THE NOTE: Hillary Starts Playground Fight

A switch flipped over at Camp Clinton this week (and if you don't think this had anything to do with polls and events on the ground, you don't know that camp's rules).

This cold-cock Tuesday from the smiling frontrunner, the eschewer of mudslinging, the rise-above-it-all leader: "Now voters will judge whether living in a foreign country at the age of 10 prepares one to face the big, complex international challenges the next president will face.

I think we need a president with more experience than that," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.

Reaching back to childhood to attack her main rival for the Democratic nomination? That is:

A) Ceding whatever's left of the high ground Clinton occupied.

B) A rare taste of panic from a campaign that's been on heady cruise control from the start.

C) A major strategic shift from which there's no turning back.

D) Vaguely reminiscent of Stephen Colbert's attack on John Edwards for abandoning South Carolina as an infant.

Clinton has (perhaps belatedly) realized that she has a real fight on her hands.

A new poll has New Hampshire tightening just like Iowa is, and an early stumble was never part of her campaign's calculations. The campaign looks much different than it did just three weeks ago, and Clinton needs a new storyline -- and more scrutiny for her rivals.

But does mocking Sen. Barack Obama's, D-Ill., international upbringing get Clinton traction?

Surely by now Obama's supporters (including those who see him as their second choice) know that his resume is light. They favor him because he represents a new direction, the change half of the magical "change and experience" formula.

Would Clinton supporters care if they were reminded that -- around the time Obama was living in Indonesia -- their candidate was a "Goldwater Girl"?

And does she want to be reminded about those incredibly important trips she took as first lady like the one (as recounted in Carl Bernstein's book) where she and Chelsea joined Sinbad and Sheryl Crowd in post-war Bosnia?

Former governor Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa, went just a hair over the top on Tuesday: "There is no question she was the face of the administration in foreign affairs." Writes The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut:

"Really? Hillary Clinton was the face of the Clinton administration in foreign affairs? More than, say, the secretary of state? Or his vice president? Or his, um, ambassador to the United Nations?"

Coupled with her line that Obama would need "on-the-job training" to handle the economy, Clinton is emphasizing her own experience -- her clearest advantage in the campaign. But New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes that she may not want to go there: "She went on some first lady jaunts and made a good speech at a U.N. women's conference in Beijing. . . . But is living in the White House between the ages of 45 and 53 foreign policy experience?"

"At least on Tuesday, the Democratic race for president looked more like a shoving match than a civil airing of policy differences," Michael Finnegan writes in the Los Angeles Times.

And Clinton opened herself up to responses like this from Obama: "I was wondering which world leader told her that we needed to invade Iraq, because that is the conventional thinking that we're going to have to break."

Speaking of George Bush, the president allowed himself to play pundit-in-chief with ABC's Charlie Gibson for just long enough to say that Clinton "understands pressure better than any of the candidates" (yes, ANY) -- and to share his prediction that Clinton will win the Democratic nomination but lose to whomever the GOP puts up.

"I think she's a very formidable candidate, and one of the interesting things that she brings is that she has been under pressure. She understands the klieg lights," the president said, in a phrase he repeated twice in the interview.

"No question, there is no question that Senator Clinton understands pressure better than any of the candidates, you know, in the race because she lived in the White House and sees it first -- could see it first-hand."

The president also called Obama's vow to meet with leaders of rogue nations an "odd foreign policy" -- channeling Clinton again. (We could spend the better part of Thanksgiving -- at least the down time between football games -- unpacking the president's motivations in praising Clinton.

Clinton could surely live without the kind words, but we take it the president wouldn't agree with Mitt Romney's contention that Clinton would need to treat the presidency as an internship.)

Obama spokesman Bill Burton (having a good day): "I can't tell if he's endorsing her, hoping she's the nominee or thanking her for her votes on Iraq and Iran."

Among the Republicans, Romney, R-Mass., should be as worried as Clinton this week.

Nobody's spent more money or more time in Iowa, and what does he get for his efforts? A statistical tie with (to collect a few knocks on the sunny former governor of Arkansas) a stand-up-comic-of-a-tax-raiser-from-Hope, Ark., who barely raised $1 million last quarter.

This is the news former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., has long craved: The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll has it Romney 28, Huckabee 24 among Iowa Republicans.

"Key elements of the Republican base are coalescing around Mike Huckabee in Iowa, lifting this comparatively little-known candidate to the first rank in the first state to cast votes in the 2008 presidential contest," ABC polling director Gary Langer writes.

"The surge for Huckabee is remarkable in size and intensity alike. He's attracted not just support but enthusiastic support, from core Republican groups including conservatives, evangelicals and strong abortion opponents."

This is what Iowa's supposed to be about, right? "The affable underdog achieved all this on a shoe-string budget with little national infrastructure and close to no support from the Republican establishment," ABC's Jake Tapper writes.

Huckabee tells Tapper: "[Iowans] are folks who, you know, they auction their cattle, but not their presidential candidates. . . . This kind of poll gives more people reason to think, 'Hmm, the guy could win.' "

Romney's real concern at this point isn't winning Iowa; it's winning Iowa and not getting credit for it.

Huckabee could very easily be the story out of the Hawkeye State with a strong second-place finish. "Huckabee's rise from dark horse to contender in Iowa is one more unexpected twist in a race that has remained fluid throughout the year and adds another unpredictable element to the competition for the GOP nomination," Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post. "His support in Iowa appears stronger and more enthusiastic than that of his rivals."

Huckabee has to love the daily sparring between Romney and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., over immigration, "with each side impugning the other's record on the issue," Michael Luo writes in The New York Times.

(This is the big issue in the GOP -- as the new ABC/Post poll makes clear -- but this fight is becoming a blur of charges, counter-charges, dusty quotes, and old newspaper clippings -- enough for voters to tune the whole thing out.)

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is sharpening his attack, "casting himself as the only candidate from either party capable of confronting both national security crises abroad and political stalemates at home," per The Washington Post's Michael Shear and Juliet Eilperin. Romney, he told a Post editorial board, "switched on virtually every major issue in the last couple of years." Giuliani, he said, "chose not to serve" on the Iraq Study Group.

The Post's Lois Romano has a deeper look at the GOP ambivalence in Iowa. This from Ray Hoffman, chairman of the state party: "There is a void -- a piece of the puzzle is missing. . . . The field just never felt settled.

There's been a lot of waiting -- waiting for Gingrich, waiting to see if Fred Thompson would catch fire. Now, I think for a lot of committed conservatives, they wonder, do I just stand back or hold my nose and vote for someone I don't agree with but who can maybe beat Hillary?"

Back among the Democrats, the Clinton-Obama spat allowed former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., back into the conversation.

"Like so many other things, when it comes to mud, Hillary Clinton says one thing and throws another," Edwards spokesman Chris Kofinis said.

Elizabeth Edwards was out there again Tuesday slamming Clinton, saying the frontrunner delivers "gauzy answers [that] flow one into the other," per the New York Post's Daphne Retter. "You can't put up a placard and become the change candidate. You have to actually have policies and a perspective which indicates you are going to change things," she said.

Edwards has changed quite a bit since he was Sen. John Kerry's running mate, and The New York Times' Kate Zernike writes up the Kerry-Edwards relationship, which "ended in recrimination and regrets."

"To the end of their disappointing run, the two men were unable to agree on the script, whether for slogans or more substantive matters," Zernike writes.

Some choice quotes (and what does it say about Edwards' establishment support that these were on the record?): Said David Morehouse, Kerry's traveling chief of staff, "We were getting our heads taken off and he was still talking about two Americas." Said Stephanie Cutter, Kerry's 2004 communications director, "A lot of what I'm seeing now, I wish I'd seen in 2004."

This from Edwards (note the tense): "I respected and admired John Kerry."

For more Kerry memories, The Boston Globe's Sasha Issenberg has the details of Kerry's efforts to disprove the Swift Boat allegations -- albeit three years late. It looks like T. Boone Pickens is backtracking on his promise to award $1 million to anyone who could disprove the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's allegations, after Kerry, D-Mass., said he'd take him up on the offer.

Obama on Tuesday had an interesting day on the trail. There was rare frank talk about his drug use as a teenager.

There was not-so-rare tough talk in slamming Clinton and Edwards over No Child Left Behind, per the New York Daily News' Michael Saul.

There was interesting policy talk in broaching the issue of merit pay for teachers, in a careful way that "appears to have carefully threaded the needle on the contentious issue," ABC's Teddy Davis and Sunlen Miller write.

And there could be help on the way from a queen of talk. Is Oprah about to hit the trail for Obama? The Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet gets a payoff for staying close to the candidate on the rope line: "Obama made the disclosure while working a crowd at Central High School here, after delivering an education policy speech," Sweet writes.

"First she's coming to Iowa," Obama told Ralph Hoagland, a co-founder of what is now the CVS pharmacy chain. "But we'll talk about it. We'll get her up here."

Also in the news:

Giulani's consulting work comes under the microscope of Andrew Zajac and Evan Osnos of the Chicago Tribune.

They have new details of "a complex partnership with the family of a controversial Hong Kong billionaire who has ties to the regime of North Korea's Kim Jong Il and has been linked to international organized crime by the U.S. government."

They write, "Giuliani's participation as a security consultant in the Singapore gambling venture illustrates the challenge he faces while attempting to win the Republican presidential nomination with a law-and-order message while maintaining a far-flung, international business portfolio, an unknown portion of which remains in the shadows."

We'll see if full disclosure gets the same kind of traction it's getting on the Democratic side, but here's Giuliani's words: "I think you -- you meaning the press in general -- have been successful in discovering. I'd have to check if it's every client. But just about every single client of Giuliani Partners. You'll have to check with them." "Them," as in Giuliani Partners, will not say.

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan is returning to the public stage with a bang.

"Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan blames President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for efforts to mislead the public about the role of White House aides in leaking the identity of a CIA operative," Matt Apuzzo reports in his AP write-up. Excerpt (from the book that won't come out until April): "I had unknowingly passed along false information.

And five of the highest-ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice president, the president's chief of staff and the president himself."

But former Bush adviser David Kuo writes that we shouldn't jump to conclusions based on a brief excerpt of a book that probably isn't even finished yet.

"For Scott to break with Bush and his friends from Texas would be extraordinary. He is certainly capable of it. He is a man who values his integrity and his faith. If he felt that there were things to say 'for the sake of history' I have no doubt he'd say them no matter the cost," Kuo writes on his blog.

"Will he? The first indicator will come this week. If he remains silent throughout the week then the White House may have reason to worry."

As Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., prepares to enjoy his turkey in Iowa, he's got another endorsement to roll out on Wednesday: State Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines. It's No. 14 among Iowa state legislators for Biden.

The new GQ is out, complete with the Bill Clinton cover story that apparently cost the world a really interesting Hillary Clinton story.

But the biggest political buzz out of this issue is the one presidential candidate the magazine's editors chose as a "man of the year." That's Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, alongside Tom Hanks, Kanye West, Daniel Craig, Casey Affleck, Alex Rodriguez, and Roger Federer. Members of Paul's Internet army, pinch yourself.

A few outside events worth tracking for their inevitable campaign spillover.

"The political controversy over restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research is unlikely to end with Tuesday's news that mature human cells can be made to acquire the powers of embryonic stem cells, because scientists say research on both types of cells is closely related and is needed to inspire and cross-check each other," Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar writes in the Los Angeles Times.

And: "In a decision that could affect gun control laws across the nation, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to carry a gun," ABC's Ariane de Vogue and Dennis Powell report.

The kicker: Action, camera, lights:

"I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House." -- Scott McClellan, in his new book.

"She understands the klieg lights." President Bush, in his interview with Charlie Gibson.

The Note and all Note products are taking a Thanksgiving break. The Note, the Must Reads, and the Sneak Peek will return Monday, Nov. 26. Good luck with the traffic, Godspeed at the airports, and enjoy your Turkey Day in New Hampshire, Iowa, or wherever you may be.

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