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First thoughts

From Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro
*** It's Been A LONG Month…: August is typically a month when many unwind, go on vacation, or head to the nearest back-to-school sale, all to prepare for the busy fall ahead. But for those who have been participating in or covering this expedited presidential race, this month has been jam-packed with news that could influence the sprint -- but aren't we already sprinting? -- that begins after Labor Day. On the Democratic side, the month began with Obama's speech on terrorism (and Pakistan), which produced the first real shoot-out among most of the Dem candidates. Then came Clinton's statement at YearlyKos that she wouldn't refuse lobbyist contributions. Next was Richardson's response at a gay-rights forum, where he said that homosexuality is a choice. Then came the debate in Des Moines, where many of these things were rehashed and Obama proved he could take a punch. And then there was Edwards' aggressive re-launch in New Hampshire. 

*** More August News: On the GOP side, the month featured Romney's expected win in Ames, Huckabee's surprise second-place finish there, and Tommy Thompson's exit. Then there were the staff departures for the other (and better-polling) Thompson, as well as the growing complaints why his campaign was waiting so long to actually begin. Also, we saw Romney and Fred gang up on Giuliani regarding immigration and guns. And the news over at the White House and Congress included Rove's and Gonzales' announced departures, plus the recent scandal involving Sen. Larry Craig. Whew. If all of these things happened in August, what does the fall -- and then the nominating contests in the winter -- have in store for us?

*** If The Hsu Fits…: Another story that broke during the last few days of the month was the mysterious case of Clinton bundler Norman Hsu (who has donated to other Democrats and Democratic causes). As we've noted earlier, the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday reported on his links to a family of modest means who had donated tens of thousands of dollars to Clinton since 2005. Then the Los Angeles Times wrote that Mr. Hsu has been a fugitive for 15 years after pleading no contest to grand theft. Today, the papers note that the Clinton campaign -- after earlier refusing to do so -- is donating to charity the $23,000 Hsu has given the campaign and reviewing thousands more he had raised. Clinton and her campaign are the last folks who would ever back down from something. But with Edwards and Obama hitting her on accepting money from federal lobbyists and past press reports of another problematic donor -- Vinod Gupta -- the campaign's decision to return his money is a no-brainer. But what does it do with the money he's bundled?

*** The Buzzards Are Circling: Yesterday, GOP Sens. John McCain -- who is running for president -- and Norm Coleman -- who will be in a tough contest for re-election next year -- called for the embattled Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, to resign. In addition, Senate GOP leaders yesterday announced that Craig had complied with their request to step down from his key committee assignments. We've seen this process play out before, and there are essentially three outcomes. One, Craig resigns pretty quickly (a la Mark Foley). Two, he waits as long as possible before stepping down (Bob Ney, Alberto Gonzales). Or three, he rides out the storm as the press turns to other stories (William Jefferson, David Vitter).

*** On The Trail: Biden, in Iowa, participates in the SEIU's Walk-A-Day program; Edwards speaks at a Democratic county party BBQ in South Carolina; McCain is in Arizona; Richardson raises money in Nevada; Romney does the same in North Carolina; and actress Kathleen Turner campaigns for Obama in South Carolina.

*** And A Note: Given the need to take our final breather this August, the morning version of First Read will not publish tomorrow, although we'll have updated posts throughout the day. The next issue of the morning version will return bright and early Tuesday, September 4. Have a happy and safe Labor Day weekend.

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