The Note: Iowa State of Mind

Everything you need to know about the presidential race was on display on the sweltering fields of Des Moines yesterday (where instead of killer toys from China, the big attraction was a life-size cow replica made of butter). Soak up the little details: former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., signing autographs at the Iowa State Fair -- taking his permanent marker even to a young woman's tank top -- and then discussing immigration policy and fingerprinting technology with attendees.

The Democratic front-runner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., arrived in a motorcade and worked her way through the crowd with a moving set of rope lines. She had pork chops, a hamburger, ice cream, and hecklers -- including a passerby who loudly called her "the antiChrist," per The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut. And Clinton herself produced one of those unintentional moments that captured more than anyone intended. "If you can't stand the heat," Clinton said, her apron reading "The Other White Meat," "get out of the kitchen."

The New Yorkers who just happen to be the national front-runners have unique sets of Iowa challenges. "While Giuliani is revered as the mayor who offered comfort to the public in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he is viewed skeptically by some conservative Republicans in Iowa because of his history on abortion and gay rights," the Post's Kornblut writes. "Clinton, meanwhile, has faced questions among liberal Democrats about her electability and her polarizing effect on voters, issues that were on display as she drew some nasty comments from passersby at the fair."

Clinton, of course, was referring to the temperature, not the heat of the campaign, when she made her kitchen remark. But there's plenty of that kind of heat in her world, too -- not just from the Democrats who are trying to tear her down going into Sunday's ABC debate in Des Moines (attention, Barack Obama and John Edwards) but from the Republicans who are trying to build her up (Karl Rove, with an assist from a ratings-conscious Rush Limbaugh) so they can tear her down later. She remains the focal point of the race -- the candidate who does the most to energize her opponents, both inside and outside of her party.

The dog days of August have brought old-fashioned dogfights to the campaign (not the Michael Vick kind). For the Democrats, Obama is (almost) calling Clinton unelectable, and Edwards is (just about) saying she may as well be a Republican (gasp!). Just for good measure, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., is essentially accusing all of them of putting his son's life in jeopardy by opposing funding for the war.

For Clinton, the attacks from Rove cut both ways -- he's talking up her chances to win the nomination (another guru who sees her as the inevitable nominee) but rallying the GOP base by saying she'll probably lose the general election. "There is no front-runner who has entered the primary season with negatives as high as she has in the history of modern polling," Rove told Limbaugh yesterday.

The Obama camp thinks Rove is trying to get Clinton nominated so the GOP can steamroll her in the general election. And the Clinton camp one-upped them by saying "Mr. Rove and Senator Obama are reading off the same set of talking points," as Clinton spokesman Phil Singer told The New York Times' Patrick Healy. Back to you, Senator Obama.

The Republicans front-runners are tangling over what still may be the hottest issue for GOP voters: immigration. (And isn't there something delicious about a pair of blue-state, one-time moderates tumbling over each other to get right-right-right?) Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., started this fight, and Giuliani is going to need more than a new set of lines and a radio ad to finish it (even if it features pleasingly patriotic background music).

Watch Giuliani's messaging dance, as he makes the issue of undocumented immigration all about fighting crime. "A person who comes here illegally, commits a crime, should be thrown out of the country," he says in his new radio ad (the one with the kind of music that makes you proud to be an American). And check out this (clever) language at the Iowa State Fair yesterday: "I'll rest on the record I had for reducing illegality, bringing about safety, creating security in the toughest place to do it in the country with results that nobody thought were possible. I can do the same thing to end illegal immigration," Giuliani said, per ABC's David Chalian.

Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen sees the race on both sides boiling down to one word: electability. That's behind concerns about Clinton, and explains the polling strength of Giuliani and Romney, he writes. "Smart candidates should be telling activists in Iowa why they're the one best able to carry states such as Ohio," writes Yepsen, who will join ABC's George Stephanopoulos in the questioning during Sunday's debate.

That message is being heard (and hammered home) by Clinton's rivals. Asked about Obama's comments in yesterday's Washington Post, where he expressed concerns that a Clinton candidacy could leave behind "ideological gridlock," Edwards echoed the sentiments. "I think the reality is people in this country either love Hillary Clinton or they don't. And that's just the way she is in many ways through no fault of her own," Edwards, D-N.C., said on MSNBC yesterday.

Obama got his turn at a Warren Buffett fund-raiser in Omaha yesterday (conveniently located for trips to Iowa), and again said he's better suited to win the election and build a governing coalition. Per Robynn Tysver of the Omaha World-Herald, Obama said Clinton would be a "capable president," but added, "It creates some new possibilities where we can actually build a working majority."

Who might Obama have been referring to here? "Part of the problem here is not just George Bush and the White House," Obama said in Cedar Falls, Iowa, per the AP's write-up. "We can't just change political parties and continue to do the same kind of things we've been doing. We can't just go about business as usual and think it's going to turn out differently."

As Edwards continues his bus tour across Iowa, word comes that he's shedding staff in Nevada and moving more bodies into Iowa. This could be read on several levels: Another sign that Edwards is putting all of his chips on Iowa; a realization that Clinton and Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., have Nevada locked up; or a statement on the fast-diminishing importance of the early Nevada caucuses. The Edwards campaign says it's none of those, but remember when this was supposed to be the labor-heavy state that was tailor-made for Edwards' message?

Also in the news:

We're still a month away from the long-awaited Petraeus report, and lawmakers are already battling with the administration over when and how the star witnesses -- Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker -- will appear before Congress. And Democrats are blasting the administration's decision to have the report written out of the White House -- not the Pentagon. "The skirmishing is an indication of the rising anxiety on all sides in the remaining few weeks before the presentation of what is widely considered a make-or-break assessment of Bush's war strategy, and one that will come amid rising calls for a drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq," write Jonathan Weisman and Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post.

Romney is seeking to rid himself of financial holdings in companies that perform embryonic stem-cell research, now that he's been apprised of the details of his (vast) portfolio. "The trustee of the blind trust has said publicly that he will endeavor to make my investments conform with my positions, and I am confident that he will," Romney said during a campaign stop in Georgia, per the Boston Herald's Casey Ross. Writes Ross, "The investments in the stem cell companies could damage Romney's conservative credentials because he cited embryonic research as the reason for his rightward shift."

The (non-fair) news Clinton made in Iowa stemmed from a speech yesterday in Des Moines, where she decried that senior citizens are being "scammed" by "fraudsters." But ABC's Jake Tapper reports that "her campaign has benefited from the largesse of a Democratic donor whose company is being investigated by the Iowa attorney general for its role in the very same issue -- defrauding seniors." That would be the famous Vinod Gupta, of infoUSA, a top Clinton fund-raiser who has paid former President Bill Clinton more than $3 million for consulting work.

Former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., sits down with Washington Post columnist David Broder, and Broder comes away from it writing that he will "shake up the establishment candidates of both parties by depicting a nation in peril from fiscal and security threats -- and prescribing tough cures that he says others shrink from offering." Says Thompson, "I don't desire the emoluments of the office. I don't want to live a lie and clever my way to the nomination or election. But if you can put your ideas out there -- different, more far-reaching ideas -- that is worth doing." We're all waiting . . .

Biden said yesterday that his son, Beau -- Delaware's attorney general -- is set to deploy to Iraq with his National Guard unit. "I don't want him going, but I tell you what -- I don't want my grandson or my granddaughters going back in 15 years and so how we leave makes a big difference," Biden said, per Radio Iowa's Kay Henderson. Then he took a shot at the Democrats who voted against war funding: "There's no political point worth my son's life."

Former governor Mike Huckabee's week in the spotlight is going by fast -- and so far he has little to show for his second-place finish in Ames beyond a round of TV interviews. "What Huckabee needs -- and needs badly -- is money and organization,"'s Chris Cillizza writes. "Huckabee is unlikely to win by running a traditional campaign. His Ames performance has given him a moment in the limelight; he now needs to professionalize his campaign and take some risks to ensure he's not quickly forgotten." Huckabee told a Christian Science Monitor breakfast this morning that he has 16 fund-raisers scheduled between now and October.

Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, is joining the retirement train, the Columbus Dispatch's Jack Torry, Joe Hallett, and Jonathan Riskind report. Pryce, who squeaked by in her 2006 reelection race, joins Reps. Ray LaHood and Dennis Hastert, both of Illinois, in what's becoming a wave of Republican House retirements in Midwestern states. Democrats won control of the House last year without a rash of retirements, and having open seats next year is likely to help their efforts to grow their majority. "[Pryce's open seat will be even more difficult for Republicans to defend, but party activists say they will do so, arguing that Democrats already failed once -- in 2006 -- when many factors were in their favor," AP's Charles Babington writes.

Bloomberg News' Timothy Burger has an investigation of the ways that Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss., has benefited financially from the federal aid flowing to his state in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "Among the beneficiaries are Barbour's own family and friends, who have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from hurricane-related business," Burger writes. "A nephew, one of two who are lobbyists, saw his fees more than double in the year after his uncle appointed him to a special reconstruction panel. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in June raided a company owned by the wife of a third nephew, which maintained federal emergency- management trailers."

New Hampshire's secretary of state is still leaning toward holding the state's primaries on a Tuesday -- a situation that will greatly complicate Iowa's efforts to keep its caucuses out of 2007, the Union Leader's John DiStaso reports. "I'm looking at Tuesday, unless there is some extraordinary circumstance," Secretary of State William Gardner tells DiStaso.

As for this Sunday's Democratic debate in Iowa, the Boston Phoenix's Steven Stark has some advice for candidates who aren't named Hillary: stay away (for the record, that is not ABC's recommendation). "The constant debates are slowly destroying the candidacies of John Edwards and Barack Obama — much to the delight of Hillary Clinton supporters," Stark writes. "Exposure in these forums institutionalizes the leads of front-runners in the polls. . . . If, say, Edwards or Obama could debate Hillary one-on-one, things might be different. But when they share the stage with a full array of challengers, they fade into the woodwork -- at least as far as the press is concerned."

The kicker:

"For those of you who are religious, please pray for me." -- Huckabee, telling reporters this morning about his appearance today on "The Colbert Report," per ABC's Teddy Davis.

"I can only hope my opponents turn it down." -- Clinton, hoping to derive political advantage from her pork sandwich at the Iowa State Fair.


ABC is seeking video and e-mail questions for Sunday's debate, a 90-minute special edition of "This Week." Submit your question here.

"This Week with George Stephanopoulos" will produce the first Democratic presidential debate of the 2008 presidential election to be aired on broadcast television. The debate will be moderated by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos with additional questioning from David Yepsen of The Des Moines Register and will be held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

FORMAT On August 19th, ABC News is bringing a Democratic presidential debate to Sunday morning television. The debate will be moderated by George Stephanopoulos with additional questioning from David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register. The debate will be largely a moderator driven event aimed at sparking a conversation between the candidates on the big issues of the day. To ensure a free flowing conversation that covers a lot of ground, candidates will aim to answer direct questions from the moderator in 60 seconds and follow-ups in 30. has also been soliciting questions submitted by viewers for possible inclusion in the debate. There will be no opening or closing statements and no audience questions. The audience will be compromised of Iowa voters, event sponsors, and candidate's guests. There will be two commercial breaks in the first hour and no commercial breaks in the last half hour.


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