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First thoughts

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Obama The Punching Bag: Everyone seems to be beating up on Obama nowadays. Clinton struck first last week when she called his world-dictators answer "irresponsible" and "naïve." Then some of the other campaigns got into the act after Obama's counterterrorism speech, with Biden yesterday also using the word "naïve" word to describe the Illinois senator's plan for dealing with Al Qaeda in Pakistan. And now, some of his rivals are jumping on Obama for his statement yesterday about nuclear weapons. All of this, in fact, reminds us of 2003, when every Democrat was ganging up on Dean. But the difference then was that Dean was the front-runner; Obama is the guy in second place (at least nationally). Why has Obama become everyone's punching bag? Because they see him as a threat? Or because he's an easy target? Whatever the reason, Democrats, Republicans, and the Georgetown chattering class smell blood right now. And if Obama's not careful, he will find himself defined by interpretations of what he said -- rather than what he said. After all, once a perception is formed, it can take months or years to undo. There's a major challenge ahead for the Obama communications team.

Video: Obama takes heat over nuke comments

*** A Three-Way Race In Iowa: Will the criticism Obama's receiving on foreign policy overshadow the good news for him in a new Iowa poll? A Washington Post/ABC poll of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers has the race a three-way tie, with Obama at 27%, and Clinton and Edwards at 26%. Compared with other Iowa survey over the past few months, this result may not be good news for Edwards because it does not show him in a clear lead in his strongest state. Richardson was the only other Dem to receive double-digit support (11%). Here's perhaps the most important breakout in the poll: "Overall, about half of likely caucus-goers expressed a preference for what Obama is claiming to offer, which is a new direction and new ideas, while 39 percent prioritized strength and experience. Among those who are looking for new ideas and a new direction, 37 percent supported Obama, 31 percent Edwards and 15 percent Clinton. Among those who cite strength and experience, Clinton had a wide lead, with 38 percent saying they would vote for her, and Edwards second at 21 percent. Obama and Richardson trailed with 14 percent each."

*** Straw Poll Strategies: All three major Republicans (Giuliani, McCain, and Thompson) not participating in the Ames straw poll have an incentive to see Romney embarrassed. Two of those three candidates have active Iowa campaigns. So what are those campaigns doing for, say, other straw poll participants? Who is McCain helping? Who is Giuliani helping? Is there a F. Thompson strategy to help others? Could it be that McCain and Giuliani are sharing lists with, say, Huckabee or Brownback? Start your snooping! Also, the campaign to define Jeri Thompson is getting rather intense. Check out this pushback on Bob Novak's column, courtesy of GOP analyst Jennifer Rubin. She compares Jeri to Harriet Miers.

*** One Busy Week For The Dems: So you want to run for the Democratic presidential nomination? Well, that means that over these next seven days, you'll address liberal bloggers at the DailyKos convention in Chicago (on Saturday), an AFL-CIO forum in Chicago moderated by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann (Tuesday), and a gay-rights forum in Los Angeles (Thursday). These events not only reflect the various left-leaning interest groups that the Democratic candidates must court, but they also show just how taxing running for president can be. Remember, these folks have to attend these events, raise money, campaign in the early primary states, give a slew of policy speeches, and (for most of them) still do their day jobs. And get this: Iowa is more than five months away.

*** Debate! By comparison, the GOP presidential candidates haven't had nearly the same number of interest-group cattle calls to attend. But they will hit their fourth debate -- a Fred-less one -- on Sunday at Drake University in Des Moines, IA. The 90-minute debate will be moderated by ABC's George Stephanopoulos (with additional questioning by the Des Moines Register's David Yepsen).

*** On The Trail: Biden already appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe; Huckabee moderates a blogger conference call and campaigns in Iowa, including speaking at a "Fair Tax" rally; Hunter is in Iowa -- and will remain there until the Ames straw poll on Aug. 11; Paul raises money in Pennsylvania; Richardson makes five stops in Iowa; and Romney raises money at a Maine luncheon. Clinton, Kucinich, McCain, and Obama are in DC.

Countdown to the Ames Straw Poll: 8 days
Countdown to MA-05 Special Election: 31 days
Countdown to LA GOV election: 78 days
Countdown to Election Day 2007: 95 days
Countdown to LA GOV run-off (if necessary): 106 days
Countdown to Iowa: 163 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 185 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 459 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 536 days