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First thoughts

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carly Zakin
*** Clinton vs. Obama, Round 3: Well, Obama apparently got the last word in the skirmish over the unsavory-world-leaders question at Monday's debate. The last 48 hours was telling: After the debate, it appeared the Obama folks were trying to fuzz things up with Clinton's position (see Axelrod's initial post-debate quote). But yesterday, one got the sense it was the Clinton side trying to do this with Obama's position (see Holbrooke's quote below). Bottom line: Obama took Clinton's punch and seemed more comfortable hitting back. We are hearing from some Clinton fans -- not insiders -- who are wondering if in hindsight it was a mistake to hit Obama on Tuesday. Did the front-runner give the challenger some needed oxygen? Also, will Obama get in another shot at Clinton when he holds a conference call with reporters this morning announcing New Hampshire Rep. Paul Hodes' (D) endorsement?

*** Can't We All Just Get Along? By the way, one of the other campaigns finally weighed in on this spat -- but it was via spokesperson, not the candidate. Biden manager Luis Navarro issued the following statement: "This squabble is a distraction from the main event: defeating the Republicans and ending the war responsibly. Petty arguments about foreign policy credentials will not get mine resistant vehicles in the field any faster and will not get our troops home any sooner. Already Republicans are seeking to divide Democrats on the one issue that they have no credibility on after four and a half years of President Bush's failed policy in Iraq." But is this all we're getting from Biden? Shouldn't he be saying something like this?

*** Another Blow For Fred? If the bad news from the last few weeks wasn't enough before his campaign even begins (shakeup, questions about his anti-abortion views, mixed reviews of his speeches), the Washington Post reports today about his career as a trial lawyer -- a profession that's a four-letter word in many GOP circles. Do note, however, that it is not odd to see Republicans in the South who are supportive of trial lawyers. Two prominent examples: Republicans Lindsey Graham and Richard Shelby. Also, check out GOP analyst Quin Hillyer's advice not to give up on Thompson just yet, despite the lack of positive news in recent weeks. 

*** White Paper Day: Twin policy speeches in Iowa: This morning from Des Moines, Edwards gives what his campaign is billing as a major speech on tax policy. Per advance excerpts of the speech, he will "declare war" on offshore tax havens, as well as call for an end to the loophole that allows hedge fund and private equity managers to treat most of their income as capital gains. And later today, Dodd will unveil his health-care plan at a home in Marion, IA.
*** On The Trail: Elsewhere, Brownback is in Iowa; Clinton is in DC; Giuliani travels to Houston; Huckabee speaks in Denver and meets with board members of the National Urban League; McCain holds a town hall meeting in New Hampshire; Obama goes to South Carolina after picking up his endorsement in New Hampshire; Richardson hits New Hampshire; and Romney visits in five different Iowa counties. Also, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack holds a $20-per-person fundraising happy hour for Clinton in New York City.

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