THE NOTE: Colbert Seeking Votes, Laughs

We know you were wondering: What could this presidential race need that Mike Gravel isn't already giving it?

What about the steely-eyed glare of Stephen Colbert? Sure, his name may sound a little French for the GOP, and he may channel Bill O'Reilly a bit too convincingly for Democrats' taste.

But here comes Mr. Colbert, filing papers to run in both parties' presidential primaries in South Carolina, per The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz. He announced his presidential candidacy on his Comedy Central program last night, ensuring that the line between politics and entertainment will be as fuzzy as a Teddy bear -- if Colbert weren't too manly for such things. (He is not pregnant, despite what he said last week on ABC's "Good Morning America.")

"After nearly 15 minutes of soul-searching, I have heard the call," Colbert said. Colbert said he planned to run in South Carolina, "and South Carolina alone," per the AP's write-up. (In case you forgot, he's hawking a book, and no, he's not giving up his show.)

"Colbert's chances may be less than slim, but in today's infotainment culture, he could draw precious media attention from the second-tier contenders," Kurtz writes in the Post. "And he has a nightly platform to milk the spectacle for jokes, if not votes."

He will not be the next president, and he won't win South Carolina, either, but what will his candidacy do to the Clinton-Obama-Edwards rivalry that's percolating in the Palmetto State?

Nine more questions to ponder on a busy Wednesday:

1. Does Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton wish that Iowa was 11 days from now instead of 11 weeks ? (Yes.)

2. Back when former mayor Rudolph Giuliani was bleeding for the Republican Party in New York, did Mario Cuomo help him heal? (No -- and how many clips like this have yet to drop?)

3. Does being endorsed by George W. Bush's successor make you George W. Bush's successor? (No, but it probably doesn't hurt.)

4. Where is Fred Thompson? (In Washington, D.C. -- we think -- working on his "cuddly and friendly" side.)

5. Is the Republican National Committee pleased that three of the Big Four GOP candidates skipped its fundraising dinner last night? (No, and neither are the donors who don't need another reason to keep their checkbooks closed.)

6. Does close count for Republicans in a special House election in Massachusetts? (Maybe.)

7. Is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi going to let a nonbinding resolution spark an international confrontation? (Unlikely.)

8. Did Sen. Barack Obama's campaign mean to send out a memo that included a link to the (non-working) Website (No.)

9. Is it possible for a campaign to get too much good news too soon? (Maybe.)

Clinton, D-N.Y., is about to test that proposition. Another national poll has her north of 50 percent, and she's now officially erased the fund-raising edge that had been enjoyed by Obama. (It's clever to raise money off of that gap, but a gap is a gap.)

This leaves two trajectories: Clinton stays steady and has this locked up by Christmas. Or something happens to knock her off her pedestal, either an outside event, a campaign misstep, or an anti-Clinton message that starts to resonate from one of her increasingly aggressive rivals. The Republicans are already taking her on (and they love when she finds new ways to spend money) though such criticism may wind up helping her in the primaries.

Whether Clinton has to break a sweat could depend on Obama, who is tweaking his message on the trail. Obama, who hits Leno tonight (nothing left for him to announce for, unfortunately), is talking policy in a way that designed to connect with voters directly, as with the plan to address rural issues he unveiled yesterday. And he is just beginning to start the direct engagement with Clinton so many Democrats have been waiting for.

If Obama's message is going to grow his support, it's going to have to happen soon. "His call for a 'new kind of politics' faces a broad test in his own party," Alec MacGillis writes in The Washington Post. "It may be that his summons to 'turn the page' past the country's red-blue polarization is not what many Democrats want to hear after seven years of mounting anger at Bush and the Republican-dominated government."

"Obama faults a broken system in Washington for failures that many Democratic voters attribute simply to having the other side in power," MacGillis reports. "By contrast, Clinton more directly exploits Democrats' feelings of resentment."

Obama was asked directly last night by a female voter why she should vote for him instead of Clinton, ABC's Sunlen Miller reports. This is a fascinating answer: "It involves a little more risk with me," Obama conceded, calling Clinton a "known commodity." Then this (hardly crisp) explanation: "If every move you're making is based on a static politics, or you're looking backwards and you're saying, 'Okay, this is what the polls tell me, this is how much we have to maneuver, and this is how I don't open myself to too much criticism from the Republicans.' If that's your strategy . . . you are not going to deliver on the big challenges."

And Clinton has to be careful about how she portrays her "inevitability" -- Iowa voters don't like being taken for granted. "Did I miss something? Did we already have the Iowa caucuses? Did we already have the New Hampshire primary?" former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., said yesterday in Iowa, per the Des Moines Register's Tony Leys. "Have we decided who the nominee's going to be? Have you decided?"

Among the Republicans, Giuliani, R-N.Y., decided to take the bait yesterday by addressing charges that he's not a pure-enough adherent of party dogma. "Am I real Republican?" Giuliani asked members of the Republican Jewish Coalition, per ABC's Jan Simmonds. "I gave my blood for the Republican Party in New York."

This fight is no more favorable to Giuliani than it is to former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., who started the dust-up in the first place. Rudy's rivals quickly reminded reporters that yesterday's statement came from the Liberal Party nominee for mayor who backed Mario Cuomo over George Pataki for governor.

Talking Points Memo posts video, from 1996, of Giuliani telling Charlie Rose, "Well, I'm a Republican mayor, but I'm really not. I'm the mayor of New York City. I ran as a Republican, I ran as a Liberal -- which really confuses all kinds of people -- and I ran as an Independent, as part of the Independent Party, which actually is now the party that's supporting Ross Perot. So I ran a fusion candidacy."

Giuliani is being endorsed by a real Republican governor this morning: Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, who assumed the governor's office when George W. Bush became president. "He brings added cachet as a Southerner and a social conservative, although he is not uniformly well-regarded by conservative elites in Washington," The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports. "He may -- or may not be -- a vice presidential prospect. He is in the party's center on immigration, and has clashed, at times, with various wings of the Texas Republican Party."

Why should all Republicans be worried? Here's another reason (not related to Sen. Larry Craig): "More than a third of the top fundraisers who helped elect George W. Bush president remain on the sidelines in 2008, contributing to a gaping financial disparity between the GOP candidates and their Democratic counterparts," Chris Cillizza and Matthew Mosk write in The Washington Post. "A sizable number still have a wait-and-see attitude, despite the fact that the field appears to be set after the late entry of Thompson and the decision by former House speaker Newt Gingrich to stay out."

There is much to parse in this astounding sentence: "Hillary Clinton raised more money on Wall Street last quarter than Barack Obama, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney combined," Bloomberg News' Kristin Jensen and Julianna Goldman report.

That's part of why the RNC would rather not have upset the big donors who shelled out between $1,000 and $15,000 in the hopes of seeing their top presidential candidates speak. All but Romney backed out at the last minute, per ABC's Christine Byun and Bret Hovell.

AP's Liz Sidoti reports that the RNC's media advisory "indicated that Romney, McCain, Thompson and Paul were scheduled to give public remarks at the annual dinner. Giuliani had been listed in an earlier advisory but his name was stripped from the final version when aides notified the RNC of a scheduling conflict. Still, Giuliani was to be in Washington on Wednesday morning to speak to the anti-tax Club for Growth. Thompson, who lives in suburban McLean, Va., also was scheduled to speak to that group."

Massachusetts voters yesterday chose another Democrat to represent them in Congress: Niki Tsongas, the widow of the late senator Paul Tsongas, D-Mass., defeated James Ogonowski, the brother of one of the hijacked 9/11 planes, in the race to replace Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass. "It was the closest race in the district since Democrat Chester Atkins beat Republican John McGovern of Harvard in 1990," the Lowell Sun reports, with Tsongas winning with a 51-45 margin.

A loss is a loss, but Republicans had little real chance at a pick-up in Massachusetts, so they're happy just to have come close. "Ogonowski drew a blueprint for the party's Congressional candidates to follow next year, as he sought to tie Tsongas to the Washington status quo," writes Reid Wilson of Real Clear Politics. Said one "GOP strategist": "Now every Republican challenger can go out there and just point his finger at Washington and say, 'That place sucks. That is not what you and I are about.' "

This from a hopeful National Republican Congressional Committee, in a pep-talk memo this morning (subject line: "The Democratic Wave Breaks"): "Democrats wrongly assumed they could continue to ride the 2006 wave to overwhelming victory in the bluest of blue states. Instead, in what should have been an election blow-out, Republican candidate Jim Ogonowski kept it close to the end, proving a major shift in the national political environment that, until now, was favorable to Democrat candidates nationwide."

Some finality (finally) in the primary schedule: "The Republican Party of Iowa voted Tuesday to hold its first-in-the nation caucuses Jan. 3, 2008 and Democrats in South Carolina voted to move its primary to Saturday, Jan. 26," ABC's David Chalian reports. But Iowa Democrats could still choose their own caucus date.

No decision yet (surprise) out of New Hampshire, the Union Leader's John DiStaso reports: "Secretary of State William Gardner . . . reiterated in an interview that a mid-December primary is not out of the question."

Even without a firm calendar, the shifting primary dates have inspired vastly different paths to the GOP nomination, per ABC News. "As they cope with a scrambled primary calendar, in a year with no heir apparent to the Republican throne, [GOP candidates] are combining campaign messaging with geography in ways that will test the traditional equations of presidential politics." Romney's got his "kindling" strategy, while Rudy looks to Feb. 5. It's New Hampshire or bust for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., while Thompson, R-Tenn., wants a drawn-out contest that lets him capitalize on support in the South.

The New York Daily News' David Saltonstall has more details of the national campaign Giuliani is building, with offices in California, Florida, North Dakota, Illinois, Missouri and New Jersey, in addition to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

Also in the news:

After (finally) receiving her call from the White House Monday night, Speaker Pelosi, R-Calif., "is now unlikely to bring [to the House floor] a resolution which would label the deaths of Armenians in a conflict more than 90 years ago as 'genocide,' " ABC's George Stephanopoulos reports. "Congressional sources say that Pelosi is telling House members that she will not bring the bill to the floor without majority support. At least seven House members have withdrawn as co-sponsors of the bill and several more are expected to follow. Key Pelosi ally Rep. John Murtha, D-Penn., is also lobbying against a vote."

It could just be that Pelosi knows how to count. "Almost a dozen lawmakers had shifted against the measure in a 24-hour period ending Tuesday night, accelerating a sudden exodus that has cast deep doubt over the measure's prospects," Carl Hulse reports in The New York Times. "By Tuesday evening, a group of senior House Democrats had made it known that they were planning to ask the leadership to drop plans for a vote on the measure."

President Bush has a news conference scheduled today at 10:45 am ET, and his opening statement will be heavy on domestic policy, including the fight over S-CHIP, per ABC's Ann Compton.

The new CNN poll puts the national numbers at 51-21 Clinton over Obama. But the real story looks like it's on the Republican side, where Thompson is down to 19 percent from 27 percent a month ago. (At least he's working it hard, right?)

Clinton yesterday unveiled a $1 billion family-leave proposal. Writes Patrick Healy of The New York Times: "The ideas are the latest parts of Mrs. Clinton's strategy to cement women as the cornerstone of her support, but her call for an expanded federal role in labor activities drew fire from business leaders, who called her proposals onerous."

Obama's campaign pushed back on Clinton's claim on women with a memo to "interested parties," but -- whoops! -- left some internal edits in there. Sorry, but we're more interested in what we weren't supposed to see.

This sentence was stricken: "Barack has the endorsement of high profile women in each of the early states." Another sentence the campaign didn't want out there: "we are light years ahead of Clinton campaign in terms of organization -- not photo-ops and TV cameos." Also crossed out: A link to this unfortunate-sounding (smelling?) Web site:

This battle over who is the "real Republican" is could give McCain an opening, Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh writes. "Wait a minute, Mittster Boast-man," Lehigh writes of Romney's claim to represent "the Republican wing of the Republican Party." McCain's "best shot at really getting back in the running will be if the other major candidates ultimately prove unpalatable to party regulars. Now Romney has given him an opening to sow some discontent -- and McCain, wily pol that he is, has demonstrated that though his fund-raising has lagged, his political instincts haven't deserted him."

With the Republican candidates making the rounds of key constituencies with a series of Washington speeches this week, Giuliani "is finding that tough foreign-policy stands are helping him connect with social and religious conservatives," The Wall Street Journal's Jay Solomon writes. Yesterday, Giuliani championed the hard line he's taken against Iran and the Palestinians, complete with the story of how he kicked Yasser Arafat out of Lincoln Center. "We need to isolate the terror-funding theocrats" in Tehran, Giuliani told the Republican Jewish Coalition. "You have to stand up to dictators, to tyrants and to terrorists. . . . Weakness invites attack."

Sorry, Rudy, but Judith isn't interested in those Cabinets meeting after all. "I'm not a political person. And I have no desire to sit in on Cabinet meetings. And I promise you, I'm not going to morph into a politician," Judith Giuliani said on Fox News yesterday. Mrs. Giuliani, a nurse, told ABC's Barbara Walters in March that she would attend her husband's Cabinet meetings "if he asks me to. Yes. And certainly in the areas of health care."

Is this change of heart because Rudy discovered how to put his phone on vibrate?

Giuliani isn't the only one with blood on his mind. Lynne Cheney yesterday said she learned that her husband has a distant relative running for president -- Barack Obama. "Dick and Barack Obama are eighth cousins," Lynne Cheney said, with a common ancestor going back eight generations, per ABC's Sunlen Miller. Said Obama spokesman Bill Burton: "Obviously Dick Cheney is sort of the black sheep of the family."

The New York Times' Marc Santora notices a shift in how climate change is being addressed by the Republican candidates: There is "a near-unanimous recognition among the leaders of the threat posed by global warming." "Within that camp, however, sharp divisions are developing," Santora writes. "Senator John McCain of Arizona is calling for capping gas emissions linked to warming and higher fuel economy standards. Others, including Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mitt Romney, are refraining from advocating such limits and are instead emphasizing a push toward clean coal and other alternative energy sources."

This brings us to Al Gore. He -- again -- tells Norwegian state TV that he's not running for president, but in that cutesy way that ensures he'll be asked the question again, and again: "I don't have plans to be a candidate again, so I don't really see it in that context at all," Gore said, per the AP's write-up.

The Gore endorsement (when and if it comes) is probably the most sought-after in the Democratic Party. But what about the most recent Democratic nominee? Elizabeth Wilner writes in Politico that Sen. John Kerry's, D-Mass., influence could still be felt in 2008. "The lack of an audible clamor for an endorsement by Kerry is more than a bit deceiving, as is the perception that he's still wandering around in that wilderness to which all losing Democratic nominees are cast," Wilner writes. "The two top candidates who aren't married to Elizabeth Edwards are quietly seeking his advice and support. An associate suggests that Kerry may hold off on endorsing until closer to the primaries, but when he does make his choice, that candidate will get access to a 3-million-name e-mail list, possibly the largest in the party."

The Virginia Tech gun bill has the support of the NRA and the Brady Campaign -- but not Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who is holding up the measure, ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports. "He has concerns about the privacy implications of the bill, particularly for veterans returning from war, who he said may be unfairly tagged as having mental problems," Wolf writes.

The kicker:

"John Edwards left South Carolina when he was 1 year old. He had his chance. Saying his parents moved him -- that's the easy answer." -- Colbert, declaring himself the favorite-son candidate of his native state.

"I've got a better chance of living to 90 than you do. That's the way the actuaries work -- because I'm from French Canadian stock, I'll live in my 90s unless I get sick. I only intend to serve four years anyway. . . . It's unfortunate from a political point of view that we're unlike many other cultures in not revering experience and wisdom." -- 77-year-old former senator Mike Gravel, D-Alaska, in a Washington Post Web chat.

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