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First thoughts

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** So Now It Begins: For fatigued presidential candidates, voters, and political reporters -- who have been running in, watching, and covering this race since January -- the next four months or so until the first nominating contests might seem like an eternity. But as we've passed the Labor Day mile marker, it's worth pointing out how little has actually changed since the summer began. Clinton and Giuliani are the national frontrunners, while Romney and Obama are the most well positioned challengers to the two New Yorkers. And that brings us to Thompson and Edwards, the two party crashers to the developing two-person races. The media struggles covering three-way races… it always has.

*** Fred's And John's Challenge: Fair or not, Thompson and Edwards have to figure out how to knock out one of their two respective challengers sometime this fall, if they want to remain in the game in January. Both are trying to position themselves as the ideological purists of their parties, with Edwards trying to coalesce labor and passionate anti-war folks and Thompson trying to be the conventional (read: consistent) conservative. But both Edwards and Thompson don't have the Senate records to back up their current ideologies. Will that ultimately be their undoing?

*** What An August: As usual, the supposed slowest month for politics proved anything but -- with the month culminating in what August has become known for: unlikely scandal. The GOP performed old-fashioned Civil War surgery: cutting off Larry Craig before his gangrene-like scandal could get contagious to the rest of the party. But in doing so, did the party invite more problems, namely in why there was selective outrage with Craig, compared with the sexual exploits of Louisiana Sen. David Vitter. What are the key differences? An actual arrest record with Craig? A GOP governor to appoint Craig's replacement? Straight vs. gay?

*** The Calendar Leapfrog: The other BIG August story was the presidential primary calendar, with Michigan and Florida (and Wyoming, by the way) trying to crash the Iowa-New Hampshire-South Carolina (oh, and, Nevada) party. Thanks to the RNC rules (a penalty of just half of state's delegates), the major GOP candidates will likely play in one or both states. The Democrats, meanwhile, have all pledged to honor the first four states. But how tempting is it going to be for Clinton and Obama, in particular, (since they'll have the dough), to play in Michigan and Florida? Could we see, for instance, heavy national cable advertising by the two to try and make sure they don't leave the states completely unopposed?

*** Clinton's Rough Month: By the way, are we the only ones who noticed that Clinton had a tough couple of weeks at the end of August? It started at the debate in Des Moines, where -- for the first time -- she didn't stand out from her opponents. Then came her much-criticized statement that Republicans would benefit politically from another terrorist attack, and that she's the best Democrat to deal with that GOP advantage. And finally, there was the Norman Hsu story, which not only put her campaign on the defensive, but also allowed the media to dig up their old Johnny Chung photos at the very time Clinton is stressing that she's the best candidate for change. The good news for her is that all of this came at the same time Washington was fixated on Larry Craig and the Rove and Gonzales resignations. During her roughest couple of weeks as a presidential candidate, was no one watching? 

*** If You Say It Enough Times, Does It Become True? In Robert Draper's new book on Bush, "Dead Certain," he recounts a strategy session among the Bush inner circle just after the New Hampshire primary in 2000, when one of the advisers chimed up and reminded the governor that he, too, was a reformer like McCain. Voila, born was the slogan "Reformer with Results" and the rest is primary history. Well, over the weekend, the Clintons campaigned in Iowa and New Hampshire under the new official slogan, "Change We Need." If Clinton says the word "change" enough, will it convince Democrats in the early states that she'll bring enough change so that they won't be tempted by Obama? Not coincidentally, Obama was debuting a new stump speech, making the case that his lack of "Washington experience" should not be interpreted as a lack of experience. And so the Dem race goes: change vs. experience. Is Clinton enough change? Does Obama have enough experience? Will Edwards simply cry, "Enough"?

*** On The Trail: Brownback has a Social Security event in New Hampshire; Clinton appears (pre-taped) on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and speaks, in DC, at the Alliance for Retired Americans' legislative conference; Dodd stumps in Iowa; Edwards hits a "small change for big change" fundraiser in Montana; Giuliani gives a speech in Mississippi on his commitment to ensure communities are prepared for terrorist attacks or natural disasters; Huckabee attends a private reception in New Hampshire; McCain campaigns in New Hampshire; Obama holds a roundtable on restoring trust in government before heading to a series of events in Iowa; Romney visits New Hampshire and Cincinnati, OH; Richardson campaigns in Iowa.

*** Another Super Tuesday: For more on these events -- and much, much more -- tune into MSNBC's all-day political coverage.

Countdown to LA GOV election: 46 days
Countdown to Election Day 2007: 63 days
Countdown to LA GOV run-off (if necessary): 74 days
Countdown to Iowa: 132 days
Countdown to SC GOP primary: 137 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 154 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 427 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 504 days