THE NOTE: Off Message

Such is the state of affairs in the Republican primary that we will look to a talking snowman Wednesday night to impose some order on the GOP field.

OK, so the snowman may not make an appearance -- but we can be pretty sure that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., will once again be the dominant presence on stage.

And former President Bill Clinton sure seems like he's making his best play to join her there -- and not for the right reasons.

The former president's unambiguous statement Tuesday night in Iowa -- that he "opposed Iraq from the beginning" -- provides the Clintons' many critics (in both parties) with plenty of fodder (as if they needed any more).

It comes in the midst of a raging debate with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., over foreign-policy credentials -- and as every single Republican tries to build himself up by taking Clinton down.

President Clinton has long been critical of the Iraq war, "but like his wife, the former president supported giving President Bush the authority needed to go to war," ABC's Teddy Davis, Eloise Harper, and Nancy Flores report.

This 2003 quote -- still available on the Clinton Foundation's Website -- is just as clear as what he said Tuesday night (and oppo-researchers know there are dozens more like it): "I supported the President when he asked the Congress for authority to stand up against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

"Advisers to Mr. Clinton said yesterday that he did oppose the war, but that it would have been inappropriate at the time for him, a former president, to oppose -- in a direct, full-throated manner -- the sitting president's military decision," The New York Times' Patrick Healy writes. (And how does propriety figure into the fact that his latest claim came in dead-heat Iowa, five weeks before his wife wants to win the caucuses -- while overcoming her vote for a deeply unpopular war?)

Once again, this is the former president seeming to read from his own playbook. (Anyone think Camp Clinton wants another debate over who was for the war and who was against it? Anyone think Oprah will be as off-message as Clinton when she hits the trail for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., next weekend?)

"All of this refocuses attention where his wife does not want it," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" on Wednesday.

And it comes on the heels of Sen. Clinton's efforts to buff up her foreign-policy resume (think Ireland), as well as her mildly surprising assertion Tuesday that she'd call on Colin Powell (yes, President Bush's first secretary of state) to pitch in on a diplomatic push. (Says Powell: "No comment.")

A new front in the Obama-Clinton rumble opens on Wednesday, with Clinton delivering a speech in Iowa at 1:15 pm ET that will press "the idea that you can't call yourself a change candidate if you produce a weak plan for the key domestic challenge facing the country today -- health care," per a Clinton aide.

Obama aides are pushing back by arguing that Clinton in the 1990s opposed an "individual mandate" for healthcare, just as Obama opposes one now, the Chicago Tribune's John McCormick reports.

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