THE NOTE: Opening Night for Thompson

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"Much of the focus will be on the former actor and whether he can seize the moment, not only to distinguish himself from the rest of the field but also to rebut accusations that he is too lazy, too ill-prepared and too vague to be the GOP nominee," writes The Washington Post's Michael Shear. But it's just remotely possible that a candidacy won't be made or broken at an economic debate in Michigan that airs on CNBC at 4 pm ET on a Tuesday. Adds Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention (who always seems to have nice things to say about Thompson): "He may have Reagan's Teflon quality."

Maybe the low expectations are just what the doctor (or the admiral) ordered. "All he has to do is not fall asleep. All he has to do is not throw up. All he has to do is not drool," Politico's Roger Simon writes. "Never has there been an opportunity for any candidate to surprise his critics more."

At least President Nixon isn't alive to weigh in. His assessment of Thompson? "Oh s---, that kid," Nixon said on White House tapes when told of his appointment as a Watergate counsel, ABC's Brian Ross reports. "He's dumb as hell. . . . He isn't very smart, is he? . . . But he's friendly." And this from White House counsel Fred Buzhardt, in 1973: "He said he realized his responsibility was going to have to be as a Republican increasingly." No comment from the Thompson campaign.

On the Democratic side -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Iran vote is looking more like a rare misstep from the frontrunner, at least from the standpoint of the Democratic primary. It's at least giving her rivals some running room to exploit her perceived strength: foreign policy.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., picked up on former senator John Edwards' line of attack yesterday: "Her willingness to once again extend to the president the benefit of the doubt I think indicates that she hasn't fully learned some of the lessons that we saw back in 2002," Obama, told ABC's Sunlen Miller. (How much does David Axelrod wish Obama hadn't missed that vote? "Well it wasn't a close vote," Obama said. Neither was the Iraq war resolution, but that one was sort of important, wasn't it, senator?)

Still, it's not a distraction Clinton, D-N.Y., needs. "Already on the defense for her vote to authorize use of force against Iraq, the Democratic presidential frontrunner now has another vote to defend among the anti-war liberal Democratic base," ABC's Jake Tapper writes. Tapper also explores the language that's whipped up all this controversy: "the issue, these Clinton opponents say, is the linkage of Iran and Iraq in legislation -- not the declaration that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are terrorists."

The New York Times' Adam Nagourney sees the Iran vote through the prism of a campaign run on caution. "In trying to appeal both to the Democrats' liberal base and to a more centrist general-election audience, Mrs. Clinton, like her husband before her, risks feeding into the assessment of critics that she is more about political calculation than about conviction," Nagourney writes.

"The campaign is entering what promises to be a turbulent period in which Mrs. Clinton will come under greater attack from both inside and outside her party," Nagourney continues. "And if past campaigns are any guide, this will also be a time of 'Clinton in trouble' accounts in the press, inspired by missteps or any signs of slippage, real or merely perceived."

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