THE NOTE: Hillary Set to Face Haymakers at Debate

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Newsweek's Howard Fineman lays it out for the race's No. 2: "When will Sen. Barack Obama go after -- really go after -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton? For if he doesn't do it soon, and effectively, the contest for the 2008 nomination may well be over before it officially starts." He finds a football analogy for the two Chicagoans: "Unless Obama absorbs the spirit of the riled up '85 Bears, who blitzed on every down, Hillary will continue to dink and dunk her way down the field to victory."

There's an "Obama brand" here to protect. But his big move will have to be more than delivering a speech on the fifth anniversary of another one of his speeches (even though every single Democrat running for president wishes he or she had given a similar address).

Don't forget the end of the fund-raising quarter (and look who has the insurmountable expectations in this cruel game). This is a remarkable sentence on several levels: "Hillary Clinton may blunt one of rival Barack Obama's few advantages in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination: money," Bloomberg's Jonathan Salant and Kristin Jensen write. Says Democratic consultant Peter Fenn: "The Clinton juggernaut is moving if she out-raises him this quarter."

The perception of a static race is surely fueling the sudden reticence of the SEIU, one of the nation's most politically influential unions, to hand out an endorsement in the Democratic primary. "Mr. Edwards has lobbied the union hard," Steven Greenhouse writes in The New York Times. But "some union officials said they were mindful that Mr. Edwards was a distant third in polls of Democrats and that many members favor Hillary Rodham Clinton." Anyone have the sense that we are reading from the script of the inevitable candidate?

Looking to advance one negative Clinton storyline (and remembering that The Boston Globe circulates in New Hampshire), will anyone mention this on stage? "In at least some cases, Clinton or her aides directly channeled contributions from [Norman] Hsu and his network to other politicians supportive of her presidential campaign," the Globe's Scott Helman reports. Among those who benefited from Hsu's generosity, via Clinton: former governor Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, D-Mich., and (this makes an attack tonight a bit trickier) Gov. John Lynch, D-N.H.

And there's this story (if anyone cares to try to make sense of it): A close aide/body-man to the former president connected a somewhat shady young Italian businessman (who's dating Anne Hathaway) to the upper echelons of Clintonland, The Wall Street Journal's John M. Emshwiller and Gabriel Kahn report. "As a gatekeeper to the former president's web of business and charitable enterprises, [Douglas] Band helped [Raffaello] Follieri get into business with Mr. Clinton," they write. Ron Burkle is now suing Follieri. (And a special prize to any candidate who can turn this into a 30-second attack.)

On the Republican side, with this week's visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran is turning into a way for the Republican candidates to carve out differences in foreign policy -- including how they would handle the war in Iraq, the Washington Times' Stephen Dinan writes. (Hint: They're all talking tough.)

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