THE NOTE: Happening in Vegas

Will what happens in Vegas go to Iowa? (Yes.)

Does Gov. Eliot Spitzer's change of heart bail out Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton? (No.)

What does it say when a campaign's video is about 11 times more fun than its candidate? (That Mandy Grunwald earns her pay.)

Will Mike Huckabee look as good after his rivals are done unloading on him? (No -- but his rivals won't look so good, either, after Huckabee's done with them.)

Will calling CNN the "Clinton News Network" help Sen. John McCain raise money? (Yes.)

Will that name apply when Clinton's rivals are done with her Thursday night? (Stay tuned.)

More than two weeks after Clinton's Phillies-style stumble in Philadelphia, Thursday's Democratic debate in Las Vegas looms large for Clinton and her major rivals.

If the campaign is "Rocky" -- and, as Sen. Barack Obama suggests -- Clinton is Apollo Creed, the champ's been knocked off balance, is trying to tune out the taunts, and is reminding herself that these kids don't belong in the same ring with her.

But Obama, D-Ill., and former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., have their own trite movie plots to follow.

If this was "Hoosiers," they've just arrived at the moment when Gene Hackman measured the court. Yes indeed, they do belong on the same playing surface as the very human Team Clinton.

If all of this was part of the predictable narrative of the Democratic primary, that doesn't make the Las Vegas debate any less important: What happens Thursday night will shape perceptions through Thanksgiving week and beyond, in the closing window before Iowa.

"As Clinton (N.Y.), the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, seeks to solidify her position atop the race, her main rivals are reshaping the arguments for their candidacies and sparking a broader debate about the future of their party," Alec MacGillis and Perry Bacon Jr. write in The Washington Post.

"The race is more fluid than it has been in months," they write. And the Clinton campaign looks ready for engagement -- no more rising above the rivals with laughs and nonchalance.

Said Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson, on Obama: "His rhetoric may no longer be hopeful, but it sounds like his campaign still is."

Responds Obama strategist David Axelrod: "I heard her say Saturday night that Democrats should not attack Democrats, and I'm sure she'll adhere to that. I'm sure that it has more than a five-day half-life."

Clinton will "try to erase the unflattering image that her chief rivals, and her own mistakes, have helped create," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times.

"Advisers said in interviews that Mrs. Clinton had not been prepared for the onslaught at the Oct. 30 debate, and would be far more ready for incoming fire in Las Vegas. She has been preparing to point out inconsistencies in Mr. Edwards's and Mr. Obama's positions, and to give yes-or-no answers to convey forthrightness."

But after more than two weeks, she's still dealing with the fallout of the last debate.

She finally brought some clarity on Wednesday to the initial question that tripped her up: Clinton is now firmly against driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

Her rivals still (rightly) sense vulnerability.

Response from the Edwards campaign: "We're dizzy."

Dodd campaign: "Flip-flopping cubed."

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