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Starting Gate: Order Out Of Calendar Chaos?

It appears likely that Iowa Democrats will join their counterparts in holding their caucuses on January 3rd. Via a telephone conference, Iowa Democratic chairman Scott Brennan will recommend the date and about 50 members of the party's central committee will, most likely, vote to do just that.

The move leaves just Michigan as one of the final pieces to fall into place before New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner sets his state's primary date. And, according to the New Hampshire Union-Leader, there are signs that Michigan may be set for January 15th after all. Despite threats from Senator Carl Levin that Democrats there may opt out of the primary and hold caucuses earlier in the month, he said yesterday that he will defer to Governor Jennifer Granholm, who supports the primary date.

Where does that leave us? Probably with the New Hampshire primary on January 8th instead of December. Getting the calendar firmed up will be a big relief to campaign strategists putting the final touches for the stretch run. Surprisingly, it also lays out a schedule that is far more sane than you might have been led to believe. Sure, the primary season is starting ridiculously early and both Iowa and New Hampshire may be squeezed more by the holiday season than other states. Most Americans will have barely cleared their heads by the time New Hampshire votes.

But, as long as it all falls into place, we're set up for a relatively orderly first month of the campaign. Here's how it sets up: Iowa on the 3rd, New Hampshire five days later on the 8th. Then, a full week before Michigan on the 15th, four more days until Republicans vote in South Carolina on the 19th, Democrats there following on the 26th and Florida finishing the month on the 29th. (Wyoming Republicans squeeze in with a convention on the 5th but is unlikely to gain much attention).

Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton is the only major candidate on the Michigan ballot and none are spending time or resources there. While Republicans have had a debate there, they also haven't spent much time in Mitt Romney's home state. So, while Michigan will vote, it may not be seen as a real battleground in the campaign. That means a big two-week buildup between New Hampshire and South Carolina for the GOP and three weeks for Democrats. Then Florida goes. It will certainly be a critical state for Republicans and could be for Democrats even though they've been effectively banned from competing there.

If you accept the above premise, you're looking at four real critical dates in the month of January – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida – spread out from the 3rd to the 29th. This calendar still gives candidates who stumble time to recover and for candidates who may surprise to raise the kind of quick money to compete. Out of a year of calendar chaos may still come order. At least until February …

Back Atcha: Barack Obama has been hitting Hillary Clinton often for her Senate vote urging the Bush administration to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, saying that she is helping pave the way for military action against Iraq. The Clinton campaign fired back late yesterday with an e-mail that includes this Obama quote from 2006: "Make no mistake, if the Iranians and Syrians think they can use Iraq as another Afghanistan or a staging area from which to attack Israel or other countries, they are badly mistaken. It is in our national interest to prevent this from happening."

From the e-mail: "Stagnant in the polls and struggling to revive his once-buoyant campaign, Senator Obama has abandoned the politics of hope and embarked on a journey in search of a campaign issue to use against Senator Clinton. Nevermind that he made the very argument he is now criticizing back in November 2006. Nevermind that he co-sponsored a bill designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a global terrorist group back in April. Nevermind that his colleague from Illinois – Dick Durbin – voted the same way as Senator Clinton on Kyl-Lieberman and said "If I thought there was any way it could be used as a pretense to launch an invasion of Iran I would have voted no."

Damage Control: Obama's campaign is working overtime to put the clamps on a growing controversy. The campaign has invited gospel singer Donnie McClurkin to participate in an upcoming tour, something which has angered gay activists because the artist has said in the past that homosexuality is a choice. Yesterday, the campaign held a conference call with gay and lesbian activists in South Carolina to smooth thing over – but says it won't remove McClurkin from the tour.

South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement's past president Tony Snell said after the call that his group planned to hold a protest vigil outside of this Sunday's event, according to the Associate Press. "This guy has a reputation. He has a past. It's well known," Snell said.

Obama spokesman Kevin Griffis said, "the Obama campaign is trying to bridge real divides and bring people together. Two things are certain: We will never be able to bridge those divides if we are unwilling to listen to voices we don't agree with, and we will never change anyone's mind if we refuse to talk to him."

Bittersweet Anniversary for McCain: When John McCain campaigns in Iowa today, those in attendance can expect more than the usual stump speech from the GOP contender, CBS News' Dante Higgins reports. That's because today is also the 40th anniversary of the day McCain was shot down over Hanoi as a Navy pilot serving in Vietnam. A friend of McCain's and a fellow veteran of the war, the well-decorated retired Col. Bud Day, will be on hand as McCain holds an event in Sioux City.

McCain's time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam has been a key part of his campaigns, and his character, ever since he entered politics. But it has become especially prominent in the past few weeks. First came McCain's ad that showed grainy, black-and-white footage of him lying in a North Vietnamese hospital giving his name, rank and serial number. His time in captivity was also the main focus of his speech last weekend before the Values Voter Summit in Washington.

It was a humorous statement made during a debate on Sunday that has kept McCain's ordeal in the spotlight this week. Discussing a thwarted plan of Hillary Clinton's to secure federal funding for a museum commemorating the 1969 Woodstock concert, McCain said, "I wasn't there. I'm sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event. I was tied up at the time." It was the evening's most memorable line and earned McCain a standing ovation and glowing free-media coverage.

Today's event will probably not be so light-hearted. But it will keep in the spotlight McCain's greatest assets – his personal story and his military experience, which none of the other top-tier Republicans have.

Meanwhile, the Fox News Channel is asking McCain to stop airing the ad because it uses footage from the debate aired on its network – and includes the FNC logo. The McCain campaign refused, citing "fair use" rights.

Brownback Backs… Giuliani? Sam Brownback counted on the support of social conservatives during his now-defunct run for president. But reports indicate there's at least some chance he'll end up backing the one moderate Republican in the race: Rudy Giuliani. The two met yesterday on Capitol Hill.

In an interview with inside-the-Beltway publication The Hill, Brownback, a vocal opponent of abortion and gay marriage, said he would consider backing the former New York mayor – who supports abortion rights and extending certain trappings of marriage to same-sex couples – because he believed Giuliani had come to oppose the procedure foes call partial-birth abortion and had pledged to appoint "strict constructionists" to the Supreme Court – code in conservative circles for judges who would restrict abortion rights and possibly overturn Roe v. Wade.

After yesterday's meeting, Brownback told reporters, "I'm much more comfortable" with Giuliani. He added, "Justices are key. He's stated publicly many times about his support for strict constructionists like, I believe he said Roberts. John Roberts is a personal friend."

An endorsement isn't a done deal for Giuliani, or anyone else for that matter, however. Brownback hasn't said when he'll make an endorsement, nor promised to make one at all. But it would certainly help to make the case among conservatives if Giuliani were to secure he support.

Around The Track

  • A new poll in California shows Giuliani down ten points from just a month ago. The Field Poll has the former mayor at 25 percent (he was at 35 percent in August), with three candidates in a virtual tie for second place – Romney at 13 percent and Fred Thompson and McCain at 12 percent.
  • Obama is nabbing many of Bill Clinton's former friends for his campaign, including now-Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and former Clinton cabinet members Federico Pena and William Daley.
  • Romney isn't shying away from his recent ties to Bob Jones university despite some of the school's positions on religion. Asked about winning the endorsement of Bob Jones III, Romney said: "I'm proud to have the respect of people and the support of people who don't agree with my faith, but agree that I'm the right person to be president. … And I'm not running for preacher; I'm running for president." Bob Jones University teaches that Mormonism and Catholicism are "cults," according to the Associated Press.
  • They may be up two games to none, but Romney isn't about to bet his campaign on a Red Sox victory. The former Massachusetts governor declined to accept a challenge from Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo who proposed a bet which would have the loser drop out of the race.
  • Happy birthday to Sen. Clinton.