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Starting Gate: Red Meat For Iowa Dems

Democratic presidential candidates served up some red meat for Iowa activists at Senator Tom Harkin's annual steak fry yesterday, with Iraq at the top of the agenda. According to the Des Moines Register, about 18,000 Iowa Democrats converged on a field near Indianola for the funds-raising event to hear the presidential pitches. The war tops the agenda for Democrats in the state and in a tight race, it's little surprise that it was on every candidate's lips.

All the Democrats are pledging an end to the war, but the nuances of just how to get there continue to drive much of the primary discussion. John Edwards, who has courted the anti-war vote aggressively, has long criticized his primary opponents (specifically Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) for not doing more to force President Bush to change course in Iraq. Yesterday, Obama inched toward Edwards on the issue, indicating his future votes on Iraq funding will be tied to a timetable for withdrawal.

"We are going to bring an end to this war and I will fight hard in the United States Senate to make sure we don't pass any funding bill that does not have a deadline," Obama said. Democratic candidates are wary of voting against funding measures for the war because it potentially opens the way for criticism that they are putting U.S. troops in danger.

Clinton has resisted pressure to tie funding to a timetable. Her comments in Iowa reflected that as she asked activists, "are you ready to end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home, as safely and responsibly as possible?" Do these differences matter to Iowa Democracts? Not if the quotes in the Register's coverage is any indication – but expect to keep hearing the candidates, especially Edwards, talk about them.

Once More Unto The Breach: Over a decade after her health care reform plan went down in flames, Hillary Clinton now tells voters that she's got the scars to show from that experience. Today, the New York Senator begins wading right back into that same fight when she unveils her much-anticipated health care proposal.

According to the previews, Clinton will unveil a less complicated version of the plan she tried to sell in 1993, one that would require all Americans to carry health insurance and provide help for those who can't afford coverage. As Clinton's policy adviser Neera Tanden told the Associated Press, "If you like the plan you have, you keep it. If you're one of tens of millions of Americans without coverage or don't like the coverage you have, you will have a choice of plans to pick from and you'll get tax credits to help pay for it."

Notice the emphasis on the first part of that statement. Republican pollster Bill McInturff remembers just why this issue, which has topped the list of concerns in polls for years – is such a delicate one to deal with. "Never, in my years of work, have I found someone who said, 'I will reduce the quality of the health care I get so that all Americans can get something.' … Every time the debate reaches that point, it collapses," McInturff tells the New York Times.

Housekeeping Matters: With the kickoff of the fall campaign season, we're making a few changes here at We've taken our daily campaign briefing and turned it into a blog. You'll still get our take on the days news, just a little earlier and a lot more often. That's right, Horserace is where the latest news, analysis and dispatches from the road will be constantly updated. So check in early and often – the campaigns aren't resting so we won't either. Send your tips, thoughts and observations to our in-box.

Around The Track

-- "I am literally changing my mind every 15 minutes." That's what likely Democratic caucus goer Ann Balentine tells the Des Moines Register about her current leanings. Another reminder that, despite eight months of campaigning and tens of millions raised, voters in those early states aren't likely to lock in their decisions until the very last minute.

-- Mitt Romney wants the UN to ban Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from speaking to the body in New York tomorrow. "If President Ahmadinejad sets foot in the United States, he should be handed an indictment under the Genocide Convention," Romney writes in a letter to the UN.

-- Democrats will court labor this week in Washington and Chicago, Lynn Sweet has the details.

-- The Los Angeles Times points us to an updated primary calendar put together by the National Association of Secretaries of State.

-- Touted as a "major national endorsement" by the campaign, Clinton this weekend picked up the endorsement of former general and one-time presidential candidate Wes Clark.

-- From the "you learn something new every day" files, the AP reports: "Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has long identified himself as an Episcopalian, said this weekend that he is a Baptist and has been for years."

-- Bob Novak writes that the Bob Kerrey for Senate talk may be more than just speculation.

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