THE NOTE: Running on Iran

This is why Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., left the Republican National Committee (and welcome, Mike Duncan, to the world of Howard Dean).

This is the answer former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., should have given a month ago (and again, late is better than never with this candidate).

This isn't what Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was looking forward to when he announced his new outreach to religious voters (and the countdown is on to the announcement of a "scheduling conflict").

This is why the Democrats who would be president love Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. (and also why they sort of hate him too).

And this is why Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's, D-N.Y., biggest foreign-policy concern is no longer Iraq. It is Iran.

Just when Clinton looked like she'd answered the critics -- just about -- on her past support for the Iraq war, last month's Iran vote emerged and appeared to blindside the ever-vigilant Clinton camp.

Now comes Obama with a mailer to Iowans, countering Clinton's latest attempt at defense. Obama links his opposition to the Iraq war to his opposition to the saber-rattling with Iran. "Barack Obama is the ONLY major candidate for president to oppose both the Iraq War from the very start and the Senate amendment that raises the risk of war with Iran," the jumbo (and colorful) postcard reads.

"While other Democrats voted for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, Barack Obama opposed another Bush foreign policy fiasco," it continues (omitting the fact that Obama missed the Senate vote). It quotes Obama as saying that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney "could use this language to justify an attack on Iran as a part of the ongoing war in Iraq."

Obama may have finally found his opening to tie his 2002 anti-war position (the one everyone in the Democratic field wishes they had) to something tangible, forward-looking, and slightly scary to Democratic voters.

Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., share Obama's message on the Iran resolution -- making it dicier for the Clinton camp to wish away, and cutting deeply at one of her biggest weaknesses as a candidate. Biden yesterday: "The big deal here is I am afraid that some of my Democratic colleagues in voting for this resolution gave this [president] an excuse to do the last thing we should be doing now -- attacking Iran."

Obama's got the biggest megaphone, and he's turning up the volume. "The times are too serious and the stakes are too high to just be driven by ambition," he said yesterday in filing for the New Hampshire primary, per ABC's Sunlen Miller.

And Iraq is set to reemerge as a campaign issue, even amid the (relative) quiet out of Baghdad. President Bush yesterday "challenged Congress to another clash over the direction of the Iraq war" with another $46 billion funding request, "and insisted that they approve it by the end of the year," Peter Baker writes for The Washington Post. "The debate may play out just as the presidential nominating campaigns reach their climax. Although Bush wants the spending approved within two months, Democrats said the military does not need the money until early February, and they do not anticipate acting until early next year."

Harry Reid's response, which was probably more welcomed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., than by Clinton or Obama: "President Bush should not expect congress to rubber-stamp this latest supplemental request. We won't do that. . . .In the coming weeks we will hold it up and fight for the change of strategy and redeployment of troops that is long overdue."

The president swings back with a 10 am ET speech today in Washington.

Obama may still have his own explaining to do on Iran. HuffingtonPost.com's Sam Stein finds this Obama quote from a little-noticed May interview he gave to an Israeli newspaper: "I don't think it would be appropriate for us to engage in full-scale diplomatic discussions without some progress or some indication of good faith on the part of the Iranians." (How exactly does that differ from Clinton's approach -- or, for that matter, the Bush administration's?)

Obama is also drawing blogospheric blasts for his inclusion of Gospel artist Donnie McClurkin in a South Carolina concert tour that's designed to promote his candidacy. "McClurkin, who is also a Pentecostal minister, has been a prominent advocate of the view that homosexuality is a lifestyle and that gays can will themselves to heterosexual behavior," Mike Dorning reports in the Chicago Tribune.

Daily Kos: "The Audacity of Bigotry." TalkLeft: "The singers his campaign choose for this tour represent him." PerezHilton: "Booooo!"

As of this morning, McClurkin is still in the lineup. Obama, in a statement released last night: "I have clearly stated my belief that gays and lesbians are our brothers and sisters and should be provided the respect, dignity, and rights of all other citizens. . . . I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin's views."

Remember that I-don't-recall response Thompson had last month when he was asked about Terri Schiavo? Thompson does, and he addressed the matter in highly personal terms yesterday, talking about the details of the 2002 death of his own daughter, ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "Making this into a political football is something that I don't welcome, and this will probably be the last time I ever address it," he said. "It should be decided by the family. The federal government -- and the state government too, except for the court system -- should stay out of these matters, as far as I'm concerned."

Thompson "tried to erase the gaffes of past trips to the Sunshine State," ABC's Christine Byun reports. He addressed the Everglades drilling issue as well as Schiavo. "He also admitted that he's 'kind of laid back guy,' but that he was 'hard-working,' arguing he left two jobs to jump into the race," Byun writes. And Thompson blames the media: "These other guys have been running for two years and one of the guys spent $50 million dollars, and they're apparently not asking him why he's so low in the national polls, but they're asking me why I am only second?"

The Republicans have their own calendar chaos to sort out now. RNC officials ruled yesterday that New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan, and Wyoming should lose half their convention delegates because they are planning to hold primaries or caucuses outside the designated window. "But South Carolina and Florida are far from blindly accepting the penalties, state party leaders said Monday, and at least one state is considering following the lead of Florida Democrats who are suing their national party for stripping the state of its delegates," The Hill's Sam Youngman reports.

This isn't going to impact the campaigns as much as it is the Democrats' -- no pledges (that's the domain of Grover Norquist) on the GOP side. But already there's been fallout: "Multiple Florida Republicans gathered in Orlando for the GOP debate last night said that Sen. Mel Martinez resigned abruptly last Friday because he did not want to be party chair when the committee was punishing his home state," Politico's Jonathan Martin reports. "Martinez had originally been expected to resign after the party's nominee was chosen, but he's been stung by the immigration issue and was fearful, sources say, of exacerbating his political standing back home."

Today's biggest news could come from the spouses. Maria Shriver will moderate a "discussion" (not a debate) with five candidates' wives today in California -- the non-burning part. (Bill Clinton and Judith Giuliani sent their regrets, to our great regret.) Elizabeth Edwards, Michelle Obama, Jeri Thompson, Cindy McCain, and Ann Romney will be there -- and we wish we could be a fly on the wall in the green room.

The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus takes the occasion to look at the interesting batch of potential first spouses in this campaign. This from Elizabeth Edwards: "Hillary Clinton in 1992 is a lesson in what not to do," she said. "She was dismissive of the range of options women had chosen, declaring, 'I don't bake cookies. . . . I don't stand by my man.' That turned off some people. . . . There is no two-for-one." And Jeri Thompson, via voicemail (!): "It's understandable that American people want to see the spouse of who they are looking at as candidates."

A few pieces of debate fallout . . . The Washington Post's Dan Balz sees a resurgent McCain -- which he views as bad news for former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y. "The last thing Giuliani needs now is a McCain on the rebound," Balz writes. "He prefers a rising Mike Huckabee and an improving Fred Thompson to splinter further the most conservative wing of the party and thereby cut into Romney's potential support. . . . Almost every vote [McCain] attracts may be one that Giuliani was counting on winning a few months ago."

Huckabee, R-Ark., is riding another mini-wave coming out of the weekend. "He may be the only Republican candidate with a decent chance to beat the Democrats next November," Newsweek's Jonathan Alter writes. "Huckabee comes across more hopeful than Giuliani, more believable than Romney, more intelligent than Thompson and fresher than McCain. He would hold the base and capture moderates drawn to his down-home style. His greatest asset is that he alone among the Republicans 'speaks American.' "

Huckabee himself claims to have raised "hundreds of thousands of dollars" just since his close-second finish Saturday at the "Values Voters Summit" straw poll. "Huckabee said his campaign has seen levels of fundraising in the last week that they normally see in a two or three week period," ABC's Kevin Chupka reports.

For anyone who remembers this routine from after Ames -- we'll believe it when we read it in a document that says "Federal Election Commission" in a prominent place.

Also in the news:

As Obama travels to Boston for a rally tonight with Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass., Giuliani has his own Boston endorsement on tap in time for the World Series: former state treasurer Joe Malone, R-Mass. It's a "coup of sorts for the former New York City mayor because several of the chief operatives for the campaign of Republican rival Mitt Romney worked in the treasury under Malone and on his campaigns for treasurer and governor," The Boston Globe's Brian Mooney reports. Among the Malone veterans: campaign manager Beth Myers, traveling press secretary Eric Fehrnstrom, and fund-raiser Steve Roche.

And Malone isn't the only piece of Boston with mixed memories of Mitt. The Boston Herald jumps off Romney's debate line that he "cut taxes" in Massachusetts to editorialize that he's not entitled to "rewrite history." "Well, we would have to add that the man had hardly found his way to the Corner Office when his fiscal team came up with a scheme to raise $500 million in fees," the editorial reads. "Call it macaroni, it's still coming out of someone's pocket."

Columnist Robert Novak likes how Giuliani's Feb. 5 strategy is shaping up -- particularly as it relates to the biggest electoral prize of them all: California, where electability matters most. "Giuliani has maintained double-digit California leads over other Republicans all year," Novak writes. "With the state primary moved up to Feb. 5 and voting beginning a month earlier, its results could negate the outcome in early small state primaries."

Time's Michael Duffy looks at Giuliani's general-election argument, the one about being the Republican who can campaign "coast-to-coast." "Lately he has been cranking up the volume on his pragmatic plea for the nomination, saying he is the only one who can scramble the electoral college in the GOP's favor," Duffy writes. "Rudy's electoral college argument has its share of weak spots. . . . [But] whatever its faults, Rudy's unveiled, unapologetic argument about numbers is just another way in which the former New York City mayor continues to surprise."

Another skeleton falls out of Rudy's closet: "Presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani hired a Catholic priest to work in his consulting firm months after the priest was accused of sexually molesting two former students and an altar boy and told by the church to stop performing his priestly duties," ABC's Brian Ross and Avni Patel report. "The priest, Monsignor Alan Placa, a longtime friend of Giuliani and the priest who officiated at his second wedding to Donna Hanover, continues to work at Giuliani Partners in New York, to the outrage of some of his accusers and victims' groups, which have begun to protest at Giuliani campaign events."

It must be October if it's time to profile the top campaign staffers. Rick Davis gets The New York Times treatment today, with Michael Cooper writing that he "has refocused the campaign on the early states and on letting Mr. McCain act as his own best resource in town-hall-style meetings and on Sunday morning talk shows."

And there's this: "Some of those rivals also accused him of self-dealing, since 3eDC, a company he partly owns, had been retained by the campaign to provide Web services. . . . All told, 3eDC billed the campaign more than $1 million for Web services during the first half of the year. (The amount still owed the company accounts for about a third of the campaign's debt.)"

Joe Trippi is crafting "a new John Edwards" -- who may or may not sound something like Howard Dean, Chris Cillizza writes in The Washington Post. "The new tone to his campaign has coincided with the growing influence of the strategist behind Howard Dean's assault on the Democratic establishment four years ago -- Joe Trippi."

"While Trippi was described as a senior adviser when he joined the Edwards campaign in mid-April, he has become much more in the intervening six months: the de facto campaign manager, lead media consultant and -- perhaps most important -- trusted confidante of Elizabeth Edwards," Cillizza writes. It was Trippi who gave Elizabeth Edwards the number to call into "Hardball" when Ann Coulter was a guest, he reports.

The Los Angeles Times' Peter Wallsten watches Edwards watch his words as he makes the case that he's more electable than rival candidates who just happen to include a black man and a white woman. "What is a white man to do?" Wallsten writes. "As Edwards lays out the closing argument of his primary election campaign -- that he is the most electable candidate and the most able to help fellow Democrats in conservative states -- race and gender are forcing him to tread lightly. Edwards' claims are sensitive, given that he is asserting that he has more appeal to voters nationwide than do the front-runners, a white woman and a black man."

(Don't forget that Edwards is asking voters to "just picture in your head, each of us, running in a tough place" -- whatever that means.)

Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., who has endorsed Edwards, has no problem with Obama: The former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus wants to see Obama as Edwards' running mate, ABC's Teddy Davis and Jacqueline Klingebiel report. "From my perspective, that would be just a wonderful, ideal ticket for America and for the Democratic Party," Watt said yesterday.

Biden likes his chances in Iowa, where dark horses always have a chance, per The Wall Street Journal's Christopher Cooper. "Sometimes I ask myself, 'Am I whistling past the graveyard here?'" says Biden. "But this is what Iowa does for me: If I get close, come in second, all of a sudden I become the news." And this (very wishful) thinking from Biden adviser Larry Rasky: "Mr. Rasky says Mr. Obama, who several operatives said has booked $10 million more in ads through the New Year, risks overkill."

Biden lays out his plan for universal healthcare today in Des Moines, and (like Obama's, but unlike Clinton's and Edwards') he includes no individual mandate. "During the first 90 days of my administration I will bring together groups on all sides of this debate and seize the historic opportunity we have before us to make heath care in this country both universal and affordable," he plans to say, per his campaign.

Is the California electoral college initiative back from the dead? "Veteran GOP consultants said Monday that they were relaunching a drive to change the way California allocates its electoral college votes, aimed at helping the 2008 Republican presidential nominee capture the White House," Dan Morain and Joe Mathews report in the Los Angeles Times. (Somewhere in the Pacific time zone, Chris Lehane stirs.)

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., is looking like he's a no-go for the Senate, Washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza reports. That's good for two former governors: Jim Gilmore, R-Va., and Mark Warner, D-Va. "Gilmore starts the campaign as an underdog," Cillizza writes.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, isn't running for reelection, but he is paying his legal bills with campaign funds, Politico reports. "Tapping campaign funds for what some might argue is a personal legal expense could raise eyebrows at the FEC, which prohibits personal use of campaign funds, but determines on a case-by-case basis whether such funds are being used properly." http://www.politico.com/blogs/thecrypt/1007/Larry_Craig_uses_campaign_funds_for_legal_fees.html

Politicians love to talk baseball -- but how to capitalize on the national pastime? "The best investment any political candidate could make right now would to buy local time on Fox-25, the Murdoch-owned station that has the New England broadcast rights to the Boston Red Sox-Colorado Rockies World Series," the New York Sun's Seth Gitell blogs. "If candidates want to make sure that New Hamsphire voters get their message, there's no better buy than Red Sox time."

They could buy tickets, but an ad may be cheaper.

And bonus points for Giuliani if he has the chutzpah to use this photo in his ad.

The kicker:

"Now that's a faceless, methodic jerk. . . . Everything looks good. But there seems to be a space running through it. I mean, is Mitt bad? No. There's just nothing there." -- Robert Redford, Utah resident and actor/director/pundit, on Mitt Romney.

"I recalled another leader in ancient times that didn't match up in the line up: King David. Seven men were poised and paraded for the position of king, but David was left in the field shepherding because he wasn't 'a frontrunner in the polls.' . . . But God appointed David king." -- Chuck Norris, actor/pundit, endorsing Mike Huckabee.

"We always believe in redemption." -- RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, expressing his hope that states move back their primary dates to avoid sanctions.

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