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Oh-eight (R): Ames battle getting nasty?

The battle among the second- and third-tier Republicans for coveted top spots in the Ames Straw poll is getting intense. Yesterday, Brownback accused Huckabee's campaign of sending an anti-Catholic email to key Iowa Republicans. "'I know Senator Brownback converted to Roman Catholicism in 2002,' the Rev. Tim Rude, pastor of Walnut Creek Community Church, wrote in the e-mail. 'Frankly, as a recovering Catholic myself, that is all I need to know about his discernment when compared to the governor's.' In the e-mail, Rude calls Huckabee 'one of us.' Rude apologized Tuesday, saying he never meant to sound critical of Catholicism. Brownback, a Methodist until he converted, said through a spokesman that Huckabee should apologize."

BROWNBACK:

Dressed in a bright green polo and khaki vest, Brownback took up a firearm at a shooting range yesterday in Ames, Iowa, NBC's Lauren Appelbaum reports. He shot the firearm three times, asking those in attendance if he was shooting too low or high. He dodged a question on how he is different from the rest of the Republican candidates on the 2nd Amendment. "As I stated, I don't know. I don't know their positions on 2nd Amendment," he said. "I know mine. I know my ratings. I know that I've had 4,500 votes. Within those, there have been some 2nd Amendment votes, and I received an A rating on a lifetime basis. I just don't know the other candidates' positions."

The Des Moines Register reports that Brownback believes other candidates will come around to a three-state solution plan for Iraq. Also, don't miss the paper's photo of Brownback at the firing range (that isn't your typical firearm he's holding).

GIULIANI: The Washington Post finds Giuliani fairly popular at a key New Hampshire diner. As for takes on his health plan rolled out yesterday, Newsday writes, "Giuliani's plan also sidesteps the issue dominating the Democratic debate over health care -- how to cover all or nearly all of the 47 million uninsured Americans. In Giuliani's words, that's up to the marketplace, not a government 'nanny state' -- and he blasted Democratic proposals to subsidize coverage with tax increases as European-style "socialist" medicine that could bankrupt government."

The New York Post calls Giuliani's health-care proposal "do it yourself." It includes a $15,000 tax deduction to families who buy their own insurance and $7,500 for individuals.

The Manchester Union Leader writes, "Giuliani offered the broad outline of his plan but his campaign did not provide many specifics" and said that he would not have cost numbers or be able to tell how many uninsured the plan would help for "two or three months."

In the New York Observer, GOP analyst Jennifer Rubin argues that Giuliani is starting to find some distance from Bush. "His task, though, is a tricky one: he has to differentiate himself from a failing president without alienating a conservative base already uneasy about his liberal stand on abortion. To some degree, Mr. Giuliani has succeeded in putting some distance between himself and the administration, in the eyes of primary voters, by focusing on a few specific policy issues." The issues: immigration, spending, and now even Iraq.

ROMNEY: Per the Boston Globe's Political Intelligence blog, Romney has "devised a five-headed Democratic monster to try to paint the opposing party as uniformly unsupportive of American troops."

F. THOMPSON: Coverage of Thompson's $3.5 million haul focuses on the candidate coming up short of a $5 million goal. The irony of this is that the haul isn't that bad -- but that the campaign had set its own goal and leaked it publicly, and so they are being held to their own standard. About $750,000 was raised online.

More nuggets from GOP analyst Jennifer Rubin: "Most clearly those who challenge whether he is legitimately 'testing the waters' (and not operating a campaign in disguise) will question if that is the case: 1) why brag about a burn rate (18%); 2) why accept donations above the $2,300 limit for the primaries (i.e. if you are 'testing' you are determining viability and you shouldn't be storing away money for the primary, let alone the general election); and 3) were 10 staffers paid a total of  $106K (including payroll taxes) really just working on testing the waters activities?"