THE NOTE: Ad Wars

Clinton may have her groove back on the trail, but it is perhaps a measure of her declining status in the campaign that she's no longer the central figure of every clash among Democrats. It's Obama and former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., tangling -- and Clinton's not invited to this fight.

"Their dispute over health care policy details and curbing the influence of moneyed interests is far from the sharp and sustained criticisms the two have leveled at Hillary Clinton," Thomas Beaumont writes in the Des Moines Register. "But the two candidates have begun drawing lines between them, a sign of what is at stake for them in the Jan. 3 caucuses."

The wider dispute in Iowa is no longer about policy proposals or even candidates' records, but about attitude and tone, Salon.com's Walter Shapiro writes. "Three leading candidates, three stump speeches and three divergent approaches to wielding power -- that is the choice facing Iowa Democrats. Edwards and Clinton are both playing traditional roles in the never-ending political drama of the outsider versus the insider. Obama is the wild card, as the 21st-century candidate trying to rewrite the equations that govern political math."

The new USA Today/Gallup Poll has Democrats looking for the most electable candidate -- and this poll offers good news for Obama. He trails Clinton by 18 points in the national horserace, but Obama is stronger in the head-to-head matchups, "besting Giuliani by 6 points, Huckabee by 11 and Romney by 18," USA Today's Susan Page writes. Clinton strategist Mark Penn says such comparisons are "not realistic … because people don't have much information about [Obama]." (Hmmm . . . what were we saying about subtlety?)

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. sees Clinton's difficulties driven by "deeper flaws in her strategy." "If Obama, with his soaring and idealistic rhetoric, has been more theme than pudding, Clinton's campaign has been more pudding than theme," he writes.

And Camp Clinton says they're getting attacked by Obama -- though this is pretty tame stuff. "It's quite a stretch to say the Obama mailer attacks anyone. It does not," ABC's Jake Tapper writes. "It decries 'misleading attacks (that) may be textbook Washington, but they're exactly what stops us from ever solving the problem.' And that's a veiled reference to Clinton. But that's about it."

Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen (profiled in Tuesday's Washington Post) sees the battles among the frontrunners obscuring two candidates who could surge late: Edwards and former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. "Both Edwards and Thompson are pouring time and resources into Iowa these days," Yepsen writes. "Edwards and his people never quit, no matter how bleak things got in recent months. . . . After a sluggish start, Thompson has sensed an opening in Iowa, and he's moving decisively to exploit it."

"Voters may peel off of Hillary Clinton and then decide, maybe Barack's not ready for the presidency," former Bush strategist Matthew Dowd said on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Tuesday. "[Edwards] could benefit from that, but keep in mind, other people like Bill Richardson or Joe Biden, could benefit if people decide Barack isn't up to it."

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