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Starting Gate: McCain Joins The Fray

The past few weeks have seen an increase in verbal sparring between two Republican presidential candidates who would like observers to believe theirs is a two-man race for the nomination. Mitt Romney, whose campaign has aimed at consolidating conservative support and Rudy Giuliani, who touts his national appeal, both may think they have an edge in such a situation. But John McCain is serving notice that there's still a crowd on the GOP side of the 2008 equation.

In what seemed a clear allusion to the Romney-Giuliani dynamic, the former Massachusetts governor proclaimed himself the true Republican in the race. Speaking to voters in Nevada, Romney asserted, "conservatives that have heard me time and again recognize that I do speak for the Republican wing of the Republican Party."

John McCain is taking exception to that. Appearing on "Face the Nation" yesterday, McCain took aim at Romney. "His record is very clear," he said, "that he ran in Massachusetts as a very liberal Republican. He said he didn't support President Reagan, said he didn't want to go back to the Bush/Reagan years, voted for a Democrat for president, supported a Democrat candidate here in New Hampshire, had liberal positions on literally every issue. I think we owe the voters our respect before we get their respect."

In a speech to the New Hampshire Republican Party on Saturday, he was even more pointed. "When Governor Romney donated money to a Democratic candidate in New Hampshire, I don't think he was speaking for Republicans. When he voted for a Democratic candidate for President, Paul Tsongas, I don't think he was speaking for Republicans. … So you'll understand why I'm a little perplexed when Mitt Romney now suggests that he's a better Republican than me, or that he speaks for the Republican wing of the Republican Party."

"Angry attacks from flailing campaigns won't stop Gov. Romney from moving forward with his optimistic agenda," responded Romney spokesman Kevin Madden. It may not stop Romney or Giulaini from trying to make this a two-man contest for the nomination in the end but it does demonstrate, in a wide-open race that includes at least four real contenders, that we're not there yet.

Richardson Joins Clinton Critics: Meanwhile, Democratic candidates are trying to keep their nomination fight from turning into a runaway one-woman race. Hillary Clinton continues to rack up large leads in national polls, nab big endorsements and haul in boatloads of campaign cash. And, while Iowa continues to be extremely competitive, it's the only place she doesn't lead big.

Stumping in Nevada this weekend, Bill Richardson joined Barack Obama and John Edwards in leveling some criticism at the front-runner, saying that Clinton is "acting as if she's won" already and claiming that she doesn't have the nomination locked up by any means. "I think this is a time when voters start making up their minds and we draw contrasts … This race is not over. ... We've got three months to go."

Edwards Gets Union Boost When the Service Employees International Union's national leadership decided against making an endorsement in the presidential race, it was seen as a blow to John Edwards, who has courted the union vote heavily in his campaign. He may recover a bit today when he is expected to win the backing of SEIU's Iowa chapter, which sports just over 2,000 members in the state. The Iowa group will be joined by other state organizations endorsing Edwards, according to the Des Moines Register.

Around The Track

  • Ohio Republican David Hobson is the 12th GOP House member to announce a 2008 retirement and the third from the 2004 battleground state. Add that to GOP retirements in the U.S. Senate and this is looking like a very tough year for Republican hopes of winning back control of Congress.

    In fact, at least one former Republican leader sees bad news all around for his party. In an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey said this: "I don't see any way that Hillary Clinton won't be president." For the GOP, "it is going to get worse before it gets better, but it will get better," said Armey.

  • Fred Thompson's absence on the campaign trail of late is getting noticed by New Hampshire Republicans.
  • Starting today, $1,000 and a trip to New Hampshire will get you on the Granite State's 2008 presidential primary ballot. Filing deadline is 5:00pm Nov. 2. When that primary will actually be held is still unknown but stay tuned, we may get some developments on that front soon.
  • "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini has pulled out as a "special guest" to an upcoming McCain fund-raiser according to the New York Post. Gandolfini's spokesperson says the actor is not backing any candidate.
  • McCain says Buddhist monks in Burma would have been a better choice than Gore for Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Former Denver Mayor and Clinton cabinet secretary Federico Pena stumped for Obama in Iowa over the weekend. Pena is one of the campaign's national co-chairs.
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