"There is no studio audience nor video cameras," NPR's Scott Horsley writes in previewing the forum. "Candidates will be able to engage one another in three areas of discussion, and field questions sent in by NPR listeners."
And pulling down the shroud of inevitability opens Clinton up to other arguments against her candidacy.
The New York Times' Carl Hulse travels to another Manhattan (in Kansas) to tell the red-state-fear-of-Clinton story through the eyes of freshman Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan. "Mrs. Clinton is a long way from winning the Democratic presidential nomination, and over the last few weeks has struggled to hang on to the air of inevitability that she has been cultivating all year," Hulse writes. "But the possibility that she will be the nominee is already generating concern among some Democrats in Republican-leaning states and Congressional districts, who fear that sharing the ticket with her could subject them to attack as too liberal and out of step with the values of their constituents."
This is the argument that Clinton's rivals have been making -- sometimes subtly, sometimes less so -- since those heady days when she led the national polls by 30 points.
Obama hit that theme yesterday in a Boston Globe editorial board meeting, suggesting that Clinton "would be too polarizing to capture more than a slim victory," per the Globe's Scott Helman. "Even if we win, we will have just eked out a victory, and we can't govern," Obama said. "I mean, if we have a 50-plus-one election, we cannot get a serious healthcare bill done. We can't have a serious agenda on climate change. And that is what I'm trying to break through, and I think I have an opportunity to break through."
Clinton's main problem may be that the 1990s are coming back in full force -- and not on the terms the candidate wants them to.
"Those [Clinton-era] battles are at the heart of today's political dialogue, as Obama and former North Carolina senator John Edwards argue that electing Hillary Clinton as president would revive the resentments of the '90s," The Boston Globe's Peter Canellos writes. "But it's far from clear what people think of those battles in hindsight."
The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder finds the roots of Clinton's annoyance with Obama's decision to brush aside her advice to him: to keep his head down and serve out his Senate term.
"Some of her top advisers exuded a sense of entitlement: Clinton deserved to be president; it was her turn," Ambinder writes. And this key insight: "They did not perceive any threat until it was almost too late."
"Obama's starkly different choice had several immediate effects. It forced Democrats to think anew about Clintonism, not in comparison to a Republican alternative, as would have been the case, but to a Democratic one whose chief attributes -- freshness, vigor, reform -- put Clintonism in a harsh light," Ambinder continues. "More broadly, it threatened to upend the way politicians have traditionally pursued the presidency: through years of careful preparation and positioning. But first he would have to get past the woman whose advice he solicited, then spurned."
And notice how former senator John Edwards, D-N.C. -- very much still a factor in Iowa -- isn't part of this grudge match at all.
We know Joe Trippi loves a good fight -- but could he have devised of a better scenario than a Clinton-Obama rumble in the last four weeks before Iowa?