Craig Saga Continues

With Fred Thompson planning to skip his fifth GOP debate so that he can (once again) grace Jay Leno's couch, tonight's Republican debate in New Hampshire was always going to have a hard time breaking through.

That task was made harder overnight with word that Larry Craig has opened the possibility of reversing his stated intention to resign from the Senate on Sept. 30.

In a voice message obtained by Roll Call that was inadvertently left by Craig at a wrong number on Saturday morning, the Idaho Republican discussed his forthcoming press conference "more as a strategy to rehabilitee his political fortunes than a statement about his looming departure." "'Yes, Billy, this is Larry Craig calling. You can reach me on my cell. Arlen Specter is now willing to come out in my defense, arguing that it appears, by all that he knows, that I've been railroaded and all of that,' Craig said on the voice mail. 'Having all of that, we've reshaped my statement a little bit to say it is my 'intent' to resign on Sept. 30." Listen to the audio and read the story by Roll Call's David Drucker and Emily Pierce here.

Bill Clinton, who knows a thing or two about survival, weighed in on whether Larry Craig could survive when he appeared this morning on NBC's "Today."

"He's legally entitled to the rest of his term," said the former president. "Unless they vote to expel him, which they can do, that's something that he and the Republicans will have to work out."

(Clinton's media blitz continues later today when he does CNN's "Larry King Live").

Despite the challenges of competing with the on-going Craig saga the Republican '08ers will give it a go starting at 9:00 pm ET. The 90-minute debate, which will be broadcast by the Fox News Channel and Fox News Radio, is taking place on the campus of the University of New Hampshire.

In addition to a Leno appearance that reporters can listen to by phone at 7:50 pm ET, Thompson's Wednesday game plan includes the release of a new television ad which touts the Law & Order actor as the candidate of "security, unity, and prosperity." The ad, which will air exclusively on the Fox News Channel, will air once during tonight's debate and throughout the day on Thursday, reports ABC News' Tahman Bradley and Christine Byun.

Watch the ad here.

At midnight, Thompson will post a video on his website (for those keeping score, this will mark Thompson's actual entrance into the race -- until, of course, he does it again tomorrow in Iowa).

Just when it seemed like Thompson had achieved a modicum of stability on the personnel front, Politico's Jonathan Martin reports that Jim Mills is leaving the campaign "due to strategic differences" as campaign manager Bill Lacy continues to consolidate control.

Timed with his much-anticipated entrance into the race, USA Today's Susan Page offers Thompson a handy "to-do list."

Romney, who hopes to score points at tonight's debate on the sanctity of marriage and sanctuary cities, has his own new ad out. The ad is called "Energy" and it touts Romney work in business and on the Olympics. It also claims that he "turned around our most Democratic state."

Democrats in Massachusetts see things a little differently.

Per the Boston Globe's Lisa Wangsness, the Massachusetts Democratic Party is launching today what it calls an "unparalleled repository of information" about Romney's record that could be "used against the former governor in his White House run." includes personal financial disclosure statements he filed as governor, policy proposals he put forward in his 2002 campaign, several old campaign ads, and a searchable database of campaign contributions from his entire political career.

In the latest sign of the new latitude he feels on Iraq, Romney tells the Concord Monitor's Lauren Dorgan that he envisions a substantial reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq in 2008 and "very few if any" troops left in the country permanently.

In a separate interview with the Concord Monitor, John McCain says that he would like to see U.S. troops leave Iraq, but he wants any withdrawal to be for the "right reasons,' and at a time when the country can remain stable and governable.

McCain predicts that history will judge President Bush "harshly" while seeking to distinguish himself from his GOP rivals by saying: "I'm the only one of the Republican candidates who railed against and fought against the Rumsfeld strategy."

In an interview with the New York Times, McCain goes even further in questioning the foreign policy credentials of Giuliani and Romney.

"I think the nation respects the mayor's leadership after 9/11, and I do, too, and I think he displayed leadership at a time that Americans needed some steady hand, and I think that his conduct was very laudatory following 9/11" before adding: "I don't think it translates, necessarily, into foreign policy experience. I know of nothing in his background that indicates that he has any experience in it, with him or Romney."

For his part, John Edwards is hoping to get into the Iraq story by holding a 12:15 pm ET conference call with reporters. Romney's 2008 policy chairman -- former Republican Rep. Vin Weber -- is quoted in today's Wall Street Journal saying: "The state of the Republican Party is worse than any time since Watergate, and arguably this is worse than Watergate, because that was about an event, whereas this may reflect a trend."

Weber's comments are part of a Wall Street Journal story on the GOP's woes which keys off of a survey conducted by Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio.

Per Jackie Calmes, three groups crucial to President Bush's goal of a permanent Republican majority are "drifting away": younger voters, Hispanics, and independents.

"The reasons include the Iraq war, conservatives' emphasis on social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and stem-cell research, and a party-led backlash against illegal immigrants that has left many Hispanic and Asian-American citizens feeling unwelcome."

Not long after ABC News' Jonathan Greenberger learned of Michelle Obama's plans to raise money overseas, the BBC is reporting that Bill Clinton is planning an Irish fundraiser. "He first came to help bring peace to Northern Ireland, but the next time Bill Clinton visits Ireland will be to fill a £249m election war chest."

The New York Times takes an in-depth look at the ways in which Hillary Clinton found a "new voice" amid the turmoil of 1968.

Among the highlights include the revelation that she used to do the Bob Dole thing.

"'She would sometimes refer to herself in the third person as 'the Hill,' or 'the Hill woman,' said her Wellesley classmate Nancy Pietrafesa . . ." With Jack Abramoff still cooperating with authorities, McCain believes that more members of Congress may be indicted in the coming months, per Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson.

Iowans want to hear more about health care and taxes, that's the finding of a new poll by the Des Moines Register.

Barack Obama's ethics-in-government plan -- particularly components relating to pardons and presidential libraries -- appear to target alleged ethics lapses under President Clinton, writes the New York Sun's Josh Gerstein.

Obama likes to say that he doesn't go to the right dinner parties in Washington. But perhaps he ought to get some pointers from his burgeoning foreign policy team.

According to the Wall Street Journal's Neil King Jr., the contingent of striped pants now advising Obama totals 150 "and counting," enough says one of them, for "his own virtual State Department."

Coming up next, his advisers say, will be more on China, U.S. energy security, the plight of Iraqi refugees, and how much to reduce the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times writes that the "early evidence" is that Obama and Edwards will not be able to topple Clinton with arguments that she is "too polarizing" or "too accommodating."

In evaluating whether social conservatives can unite around a candidate, Brownstein writes that one indicator to watch is whether "the heavyweight fraternity of social conservatives (such as Focus on the Family's James Dobson) privately auditioning the candidates agree on an endorsement this fall."

On the labor front, Glenn Thrush reports that Clinton phoned United Steelworkers of America boss Leo Gerard "repeatedly" over the weekend, according to sources familiar with the situation, in an effort to persuade him not to endorse Edwards. The union, which represents 1.2 million workers and retirees, endorsed Edwards on Labor Day.

Per the Las Vegas Sun, Nevada's powerful Culinary Union plans to make an endorsement in December and it is not enough for John Edwards to win over UNITE, Culinary's parent union.

In the forthcoming issue of Vanity Fair, Al Gore breaks his silence about the press effect in the 2000 Election. With regards to the debate coverage in particular, Gore tells Evgenia Peretz, "The sighs, the sighs, the sighs … Within 18 hours, they had turned perception around to where the entire story was about me sighing. And that's scary. That's scary."

Tipper Gore says that her husband has made no moves that would suggest a run for the presidency. She adds, however, that if he turned to her one night and said he had to run, she'd get on board, and they'd discuss how to approach it this time around, given what they've learned.

If Mike Bloomberg ends up in the White House, some financial consultants and ethics professionals think Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg News could create "a web of potential conflicts that would make it difficult for him to retain his 68% share in the company," per the New York Sun's Jill Gardiner.

As the Republican '08ers prepare to debate tonight in New Hampshire, the New York Sun's Ryan Sager notes that Giuliani, Thompson, Romney, and McCain are all planning to skip a Sept. 17 debate in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., being hosted by an umbrella conservative group called

With the Democratic '08ers heading to Miami Sunday for a debate sponsored by Univision, the Sun-Sentinel's William Gibson writes that the recent pledge not to campaign in Florida's early primary gives Republicans a "head start" in the race for the White House.

With an assist from Magic Johnson, minority and female business leaders are ramping up their efforts to stop a tax increase on carried interest. Sarah Lueck has the details in today's Wall Street Journal.

Does Haley heart Rudy?

When the former New York mayor went to Mississippi yesterday to talk disaster preparedness, he was introduced by Gov. Haley Barbour, the former RNC chairman, who praised Giuliani's work in the nation's largest city.

"When he was mayor, city spending went down," Barbour said. "Wouldn't you love someone in Washington to hear that idea?" Literary corner:

If you can't make Mark Penn's 6:30 pm ET book party at the Corcoran Gallery of Art to celebrate the publication of "Microtrends," his new book on the "small forces behind tomorrow's big changes," you can see the Clinton strategist profiled tonight on Nightline by ABC News' Cynthia McFadden.

Penn gave Nightline permission to attend a strategy meeting in which the claim is made that the former first lady is now ahead in states with somewhere between 337 and 358 Electoral Votes (only 270 Electoral Votes are needed to win).

"If ten percent more women came that would really give her almost all the major talked about swing states," says Penn.

Charlie Savage's new book -- "Takeover" -- hits bookstores today. Savage is the Boston Globe reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on President Bush's use of signing statements to disregard laws passed by Congress. The book, which examines the Bush Administration's expansion of executive power, amounts to a "kind of intellectual history of Dick Cheney."

The kicker(s):

"Uh . . . no" --Al Gore, asked, "Do you feel some obligation to endorse the wife of your former boss?" (02138).

"Thanks for the question, you little jerk. You're drafted." --A joking John McCain to one student who asked the 71-year-old about his age.

"Well, nobody made you run, girl." --Bill Clinton to Oprah on what he tells his wife when she notes that she is 15 years older than he was in 1992.

"There's no such thing as a saint without a past and a sinner without a future." --Chris Dodd on whether Americans have a right to know about a candidate's personal life (forthcoming New York Times Magazine).