growing for Obama and Edwards to begin making their case. If not tonight, then when?

Giuliani's Iraq And Roll: Rudy Giuliani isn't shying away from his support of the Iraq war and predicts that Democratic presidential candidates will eventually come to see it as the right course of action. Speaking to workers at a company in New Hampshire which makes weapons systems for the military, Giuliani said, "do I think the mission overall in Iraq is the correct one, I think without a doubt it is. And I think the Democrats are going to change their minds about it again," he said, according to the AP.

Talking about the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Giuliani continued: "Suppose Hillary Clinton and John Edwards' new position was their position back then, that it was a mistake to take him out. Wouldn't we be dealing with Saddam Hussein becoming nuclear right now? If Iran was becoming nuclear what would he be doing? Sitting there letting his arch enemy gain nuclear power over him? Or would we now be dealing with two countries seeking to become nuclear powers?"

Polls And Rumors Of Polls: A lot of attention is being paid to the latest University of Iowa poll showing a dead heat in the democratic contest, with Clinton at about 29 percent, Obama at 27 percent (rounded up). The poll also showed Mitt Romney with a commanding lead, with about 36 percent with Giuliani and Mike Huckabee in a dead heat for second with about 13 percent.

A couple caveats: The poll was conducted in part by University of Iowa professor David Redlawsk, who also happens to be a county chairman for the Edwards campaign. Redslaw tells the Des Moines Register that his students did a large part of the work on the poll, adding, "I like to believe that when I put on my professor hat, I'm pretty straight down the middle." Also, Mark Blumenthal of urges caution in extrapolating meaning from the poll given the methodology – particularly the open-ended questionnaire and use of listed phone registries instead of more common methods.

Around The Track

  • Huckabee gets a nice boost in Iowa from political columnist David Yepsen, who writes there is a growing buzz around his candidacy in the caucus state. "At a time when GOP candidates are falling all over themselves to rekindle the spirit of Ronald Reagan in their party, Huckabee's coming as close as anyone."
  • Clinton is out with a new ad highlighting her past positions on Social Security issues. The ad comes on the heels of suggestions by Obama that she is being evasive on the topic. In the ad, a narrator says, "These days, it seems like every candidate on Earth is coming here for you. But which candidate has been there for you all along?
  • Some Coe College students weren't totally satisfied with Obama's answers on same-sex marriage at yesterday's MTV/MySpace event.
  • The Politico reports that Rudy Giuliani's campaign has decided to make a renewed effort in New Hampshire.
  • The DNC has tapped Emmy-winning producer Ricky Kirshner and Democratic strategist Mark Squier to oversee next year's Democratic convention in Denver. Kirshner has produced televised award shows and a Super Bowl halftime show.
  • Ron Paul will take his star turn on "The Tonight Show" this evening after a Hollywood fundraiser.