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First thoughts

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carly Zakin
*** Doctor Rudy: A day after unveiling his health-care advisers (including Mark McClellan) and then blasting Clinton, Edwards, Obama, and even Michael Moore for their calls for universal coverage, Giuliani gives a speech on his health-care principles this morning from Rochester, NH. And expect more volleys at Moore and these Democrats. While this might be a questionable general election strategy (a March 2007 NBC/WSJ poll found that 52% are willing to pay higher taxes so everyone in the country can have health insurance), it could benefit him in the primaries. One, this conservative view on fiscal policy could help mask his moderate social views. And two, it allows him to go to the right of Romney on an issue and record that Romney seems to be running away from. In fact, look for Rudy to essentially bait Romney into a debate on health care -- it would be exactly the type of ideological spat the Giuliani folks would love to have.

*** You Know You're A Front-Runner When…: Speaking of Romney, the news that he might participate in the CNN/YouTube debate after all -- if the date is moved -- just shows us that the former governor is dictating the terms of the, umm, debate. If that isn't a sign that Romney is a front-runner (emphasis on a, not the), we don't know what else is.

*** Bill Steps In: It's remarkable that more hasn't been made of Bill Clinton's truce-like comments regarding the Hillary-Obama spat on when/if to talk to rogue world leaders. Bill Clinton doesn't do things accidentally when it comes to campaign politics. Does this mean that the Democratic Party's foremost strategist decided this feud was hurting his wife -- and helping give Obama a lift? Imagine if Bill Clinton would have piled on and criticized Obama? Would Obama have had the guts to attack back? Then again, are the Clintons mindful of their current success with African-American voters and worried that if they hit him too hard too early, they'll drive away a key constituency? So ... many … tea … leaves … to … read … so … little … time … when … it … comes … to … Bill … Clinton

*** The Once And Future First Daughter: The New York Times profiles Chelsea Clinton, without her cooperation. Regardless of your view on the Clintons, there's no denying that the two high-profile politicians turned out a very poised and well-thought-of daughter. In this day and age of political children getting in minor trouble, Chelsea Clinton has been a model citizen. Yet a few things in the article struck us. One, she works for a hedge fund (which really isn't the most PC of professions nowadays, especially for Democrats). Two, the Clinton campaign says that the 27-year-old Chelsea is off limits, even though she has attended campaign events. And, three, there is this: "Ms. Clinton and [boyfriend] Mr. Mezvinsky seem serious about a future together, according to friends, some of whom wonder about a White House wedding in the event of a victory by Mrs. Clinton."

*** Northern Exposure: There are some things that just sound politically deadly, and an FBI raid is one of them. Today's papers are full of stories about the FBI raiding the Alaska home of Sen. Ted Stevens, who is up for re-election next year. Alaska seems to be hungry for reformers: The state last year overwhelmingly elected a new governor, who does not come from the state's insider political establishment. Also, we noted last week that the state's entire congressional delegation has come under ethics fire, a sign that Alaska's days of sending lawmakers who are focused on pork might be over.

*** Who Says There Aren't Second Chances: Biden is out with a new book, Promises to Keep, and his campaign views it as a second official announcement of sorts. (Biden's official announcement, remember, was overshadowed by his "clean" and "articulate" comments regarding Obama.) "I'm kind of looking at the publication of the book as the announcement cycle that we never had," Biden communications director Larry Rasky told Gannett several days ago. And how -- he was on TODAY this morning and does Letterman tonight; tomorrow, he's on Hardball, CBS's Early Show, and NPR; on Thursday, he does CNN and FOX; and so on. What's more, his campaign tells us that while he's on his book tour, his sister Valerie, wife Jill, and sons Beau and Hunter will all be hitting the trail in Iowa. But to date, free media hasn't done much for Biden. According to The Hotline, no Democratic candidate has been on the air more than he has, and it hasn't done much for his standing in the polls so far.

*** On The Trail: Elsewhere, Brownback heads to a firing range in Ames, IA, fires off a couple of rounds there, and then discusses gun control; Edwards fundraises in Virginia; McCain raises money in Cincinnati; Richardson is in his home state of New Mexico; Romney travels to Richmond and Virginia Beach; Tancredo makes four stops in Iowa, while Tommy Thompson makes five stops there; and Fred Thompson raises money in California.

Countdown to the Ames Straw Poll: 11 days
Countdown to MA-05 Special Election: 34 days
Countdown to LA GOV election: 81 days
Countdown to Election Day 2007: 98 days
Countdown to LA GOV run-off (if necessary): 109 days
Countdown to Iowa: 166 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 188 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 462 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 539 days

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