THE NOTE: Tricks and Turkeys

Here with 10 battles that could determine the presidency:

1. Mitt Romney vs. Rudy Giuliani (and not just over hairlines).

2. Fred Thompson vs. Mike Huckabee (and not just over comedy chops).

3. Dirty Tricksters vs. Dirty Trickees, assuming they are different people).


4. Dirty Tricksters vs. Dirty Trickees (Democratic edition, as refereed by Robert Novak).

5. The Religious Right vs. The Religious Right.

6. John Edwards vs. Hillary Clinton.

7. Barack Obama vs. Hillary Clinton.

8. Planted Questions vs. Gender Card.

9. John McCain's Iowa vs. John McCain's New Hampshire.

10. 9/11 Families vs. Mr. 9/11.

As attention to turns to Iowa (and the turkey must be juicier there for all the candidates who are planning on spending Thanksgiving in Des Moines and Dubuque), the campaign has become a scattershot of charges, countercharges, dirty tricks, and accusations.

All it took was a few sentences in a Robert Novak posting to roil the Democratic field in the wake of the Las Vegas debate. Novak offers this shadowy mini-nugget of (presumed) reportage: "Agents of Sen. Hillary Clinton are spreading the word in Democratic circles that she has scandalous information about her principal opponent for the party's presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, but has decided not to use it." (Agents? The Clinton campaign has "agents"? Are we in "The Manchurian Candidate"? Is Novak watching too many Oliver Stone flicks?)

We're not sure who's attacking whom here, but the (sort of) target is happy to talk about something other than the last debate. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is taking the rumor very seriously, ABC's David Wright reports. "The Clinton campaign refuses to answer two simple, direct questions: Are 'agents' of their campaign spreading these rumors? And do they have 'scandalous' information that they are not releasing?" says Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.

Responds the Clinton campaign: "A Republican-leaning journalist runs a blind item designed to set Democrats against one another. Experienced Democrats see this for what it is. Others get distracted and thrown off their games." (Novak said on Fox News this morning that the information came from a Democrat: "I haven't talked to a single Republican on this.")

Time's Joe Klein calls it "a smear that tarnished both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama." And he declares war on Novak: "There are two possible reasons why Novak is peddling unconfirmed [information]: (a) he is getting too old to do the actual legwork long-associated with his column (and respected even by those of us who find his views reprehensible) or (b) he has simply abandoned all pretense of being a journalist."

The intra-party bickering has Iowa Democrats concerned, Jason Clayworth reports in the Des Moines Register. "At issue are a growing number of news releases, public appearances and speeches by Democrats that directly or indirectly target each other in hopes of swaying Iowa caucusgoers," Clayworth writes. (Here's guessing they provide lots of quotes that will simply need lots of explaining away later.)

Obama's out with a new ad Monday in Iowa, again speaking to the middle class, ABC's David Wright reports. And he's stepping up his criticism of Clinton over NAFTA (joining a chorus led by John Edwards): "I think it's important to note that Senator Clinton was a cheerleader for NAFTA for more than a decade," Obama said Sunday in Iowa, according to The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny.

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