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Starting Gate: In for The Long Haul

A small item reported today by Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times gives us some hints of where the Democratic race may end up going. Sweet reports that Barack Obama's campaign is doing a little re-organizing, sending some key staffers from headquarters in Chicago out to individual states. Not the early ones like Iowa and New Hampshire, but to some of those participating in the enormous February 5th primary date.

The campaign says such moves have long been planned and it suggests that Obama is either planning on cashing in on some momentum from early wins or putting the pieces in place for a protracted battle at any cost. And, with about $80 million already raised this year for the campaign, price is almost no object.

From a strategic standpoint, the primary calendar remains the biggest question mark of the campaign. Will Iowa and New Hampshire remain kingmakers in presidential politics or will the new Super-Duper Tuesday eclipse their influence? Can a candidate wait that long to compete or will the sheer publicity of early victories by one or two candidates wash away the rest of the fields entirely?

For Obama, and for Rudy Giuliani on the Republican side, fundraising success and broad appeal in states with large delegate caches may keep them in the game after Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina even if they are unable to outright win any of those contests. Whether such a strategy works or not is less important right now than the realization that the rules of the game appear to have changed. Seeding those later states is no longer a luxury, it's a necessity.

Latest Entry Into The Healthcare Sweepstakes: John McCain is slated to unveil his health care reform plan in Iowa today and is taking direct aim at what is considered a winning Democratic issue. "We are approaching a 'perfect storm' of problems that if not
addressed by the next president will cause our health care system to implode," McCain will say, according to excerpts of the speech obtained by the AP. "Democratic presidential candidates are not telling you these truths. They offer their usual default position: If the government would only pay for insurance everything would be fine. They promise universal coverage, whatever its cost, and the massive tax increases, mandates and government regulation that it imposes."

McCain's plan would allow Americans to purchase health care on a national basis rather than state-by-state, broaden the base from which health insurance can be bought, and providing tax credits of $2,500 per individual and $5,000 per family for health insurance. The plan also calls for supporting care delivered by such outlets as walk-in clinics and restructuring some Medicare payment systems.

Veepstakes In October! Florida DNC member Jon Ausman has an idea of how his party can find a way around the national party's boycott of the state, according to the Des Moines Register. With the national and state party locked in a lawsuit over Florida's early primary move – and Democratic presidential candidates effectively boycotting the state – Ausman wants to invite possible Democratic vice presidential candidates to debate at the party's state convention later this month. "This would bring an energy to the convention as well as national media attention," Ausman contends.

On the early list: Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ken Salazar of Colorado and Jim Webb of Virginia. With that list almost certain to grow to include a couple dozen key Democratic leaders, Ausman may need to find a bigger venue.

Around The Track

  • Bill Richardson will unveil his national service plan today which would pay the equivalent of two years of college for one year of service in the program.
  • Obama is airing his second ad in New Hampshire, this one on energy and the environment. From the ad: "I don't accept that we should be still sending $800 million a day, part to hostile nations because of our addiction to foreign oil. And in the bargain we're melting the polar ice caps."
  • Disgraced Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu was quite the collector, according to the Los Angeles Times, which reports: "Disgraced Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu had a well-known affection for fine living and all things Clinton. And his collector's taste and eye were on display Wednesday, when federal authorities unsealed documents showing they had seized more than 180 bottles of pricey wine from Hsu's New York apartment, as well as a saxophone believed to have been autographed by President Clinton."
  • Bill Richardson says he is moving up in Iowa, telling the New York Times: "We're the only candidate moving up, gradually and slowly moving up. We are exactly where we want to be, and my objective is to be one of the top three."
  • A new Quinnipiac poll in Florida has Clinton leading Obama 51% to 17% and Giuliani leading Fred Thompson 27% to 19% with Romney close behind at 17%.
  • Sam Brownback says he'll exit the race if he does not finish in the top four in the Iowa caucuses.
  • Add to the list of candidate faux-pas: There are no Whole Foods stores in Iowa.