THE NOTE: Race in the Race

Five (plus one) questions to ponder in this vitally important, jam-packed week that will shape the 2008 race more than any other six-day span to date:

1. How far can Camp Clinton bend the politics of race without seeing the race snap back?

2. Will the new Mitt Romney remind Michigan voters of old George Romney? (Or will old John McCain get credit for being, well, old John McCain?)

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3. Who will be less Christian in his attacks -- Mike Huckabee or Fred Thompson? (And who benefits most if they push each other toward the gates of campaign hell with Metamucil prescriptions and "potty humor"?)

4. Who is happier that John Edwards is taking Barack Obama's side in taking on Hillary Clinton -- Obama or Clinton? (And does Edwards siphon more votes from Obama or Clinton -- or does it depend on the state of the week?)

5. Who benefits from the fact that Democratic race is again plowing through old history on the Iraq war? (Hint: It helps to know who's bringing it up.)

Bonus: What does it mean that two new national polls have Clinton and McCain as frontrunners? (And how do those trend lines look now that African-American voters now seem convinced that Obama can win?)

With the first two contests already distant memories (with their very different outcomes), the Democratic race from here out is all about who can repeat the magic. And it's not at all clear that either Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., or Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is precisely sure why the last tricks worked.

That's one reason that the race got so ugly over the weekend: Supporters of both candidates now realize that their candidate can win this thing -- and, even more easily, could lose it.

The New York Times' Adam Nagourney sees the fierce weekend battle exposing sentiments that have been there all along, in a must-read snapshot of the campaign: "race and to a lesser extent gender have burst into the forefront of the Democratic presidential contest, thrusting Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton into the middle of a sharp-edged social and political debate that transcends their candidacies."

"Democrats now increasingly view both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton as credible and electable candidates, given their victories," Nagourney writes. "In addition, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama are now moving into a series of contests, particularly in South Carolina but also in California, where black voters could play a pivotal role."

Cast against that backdrop is the raging battle of "who said what and what they meant by it" regarding Clinton's MLK-LBJ remarks last week, ABC's Kate Snow and Sunlen Miller report. Said Clinton, in a "Meet the Press" interview she was clearly prepped (and well-armed) for: "Clearly we know from media reports that the Obama campaign is deliberately distorting this."

Countered Obama: "She, I think, offended some folks who felt that [she] somehow diminished King's role in bringing about the Civil Rights Act. She is free to explain that. But the notion that somehow this is our doing is ludicrous."

This is hardball -- a high hard one: Clinton -- yes, Clinton, not Obama -- is reopening the debate over Iraq. With the double-barreled attack that only a former president and a former first lady can offer, it's about leadership, consistency, campaign narrative (yes, even some fairy tales) -- and Bill Clinton as media critic.

"Look, if you are running for president based primarily on a speech you gave in 2002 and speeches you have given since, most notably at the Democratic convention, then I think it is fair to say we need to know more beyond the words," Clinton said on "Meet."

"He does not have a record of producing change."

And this is a spitball tossed at a batter without a helmet: Another Clinton surrogate, another oh-so-delicate mention of Obama's past. Introducing Clinton in South Carolina on Sunday, BET founder Bob Johnson had this to say: "Hillary and Bill Clinton . . . have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood that I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in his book."

We know what you were thinking -- but no, no, no, says Johnson, he just referring to Obama's time as a "community organizer." (Depends on the community, and what's being organized, we suppose.)

Obama strategist David Axelrod isn't buying that explanation (and really -- who is?): "I don't see why this is so much different from what Billy Shaheen did in New Hampshire," he tells Anne Kornblut and Perry Bacon Jr. of The Washington Post. (That's right, kids: D-R-U-G-S.)

The Las Vegas Sun's J. Patrick Coolican sees a risk of a backlash against Clinton in Nevada, particularly with a lawsuit backed by some of her supporters potentially keeping many black and Latino voters from caucusing on Saturday.

"For black voters especially, the issue of disenfranchisement is not to be trifled with, considering America's Jim Crow past and the history of willful suppression of the black vote," Coolican writes.

"In recent weeks, Clinton allies have made a series of awkward and sometimes crass remarks that play to stereotypes about black men."

Said Obama, on the lawsuit: "It is disenfranchising dishwashers and bartenders who work hard and should be able to participate in their democracy." Per ABC's Sunlen Miller, he had this to say on the stump: "You notice that the rules were okay as long as you did what they wanted you to do."

And the Clintons aren't crazy about the process in Nevada: "A caucus is different. It's not like an election," former President Bill Clinton said on Sunday, per Anjeanette Damon of the Reno Gazette-Journal. "So we're doing the best we can."

The Clinton campaign, at least, is digging in -- for well beyond Feb. 5. "Her campaign has started to create an organizational hierarchy for its donors to accelerate fund-raising to pay for increasingly expensive advertising, travel and voter-outreach efforts," Adam Nagourney and Patrick Healy report for The New York Times.

"Several Clinton advisers and donors now believe that the Democratic presidential fight between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama may not end on the mega-primary day of Feb. 5, as Mrs. Clinton and others had initially expected.

Advisers and donors said Saturday that they wanted to have enough resources -- building on the $20 million or so that they currently have on hand -- to advertise heavily in the expensive media markets of California, New Jersey and New York, which vote on Feb. 5, and still have money to compete strongly in the primaries later that month."

Wonder why? Plenty of new national numbers to intrigue and excite on this Monday, underscoring again how nothing has settled in the wake of Iowa and New Hampshire. The latest ABC News/Washington Post national poll has Clinton and Obama "all but tied, 42-37 percent among likely voters, a dramatic tightening" of a national horserace Clinton has led from the start, ABC polling director Gary Langer writes.

"Among Democratic likely voters, Obama's gained 14 points and Clinton's lost 11 since the last ABC/Post poll, completed Dec. 9. John Edwards is flat, at 11 percent support," Langer writes. And black voters appear convinced that he can win: "African-Americans [have] switched from favoring Clinton by 52-39 percent a month ago to an even larger preference for Obama, 60-32 percent, today."

"This race is now basically a tie," ABC's George Stephanopoulos said Monday on "Good Morning America."

The Republican numbers in the ABC/Post poll: McCain 28, Huckabee 20, Romney 29, Giuliani 15, Thompson 8.

The New York Times/CBS poll shows a wider Clinton lead -- 42-27 over Obama. "But Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama are now viewed by Democrats as almost equally qualified on a variety of measures, including the ability to serve as commander in chief," Robin Toner and Marjorie Connelly write in the Times.

(Tossing a CNN poll into the mix, Clinton strategist Mark Penn works on the press-is-unfair narrative: "So three out of three pollsters agree: Hillary leads Obama. And two out of three agree that Hillary's lead is between 13 and 15 points -- about the same as December," Penn writes at HillaryHub.com. "The interesting thing will be to watch the coverage -- with two of three respected national polls showing no change -- we'll see how this is all reported.")

So we shall. And the GOP side of the NYT/CBS poll vaults McCain ahead 26 points in the space a month, grabbing him a 33-18 lead over Huckabee, with Rudy Giuliani at 10 percent and Romney and Thompson tied at 10. And this (which goes double for Michigan): "Worries about the economy now dominate the voters' agenda, even more so than the war in Iraq . . . Issues that have loomed large in the Republican debate -- notably immigration, taxes and moral values -- pale by comparison."

The Republican race will be shaped by two key contests this week. Between Michigan on Tuesday and South Carolina on Saturday, the GOP race is back where it started a year ago: The onus is on someone to stop McCain.

Not that he has any shortage of enemies. McCain "has annoyed, aggravated and nearly destroyed some of the most powerful members of Washington's Republican establishment, creating a list of antagonists including anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist and the vehement Gun Owners of America," Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post.

"Now, with his victory in the New Hampshire primary putting the Arizonan's quest for the GOP presidential nomination back on track, his old adversaries are mobilizing to keep him out of the White House."

Not that McCain cares one whit: "They're angry at him because he has put the national interest in front of their special interests," John Weaver, a longtime McCain adviser, tells Weisman.

Next up in the GOP race is Michigan, with Tuesday's primaries pitting (primarily) Romney, R-Mass., against McCain, R-Ariz. The latest polls show Romney with a slight edge, though with enough undecided voters -- and enough independents to shuffle everything -- still in play.

"The rise of the economy as an issue and Romney's new strength after two losses underscored how volatile the campaign has become as the party grapples to find a new leader and direction for the post-Bush era," McClatchy's Steven Thomma writes.

"No winner has yet to gain a bounce into the next contest, and in Michigan, 11 percent of likely primary voters were still undecided, a bloc big enough to swing the vote in any direction. Even among those who say they support a candidate, 39 percent said they still could change their minds."

The last push in Michigan is all about wheels: "Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee will make more than a dozen appearances today, from the Detroit auto show to tiny Spring Lake, on the Lake Michigan shore," the Detroit News' Gordon Trowbridge writes.

"Their final themes already have been in full evidence: McCain running on his character and experience, Romney showcasing his business acumen and connection to Michigan, and Huckabee emphasizing his faith and appeal to Everyman."

Romney is building his Michigan campaign on hopes for the battered auto industry, slamming McCain for supporting higher fuel-economy standards, among assorted other misdeeds. "I've heard people say that the auto jobs are gone and they're never coming back," he said in Southfield, Mich., on Sunday, referring to comments McCain has made in recent days, per Kathleen Gray of the Detroit Free Press. "Well, baloney, I'm going to fight for every single good job."

But Politico's Jonathan Martin has the YouTube pushback -- Romney himself, in long-ago September 2005: "Almost everything in America has gotten more efficient in the last decade, except the fuel economy of the vehicles we drive."

There's no Democratic race to speak of in Michigan -- among the major candidates, only Clinton didn't get herself removed from the ballot there -- so independents could be a huge GOP force, an "automatic advantage" for McCain, the AP's Liz Sidoti writes.

"Not only did the Republican win the state eight years ago, but he also draws his support from across the political spectrum and Michigan voters of all stripes can participate in the GOP primary," Sidoti writes. McCain campaigns with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., in Michigan on Monday.

That factor has Romney worried. After finishing second in the contests that have meant the most (sorry, Wyoming) Romney is playing down expectations (again). "There's no question in my mind that in a normal primary setting, I'm going to win Michigan. I have to have a little doubt because there's no Democratic primary going on," Romney tells ABC's Cynthia McFadden, in a (rather testy) interview to be broadcast on "Nightline" Monday.

"We're not quite sure what the Democrats will do. Will they come in to the Republican primary and vote for someone that they would never vote for in the general election, but just to mess up the Republican primary?"

And don't forget his (self-funded) pledge to stay in at least until Feb. 5: "If a Romney drowns in the river, look upstream for the body. I'm going to keep battling." And he does drop a hint that there may be limits on his generosity to his own campaign: "There's nothing magic about it, but Ann and I have talked about how much we would invest in the campaign."

Huckabee could also be a factor in Michigan, with his economic populism and strong religious message, Bloomberg's Ed Chen writes. "His low-budget campaign is also is running a TV ad that obliquely takes a shot at Romney's background as co-founder of Bain Capital LLC, a Boston buyout firm, suggesting he reminds Americans of 'the guy who laid them off,' " Chen writes.

"The ordained Baptist minister's appeal goes beyond his economic message. Lower and Western Michigan have blocs of evangelical voters who may turn out for him in large numbers. These voters account for up to 30 percent of the state's Republican electorate."

The Boston Globe's Sasha Issenberg looks at the power (and limitations) of the Romney name in Michigan: "George Romney may be the closest thing Michigan politics has to the Rambler he popularized as chairman of American Motors: Everyone recalls him fondly, but no one seems able to remember why."

This key detail: "Four times since [George Romney's failed 1968 presidential campaign], those with the Romney name -- George's wife, Lenore, son Scott, and (twice) former daughter-in-law Ronna -- have run statewide and failed, questioning how durable the family brand remains in Michigan and whether the remaining goodwill is enough to give Mitt Romney's struggling effort a boost in the home state he left as a teenager."

Case in point: George Romney's lieutenant governor, William G. Milliken, is backing McCain. "Mitt Romney has been a disappointment to me because he has changed his socially responsible positions he took as governor of Massachusetts," Milliken said, per Mark Hornbeck of the Detroit News. "I don't have the respect for him that I had for his father."

With South Carolina coming only four days after Michigan, the contest between Huckabee, R-Ark., and Thompson, R-Tenn., "continues to get uglier and uglier, even as both men tread more lightly on the candidate who leads the most recent poll in that state, Sen. John McCain," ABC's Jake Tapper reports.

Huckabee on CNN: "Fred Thompson talks about putting America first, and yet he's the one who is a registered foreign agent, lobbied for foreign countries, was in a law firm that did lobbying work for Libya." Thompson: "Now you're seeing the real Mike Huckabee come out."

McCain picked up the endorsement of The State newspaper in South Carolina over the weekend. "Clearly, the best Republican candidate to lead our nation at this time is U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona," the editorial reads.

"He has the necessary experience, not just in time served, but in the quality of understanding he exhibits across the board."

Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., is still waiting out a very long two weeks until Florida votes. "First of all, I want to remind everyone that this is a real campaign," he told reporters on Sunday, per ABC's Jan Simmonds. (And the latest Quinnipiac poll shows that it may not be one for long.)

And at least he's got Scripture (!) to keep himself strong. Per ABC's Jake Tapper, "saying that 'faith can transform lives,' Giuliani told parishioners that running for president of the United States 'is a marathon, not a sprint. And in many ways it's a test of strength and a test of faith. The Bible reminds us, Joshua 10:25, "Fear not, be strong, and of good courage." That is the way to face the future.' "

Back among the Democrats, Edwards is staking what's left of his chances on his native state. "You're going to stand up, and you're going to speak out, and it's going to start with this primary in South Carolina," Edwards said. (Pardon us, but wasn't it supposed to start with the Iowa caucuses?)

Also in the news:

Clinton steals the Newsweek cover back from Obama, and talks about that new "voice" she found in New Hampshire: "I get so focused on what I want to do as president that I get a little wonky, I get a little out there, with details, with five-point plans for this and 10-point plans for that, and I think that what I'm proposing really is both achievable and important, but it's not what gets me up, so why should it get voters excited?" Clinton tells Jon Meacham, semi-succinctly.

With primaries rolling in fast, The Los Angeles Times' Peter Nicholas and Peter Wallsten write up a parallel campaign -- for superdelegates. "There are essentially two campaigns unfolding simultaneously: one for rank-and-file voters; the other for the 796 super delegates who account for nearly 40% of the total needed to win," Nicholas and Wallsten write.

Among the very many unexpected things out of the first two contests, The Boston Globe's Scott Helman looks at income differentials. "Obama's success with down-scale Iowans stands in stark contrast to his fate in New Hampshire, where Clinton won the primary partly by beating Obama handily among lower-income, less-educated voters concerned about their economic situation," he writes.

Helman continues, "If such divergent preferences among Iowa and New Hampshire voters help explain why the two states sent two different candidates to victory, they also illustrate an important inflection point for the Democratic primary race as Clinton, Obama, and former North Carolina senator John Edwards clamor for votes in the weeks ahead."

The story most likely to be e-mailed around by Clinton's rivals on Monday: "In Defending War Vote, Clintons Contradict Record," reads the headline on the piece by The New York Times' Eric Lipton.

Despite the way the Clintons are talking about it, Sen. Clinton supported the White House proposal for an Iraq resolution -- not the more restrictive one written by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., Lipton writes.

Bloomberg's Al Hunt looks at the double-edged sword that is Bill Clinton.

"He went beyond the bounds, especially for an ex-president, publicly mischaracterizing Obama's rhetorical record on the Iraq war. In private calls to elicit endorsements, including one to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, he trashed the Illinois senator; it was counterproductive," Hunt writes.

"This is openly discussed among some Clinton supporters who are delighted that former White House aide Doug Sosnik has joined the campaign. One Sosnik task, they hope, will be to keep the Big Dog -- the name the blogs use for Bill -- on a tighter leash; it won't be easy."

The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick had a fascinating Sunday take on Huckabee: "Instead of uniting conservative Christians, his candidacy is threatening to drive a wedge into the movement, potentially dividing its best-known national leaders from part of their base and upending assumptions that have held the right wing together for the last 30 years," Kirkpatrick writes.

The Los Angeles Times looks at the Democratic battle in Nevada as a war among labor interests. "The tight race between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama has opened surprisingly deep and bitter divisions in the ranks of organized labor, as rival union leaders fly planeloads of last-minute volunteers into key states, accuse each other of trying to disenfranchise members, and even launch open attacks on rival Democratic candidates," Tom Hamburger and Maura Reynolds write.

The Chicago Tribune focuses on South Carolina's "Corridor of Shame." "In a state where half of Democratic voters are black and many are highly interested in improving South Carolina's failing schools, the issues of race, education and poverty prove hot topics leading up to the Jan. 26 Democratic primary," the Tribune's Jason George writes.

The kicker:

"Frankly Florida is really important to us, so we are gonna put if not everything into Florida, almost everything." -- Rudy Giuliani, facing campaign cash woes, on Friday.

"We need a candidate who can be a 50-state candidate. I am that candidate." -- Rudy Giuliani, at a campaign stop in Florida on Saturday.

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