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First thoughts

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carly Zakin
*** Debate Number Three:

For the third time this campaign season, the eight Democratic presidential candidates -- Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Gravel, Kucinich, Obama, and Richardson -- participate in a debate. This time, it's from Howard University in DC, and it airs on PBS at 9:00 pm ET. Organizers are billing the event as the first "panel exclusively comprised of journalists of color" in primetime: PBS' Tavis Smiley, NPR's Michel Martin, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr., and USA Today's DeWayne Wickham. And the candidates will be asked questions on health care, Katrina relief, the economy, and the environment.
*** What To Watch For: Given the audience, the issues, and the panelists, this debate is definitely on Obama's turf. Can he manage that expectation, as well as continue to demonstrate that he's more than an African-American man running for president? Also, the debate once again will likely feature the Democratic field's diversity with the African American Obama, the Hispanic Richardson, and the female Clinton. Organizers will be holding a similar debate for the Republican candidates on September 27 in Baltimore. But how awkward will it be for a GOP that wants to court minority voters to feature what's likely to be 11 white males on the stage?

*** Who Else Is TiVOing Tonight's NBA Draft? With voters more in vacation mode than voting mode, tonight's debate also has one other competitor to deal with -- and that's the NBA Draft. Forget Clinton vs. Obama. The biggest debate in the sports world these days is Oden vs. Durant. Actually, the debate is very similar to Clinton vs. Obama. Oden is seen as an intimidating presence and ready to lead. However, Durant's upside is considered greater than Oden, and the guy could be the Next Great Thing in the sport. But his downside is that he still hasn't filled out. Sound familiar?

*** The $30-Plus-Million-Dollar Man? The Obama campaign has told the AP that 138,000 new donors have contributed to Obama this second quarter, up from the 104,000 donors that gave to him in the first quarter. The article adds that the average contribution is likely to be less than the $247-per-person donation in the first quarter (perhaps due to that dinner contest with Obama for people who gave $5). But by our math, if those 138,000 new donors contributed, say, $150 each, that's more than $20 million (and one only has to move the average donation up to $200 to get over $25 million and so on...). And we're not even counting those 104,000 donors who gave in the first quarter.

*** Do Or Die: This morning, the Senate holds its cloture vote on the comprehensive immigration bill. NBC's Ken Strickland notes that 60 votes are required to bring debate to an end, putting the legislation on the path to a final vote. But whether it gets those 60 votes is too close to call. If it fails to do so, it will likely be the end of this -- or any other -- immigration legislation until 2009.

*** Back-To-Back:

A day after speaking in South Carolina, Fred Thompson takes his soon-to-be presidential campaign to another early primary state: New Hampshire, where he headlines a Senate Republican Victory PAC fundraiser. By the way, the New York Times interviews another person who wasn't impressed with Thompson's speech in South Carolina. "We drove an hour and a half to get here, and he didn't say anything new," the person said. "I kind of wish, if he's going to run, announce it. It seems a little bit like a game play. I agree with his conservative stance, but we need specifics."

*** On The Trail: Elsewhere, Giuliani is in Sacramento, CA; Huckabee delivers the keynote address at the World Congress Weight Management Conference in Chicago; McCain is in DC for Senate business and fundraisers; and Romney charges hard to the end of the second quarter with three fundraising events (in Connecticut, Virginia, and Pennsylvania).

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