Rudy Guns for NRA Backing

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"Barack Obama was the big loser in Thursday's debate among Democratic presidential candidates," blogs the Des Moines Register's David Yepsen. "By not agreeing to appear, Obama passed up an opportunity -- and let his opponents have one. . . . He's acting like a frontrunner when he's not."

Obama tries to make up for his absence last night with a "Senior Town Hall Meeting" today in Ames, and with a new Iowa ad showing Obama interacting with a series of older (white) people -- including his late mother.

And well-timed with today's NRA meeting and this week's healthcare policy rollout: A Republican source provides ABC News with a document from the Clinton Presidential Library. It shows the then-first lady stating her support for a tax on guns and ammunition as part of the healthcare plan she was then developing.

In the March 1993 memo, Chris Jennings -- the Clinton White House's senior health policy adviser -- writes that then-rep. Mel Reynolds, D-Ill., recounted "your (personal and I thought private) general support of the concept behind the legislation (in particular, the provision to tax guns and ammunition)." The memo also says that Clinton requested background information on a bill filed by then-sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., that would ban handguns altogether as a means of controlling healthcare costs. (The gun tax didn't make it into Clinton's final plan.)

Also in the news:

Giuliani is ready for open warfare with Clinton, and Clinton looks like she's getting there. ABC's Jake Tapper reports that Clinton "notably refused to distance herself" from Tom Vilsack's swipe at Giuliani's personal life, where Vilsack brought up Giuliani's three marriages and his testy relationship with his children. Asked if she admonished Vilsack, one of her national campaign co-chairman, for his comments, Clinton responded that Vilsack "is more than capable of speaking for himself."

Is she sure we wants to go there? What ever could Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., have had in mind with this remark? "I'd be careful about opening up boxes here that could come back to haunt you," Dodd, whose first marriage ended in divorce, told the AP. "We went through an impeachment process here. We have to be careful about hurling stones. . . . Once you start down that road it can get ugly."

Obama is trying to make up for lost traction on the "Jena 6" case. Two weeks ago, he said he had his staff "looking into the details of the case" to see if the federal government could do anything about it. Yesterday, ABC's Jonathan Greenberger reports, he was "outraged" -- and lashed out at the media for professing surprise in what they found in Jena.

"On this day, when we are outraged over the disparities of treatment in the criminal justice system, in a time when in Jena we are puzzled over by how it is that a schoolyard fight gets charged with attempted murder, we wonder how it is Scooter Libby doesn't get any jail time, and you've got young men in a fight getting charged with attempted murder," said Obama.

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