THE NOTE: Rudy Rises

While the political world has waited for the inevitable collapse of Rudolph Giuliani, something interesting has happened: He looks stronger, not weaker, than he did a few months ago.

In addition to being the national poll leader, the former mayor of New York City is surging in New Hampshire, which has never been crucial to his Feb. 5 strategy but is vital to at least two of his opponents. He's now the GOP fund-raising leader, too, despite getting a bit of a late start behind former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., looks stronger than ever -- good news for a GOP candidate who's running on electability.

Perhaps most significantly, nothing major -- not Romney's attacks, not social conservatives' threats to bolt the party, not recurring questions about his abortion position -- has stopped Giuliani, R-N.Y., from controlling the GOP race. He's even doing another TV interview with his wife tonight -- talking about his family on his terms, not his rivals'.

Yes, he's spending more than he's bringing in, but he's got $16.6 million in reserve -- and he hasn't spent a dime on TV ads yet. The latest campaign-finance numbers show that Giuliani is putting in place a strategy that would allow him to fall short in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, yet still compete for the nomination.

"Giuliani invested thousands of dollars opening campaign offices in places such as Fargo, N.D., and Columbia, Mo.," write Matthew Mosk and Sarah Cohen of The Washington Post. "Giuliani's decision to spend there, as well as in Florida, New Jersey, and Illinois -- all states that will be part of a Feb. 5 mega-primary -- signals that he alone among the Republicans is laying the groundwork for a national primary strategy, campaign strategists said."

Look around the rest of the field for contrast. Romney suddenly looks vulnerable in New Hampshire (if somewhat less so in Iowa), and the lawyers comment at the debate and his Paul Wellstone/Howard Dean remark about the "Republican wing of the Republican Party" made him a target for his rivals.

His campaign would be flat broke if he weren't worth a couple hundred million (a big if, we know, but still . . . ). "Mitt Romney has spent nearly twice as much this year as Rudy Giuliani in the Republican presidential race, but remains locked in tight battles in Iowa and New Hampshire, and has less cash available than his rival as they enter the crucial stretch before balloting begins in January," The Boston Globe's Michael Levenson writes. He's already run nearly 11,000 ads, and has just $9.2 million in the bank after giving his campaign $17.4 million and counting.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is scrambling to stay relevant (and his baseball metaphor looks worse in the wake of the Colorado Rockies' sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks last night).

Even after righting his fiscal ship by dumping staff and restructuring over the summer, he still spent 95 percent of the money he brought in last quarter, ABC's Bret Hovell reports. He has a measly $3.5 million cash on hand -- and is still carrying $1.7 million in debt.

And former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., teased the GOP all summer but has yet to control the stage. One attempt came yesterday, when Thompson traveled to Giuliani's backyard to proclaim, "I believe that conservatives beat liberals only when we challenge their outdated positions, not embrace them. Per the New York Sun's Benjamin Sarlin, "was a clear but unnamed reference to Mr. Giuliani, whose moderate stance on social issues, such as abortion, has helped him argue that he is the most electable Republican candidate."

"He was more direct in a television interview with Fox News Channel," AP's Liz Sidoti reports. Said Thompson: "I don't think that the mayor has ever claimed to be a conservative." He added that Giuliani sought and won the Liberal Party's endorsement in his first mayoral race, and that while in office he backed then-governor Mario Cuomo, D-N.Y., for re-election.

McCain spent another day locked in a war of words with Romney, with surrogates arguing "over who is the more pure Republican," John DiStaso writes in the Union Leader.

All the attacks among the GOPers could wind up benefiting Giuliani, as the two candidates who need New Hampshire the most -- Romney and McCain -- batter each other,'s Chris Cillizza writes. He compares the fight to the combat between Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and Howard Dean, D-Vt., in 2004, which "amounted to mutually assured destruction for both men," Cillizza writes. "Romney must find a way to avoid a similar fate," he writes. "He needs to answer McCain without turning this into an ugly brawl that will only accrue to Giuliani's benefit in the long run."

This is a big week for all of the Republicans, with much of the field addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition today, the Club for Growth tomorrow, and the Values Voters Summit on Friday and Saturday in Washington.

For Romney, the Values Voters Summit comes at a critical time, as his campaign reaches out to evangelical Christians, Michael Luo writes for The New York Times' front page. "He faces a delicate task in trying to stake out common ground with conservative Christians, while not running afoul of deeply rooted evangelical sensitivities about any blurring of distinctions between Mormonism and conventional Protestantism," Luo reports. "His advisers are still undecided about whether Mr. Romney will directly address concerns about his religion in his 20-minute address and, if so, how much to dwell on it relative to his stances on particular social issues."

A top official at Bob Jones University, Dean Robert R. Taylor, is endorsing Romney, despite the school's "history of anti-Mormon rhetoric," Michael M. Phillips reports for The Wall Street Journal.

But with his "Republican wing" line, "Romney handed rivals Rudy Giuliani and John McCain the opportunity to remind GOP primary voters about the Old Romney, who was pro-abortion rights and courted gay voters when he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, then successfully for governor of Massachusetts," Debra Saunders writes for Real Clear Politics.

Among the Democrats, Clinton has reclaimed her fund-raising crown (actually, make that a tiara, in fitting with her campaign theme this week). "CASH QUEEN CLINTON," per the New York Post's headline, "has amassed a stunning $50 million in her campaign war chest, blowing past her rivals and giving her gobs of cash to launch a TV ad blitz leading up to the elections," Geoff Earle writes.

This language is more measured, but the impact is the same: Clinton "swiped the cash-on-hand lead from Illinois Sen. Barack Obama after out-raising him $22 million to $19 million in the three-month period ending Sept. 30," Brody Mullins and Mary Jacoby write in The Wall Street Journal. "That leaves Mrs. Clinton with $35 million in the bank for the primaries, about $3 million more than Mr. Obama."

When debt is factored in, "Clinton had a little less than $33 million at the end of September that can be used for the battle for the Democratic nomination, compared with almost $31 million for Obama," Bloomberg's Kristin Jensen and Jonathan D. Salant report. Both candidates are "flush with cash, each with about three times as much as leading Republicans," they write.

Clinton's FEC report shows that her campaign gave back $804,850 in contributions from 249 associates of Norman Hsu, as the "full extent of accused swindler Norman Hsu's political network was revealed for the first time," the Los Angeles Times' Tom Hamburger, Robin Fields and Chuck Neubauer write. "The donors came from 22 states and Washington, D.C., but Californians accounted for the largest amount refunded from the Hsu network, $308,000."

Overnight, Obama took a page from his Republican rivals and started raising money based on Hillary Clinton's strength. "Washington lobbyists and special interests rallied to help Hillary Clinton out-raise us for the first time," Obama writes in a fund-raising appeal sent to supporters early this morning (subject line: "The situation"). "If we want real change in this country, then we need to prove that together we are stronger than the lobbyist-driven money machine that has dominated Washington for too long. The situation here is simple. We are $2.1 million behind. We must close that gap right now."

Obama didn't mention Clinton on the stump yesterday -- for a change -- but his target was clear with this line, ABC's Sunlen Miller reports. "We've had enough of . . . triangulation and poll-driven politics," Obama said at a campaign stop in Wisconsin.

Sound familiar? "We cannot triangulate our way to real change," said . . . former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., in August in New Hampshire.

A month earlier, at the CNN/YouTube debate: "Do you believe that compromise, triangulation will bring about big change? I don't," Edwards said."

Edwards yesterday landed the backing of the SEIU chapter in Iowa and nine other states, while Obama countered by securing SEIU backing in Illinois and Indiana. Edwards' prize is far bigger: "Because the Iowa SEIU is choosing to back Edwards, SEIU councils from those other states [backing Edwards] will be allowed to organize get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of Edwards in the Iowa caucuses," per the Quad-City Times.

We get some finality (if not sanity) on the schedule front tonight, with the Iowa Republican Party set to approve a caucus date of Thursday, Jan. 3. But don't book your return ticket yet: The Democrats could still go with Saturday, Jan. 5. "The question is what will Iowa Democrats do and they're not giving many public signals," Radio Iowa's Kay Henderson writes on her blog. "It is 'tradition' for Republicans and Democrats in Iowa to hold their precinct Caucus meetings on the same date, but not a requirement."

Fund-raising morsels from yesterday's FEC reports:

Thompson dropped $5,500 "for catering at the swank Cape Cod eatery Chillingsworth, which bills itself as 'four-star French fine dining,' " Ian Bishop and Michael McAuliff write in the New York Post. "Fine food merits fine drink, and Thompson appeared to oblige, paying out nearly $7,400 to an Atlanta-area liquor store."

Giuliani travels in style, too: "Whether it was $2,010 at the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia, $4,034 at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., or $5,370 at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, the former mayor found himself top-notch lodging," Matthew Mosk writes for The Washington Post. "Giuliani spent another $800,000 on charter jet travel."

Giuliani may seem more MLB than NASCAR, but he "scored high-octane contributions from NASCAR giants Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, the No. 1 and No. 2 drivers in the nation, as well as 14th-ranked Casey Mears. They all poured maximum $2,300 contributions into Giuliani's tank," David Saltonstall and Michael McAuliff report in the Daily News.

They continue, "Clinton matched Giuliani's star power, pulling in A-list celebs Renée Zellweger, Billy Crystal, Lionel Richie, Bette Midler, Jon Bon Jovi, Vivica A. Fox and Amy Madigan, as well as designer icons Diane von Fürstenburg and Calvin Klein."

Per the AP, Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., "continues to draw support from his loyal underlings. Mostly senior-level state employees were top givers to his campaign for the quarter and have kicked in at least $257,230 overall. Another $42,150 has come from employees of the University of New Mexico thus far in the campaign."

Red Sox fan Romney spent "$4,312.69 on tickets in July and August for … the New York Yankees," The New York Times' Michael Luo reports. "Of course, it's possible that they were playing the Red Sox."

Per Politico's Anne Schroeder Mullins: "A California dentist is accused of fondling the breasts of 27 of his female patients, a practice he argues is 'appropriate' in some cases. Also, he gave Mitt Romney $1,000." (It's called "chest massage.") We take your molesting dentist and raise you a handful of white supremacists. "Through no fault of his own, Rep. Ron Paul's anti-globalist, anti-government campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has become a magnet in neo-Nazi networks, pulling in activists and supporters from the fringe white nationalist community where anti-Semitism, anti-black and anti-immigrant views are commonplace,"'s Tom Edsall writes. The campaign "can serve as a vehicle to find sympathizers and to recruit new loyalists drawn to the Republican congressman's opposition to international trade agreements, federal police authority and to the income tax."

Also in the news:

Here comes the next piece of the RNC assault on Clinton: "Republicans plan to seize on an allegation from the 1992 presidential campaign to tarnish Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) on the red-hot issue of government surveillance," The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports. The recent book by Don Van Natta Jr. and Jeff Gerth includes a scene where Clinton "listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack," Bolton writes.

A Republican source tells The Note that the Arkansas Republican Party today will be asking the state attorney general to investigate that allegation.

President Bush is among friends again, The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports. Yesterday, in Arkansas, one man commended him "on your steadfastness and your faith"; another said, "Thank you for being my president for the last seven years"; while a third "expressed dismay that Mr. Bush could not run for president again," Stolberg writes. "The friendly audience in northwest Arkansas -- not a single questioner criticized Mr. Bush -- is typical of such let-Bush-be-Bush events, which the White House is staging with increasing frequency."

Romney is spending more of his money today, with a new TV ad "appealing to the fiscal conservatism of New Hampshire voters," per AP's Philip Elliott. "Want tax cuts that will grow our economy? Change begins with us," Romney says in the ad.

On McCain, Robert Draper peers inside "The Unmaking of a President" in the new GQ. Draper reports that the campaign wasn't monitoring money in and money out, and that Marc Salter had to talk McCain out of quitting his campaign in July, as the campaign began to implode. "'We fell in love with a lie," Rick Davis tells Draper about the early (expensive) campaign model. Says an "outside adviser": "I think he panicked. . . . After all the challenges he's faced, it's almost like he expected the presidency to be a coronation."

McCain has a new fund-raising pitch: Give him money because he isn't sure when the New Hampshire primaries will be held, ABC's Bret Hovell reports. "We must be prepared as soon as the date is announced to move forward with our plan for victory in New Hampshire," McCain writes in a fund-raising appeal. He also says he needs to capitalize on his recent positive press: "I don't want to lose this momentum or get caught unprepared in a shifting primary scenario."'s Walter Shapiro argues against Clinton's "I-is-for-Inevitability." "Despite the growing (and, in some cases, the grudging) sense that the former first lady's nomination is preordained and the primaries mere formalities, Clinton still must avoid a dirt-road-in-rainy-season ration of potholes on the way to the Denver Convention," Shapiro writes. He lists 10 reasons she may not win, including "3) The Bill comes due," and "7) The anti-royalist rebellion."

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne writes that Obama needs to pick a message and stick with it. "The great mystery is why Barack Obama is not running stronger. The answer may be that Obama is waging two campaigns at the same time," he writes. "He runs to Hillary Clinton's left. . . . Yet he also casts himself as a young, untainted leader who will help the country break out of the stale debates and miserable divisiveness of the 1960s, the 1990s and the Bush era. To have a chance at winning, Obama may have to choose."

Clinton picked up the endorsement of former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Kathy Sullivan, James Pindell reports in The Boston Globe.

Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen sees support growing for Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. "In Iowa, Joseph Biden's candidacy is being underestimated. His competency on foreign affairs is solid, and he gets good crowds. The Iowa Poll shows him gaining support, while Bill Richardson is slipping."

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., is getting criticism for letting his work as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee languish while he's running for president, Bloomberg's Alison Vekshin reports. "The U.S. Senate Banking Committee has failed to fill two seats on the Federal Reserve Board, including one vacant for more than a year," Vekshin writes. "It has relied on another panel to press for an overhaul of the credit-card business. And it has yet to push legislation on subprime mortgages even as markets have been shaken by the industry's collapse."

After his big-name rivals skipped a forum on African-American issues, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., is set to author a bipartisan resolution "to apologize for slavery and segregation," Jenn Abelson writes in The Boston Globe. "He divulged his plan for a bipartisan slavery apology just days after reaching across the political aisle to join a Democratic presidential hopeful, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, in pushing a proposal for a federal system in Iraq."

ABC's Marcus Baram looks at the candidate "makeovers" that have helped them run for president. "Richardson, along with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and other presidential candidates, have all changed their images in both subtle and significant ways as they make a national run for the White House," Baram writes.

How seriously are candidates taking the "pledge" to avoid Florida? The St. Petersburg Times' Adam Smith went all the way to New Hampshire to try to score an interview with Clinton, but "I might as well have asked to show the former first lady my anthrax spores," he writes. "She's only doing local press," Mo Elleithee, a Clinton adviser, explained by phone. "And I'm local press from Florida," I said. "But now I'm in New Hampshire, so I'm legal to talk to." "But you're still from Florida," Elleithee sighed. "A tiger can't change its stripes."

At least the New Hampshire primary is off to a rollicking start: "An American fugitive living in Italy slipped past a costume-wearing ex-convict yesterday to become the first to file as an official candidate in the 2008 New Hampshire presidential primary," AP's Beverly Wang reports.

The kicker:

"With all due respect, I think they are the same." -- McCain, asked yesterday by radio host Dan Patrick to rate the chances of him winning the presidency as compared to the Arizona Diamondbacks' chances of reaching the World Series. The Rockies completed a four-game sweep of the D-backs last night.

"McCain is almost like the Mets." -- ESPN analyst Pedro Gomez. The Mets missed the playoffs despite leading the NL East by seven games with 17 to play.

"[Eleanor Roosevelt] said, you know, if you are going to be involved in politics you have to grow skin as thick as a rhinoceros. Occasionally I'll be sitting somewhere and I'll be listening to someone perhaps not saying the kindest things about me. And I'll look down, at my hand, and I'll sort of pinch my skin to make sure it still has the requisite thickness that I know Eleanor Roosevelt expects it to have." -- Hillary Clinton, at the Eleanor Roosevelt lunch in New York City.

"Look how much longer it takes me to get ready." -- Clinton, on ABC's "The View, "dressed in a grey wool jacket, a black scoop neck blouse, and black pants," per Politico's Ryan Grim.

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