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.
Another consequence of this fight: Rudy has clearly put New Hampshire on his map. After months of his staffers telling the press that he can tank in the early states but still win big by sweeping on Feb. 5, Giuliani tells Balz: "I'd rather not do it that way. That would create ulcers for my entire staff and for me."
He's raising his own stakes in the Granite State -- and there's no more saying New Hampshire doesn't really matter. "Mr. Giuliani now appears to be fully competing in the Jan. 8 primary here," Michael Cooper and Michael Luo write in The New York Times. "That was evident in the weekend bus tour, the television advertisements he has been running locally and his new willingness to directly engage Mr. Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, who has long led in the polls here."
If this fight assures some mutual destruction, McCain, R-Ariz., would love to be there to pick up the independent pieces. He's up with a new ad TV ad in New Hampshire on Monday, highlighting areas where he's gone against the grain, per ABC's Bret Hovell: "I might not like the business as usual crowd in Washington," McCain says in the ad. "But I love America. I love her enough to make some people angry."
Back from Thanksgiving in Iraq, McCain told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that he's proud that the strategy he long advocated seems to be working. "Success is significant, and anybody who thinks that it isn't does not know the facts on the ground," McCain said on "This Week." "I'll be glad to acknowledge success if this continues in reduction, but we've still got a long way to go."
Yet for one more sign of where things stand inside the GOP, another exodus suggests a wise man who sees where things are headed. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., becomes the latest veteran GOPer to call it quits. Lott "will announce at noon today that he will resign his seat by the end of the year, a shocking move sources said was precipitated by a desire to spend more time with his family and a general fatigue of Congress," Roll Call's Erin Billings writes.
So while the Republicans lose a legend, the Democrats are about to get . . . Oprah! Obama's campaign announced Monday that it will be spinning the good Ms. Winfrey through New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina Dec. 8 and 9, with this line in the press release sure to draw insane crowds: "All events will be free and open to the public." (Will Oprah take Bill Clinton's crown as surrogate-of-the-cycle?)
Former Iowa governor (and overly enthusiastic Clinton supporter) Tom Vilsack isn't worried about O's army: He told the Washington Times' Christina Bellantoni that Iowa has the second-largest population of working parents in the country, meaning Oprah's Iowa audience may not be what it is elsewhere. "I'm not sure who watches her. Maybe young moms, maybe people who are retired. But we have the support of most retired Democrats," Vilsack said.