THE NOTE: Weary Close to Long Iowa Run

DES MOINES, Iowa --

Since all the expectations and prognostications will become moot soon enough, here's a few reminders of the current state of play:

1. The top three Democrats all want to be the frontrunner going into Thursday's caucuses (and the fact that they all are getting their wish -- sort of -- means they all need to finish first to avoid disappointment).

2. Two Republicans don't want to be the frontrunner (but they both are -- which means one of them will inevitability limp out of Iowa -- and a third-place finisher could overshadow them both).

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3. There's always room for a last-minute game-changer (and former governor Mike Huckabee's bizarre press conference may or may not have been one -- though who's going to argue with Chuck Norris if he says it wasn't, even if Huckabee is leaving Iowa to do Leno Wednesday night?).

4. The forecast for Thursday is "dry and seasonable" (and the campaigns and pundits now have 24 hours to figure out who that's good for and who's praying for a white-out blizzard to shock the weathermen).

5. The real battle for second place has barely begun -- and won't really begin until the caucuses themselves begin Thursday evening, neighbor-to-neighbor (though Sen. Barack Obama got as big a pre-caucus boost on that front as anyone's going to get).

This is closing time, the last, weary dash, and it looks like it. Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is midway through a 36-hour bus tour that has drained at least the laptops on reporters' batteries and prompted Joe Trippi to start rapping. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is forgetting what city he's in.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is labeling herself a "diva."

All three Democratic frontrunners have blocked out TV time during Wednesday evening's news broadcasts. Clinton uses her two minutes to face the camera and appear presidential -- a calm end to a wild ride.

"After all the town meetings, the pie and coffee, it comes down to this: Who is ready to be president and ready to start solving the big challenges we face on day one?" Clinton says in her closing ad, per ABC's Kate Snow. "I know you have waited a long time for a president who could hear you and see you. I would like to be that president."

The ad backs up the seven-word closing argument: "She's ready to lead on day one," Clinton Iowa director Teresa Vilmain tells The Boston Globe's Marcella Bombardieri. Said Clinton, in Ames: "I'm not asking that you take me on a leap of faith, I'm asking you to look at the evidence and the record, because we don't have any margin for error or any time to waste."

Edwards is sharpening his Iraq position in the closing hours, saying that he would "withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police as part of a broader plan to remove virtually all American forces within 10 months," per The New York Times' Michael R. Gordon.

"Mr. Edwards staked out a position that would lead to a more rapid and complete troop withdrawal than his principal rivals, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, who have indicated they are open to keeping American trainers and counterterrorism units in Iraq."

Edwards' closing ad features a laid-off worker, and he's got an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday taking on corporate abuses. "The basic bargain of America -- that everyone should have a chance to work hard and build a better future -- is falling apart," Edwards writes.

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