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.

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.

Obama, D-Ill., will be featured on ABC's "Nightline" on Monday, and he engages in some expectations-setting with Terry Moran. "Certainly [I] would suggest that the overwhelming favorite who has been touted as inevitable over the last 6 months better win Iowa. Don't you think?" Obama says with a laugh. "All I know is you guys have been measuring the curtains for a while. . . . You telling me she can get away with not winning Iowa?" (More laughter.)

And Obama gets sharper than he's been in the past in his interview with Moran: "I think the fact of the matter is that Senator Clinton is claiming basically the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency as her own, except for the stuff that didn't work out, in which case she says she has nothing to do with it," Obama said. "What she can't be is selective, in terms of, you know, cherry-picking and making determinations that she's now suddenly the face of foreign policy, that she shaped economic policy, except the stuff that didn't work out, in which case that was somebody else's problem or somebody else's fault."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's spat with Obama took a new turn last week, with direct engagement now the norm instead of the exception. And this is Clinton, D-N.Y., trying to bring the battle back to her terms: Clinton told the AP's Mike Glover that Obama's healthcare proposal was "crafted for politics." (Wait -- isn't that Obama's critique of Clinton? Don't forget that Mark Penn and Howard Wolfson know what they're doing.)

Obama's response fits his campaign frame: "Hillary's idea is that we should force everyone to buy insurance. But this is yet another issue where she is not being straight with the American people because she refuses to tell us how much she would fine people if they couldn't afford insurance."

Picking this fight -- just weeks after Clinton eschewed "mudslinging" -- shows that "her status as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination [is] in jeopardy," Anne Kornblut writes in The Washington Post. "Strategists for Obama said over the weekend that they see an opening for their candidate on the question of electability, and campaign manager David Plouffe also predicted a 'relentlessly negative' barrage from the Clinton campaign in the days ahead."

"Central to the new Clinton push will be the argument that only she can beat the eventual Republican nominee, a claim Obama is also seeking to make to voters here," Kornblut writes. "Advisers said her message will be: 'You can't have change if you don't win.' Her rivals, meanwhile, are moving aggressively to capitalize on Clinton's weaknesses in Iowa -- and, they hope, block her path to the nomination.

Writes The Boston Globe's Sasha Issenberg, "as the two candidates moved among Iowa's small towns this weekend, the race's psychological dynamics appear to have been disrupted by the new snapshot of Obama atop the field, especially as Clinton reaffirms that strength and electability are central to her appeal."

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.

Remember this moment when the campaign obit is written. "The announcement of his economic plan on national television was overshadowed when he later accused Fox News of trying to 'take down' his presidential campaign," Jeffrey Birnbaum and Michael Shear write in The Washington Post. Thompson: "This has been a constant mantra of Fox, to tell you the truth. . . . I understand the game of buildup and I understand the game of takedown."

There's a new way to follow ABC's political reporting: ABC News is now available as a Facebook application, as part of a new partnership announced on Monday. Members can subscribe to the profiles of ABC News reporters who will be traveling with presidential hopefuls throughout the campaign. Each reporter will continually post up-to-the-minute news stories, blogs and photographs documenting the behind-the-scenes action from the road directly onto Facebook.

"To underscore their collaboration, the two organizations will announce today that they are jointly sponsoring Democratic and Republican presidential debates in New Hampshire on Jan. 5, three days before the primary election there," The New York Times' Brian Stelter reports.

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Also in the news:

Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is launching "America Belongs to Us" week -- an issue a day where he's promising new leadership from Washington. It's about the uninsured on Monday in New Hampshire -- and pay attention to see how it's also about his differences with Clinton and Obama.

"I will not play by the Washington establishment's rules, because I believe they have twisted the rules beyond recognition and rigged the system to benefit the few at the expense of the many," Edwards plans to say, per his campaign. "I will not compromise with the people who are powerful in Washington -- big oil, big insurance companies and big pharmaceutical companies -- because I do not believe they will ever compromise their profits or their power."

Is Edwards operating in anything of a John Kerry shadow, given all those Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers that are still floating around? Sorry -- who's John Kerry again?

"Edwards declined to discuss whether he would do anything differently as the party's presidential nominee based on what he saw as Kerry's running mate. He added that he rarely thinks about the four months they spent running together," the Des Moines Register's Tony Leys reports. Says Edwards, on the part of his record he'd rather not examine (or see examined for him): "I've made it a practice not to go back and analyze the campaign. I don't think there's anything to be gained from it. I don't."

Giuliani grabs the Newsweek cover -- and here's guessing the campaign won't be ordering reprints. Evan Thomas and Suzanne Smalley open with Rudy's antics at an anti-Dinkins rally and move through idolization of John F. Kennedy and past a rogue's gallery of friends and enemies in the Giuliani orbit.

"The real Rudy is probably as complex and certainly as passionate as the operatic Rudy who shows up at cop rallies. He can be hero or hypocrite or both at once; he has a ripe sense of his own, and his nation's, magnificence and destiny roughly on par with that of Winston Churchill's," Thomas and Smalley write. "The proximity of good and bad, even in Giuliani's own family, seems to have given rise to his inflexible public code but more relaxed personal one -- a bifurcation that will only become more important in the next 10 weeks or so."

Rudy is lining up some more big names in New Hampshire, per the Union Leader's John DiStaso, as he adds the endorsement on Monday by state Rep. David Hess to a list of supporters that now includes the mayor of Manchester, Frank Guinta.

Look for this story to make its way onto the trail this week. "On the campaign trail, Rudy Giuliani rails against congressional spending set aside for lawmakers' pet projects. In Washington, his law firm fights to obtain them," Bloomberg's Jonathan D. Salant writes. Just a few weeks ago, "Bracewell & Giuliani LLP won $3 million worth of projects for its clients in defense-spending legislation. . . . While the firm's earmarks account for only a small fraction of the defense bill's $7.9 billion in such projects, they show that Giuliani's business interests continue to collide with his campaign rhetoric."

Romney probably caught something of a break with the Judge Tuttman story breaking over Thanksgiving. But American Spectator blogger Jennifer Rubin still sees him with a "Willie Horton-like problem," even after Romney's call for the judge to resign. "Rather than apologize for appointing a judge who let out someone to murder again he says he really wasn't responsible for the judicial appointment and calls for the judge to resign," Rubin writes. "Does this sound like the 'not responsible' for the 'independent Connector Authority' that included abortions in the Commonwealth healthcare plan? Or his recent comment that he's not responsible for the fines on Massachusetts residents for failing to abide by the individual health insurance mandate?"

The New York Sun's Josh Gerstein takes a deep look at Clinton's 1971 clerkship "at one of America's most radical law firms, Treuhaft, Walker and Burnstein." Plenty of nuggets that will find their way into general-election attacks, should she get that far. "To this day, Mrs. Clinton's decision to work at the unabashedly left-wing firm is surprising, even shocking, to some of her former colleagues there and to those supporting her bid for the presidency," Gerstein writes. "To the former first lady's enemies and political opponents, her summer at the Treuhaft firm is yet another indication that radical ideology lurks beneath the patina of moderation she has adopted in public life."

The Concord Monitor's Melanie Asmar has one secret to Huckabee's success: The television show he hosted as a pastor, which covered Little League scores and city events as well as religious issues. "But the same skills that made him memorable in the pulpit helped him succeed in politics: He could deliver a heavy moral message in such a light, folksy way that you didn't even notice the proselytizing. He remembered everyone's name. And he had a way of winning support for his good ideas by making the deacons think the ideas were their own," Asmar writes.

And Robert Novak reveals several (not-so) secrets that could stop Huckabee in his tracks: "Huckabee is campaigning as a conservative, but serious Republicans know he is a high-tax, protectionist, big-government advocate of a strong hand in the Oval Office directing the lives of Americans," Novak writes in his Chicago Sun-Times column. "Huckabee is getting enough favorable buzz that, when combined with his evangelical base, it makes real conservatives shudder."

Bush and Gore meet Monday in the Oval Office -- first privately, then publicly, as the president congratulates Nobel recipients. "The president will offer a smile and maybe a handshake -- but don't mistake this photo op for a truce," ABC's Jennifer Duck and Ann Compton report. "The quick encounter won't offer a chance for the biting rhetoric the two men famously exchanged in the 2000 debates, but nervous glances aren't being ruled out when the two rivals come face-to-face at the White House."

The kicker:

"I've always aspired to be a machine." -- Romney, responding to Clinton's campaign ad depicting him as part of the "Republican attack machine."

"I'll get all the Bunnies together, and we can raise him some money. I'll put up a collection box outside the door. They can drop in $1 dollar, $5 dollar contributions." -- Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch brothel, on his decision to endorse Ron Paul for president (as engineered by Tucker Carlson).

"I'm leading in all the polls, I'm beating them in state after state after state." -- Clinton, on her standing against Republicans in the presidential race.

"There have been a lot of polls, and frankly, I don't pay much attention to any of them." -- Clinton (a few paragraphs later in the same story), when asked about the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, which has Obama leading her in Iowa.

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