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Starting Gate: Florida, Florida, Florida

3376528It's been awhile since Florida was the center of the political universe but it's never far from reclaiming that status and, when it comes to the Republican nomination fight, the state could play a decisive role.

Several factors could combine to set up a donnybrook for GOP candidates on January 29th. First is the state's strategic placement on the calendar. By the time Florida rolls around, we'll have had contests in New Hampshire, Iowa, Michigan and South Carolina. A week after Florida comes Super-duper Tuesday when twenty-plus states will be voting. Should none of the candidates break out and win all the early contests, Florida should prove to be a showdown state.

The wrangling between the state and national party on the Democratic side has left Florida void of an outright campaign in Florida. Both parties are being punished by their national organizations for having moved outside their calendar window and have been threatened with the loss of delegates to the national conventions. But Republicans have handled the dispute with far less infighting while Democrats are embroiled in lawsuits and boycotts. It's why we don't see Democratic candidates in the state, unless it's to sneak in for private fundraisers.

Republican candidates have courted the state early and often and they'll be heading down again this weekend for a state party convention which will culminate in a debate Sunday night in Orlando. It is widely believed that Rudy Giuliani has a decided edge in the state and has clearly made it a key part of his strategy. But events in the early states may have more to say about it than well-laid plans.

Praising Bush? From CBS News' Ryan Corsaro: Speaking to Iowa residents yesterday, Giuliani said that President Bush should be given more credit for his attention to the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

"I think this is one of the things President Bush has been good about," Giuliani told the crowd in Des Moines. "And I think it's something -- unfortunately, maybe it's the idea of being a second term president or maybe it's the media biases -- I don't know what it is. President Bush doesn't get credit for the good things he does."

Giuliani argued that the President has given more money to fighting the problem in African countries than "any president" ever. The mayor added that he supports President Bush's commitment of more money to fight the problem and develop relief for its victims.

Giuliani says the spread of HIV is a problem of enormous importance, and he would like to bring more countries together to combat the virus.

"I think, as a matter of conscience, it's something we have to do."

Last March, President Bush proposed a five-year, $30 billion initiative to fighting HIV/AIDS globally.

Giuliani says continuing to provide economic support shows a different side to an America "which sometimes looks too militaristic."

He told the crowd, "It shows what the American soul and the American heart is really all about."

Murphy Brown Revisited? Former Vice President Dan Quayle started a firestorm during the 1992 campaign when he took on the fictional TV character Murphy Brown and criticized the show for glamorizing single motherhood. Campaigning in Clinton, Iowa yesterday, Mitt Romney gently treaded into the same topic, talking to supporters about the need to strengthen families. "Number one on my list is we have to teach our kids that before they have babies, they should get married," Romney said, according to the Boston Globe.

Around The Track

  • Feeling that time is short for organizing and fearing confusion from holding caucuses on separate days, some Iowa Democrats are urging party leaders to follow state Republicans and moving to January 3rd, according to the Des Moines Register.
  • The Los Angles Times reports that while Clinton's campaign returned about $800,000 in campaign contributions linked to disgraced Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu it won't be returning contributions some of those same donors gave to her Senate campaign fund, $10 million of which was transferred to the presidential effort. "Because we did not keep track of contributions in the same way during the Senate campaign we have no basis for knowing that these individuals were solicited by Norman Hsu," spokesman Howard Wolfson tells the paper.
  • Obama will receive the endorsement of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick next week according to reports. Patrick is the Bay State's first African American governor and shares a key link to Obama – both have been served by strategist David Axelrod.
  • Giuliani's trip to Iowa was his first in almost two months. And he also took direct aim at the Democratic field – and France, according to "They (are trying) to figure out to get all these failed policies from France and let's see if we can inflict them on the American people," Giuliani said of Dems. "Higher taxes, more government control of health, more government control of education and more government control of who knows what -- the air that you breathe." The bottom line, said Giuliani, "If we are not careful and you don't elect me, this country will be to the left of France."
  • Stumping in New Hampshire yesterday, Mike Huckabee addressed the nagging question of whether he might end up as the bottom half of a presidential ticket – this time as the running mate of comedian Stephen Colbert. In announcing his "plans" to run for the White House (in South Carolina only), Colbert had floated Huckabee as a potential running mate. Huckabee said he's eyeing the top of that ticket, according to his campaign: "The Huckabee/Colbert ticket will not only win, but will change the world and have fun doing it. There will peace, love, and laughter in America again!"