THE NOTE: Rudy and Mitt's Nasty Fight

The Democrats are easy to figure out. A fresh surrogate is hitting the trail (Oprah), a fresh fight has broken out (started by Sen. Hillary Clinton), and there's a fresh spring in Sen. Barack Obama's step (and a good reason for it being there -- must be fun for him to be setting the expectations frame for a change).

Yet in the scattershot, up-for-grabs GOP race for the nomination, what we know is that:

Sen. John McCain's Iraq dividend . . .

. . . is greater than . . . the number of stories that will mention both Willie Horton and Daniel T. Tavares Jr. (despite Rudy Giuliani's best efforts) . . .

. . . which is greater than . . . the number of stories that will mention both Bernie Kerik and Judge Kathe M. Tuttman (despite Mitt Romney's best efforts) . . .

. . .which is much greater than . . . the number of votes former senator Fred Thompson will get by attacking Fox News . . .

. . . which is less than . . . the number of enemies former governor Mike Huckabee has now that he's a full-blown contender . . .

. . . which is greater than . . . the quotient of genuine affection that will be shared between President Bush and former Vice President Al Gore in the Oval Office on Monday afternoon. (Donna Brazile's take on the big meeting: "President Bush has a better chance pulling the Shia backed government with the Sunni minority that defrosting his relationship with Gore.") . . .

. . . all of which is far less than . . . the sum Rep. Ron Paul will raise this quarter (and that's not even counting bunny money from his newest endorser -- thanks, Tucker.)

None of which might matter in the end. But just as the Democrats have made the campaign personal, so have the Republicans. Plenty of fights to go around -- Thompson alone is taking on Huckabee, R-Ark., Giuliani, R-N.Y., and Romney, R-Mass. -- in addition to Fox News -- and he's supposed to be the low-energy guy, remember?

But the main event in advance of Wednesday's GOP debate in Florida features Rudy and Romney, in the New Hampshire-centered battle of two blue-state one-time moderates who really, truly don't like each other. (Want to be sure? Both men used the H-word in describing their opponents on Sunday.)

Rudy's camp: Romney is a Hillary-mimicking "mediocre one-term governor" who appointed a bad judge (who made a bad decision at an inconvenient time) and saw the murder rate rise in his state (is there a worse Rudy insult?).

Romney's camp: Rudy is a Hillary-mimicking liberal poll-trailer with a messy personal life and a "nasty side" (and we welcome that phrase to our exalted political discourse, where it shall remain for at least the remainder of the Republican race).

See if you can sense the deep, abiding affection: "He throws stones at people," Giuliani tells Politico's Jonathan Martin. "And then on that issue he usually has a worse record than whoever he's throwing stones at." Rudy says it's time to "take the mask off and take a look at what kind of governor was he."

This could well be the battle that determines the nomination -- not that anything in the GOP race is falling in line according to plan. The Washington Post's Dan Balz sees the Republican race having "taken on the feel of a five-ring circus." "The race for the Republican presidential nomination took a sharply negative turn here Sunday as the two candidates traded accusations about taxes, crime, immigration, abortion and ethical standards," Balz writes.

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