THE NOTE: Huckabee Rising in Iowa

Five spin-proof truths that stand 50 days before Iowa:

1. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton left her inevitability in Philadelphia, but the Democratic race is still hers to lose (though she's no longer ignoring her rivals -- that's a start).

2. Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani's campaign really does think it's rewriting the rulebook (but isn't as sure it will fly as Mike DuHaime suggests).


3. Immigration is the hot-button issue that's most likely to drive Republican voters. Eliot Spitzer's decision to back down on his driver's license proposal from the GOP -- and they can thank San Francisco while they're at it).

4. Congressional Democrats can still make life miserable for Democratic candidates between now and January.

5. The social conservative vote is split -- almost certainly irrevocably -- among Republican candidates (and the Grass is always greener).

Just when it looked like former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark. -- passed over again in the endorsement game -- wasn't getting his share of the conservative vote, he finally gets an early-state poll that places him on the map. He is officially on the move in Iowa -- and he'll get a wave of free publicity off of the new poll to brag about it.

In Iowa, former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., holds just a 27-21 lead over Huckabee, despite the fact that Romney "has built a big network of supporters and invested heavily in advertisements," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times.

Giuliani, R-N.Y., is running third in Iowa -- at 15 percent -- and he's tied with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for a lagging second place in New Hampshire; it's Romney 34, McCain and Giuliani 16.

And Rudy is finally breaking his TV ad silence -- and the candidate who doesn't need to win the early states is going up in New Hampshire (which remains, by our calculations, an early state).

The ad "dramatically presents him as the man who tamed a crime-ridden and unmanageable city in spite of typical human foibles," Jim Rutenberg writes in The New York Times. "The commercial is starkly reminiscent of the famous advertisement for Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign, 'Morning in America,' similarly using an image of a flag being raised into a blue sky and inspirational music."

But a lawsuit brings another slice at the story that will not go away for Giuliani. "Publisher Judith Regan, fired last year from News Corp.'s HarperCollins unit, claims her dismissal was part of a 'deliberate smear campaign' aimed at protecting presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani," Bloomberg's Patricia Hurtado reports. She's claiming to have Bernie Kerik information that would damage Giuliani's candidacy. According to the complaint filed Tuesday, "The smear campaign was necessary to advance News Corp.'s political agenda, which has long centered on protecting Rudy Giuliani's presidential ambitions."

It looks like Romney's feeling the pressure -- and the candidate who's running the most traditional campaign is using a dependable issue (and including Huckabee on his regular list of Those to Attack).

"Romney contended that Huckabee fought for tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants in his state, while Giuliani provided tuition breaks at the City University for illegal immigrants," AP's Liz Sidoti reports. "He said Clinton, too, backs such breaks."

For another politician with some familiarity with Hope, Ark., Thursday night's Democratic debate is shaping up as the rare forum where more pressure is on Clinton than her long list of lagging rivals. Clinton, D-N.Y., has suffered through perhaps her worst two weeks of the campaign -- a poor debate performance in Philadelphia, followed by a string of negative storylines: the gender card, planted questions, and mini-flare-ups including an angry waitress and angry Facebook users.

"The campaign has changed," Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle writes in a fund-raising e-mail. Writes the New York Sun's Russell Berman: "The pressure will be on Senator Clinton at the Democratic presidential debate tomorrow as she tries to bounce back from a weak performance last month that has cut into her lead in the polls."

The Times/CBS poll hammers home some truths to Clinton -- starting with a virtual three-way tie in Iowa. "Democratic voters in Iowa and new Hampshire -- the states that begin the presidential nominating battle -- say Senator Barack Obama and John Edwards are more likely than Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to say what they believe, rather than what they think voters want to hear," the Times' Nagourney writes."But they also view Mrs. Clinton as the best prepared and most electable Democrat in the field, the polls found."

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who unveils his "innovation agenda" Wednesday at the Googleplex, is taking his battle with Clinton to the realm of memos. "You live by inevitability and die by inevitability and there are growing signs in the last 10 days that Clinton's support in the early states, as well as nationally, is fairly thin and eroding," campaign manager David Plouffe writes.

Is this Obama readying a debate line? He's disclosing the amounts raised by his "bundlers," Lynn Sweet reports in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Initially, Obama's campaign revealed the names of people who raised at least $50,000 for him; now the campaign is disclosing the elite superbundlers -- those raising $100,000 and $200,000," Sweet writes. Key sentence: "Obama is disclosing more information than chief rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is willing to reveal about the amounts her top players are raising."

Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is becoming the first Democrat to go on TV in South Carolina.

And Edwards is preparing a fresh debate attack around his gimmick to deny members of Congress healthcare if they don't make coverage universal within six months. "The ad captures the former senator's passion and underscores his message that the Washington political system is broken," The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz writes in an ad watch. "But Edwards is making a promise he can't keep."

The fact that the Clinton camp responded to the ad -- "Now he says he'll get it done by employing an unconstitutional tactic" -- gave the Edwards campaign an opening, per ABC's Jake Tapper. Spokesman Chris Kofinis: "Senator Clinton made it crystal clear where she stands: she defends health care for politicians while millions of Americans and their families go without care."

(And it's easy to over-read this, but Edwards is still less than rock-solid in his commitment to support Clinton if she's the Democratic nominee. "I fully expect to support the Democratic nominee and I fully expect to be the nominee," he told ABC's Raelyn Johnson in Dartmouth, N.H. When pressed on whether he would support Clinton if she is the nominee, he said only that he stood by his previous answer.)

The campaign keeps trotting out Bill (and we wonder who the "special guest" will be on Clinton's Friday conference call with DNC members). But the former president hasn't always quite been on message.

"Bill Clinton's growing visibility on the campaign trail in recent days has brought star power to his wife's candidacy, but is also increasingly inviting serious criticism of his presidency from her rivals," The Boston Globe's Marcella Bombardieri writes. "In the past week, the Democratic nomination fight has become more of a referendum on the Clinton years and whether Bill Clinton brought the good life to middle-class Americans or squandered eight years in compromise and scandal."

Clinton won't have to worry any longer about Gov. Eliot Spitzer's plan for driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. Spitzer, D-N.Y., plans to announce Wednesday that he's dropping his proposal, per The New York Times' Danny Hakim.

Just in time, though, comes San Francisco with new city ID cards for legal and illegal residents alike.

And the planted-questions story is getting another turn in the news cycle. "An Iowa college student pulled back the curtain on Hillary Rodham Clinton's stage-managed campaign stops - claiming the candidate seemed to know to call on her for a canned question at a cooked-up event that was passed off as spontaneous," Geoff Earle reports in the New York Post. The students says a campaign staffer had a "binder" with proposed questions -- hardly the stuff of a one-time (or two-time) occurrence.

"By planting questions at what are supposed to be unscripted question-and-answer sessions with Iowa voters, Clinton may have fed perceptions that her campaign is too programmed for its own good," writes the Los Angeles Times' Peter Nicholas. Says Bob Shrum: "It's a small thing that could be a metaphor for a bigger concern for people -- over-management and too much caution."

"In Iowa, where they take their conversations with candidates very seriously, it hasn't gone over well," ABC's Kate Snow reported on "Good Morning America."

And the (possibly) stiffed waitress isn't gone yet either. HuffingtonPost's Sam Stein catches up with Anita Esterday and finds that she still hasn't seen any of the supposed tip. "I don't know if they left a $100 tip or not but I haven't seen it yet. And none of the other waitresses have said they got the tip." Stein adds this "editor's note": "after the tip controversy became a national story, the Clinton campaign returned to the restaurant and left $20."

Here's a title Clinton probably could have lived without in the run-up to Thursday's debate in Las Vegas. Molly Ball of the Las Vegas Review-Journal sees her "bolstering her claim to the status of corporate America's favorite candidate" by announcing a group of Nevada business leaders who are backing her candidacy. (Staffers in Chapel Hill, N.C., may or may not have leapt when reading that sentence.)

In case you were wondering, Hillary Clinton has become "the one thing the Republican candidates for president can agree on," Michael Shear writes in The Washington Post.

Leading the charge? McCain, who's featuring Clinton's Woodstock earmark in his new campaign ad -- and on Wednesday he's unveiling a new online game, "The John & Hillary Show." (The questions are about as difficult as celebrity "Wheel of Fortune.")

Also in the news:

With former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., picking up the endorsement of the National Right to Life Committee on Tuesday, ABC's Jake Tapper looks at the impact. "This was a key constituency telling its supporters that Thompson is to be believed," Tapper writes. "The National Right to Life Committee seemed to tacitly acknowledge that other Republican candidates -- such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- have purer records on the subject in its endorsement, in which the group made a nod to Thompson's electability."

"Some pro-life advocates were astonished by the National Right to Life Committee's endorsement of Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson yesterday -- a move they say puts politics over principle," Ralph Z. Hallow writes in the Washington Times. Says Paul Weyrich (quoted often now that he's supporting Romney): "I think in all probability the Thompson people were engaged with the National Right to Life people in financial dealing." (Is that right-wing mumbo-jumbo talk for a bribe?)

You could never tell it from the candidate's smile, but dissension has paralyzed the Romney campaign from getting more aggressive with Giuliani, Politico's Jonathan Martin reports. "Mitt Romney's presidential campaign has television ads and mailings on standby to attack Rudy Giuliani but so far has not used them because of an internal dispute about the risks of a backlash," Martin writes. "The showdown is between Alex Castellanos, Romney's original ad man, and Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer, the two media consultants brought on board this summer."

ABC's John Berman reports that Stevens was in Sioux City, Iowa, shooting commercials for Romney on Tuesday, while Schriefer is taking control of the daily message. Romney said yesterday that he was sure the campaign would come to the point where candidates would "throw bombs back and forth" -- but surely he was hoping the first bombs would fly outside his tent.

With all the clamor for Romney to deliver a major speech on religion -- would Romney's JFK-style speech be written by JFK? "John F. Kennedy gave the landmark speech on the topic. He said what needs to be said," Romney tells the Concord Monitor's Lauren R. Dorgan. "I don't know that there's something different that needs to be said than what he said. I guess I could go back and reprint it!"

The biggest Iowa GOP "get" won't be gotten this year. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, "said Tuesday he does not expect to endorse a candidate before the 2008 caucuses in part because no GOP candidate has emerged as a clear favorite to beat Hillary Clinton," Thomas Beaumont reports in the Des Moines Register. Says Grassley: "That practical approach keeps me from still backing anybody, because I guess I've got some faith in the primary system sorting it out so that the strongest candidate will float to the top -- and I haven't picked that strongest candidate."

New Hampshire independents haven't given up on the GOP just yet, Michael Kranish and James Pindell write in The Boston Globe (paging John McCain . . . ). "This year, with competitive races on both sides, independents had been expected to vote heavily in the Democratic primary, with 72 percent in a UNH poll as recently as June saying they would take a Democratic ballot. In the Globe poll, released Sunday, 55 percent said they would take a Democratic ballot."

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., adds to his list of Iowa endorsements on Wednesday, with state Rep. Mary A. Gaskill becoming lucky No. 13 for him. "He is sincere, authentic and I believe he is the best candidate the democrats have -- and that is why I am supporting him," Gaskill plans to say, per the Biden campaign.

President Bush on Tuesday called Congress "a teenager with a new credit card" in vetoing a health and education bill. But name-calling is nothing compared to the still-looming confrontation over defense spending, ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports. "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday that the Pentagon can take some of the half trillion in nonwar funding to cover any shortfalls while the Congress can hash things out with the White House. It could be a while."

The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan has an interesting look at the way regional politics are forcing candidates into tough spots on energy. "Energy policy, presidential candidates in both parties agree, is a critical national priority. But the regional special interests involved in energy use, production, and waste disposal have created political problems for the presidential contenders as they woo voters across the country."

Adam Smith and Michael Van Sickler of the St. Petersburg Times game-plan how Hillary could lose -- and it starts in Iowa. "If it happens, the beginning of the end will surely occur amid the snow-covered cornfields and silo-dotted town centers of Iowa," they write.

Among the spoils of victory -- you get to raise money for the party! Bloomberg's Laura Litvan secures a copy of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's oft-ignored "dues" list. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., a veteran of nearly an entire month in Congress, has to raise $104,000, as Democrats "are seeking to raise a record $154 million for the party from incumbent lawmakers -- more than four times the amount Republicans are trying to collect," Litvan writes.

The kicker:

"The truth is out there." -- John Podesta, on the Clinton library records of his correspondence about the "X-Files" and Area 51.

"If they needed my help, I'd be more than happy to help, as a fair-minded mediator." -- Giuliani, nominating himself as a potential fence-mender in the writers' strike.

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