Obama did unfurl probably his best line yet on the war, with what Politico's Ben Smith calls his "trump card": "I find it amusing that those who helped to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation are now criticizing me for making sure that we are on the right battlefield and not the wrong battlefield in the war against terrorism," he said. Clinton's response drew boos, but she sounded like she was delivering a lesson on the presidency: "You can think big, but remember, you shouldn't always say everything you think if you're running for president, because it has consequences across the world," Clinton said.
But while Obama looks for the president of Canada (and decides whether to congratulate Barry Bonds), and Edwards takes Biden's advice and finds a few more picket lines, a debate that could have been a game-changer shook up few fundamentals about the race. Clinton "matched her rivals' attacks with wit and forcefulness," per ABC's Tahman Bradley. It wasn't her best performance (blame an unfriendly crowd and an unfortunate need to raise her voice over it), yet that very fact demonstrates why she's leading this race.
Over on the Republican side, the march to Ames is on. (And it won't matter there that former mayor Rudolph Giuliani's, R-N.Y., second choice would be Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., since neither of them is making the trip.)
It's a make-or-break moment for perhaps half the GOP field, including former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., who hopes his strong debate performances will allow him to catch on as the choice of social conservatives (and of the yogurt and diet soda set). "Christian conservatives are the group Huckabee thinks will like his stance against abortion and gay marriage, his plan for a national sales tax, and the simple fact that he is a Baptist pastor and doesn't mind sounding like one," writes USA Today's Martha T. Moore. Setting his expectations a smidge low, "Huckabee says he must place among the top four candidates or it will be difficult to raise enough money to continue his White House campaign."
Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., is a lock to win the straw poll, and he's busily controlling expectations. The only problem is, if reporters notice you doing it, it doesn't work as well. "But Romney's bar-lowering is complicated by his decision to run a very traditional campaign in Iowa -- a strategy that, by definition, puts huge importance on demonstrable success at the straw poll," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes.
And Romney's got a new, Ames-specific ad up in Iowa starting today. "Washington politicians in both parties have proven they can't control spending -- and they won't control our borders," Romney says in the TV spot, per his campaign. "I will . . . but I need your help to do it. So come on to Ames. After all, changing America always starts in Iowa."
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is up with his first TV ad of the cycle, and the message won't surprise anyone who's been paying attention to his campaign (or the online message boards that his supporters seem to own). "He's running for president to secure our borders, to stop runaway spending, to protect our liberties and to save our Constitution," the ad says, per the AP's write-up. Statements flash across the screen, including "Stop the national I.D. Card."
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