THE NOTE: 'Say Anything'

We are pleased to deliver a few pieces of good news to the Republican presidential candidates, as they get ready to debate Thursday night in Boca Raton, Fla.:

1. The debate is free. (Florida loves a good bargain -- your grandparents would be proud --- and who couldn't use some help these days?)

2. Only one of you has to be really close to Mitt Romney. (That would be John McCain -- and don't worry, Mitt's wallet looks less scary up close.)


3. Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee -- your aides may very well be able to draw paychecks again soon (*though not, in all likelihood, from the campaign). McCain aides may also get paid full salaries again in the near future -- but for different reasons (and yes, he's embracing Democrats' worst nightmare label).

4. There will be exactly zero Clintons on stage, though they will be as available as ever as verbal targets. (But former President Bill Clinton's new favorite target -- the news media -- will be out in full force.)

What exactly is it that has Bill Clinton so upset?

Is he angry that his strategy -- directing scrutiny at Sen. Barack Obama's record -- is working?

Perturbed that his wife's campaign can't be the underdog Feb. 5, having too systematically kept Obama on the defensive?

Just slightly worried that national polls show Obama closing the gap?

Of the various presidential purple episodes that have marked this campaign, surely this is the strangest: President Clinton sharply reprimanded CNN's Jessica Yellin (just asking for a response to an allegation): "You wanna make this about words and name calling. I hate it," he said, per ABC's Sarah Amos. "They're feeding you this because they know this is what you want. This is what you live for. . . . One more story. Shame on you. Shame on you!" ("They" are having a rough day.)

First the facts: The president said: "Not one single solitary citizen asked about any of this, and they never do." Actually -- that depends on the meaning of "not one single solitary." ABC's Kate Snow, Sunlen Miller, and Sarah Amos report: "Clinton was asked late today in rural Kingstree, S.C., about Sen. Barack Obama and how race is factoring into this campaign."

Remind us of why it is part of the discussion? Why Ted Kennedy/Rahm Emanuel/Jim Clyburn/Tom Daschle/Patrick Leahy are worried about the campaign's turn to the gutter?

"Bill Clinton says race shouldn't be an issue in the Democratic presidential campaign. Well, then perhaps he should stop talking about it," AP's Ron Fournier writes. "It would likely work to Hillary Clinton's advantage to have the electorate polarized by race, given that most Feb. 5 voters will be white and Hispanic; she won the Hispanic vote overwhelmingly in last week's Nevada caucus. . . . 'Shame on you!' he told a reporter. Shame on anybody who plays the race card."

Maybe these outbursts are coincidences (though three feels like a pattern). Maybe (OK, probably) the media is making too much of all of this (though Bill Clinton of all people should know that conflict = story).

Whatever the motivations, Bill Clinton is ensuring that the Obama campaign has its hands full this week, even as Obama, D-Ill., heads toward a likely victory in South Carolina. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., doesn't even have to be in the state (and she isn't though she returns -- briefly -- on Thursday, for a speech on the economy) to stay in the conversation, as she builds toward Feb. 5.

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