The Note: Scrutiny Time

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Just to relish the little surprises that define national politics, here are five things (we think) we know today:

1) The leading 2008 Republican is pro-choice, and a Mormon candidate is bursting into the top tier. 2) The leading Democrats are a woman and an African-American man. 3) Two non-candidates -- a Democrat who isn't likely to run, and a Republican who's just about in -- hold the power to scramble the race as we've known it. 4) A billionaire from New York City can change everything by himself. 5) The current president has one last best chance at a major domestic accomplishment, if only his base would stop hating his guts.

Just to remember how much difference a week can make, here are five things (we think) we'll know by the end of the week:

1) Whether Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., have the fund-raising pull to compete with their rivals. 2) Whether former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., has the dexterity to pull out of an early tailspin. 3) Whether The Boston Globe's globe-trotting examination of former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., knocks him off his game. 4) Whether The Washington Post's probe of Dick Cheney helps Congress or the White House decide if the vice president's office is part of the executive branch. 5) Whether, in the great battle of Talk Radio vs. The Bush Legacy, real, tangible legislation is possible.

Though money's no issue for him, perhaps no one has higher stakes this week than Romney, the subject of a seven-part scrub in the Globe that -- like the paper's 2003 book-length examination of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass -- has the power to define perceptions of a candidate who is being treated as a top contender. That's not necessarily bad for the Romney camp; two days into the series, Romney is coming off rather well, if a bit nerdy -- and his Boston crew can sleep easier if this means no biographical surprises down the road.

The Globe has fresh details of a fatal car crash Romney was involved in while working as a Mormon missionary in France (not Romney's fault, but the candidate who loves to hate on France sure has uttered his share of "bon jours"). We're also learning about Romney's deep idolization of his father, as well as his family's "journey from the fringes to the mainstream" that tracks the "transformation of the [Mormon] church itself."

Most intriguingly, the Globe's Michael Kranish and Michael Paulson write today, Romney's ancestors were leading men and women in the Mormon hierarchy as well as polygamy hold-outs, part of a contingent that fled the United States for Mexico to escape persecution and continue the practice of "plural marriage." Romney's great-grandfather took wife No. 5 in 1897 -- seven years after the church banished polygamy from official doctrine -- notwithstanding Romney's statement that he "can't imagine anything more awful than polygamy."

The series publishes at a moment where Romney's faith has come under renewed scrutiny, with scattered whispering campaigns aimed at spreading LDS gossip. And it comes at a point in the campaign cycle where Romney has arrived -- meaning he'll have to clear a higher bar than his GOP rivals in the second-quarter race for dollars just to meet expectations. Dan Balz's Washington Post piece today pronounces Romney's early strategy a success: "Romney's rise is an instructive story of seizing opportunities, maximizing small advantages, attention to detail and a few lucky breaks."

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