The Note: Iowa State of Mind

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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.

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