THE NOTE: Great Expectations

DES MOINES, Iowa --

A lucky seven vital, hugely important questions to mull on a brilliant Sunday in Iowa, as you mourn for the 1972 Dolphins:

1. Do Mike Huckabee's Iowa minions care that Holiday Inn Expresses don't carry maps of Pakistan in their lobbies? (Probably not, but you never know.)

2. Does Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton feel left out with all these guys fighting each other now? (Not likely -- but Bill Clinton might.)

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3. Does a man who has made as much money as Mayor Michael Bloomberg understand timing? (Most certainly yes.)

4. Who is less a part of the GOP conversation five days before Iowa -- former mayor Rudolph Giuliani or the man Rudy thinks did a good job playing him on TV? (The tie goes to the former front-runner -- even Fred Thompson doesn't feel the need to declare himself relevant.)

5. Will two battles in two states against two different candidates ruffle Mitt Romney's hair? (Getting warmer.)

6. Does the New England Patriots' perfection carry metaphorical political meaning? (No, but here's a stab: Their squeaker over Eli's feisty Giants means no one is immune from a scare, and even a flawless regular season means zilch when the playoffs start.)

7. Will third place matter for the Republicans? (Perhaps.) For the Democrats? (Not so much, but -- oddly -- fourth place could matter more.)

Clinton has something to say on that matter, and here's her humble assessment/political handicapping/outrageous spin: Asked whether her campaign can survive a third-place Iowa finish, she told ABC's George Stephanopoulos yes: "I think, because it's so close -- you know, when I started here, I was in single digits. I mean, nobody expected me to be doing as well as I'm doing in Iowa," said Clinton, D-N.Y., in an interview airing Sunday morning on "This Week." (Really -- nobody?)

"I was running against one opponent who has been campaigning here for four years, another opponent from a neighboring state. So, I believe that this campaign will be bunched up," she continued. "I think that the history out of Iowa is that a lot of people live to fight another day."

Stephanopoulos: "So, you may not win."

Clinton: "I'm not expecting anything."

That's well and good, but we are. And while she also says in the interview that her husband won't be invited to National Security Council meetings, President Clinton was expecting the unexpected on her behalf Saturday in New Hampshire.

If this is a closing argument, it's appropriately frosty for Iowa and New Hampshire. "You have to have a leader who is strong and commanding and convincing enough . . . to deal with the unexpected," he said, in what The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut and Alec MacGillis see as a "stark" delivery of his wife's "central campaign message." "There is a better than 50 percent chance that sometime in the first year or 18 months of the next presidency, something will happen that is not being discussed in this campaign. President Bush never talked about Osama bin Laden and didn't foresee Hurricane Katrina."

The big picture for the Democrats: "In a time of discontent -- amid war, high gas prices and a miserable housing market -- the buzzword of the political season has been change. But what that amounts to, and who can best deliver it, is the subject of fierce dispute, particularly on the Democratic side," Mark Z. Barabak and Michael Finnegan write in the Los Angeles Times.

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