THE NOTE: Family Feud

Five questions worth pondering as we brace ourselves for Fred Thompson's 2012 campaign:

1. What better things could Mitt Romney be doing with his fortune, if he wasn't currently in the business of buying gold medals? (A new vacation home, or three? A bigger lawn? Maybe a joke book with a copyright date later than 1977?)

2. Did Fred Thompson actually succeed in getting out of the race with less noise than he made back when he was in it? (He made it official with 45 words, delivered by e-mail -- and only one of those words was "Jeri.")

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3. Can Camp Clinton make Tony Rezko into a household name in time for the South Carolina primary? (Probably not -- but there's always Feb. 5.)

4. If John Edwards stays in the race all way to the convention, will anyone want to hear him speak? (Here's guessing he's one grown-up who will be particularly popular if this thing really comes down to delegates.)

5. Who would you take in a dance off -- Barack Obama or Bill Clinton? (And would grading on a curve really make a difference, Mr. President?)

Obama, D-Ill., has set a time and a place for the dancing competition: "We'll certainly invite him to the inauguration party -- we can see there," he told ABC's Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America" on Wednesday.

They may or may not be dancing in the run-up to Saturday's South Carolina primary, but Obama facing down the former president in South Carolina makes for intriguing Kabuki this week.

Whether or not you consider Clinton the first black president, Obama really is the first serious candidate who is actually, physically black. Their showdown comes in the first state where a significant number of black voters will vote in a Democratic primary.

And the race will be about race without race ever being explicitly mentioned (unless someone royally and totally screws up.)

There is no longer any hesitancy inside Camp Clinton about deploying Bill Clinton as surrogate-in-chief, as he fills in for his wife in South Carolina. Even when he's bad, he's good. When he's off-message, he's on-message. When he speaks, cameras whirl and people listen.

He is mystical whirlwind of a political force -- you can't control him, but neither would you want to.

"He often sounds as if he's campaigning for a third term," Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post.

"Here in Aiken, he tried mightily to talk about Hillary, but he kept lapsing into the first person: 'My position on that is simple. . . . When I was in law school. . . . When I was president. . . . When I was governor of Arkansas. . . . When I started this schools program. . . . I made the governor of South Carolina secretary of education. . . . I got a Mercury mini-SUV."

"This campaign is not really about the candidates," he told his supporters in Aiken. "It's about you." But Milbank calls that "false modesty. Everybody knows the election is really about him."

Obama is pushing back with a "truth squad" -- lest you think such things could wait until a general election. Members will be following Bill Clinton around, correcting the record. "I know he loves his wife, but we hope he loves his country, too," Dick Harpootlian, former chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party and an Obama supporter, tells The State's Wayne Washington.

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