THE NOTE: Rudy and Mitt's Nasty Fight

Politico's Mike Allen and Carrie Budoff Brown see it the same way: "In a reversal of fortune, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is barnstorming Iowa with a front-runner's swagger while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) scrambles like an underdog," they write. "In ways big and small over the weekend, the two campaigns exuded a sense of switched identities -- a dynamic driven by poll-driven perceptions that Clinton's sense of inevitability is slipping and Obama is riding a bit of a wave amid the Midwestern seas of grain."

Camp Clinton also knows how to play the expectations game: "Our definition of success doesn't necessarily mean coming in first," Clinton spokesman Mark Daley tells the Chicago Sun-Times' Jennifer Hunter. "As long as we have a strong showing on caucus night." And (dusting off the line from when everyone thought Dick Gephardt would win the 2004 caucuses): "We're running against a guy from a neighboring state who shares media markets with the state."

Obama had best not peak too soon. "It would have been better for Obama to stay neck-and-neck or even a little behind Hillary Clinton until Jan. 3, when Iowa caucus-goers venture into the cold for their strange democratic ritual. A surprise victory in the caucuses would have dealt a serious, even crippling, blow to Clinton's campaign," Newsweek's Jonathan Alter writes.

"But if Obama opens up a decent-size lead, and Hillary comes closer than 'expected,' she would then put her spinmeisters to work arguing that she had survived Iowa without having suffered great harm," Alter continues. (But don't forget: Hillary doesn't have all the spinmeisters, just most of the best ones.)

Yet some things are out of the control of all of the Democrats. What if Iraq isn't quite the political issue we've all assumed it would be? "The changing situation suggests for the first time that the politics of the war could shift in the general election next year, particularly if the gains continue," Patrick Healy writes in the Sunday New York Times. "While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war -- a popular position with many of the party's primary voters -- they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party's nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military."

No sign of that hedging Sunday from Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M. (who knows that the war issue is probably locked in for the Democrats anyway. "The best way to achieve a political solution in Iraq is to withdraw our forces," Richardson said on "This Week." "Our troops have become targets. Until we make measurable efforts to bring political reconciliation, then our efforts in Iraq will continue to fail."

Thompson, R-Tenn., may or may not actually want to be president, but he doesn't seem to mind a fight or two. Fox News' Chris Wallace didn't know what hit him when Thompson delivered this testy line: "You have the right to put in your one side -- to put in the Fox side -- and I have right to respond to it," Thompson said, ABC's Teddy Davis reports.

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