THE NOTE: Fred in the Fray

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The Union Leader's John DiStaso profiles the man himself, who is careful not to break new ground with regard to this thinking. "His biggest day of the current cycle will be when he attempts to out-maneuver New Hampshire's detractors and sets the date for the primary," DiStaso writes. "Gardner has yet not shown his hand, except to say that with other states moving forward, the primary can not, under the law, be held later than Jan. 8. He has not ruled out a mid-December primary."

With politics spilling into the holidays, no candidate wants to play Grinch, Jim Rutenberg writes for The New York Times' front page. "The presidential candidates are hurriedly making plans to cope with the challenge of conducting all-out campaigns smack in the middle of the holidays," he writes. "The campaigns, which have spent years trying to plan for the final and most important stage of the campaign season, are to some extent in suspended animation, unable to finalize plans for advertising spending, candidate schedules and campaign rallies."

As for Colbert, he's pursuing the paperwork to get himself on the ballot in both the Democratic and Republican primaries in South Carolina, ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "We do not know what Colbert's platform would be. Presumably anti-bear in some way, as viewers of his show know that he hates bears," Tapper writes. "The Republican White House hopefuls have been debating who among them is a 'real Republican.' That's a debate where Colbert can definitely distinguish himself from the rest -- he is totally unquestionably fake."

Also in the news:

Time's Joe Klein flatly declares that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is back. "It's John McCain, rising from the crypt, but not as a zombie," Klein writes. "The foolishly conventional Republican McCain of last year was the zombie. No, this is the funny, free-range McCain reincarnated, the independent who dares speak to an environmental forum in New Hampshire, touting his green credentials, actually supporting a return to the Kyoto global-warming negotiations, which is anathema to most Republicans. That guy -- the interesting one -- is back."

McCain is taking Romney on directly in South Carolina (can't you just tell he flat-out doesn't like the guy?). "That's a product of inexperience," McCain told The State's Aaron Gould Sheinin, referring to his debate comment about consulting lawyers on presidential authority. And he had this to say about the Romney campaign ad where he calls the State House in Boston "the toughest place": "If that's the most difficult place, then we have very differing views about what difficulties are."

What better way to answer the age question than through your mother? Ninety-five-year-old Roberta McCain hit the trail with her 71-year-old son yesterday, and she even munched on a chili dog in South Carolina, ABC's Bret Hovell reports. And she met a 104-year-old, making everyone else feel young. "I'm almost in your league, but not quite," Mrs. McCain said.

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