THE NOTE: Will Rudy Sink the GOP?

Between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, and Brett Favre breaking touchdown records while the Mets collapse and O.J. Simpson faces prison time (all while Hillary Clinton talks healthcare) -- are we the only ones having the sudden urge to break out the old brick of a car phone and hit a Hootie concert?

Back to the present, fund-raising numbers will begin to roll out today (and what does the fact that they weren't leaked yesterday say about the state of the Clinton-Obama grudge match?). This is shaping up as a big week for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who has got to be more worried about the polling numbers than the financial ones (notwithstanding some good news out of Iowa).

First, though, time to catch up with the restless Republicans. Gingrich's choice of policy workshops instead of a presidential run means there's no big mystery left about who's in and who's out for the GOP (and Newt's decision is itself something of a statement on how any Republican can expect to fare against any Democrat in 2008).

VIDEO: President Bush misspeaks while endorsing No Child Left Behind.Play

The GOP ballot is still filled with question marks -- and the one next to former mayor Rudolph Giuliani's name is growing bigger by the day. This is Rudy's nightmare (and should be just as scary for everyone in a party that's in growing danger of coming apart at its seams): "A powerful group of conservative Christian leaders decided Saturday at a private meeting in Salt Lake City to consider supporting a third-party candidate for president if a pro-choice nominee like Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination,"'s Michael Scherer reports.

"Giuliani is beyond the pale," Richard Viguerie, a veteran conservative activist and author, told ABC's Jake Tapper after the meeting. "Maybe it's just time to never support another Republican establishment candidate, and support principled conservative candidates -- win or lose." This is about Giuliani, but it's also a measure of how former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., has failed to unite/excite/appease conservatives. "In his short time on the campaign trail, Thompson has demonstrated a moderate temperament and an independent streak belying hype that he would be the answer to [James] Dobson's prayers," Tapper writes.

Gingrich, R-Ga., opted to say out of this mess by choosing his "American Solutions" project over a presidential run. He's blaming it on a campaign-finance law (and -- sort of -- on a certain Republican presidential candidate) saying on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" that it's McCain-Feingold's fault, since the statute "criminalizes politics" (you didn't think Newt would go quietly, did you?).

His decision to preserve his workshops is honorable and everything -- but does anyone think he'd choose to be a "citizen activist" if he thought he had a real chance of winning the presidency? Perhaps all that presidential talk was what many thought it was all along: a means of selling Gingrich himself. Or, if he's right and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is on a glide path toward becoming the next president, maybe it's that Gingrich would rather be Richard Nixon ('68) than Barry Goldwater ('64).

Gingrich had this to say about the GOP's chances: "The Republicans have got to get out from under Washington. . . . Trying to beat Senator Clinton personally is just insane."

Gingrich's co-pundit on "This Week" yesterday agreed that Clinton will be the Democratic nominee (surprise!). Former President Clinton's turn on the Sunday shows again displayed him as the great asset that he is for his wife's campaign -- and the potential he has to put her campaign off-message.

On ABC's "This Week," he defended NAFTA (attention, John Edwards). Yet, as ABC's Tahman Bradley reports, he also came into line with his wife's position on torture (attention, Rudy Giuliani). (And can't the Jack Bauer Exception be codified in federal law already?)

As for whether his wife is too polarizing to be president, Clinton said, "She's been beat up on for 16 years. I ask [skeptics], 'Do they really want to reward the Republican attack machine?' "

No Democrat will answer yes -- but to get at the real question that's key to Hillary Clinton's candidacy, sub in the word "provoke" for "reward." Obama has taken to quoting the former president on the campaign trail. "[Bill Clinton] said, 'The same old experience is not relevant. You can have the right kind of experience and the wrong kind of experience,' " Obama said over the weekend in New Hampshire, per ABC's Sunlen Miller. "I think he was absolutely right."

This is crunch time for Obama. With a new Iowa showing him ahead in the Hawkeye State, tomorrow he will celebrate the fifth anniversary of the anti-war speech he gave shortly before the Senate -- including Clinton and Edwards -- voted to authorize force to oust Saddam Hussein.

His coming campaign swing through Iowa "signals the intensification of Obama's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and a commitment to spend more time in key early states such as Iowa and New Hampshire and fewer days in the Senate," Dan Balz and Perry Bacon Jr. write in yesterday's Washington Post.

Expect "increased engagement" with Clinton, Balz and Bacon write, but don't expect all-out war. "I know there's a tremendous blood lust out there in the political community who want us to be in a steel-cage match with her," says Obama strategist David Axelrod (continuing to make it more difficult for his candidate to change course later). "But he's going to resist the thirst for gratuitous combat, because that's part of his critique of the political process."

There's a growing sense of urgency surrounding the Obama campaign; being 20 points down isn't fun for the candidate or his donors, staff, and volunteers. "His powerful and growing grass-roots network -- reaffirmed by thousands of new donors in the third quarter of this year -- has reached historic proportions," writes The Boston Globe's Scott Helman. "But his poll numbers in early primary states are largely flat." Says one young Obama volunteer: "We just have to turn the people into votes." (That's it?)

The New Republic's Michael Crowley lays out the stakes: "The limitations of Obama's unconventional campaign are now setting him toward a less audacious style of politics. Having failed to sweep Democrats off their collective feet with his message of hope, Obama's fate will hinge less on sunny lyricism than on a cruder brand of politics, one more befitting past paint-by-numbers candidates."

(And stow this quote away for the next time Obama aides say Iowa isn't a must-win. "Iowa -- that's the whole shebang!" campaign manager David Plouffe tells Crowley. "I guess I'm not supposed to say that," he added with a grin.)

Bill Clinton may reject the D-word in describing the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton sequencing -- but the "Clinton dynasty" is emerging as a major theme of campaign coverage. The New York Times' Maureen Dowd used her Sunday column to mock the Clintons' contention that she's running on her own. "Without nepotism, Hillary would be running for the president of Vassar," Dowd writes. "Hillary is never on her own. From the beginning, her campaign has relied on her husband's donors, network, strategies and strong-arming."

Politico's Mike Allen and John F. Harris see Clinton now facing "a sudden burst of media wind shear. After months of mostly rosy portrayals of her campaign's political skill, discipline and inevitability, the storyline shifted abruptly to evasive answers, shady connections and a laugh that sounded like it was programmed by computer."

As for Clarence Thomas, the most inscrutable of Supreme Court justices lifted the curtains on his life and (long) memories for ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg for a week-long "Nightline" series tied to the release of his autobiography -- and the start of a new court term. "These people who claim to be progressive . . . have been far more vicious to me than any Southerner," Thomas tells Greenburg, "and it is purely ideological."

Thomas describes Anita Hill as a mediocre employee and a "combative . . . in your face person." And Thomas suggests that he's hurt by the fact that his fellow blacks seem not to want to hear his arguments on issues including affirmative action. "Why else would you take on virtually everybody, and take on the prevailing notions about race? Why would you take the criticism if you didn't care? I mean it's easy to go along with the crowd and sort of play that game -- that doesn't require any courage or backbone."

Thomas has harsh words in his book for the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and claims that the committee's chairman, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., promised to be his "biggest defender" if the Hill allegations were raised in his confirmation hearings. He and his wife, Thomas writes, didn't believe Biden. "As he reassured me of his goodwill, she grabbed a spoon from the silverware drawer, opened her mouth wide, stuck out her tongue as far as she could, and pretended to gag herself."

Also in the news:

This is about as subtle as a hand signal beneath the bathroom stall door. If Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, insists on sticking around, imagine "witnesses, documents, all in front of the klieg lights," a "senior Republican aide" tells The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Shailagh Murray. Said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.: "I do not think it is healthy for the US Senate to be put through a public type of hearing on this type of an ethics complaint, but that is ultimately going to be his decision."

With the third quarter ending yesterday, there were no triumphant conference calls or calculated leaks in a field where the major players are nervously eyeing each other. Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., revealed that he raised $5.2 million for the quarter, "an amount his campaign said would keep him within reach of the front-runners for his party's nomination," The Washington Post's Matthew Mosk reports.

Clinton and Obama are both expected to approach $20 million -- but no word yet on who's on top. "Obama campaign manager David Plouffe sent out an e-mail to supporters last night reporting that the campaign has taken in more than 500,000 donations from more than 350,000 people," Mosk writes. "That would suggest that the pace of Obama's fundraising, while still vigorous, slowed over the summer."

On the GOP side, Mosk reports that Romney raised about $10 million last quarter and contributed $6 million to $7 million -- putting his personal contributions north of $15 million (and counting).

Thompson was the only major GOPer to let a fund-raising number seep out as September ended, and his aides are claiming an $8 million haul for his first full quarter in the race. Keeping in mind that this is probably just slightly more than Edwards brought it -- and is a good measure less than Giuliani and Romney raised in their first full quarters as candidates -- this is just enough to hush questions about campaign turmoil but not nearly enough to provide evidence of a juggernaut. "The Thompson campaign knows they will not win the money battle, but they say they also expect to spend less," ABC's Christine Byun reports.

Thompson is starting to get his newspaper-profile focus. The Boston Globe's Michael Kranish takes three paragraphs to reach the kind of detail that makes the James Dobson crowd choke on their Cheerios: "Just as Thompson turned 17, his girlfriend became pregnant, and he married her in a small, quickly arranged ceremony."

"Yet Thompson's personal crisis wound up turning around his life and -- in a twist that still stuns some of those who remember him as lackadaisical Freddie -- put him on the path to being a contender for the Republican presidential nomination," Kranish writes. This photo caption from Thompson's high-school yearbook: "Freddie Dalton Thompson. The lazier a man is, the more he plans to do tomorrow." Thompson said he endorses the sentiment, and had this to say about his childhood in the segregated South: "We were totally oblivious to what was going on."

Jo Becker of The New York Times mines Thompson's more recent history -- and turns up details that are no less worrisome to hard-core conservatives. Thompson wrote himself this note on whether to convict Bill Clinton on the impeachment charges against him: "His office is too high + the crimes too low." Writes Becker, "his approach to the impeachment case -- and his ultimate decision to part with the Republican majority by voting to acquit Mr. Clinton on one of two impeachment counts -- underscores the concerns now being raised by many conservative leaders."

With gay marriage heating up as an issue in Iowa, Thompson's proposal to slow the spread of gay marriage by limiting judges' authority is coming under "intense scrutiny," per the Des Moines Register's Thomas Beaumont. "His proposal to limit judges' power is unique among the 2008 GOP field and at odds with Iowa's Christian right, which sees a simple constitutional ban as a crucial litmus test. Constitutional scholars call Thompson's two-part alternative amendment ground-breaking and pragmatic, if confusing and politically unrealistic."

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reviews the disconnect between the sunny headlines Thompson is getting in local media, and the panning he's getting in the national press. "It's possible that national reporters are failing to grasp Thompson's appeal, and by granting few interviews to major news outlets other than Fox News he is hardly going out of his way to court them," Kurtz writes. "But they remain a force to be reckoned with."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., may be a Baptist, or he may be Episcopalian, but he's not Mormon (not that there's anything wrong with that) and he's definitely not a Muslim (that's a bit trickier). McCain tells's Dan Gilgoff that he can't imagine ever supporting a Muslim for president. "I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles . . . personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith," McCain said. "But that doesn't mean that I'm sure that someone who is Muslim would not make a good president."

McCain said last night in New Hampshire that "I kinda resent" the way his comments were interpreted, and he used some 400 words to try to explain himself again when asked about it at a campaign stop. "What I do mean to say though is the United States of America was founded on the values of Judeo-Christian values, which were translated by our Founding Fathers, which is basically the rights of human dignity and human rights. And I believe that anybody can be president of the United States of any faith," McCain said. "I am very angry that my remarks were interpreted that way, and there's nothing I can do about it. And I'm sorry."

More religion on the trail, courtesy of former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark. The former Baptist preacher has been delivering sermons when he "finds himself in New Hampshire on a Sunday," the Concord Monitor's Melanie Asmar reports. It's very personal, though not political -- unless you want to read politics into quoting Keith Richards in church.

Tom Tobin of the St. Petersburg Times looks at Giuliani's record in reducing the number of abortions in New York -- and doesn't turn up a single instance of Giuliani talking about a program of encouraging adoption as a means of reducing abortions. "Rudy Giuliani established a child welfare agency in New York to help get foster children adopted, but calling that part of a 'culture of life' that helped lower abortion rates looks like a rewrite of history," Tobin writes.

Romney grabs Newsweek's cover -- but this isn't the sort of story his campaign is likely to celebrate. "Nothing is more politically vexing or personally crucial for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney than the story of his faith," Jonathan Darman and Lisa Miller write. "Raised in a devout Mormon family by parents who were both principled and powerful, Romney has downplayed both his religion and his own family history." Romney doesn't want to talk about his childhood church, but offers this by way of explanation of one sliver of his faith: "I could serve alcohol in the White House."

He also offers a partial judgment on President Bush, one that's already being dissected by the conservative blogosphere. "With regards to the post-Saddam-collapse management of the Iraq conflict, he will not get good grades there. I think on education and No Child Left Behind, he'll get a good grade. . . . And he brought dignity and personal integrity back to the White House after a very unfortunate series of events during the Clinton years."

Bill Clinton, meanwhile, is New York magazine's coverboy -- err, girl. (Love the pearls.)

Add another data point in the argument Edwards loves to make. "Despite recent gains by Democrats in the Rocky Mountain West, party officials across the region are increasingly anxious that their congressional candidates may get dragged under by Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign," the Los Angeles Times' Noam Levey writes.

One more story that Edwards wants us to fully digest. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Dick Polman writes that, while Clinton talks up the need for public financing, she "never once championed campaign-finance reform" and is passing on the opportunity to run with public dollars this year. "Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to sell herself as a reformer, a new broom that will sweep away the traditional Washington chicanery," Polman writes. "Yet her response to a fund-raising scandal in her own shop is classic old-school politics, and her determination to run a fully privatized presidential race is the antithesis of reform."

With all your friends running for president, what's a liberal lion to do? No endorsement yet from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., but he sure did appreciate that bottle of wine Obama got him for his birthday, and here's a (possible) hint about his presidential leanings. "Inspiration," Kennedy tells the AP's Andrew Miga. "I'm looking for a candidate able to galvanize the country to get things done. I want to find the candidate who can inspire people. That's what we need. That's what our party needs."

The Los Angeles Times' Matea Gold looks at all the candidates appearing on "daytime gabfests and late-night comedy programs." The only quote that matters (and we don't take this personally -- really we don't): "The number of regular folks who tune in to 'Tyra' and 'The View' every day pretty far outpaces folks who get their kicks reading The Note and Hotline," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.

The kicker:

"Why are you yelling?" - - Obama, to reporters who were shouting questions at him (that he refused to answer) after a fund-raiser in Florida, per Adam Smith of the St. Petersburg Times. Obama explained: "I'm not allowed to talk to the press, guys! . . . I signed a pledge!"

"Kill the terrorists, secure the border, and give me back my freedom." -- Audience member at a Thompson speech in Iowa, per Peter Mulhern of Real Clear Politics. The candidate's reply: "You just summed up my whole speech."

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