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First thoughts

From Chuck Todd and Mark Murray
*** Time to Exhale: In the couple of days after the Democratic presidential debate and before the GOP one, politics slows down a bit. And we're not complaining. The things to watch for later this week: 1) Bush's veto of the Iraq supplemental; 2) Thursday's Republican debate, moderated by MSNBC's Chris Matthews; and 3) Fred Thompson's speech on Friday to Orange County Republicans. Also, Tenet's book debut appears to be putting the White House on the defensive; its morning clip email included responses to Tenet's charges.

*** Identity Crisis: In advance of Thursday's debate, we can't help but notice that the Republican Party seems to be in the midst of an identity crisis. Just what is a conservative nowadays? Whose politics defines the GOP -- Reagan's, Goldwater's, Schwarzenegger's, or Cheney's? Here's what David Brooks wrote yesterday: "Instead of offering something new, each of [party's presidential candidates] has been going around pretending to be the second coming of George Allen — a bland, orthodox candidate who will not challenge any of the party's customs or prejudices… The big question is, Why are the Republicans so immobile?"

*** Drip, Drip? The Newsweek report that Obama's scheduler used his Senate fax machine to send him his political call list while in South Carolina -- a no-no -- is the latest dent in his good-government armor. Have the recent investigative/oppo stories on him (Rezko, whether lobbyists have donated to his campaign, and now this) begun to build the narrative that he's a politician like everyone else? Or are they all peccadilloes that voters won't care about? One thing is for certain: Since they've both become candidates, Obama is receiving much more scrutiny than Clinton is. Will that change? By the way, Newsweek does have a good preview of the policy initiatives Obama is on the verge of unveiling.

*** What Happens in Vegas…: Nevada is a popular destination today. Edwards holds a town hall meeting in Las Vegas, while Richardson addresses address AFL-CIO leaders in Carson City. Also, Elizabeth Edwards opens her husband's New Hampshire headquarters on Monday and spends the day campaigning in the state on his behalf. And Obama is in Dallas for a private event.