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First thoughts

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Breaking News: At deadline, we got wind that White House adviser Dan Bartlett has decided to leave the White House to pursue opportunities in the private sector. So the exodus continues. Who's next? Who will stay until the end? Mr. Rove, what say you?

*** 38 Days Later: To us at least, it seems like the first Democratic presidential debate was just yesterday. But it actually took place on April 26, and much has happened in the Dem race since then. Feingold-Reid. The Iraq supplemental. The Senate immigration deal. Obama's health-care plan. The Clinton camp's Iowa memo. The new biographies on Clinton. And the revelation that Edwards earned nearly $500,000 in 2006 from that hedge fund. Most -- if not all -- of that will likely come up at the second Democratic debate that occurs on Sunday in New Hampshire.

*** NIE, Yeah You Know Me: Yet if we had to guess, the new development that might create the most fodder at the debate is a five-year-old National Intelligence Estimate. In their new book (and magazine article) on Hillary Clinton, investigative reporters Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. allege that she never read the NIE before casting her war vote, which the campaign doesn't deny. Dodd didn't read it, and neither did Edwards (despite what he might have said on Wednesday). Interestingly, the Biden camp tells First Read that the Delaware senator DID read it -- or at least a draft version of it, which the campaign says had no substantial differences from the final version.

*** The Expectations Game: The second GOP debate saw the candidates more comfortable going after each other, especially the second-tier guys. Those in the Democrats' second tier -- particularly Dodd -- are likely feeling a sense of urgency and need a breakout performance in order to move the money and poll needles. While Clinton and Obama are less interested in going after each other now, the others certainly have an incentive. Remember, there's just one month left in the fundraising quarter, and while Clinton and Obama are apparently having little trouble, the same can't be said of the rest. A strong debate performance could be worth $2-5 million to someone.

*** So Many Events, So Little Time: The Sunday debate isn't the only big event this weekend. On Saturday morning, Biden, Dodd, Gravel, Kucinich, and Richardson address the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convention. Later in the day, Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, and Richardson speak at an Iowa Democratic Party awards dinner. (Yes, that's right: Biden, Dodd, and Richardson are hitting both.) Also on Saturday, Fred Thompson addresses the Virginia GOP -- at the same time as Romney gives a speech in Thompson's backyard of Tennessee.

*** Now We Know Why…: Fred Thompson is opening a "testing the waters" instead of a full-fledged committee apparently for financial reasons. For the month of June, Thompson's voice will be heard in radio ads for a company called LifeLock.

*** On The Trail: Biden attends a house party in New Hampshire hosted by state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro; McCain hits a fundraiser in Memphis, TN before holding a town hall in Des Moines, IA; Obama meets with the Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas and then heads to Seattle for his campaign kick off there; and Richardson raises money in New Mexico.

Countdown to GA-10 Special Election: 17 days
Countdown to CA-37 Special Election: 24 days
Countdown to the Ames Straw Poll: 70 days
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Countdown to Iowa: 226 days
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Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 598 days