THE NOTE: Dems Tangle in Mailings, Memos on Iran

"Happy birthday, Mrs. President." (Who's inevitable now?)

Happy 2-0 lead, Mr. Mayor. (Got your broom ready, Rudy?)

Happy anniversary, Mr. McCain. (Breaking out the tie-dyes?)

Happy veto bait, Mr. President. (Who's counting your votes, Madame Speaker?)

Happy nap time, Mr. Vice President. (Do undisclosed locations have pillows?)

Happy New Year, men and women of the political press corps. (And maybe Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, too.)

By Sunday, the date will be set for the Iowa Democratic caucuses -- almost certainly Jan. 3, with Democrats and Republicans using the same date. And just in time for us to book our plane tickets, we also have the growing realization that the caucuses could be the whole ballgame.

To make the math simple: If Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y., wins Iowa, somebody make an argument that she won't secure the nomination. "The former first lady looks more likely to win the nomination every day, showing strength in polling, fundraising and setting the campaign agenda," AP's Nedra Pickler writes in summing up the state of the race.

"Democratic insiders, including some working on various 2008 campaigns who spoke on condition of anonymity, agree that barring a major stumble, Clinton is all but sure to win the nomination if she wins the opening contest in Iowa." Said Democratic strategist Steve McMahon: "If this were a wedding, we'd be at the 'speak now or forever hold your peace' part."

That's the backdrop for the tussle over Iran that's continuing to dominate the contest. The battle of mailings that started the week has morphed into a the battle of memos. First came Sen. Barack Obama backer (and ex-President Clinton lawyer) Greg Craig: "Senator Clinton was willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the Administration on this matter. Senator Obama was not."

Then came The Clinton Campaign (anyone else shudder when they read those words?), setting Obama's words against themselves and writing this: "Stagnant in the polls and struggling to revive his once-buoyant campaign, Senator Obama has abandoned the politics of hope and embarked on a journey in search of a campaign issue to use against Senator Clinton."

Obama spokesman Bill Burton gets the last (sharp) word: "All of the political explanations and contortions in the world aren't going to change the fact that, once again, Senator Clinton supported giving President Bush both the benefit of the doubt and a blank check on a critical foreign policy issue."

Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., jumped on the news of the day: "Today, the administration declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization -- the Bush administration -- Bush and Cheney, and they said they're also proliferating weapons of mass destruction," he said, per ABC's Raelyn Johnson. "So here we go again -- sounds familiar, doesn't it?"

This continues to be the issue where Obama, Edwards, and the other Democratic challengers see the most vulnerability in the party frontrunner. It may not matter. But every step the Bush administration takes toward confrontation with the Iranians is likely to reignite the battle over the vote that Clinton would probably secretly like to have back.

"The Kyl-Lieberman split between Obama and Clinton is escalating in importance to the campaigns as Obama is trying to sharpen differences between himself and the New York senator," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Iran is spilling over into the Republican race as well. Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., "in perhaps the broadest warning yet among the Republican candidates, told voters in New Hampshire that he would advocate a military blockade or 'bombardment of some kind' if Iran did not yield to diplomatic and economic pressure to give up its nuclear program," Marc Santora writes in The New York Times.

Here's another fight Romney would love to pick with Clinton: "No question in my view that one of the ways you instill family values is by having the White House be a place that demonstrates family values," he said, per ABC's Matt Stuart. "During the last Clinton presidency the White House did not demonstrate that in a way that was helpful to our nation's culture."

"Romney took the rare step of alluding to the Bill Clinton sex scandal," Ian Bishop writes in the New York Daily News (though we're still waiting for someone to utter the magic name with the initials M.L.). Responds Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson: "Hillary Clinton needs no lessons on character from a man who switches his positions on a daily basis."

Another Iran hawk, former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., met with Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., yesterday before settling in to see his new favorite team beat the Colorado Rockies. No endorsement yet, but Brownback called him an "excellent leader" that he is "much more comfortable" with now after having met with him, per ABC's Z. Byron Wolf.

This from a man who has likened abortion to a "holocaust." Don't miss this Giuliani line (which could have been written by Brownback himself) on how he'll achieve a country without abortions: "I think you have to get there by changing people's minds and hearts." (Starting with your own, Mr. Mayor?)

If Giuliani does nab Brownback's endorsement, it may be this guy he can thank. Bill Simon is the latest to be profiled in The Washington Post's "gurus" series: Simon "has been the agent charged with managing the sometimes eager, sometimes awkward relationship between the former mayor of a liberal city and the conservative establishment," Benjamin Wallace-Wells reports in the Post. "Simon and the Giuliani campaign have tried, with some success, to suggest that his record in New York reveals a conservative's instincts."

Obama's three-day gospel tour starts today in South Carolina, "just the most visible element of the Obama campaign's efforts to target religious voters, especially churchgoing African-Americans," Mike Dorning writes in the Chicago Tribune. "The approach in part reflects the practical political implications of a highly publicized argument that Obama made shortly after his election to the U.S. Senate that faith should play a greater role in politics, particularly in communicating the moral basis for progressive political goals."

But the conference calls, memos, and hurried meetings haven't quieted the anger over the inclusion of a performer who thinks gays can "overcome" their sexual orientation: "The South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement decided to hold a vigil outside the Sunday concert in Columbia to protest gospel singer Donnie McClurkin," per The State.

Only two Republican candidates showed up at an AARP forum yesterday in Iowa, per ABC's Bret Hovell and Kevin Chupka. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, and former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., took the stage "not as rivals, but as friends and colleagues, leaving behind the personal attacks and snappy one-liners." Said Huckabee: "I'd be happy to have Senator McCain as my Vice President."

Everyone's choice for No. 2 still wants to be No. 1 -- and he's got his last best chance to make that happen. That's why Huckabee is ABC's "Buzz Maker of the Week."

McCain, with a TV ad recalling that he was "tied up" during Woodstock, is set to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his capture with a fellow POW today in Iowa. McCain will be George Stephanopoulos' guest on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday.

And sorry, fun as it is to speculate about choosing 2008's nominees in 2007, the calendar solidification in Iowa and Michigan makes the possibility of New Hampshire breaking the December barrier even more remote. "These developments, if they come to fruition, would make it less likely that we'd be forced to have our primary this December," Secretary of State William Gardner tells John DiStaso of the Union Leader. Most likely date: Tuesday, Jan. 8.

Also in the news:

Think you know how to throw a party? It was a $1.5 million haul for Sen. Clinton last night in celebrating the Big Six-Oh a day early, ABC's Kate Snow and Eloise Harper report. The Clinton were surrounded by "3,000 of their closest friends" -- or, at least, 3,000 people who wanted to give her campaign a present. Entertainment by Billy Crystal, the Wallflowers, and Elvis Costello, who capped the evening by leading the crowd in a round of "Happy Birthday, Mrs. President."

Per Newsday's Glenn Thrush, "Crystal made repeated references to Giuliani's baseball flip-flop, saying it was like Ann Coulter declaring she's kosher."

And Clinton weighed in on the case of the "Traitor"/"Redcoat"/"Yankee flipper": "I have been a fan -- and I remain a fan -- of the Yankees, no changes, no looking to curry favor with anybody else," said the woman who said she would "alternate sides" if the Yankees met the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.

Here's another birthday gift for the former first lady: She may have solved her longstanding problems appealing to her own demographic.

"Recent polls show Clinton dramatically gaining ground with better-educated Democratic women, both nationally and in the key early state of New Hampshire," Ron Brownstein writes in National Journal. "Clinton remains very popular among downscale Democratic women, the Gallup results show, and her newfound strength among college-educated Democratic women is allowing her to cut into the core of Obama's coalition: well-educated Democrats."

And she's working on a backup plan, in case Iowa doesn't work the way she wants. "Quietly but systematically, Hillary Clinton is building a firewall in New Hampshire," E.J. Dionne writes for Real Clear Politics. "She can afford to lose the Iowa caucuses as long as she can win here. . . . Clinton's advantage reflects the difficulties Obama has had in turning the enthusiasm he created in the early days of his campaign into enduring support."

How would the next Clinton White House differ from the last one? Start with meetings that would start on time -- though that would not necessarily make them more interesting, The New York Times' Mark Leibovich writes. "A Hillary Clinton White House would be more punctual, precise and process-oriented than her husband's. Still, managing something as big as the federal government and unforeseeable as a presidency presents an inevitably steep learning curve."

ABC's Jake Tapper shares an old newspaper story with former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. -- with a quote from a 31-year-old Thompson himself. "I think obviously that in the future the president is not going to be the sole individual to determine what is a matter of national security," Thompson said in 1974. Thompson's response, in 2007: "I thought I confiscated all of those," he joked, adding that his concerns were specific to the Nixon administration. (Translation: What was obvious then may not be if he becomes president himself.)

AP's Liz Sidoti provides a reminder that Giuliani hasn't heard the last of Bernie Kerik. "Should prosecutors charge Kerik and the case reach trial, Giuliani could end up being called to testify during the general election campaign," she writes. "Should Kerik agree to a plea deal, he could be admitting guilt on some level for activities that may have taken place while the city employed him and on Giuliani's watch."

The Des Moines Register's David Yepsen sees the Jan. 3 caucus date as giving a boost to Edwards, who has strong support "among party rank and file and traditional caucus-goers" who would likely show up whenever the caucuses are held. "Obama's forces were hoping to turn out cadres of college-age caucus-goers but many of them will still be on holiday break on Jan. 3," Yepsen writes. "Clinton's campaign was hoping for a weekend event to help turn out working women, young mothers and older women who may not feel comfortable, or able, to attend a caucus on a week night."

Edwards today unveils a new corporate responsibility package, including caps on executive pensions and new shareholder rights. "In this election, you face a choice between honest leadership and say anything politics, between conviction and calculation, between strength and compromise," Edwards plans to say today in Des Moines, per his campaign.

Haven't we seen this movie before? "The House easily approved a new version of legislation to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program yesterday, but the vote failed to get any more Republicans to override another promised veto from President Bush," Jonathan Weisman reports in The Washington Post. "The 265 to 142 tally included 43 Republicans, two fewer than the version that passed Sept. 25."

Haven't we seen this movie before, too? "House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel has dropped a political bomb that Republicans say may derail his fellow Democrats' pre-election momentum," Bloomberg's Alison Fitzgerald reports. "Rangel yesterday offered a sweeping tax overhaul, which he dubbed 'the mother of all reforms.' The proposal would raise taxes on higher-income families and some businesses, while cutting bills for the working poor and lowering the corporate rate. Republicans accused Rangel and his party of trying to raise taxes by more than $1 trillion."

We're about to find out whether Rep. Ron Paul's money will mean anything. Paul, R-Texas, "will begin a $1.1 million television advertising campaign in New Hampshire," The Hill's Alex Bolton writes. "Perhaps most surprising about Paul's campaign strategy is that he's hoping anti-war Democrats will boost him by a few percentage points by registering as Republicans to vote in the GOP contest."

Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh writes that Romney should apologize for his Obama/Osama confusion -- under the Romney standard itself. What did Romney's about Sen. John Kerry's, D-Mass., "botched joke" about troops in Iraq? "When I saw his comment, I was just astounded. . . . What he said was offensive." Lehigh: "So Romney has made his own rules. If he fails to abide by them, what conclusion can we draw? Just this: The home-state candidate is one humongous hypocrite."

Looking for another political angle on the wildfires? "Within political circles, the California wildfires have yet again thrust the debate over the Iraq war into the spotlight, this time by calling into question how America uses its National Guard," HuffingtonPost's Sam Stein writes.

The 24-hour news cycle is so 2004. The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz looks at the minute-by-minute campaign battle on mainstream media blogs (and we don't take personally his failure to mention ABC's Political Radar):

The fun side: "Campaign officials have learned to feed the bottomless pit of these constantly updated compilations, leaking favorable tidbits -- a new poll result or television ad -- and quickly disputing negative items." The bad side: "The constant pressure to update blogs, thereby drawing more Web traffic, leaves less time for reporting and reflection," Kurtz writes.

The kicker:

"We're getting 'Fired up, ready to go' for the 100-day countdown to election day." -- Obama campaign e-mail, trumpeting Sunday's opening of its Los Angeles headquarters. Per the Los Angeles Times' Don Frederick, the campaign changed the wording on the e-mail in light of the fact that Southern Californians don't need help getting fired up these days. A planned block party to celebrate the office opening has been turned into a charity drive.

"Several times -- two, three? . . . I remember the first one getting resolved. The one that just came up I don't remember. I remember the Albanian one that was resolved. I think that was directed at my assistants but I could have been involved in that. And I remember one that was right toward the end. So there was more than one." -- Giuliani, recalling the sundry history of reputed mob attempts on his life.

"An inside job? How dare you. How dare you. It was not an inside job. . . . You guys have got to be careful, you're going to give Minnesota a bad reputation." -- Former President Bill Clinton, to 9/11 hecklers in Minneapolis.

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