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First Thoughts

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro

*** The Re-Launch: So is Edwards trying to re-launch his campaign? It depends on how one interprets a speech he's giving today in New Hampshire, where he attempts to re-frame the race in a way that makes him the real change agent in the Democratic race. "The choice for our party could not be more clear," Edwards will say, according to advance excerpts. "We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other." He also will say, "The choice we must make is as important as it is clear. It is a choice between looking back and looking forward. A choice between the way we've always done it and the way we could do it if we dared… It is caution versus courage. Old versus new. Calculation versus principle. It is the establishment elites versus the American people." This, it seems, will be the argument that Edwards plans to use against Clinton for the rest of the campaign. At a minimum, consider this the new stump speech.

*** Hillary And Health Care: Interestingly, as Edwards argues for the candidates to think big and bold, Clinton also is in New Hampshire today, where she delivers a speech on health-care quality. It's her second health-care address -- the first one was on costs. She has still to unveil her entire health-care plan. No doubt the Edwards camp hopes the fact that both he and Clinton will be New Hampshire on the same day will make the contrast he is trying to create easy for the media to pick up on.*** The Romney Two-Step: Another Romney flip-flop? The Washington Post picks up on the state's rights comments regarding abortion that Romney recently made in an interview with Nevada political journo Jon Ralston (see yesterday's First Read). The Post notes that Romney's states' rights defense differed from a debate answer he gave when he said he was in favor of a Constitutional amendment to restrict abortion. The campaign's response: that Romney "supports a two-step process in which states get authority over abortion after Roe v. Wade is overturned, followed eventually by a constitutional amendment that bans most abortions." Is anyone else a bit confused? Did Romney simply get caught up in "states' rights" spin because he knew he had to justify Nevada's support for gaming?

Video: NBC Political Director Chuck Todd on Mitt Romney's support for states' rights and abortion restrictions.

*** It's The Economy…: The Washington Post's Birnbaum today writes about the reaction by the presidential candidates to the newest issue on the trail: the country's credit crunch. "Sensing an opportunity to connect with voters on an issue important to their economic futures, presidential candidates have rushed out a variety of prescriptions for these woes, with Democrats proposing the most aggressive solutions… Republican presidential candidates have been less activist in their response to the credit tightness." Bottom line: What if we're all wrong about what this election is going to be about? What if it's NOT about Iraq but about the economy? Isn't that a bigger nightmare for the GOP than having to fight an election about Iraq? Remember, the pocketbook ALWAYS trumps -- if the pocketbook starts to look a bit bare with rank-and-file voters. Does the economy become a deadlier political punch for the Republicans to deal with than Iraq? It certainly doesn't help.

*** On The Trail: Elsewhere today, Gravel, Kucinich, and Richardson attend a forum in California called Prez on Rez with Native American elected tribal leaders from around the country; Obama is in South Carolina; and Richardson -- in addition to attending the Prez on the Rez forum -- rolls out his "Mi Familia con Richardson" grassroots program to reach out to Latinos.

*** A Note About Tomorrow: The morning edition of First Read will return on Monday. But don't worry -- we'll have plenty of updates on our Web site all day Friday.  

Countdown to MA-05 Special Election: 11 days
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