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First thoughts

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** The Oprah Effect: Believe it or not, the Democratic presidential contenders have taken a backseat this week to the Republicans -- a rare occurrence this year. But that could change tomorrow with the Oprah-Obama extravaganza fundraiser in California. Everyone's wondering whether Oprah can do for a politician what she's done for authors. If she becomes as active on the campaign trail as is being speculated, then Obama may have found his secret weapon to target working-class women, which has become the heart and soul of Clinton's support. Then again, there's a risk -- not for Obama, but for Oprah. After all, she has plenty of viewers who are Republicans or who support Clinton. Michael Jordan was credited with saying that he steered clear of politics because "Republicans buy sneakers, too."

*** What Happens When There Is Too Much "Change"?: Now Richardson is up with his "change and experience" TV ad, which states: "Now we need experience and change. Bill Richardson offers both." With it, he joins Obama's and Clinton's own "change" ads. Does this play right into Clinton's hands? The more every Democratic candidate claims the change mantle, does the primary then become a referendum on experience?
*** The Good And The Bad: Thompson today hits the second leg of his announcement tour, which takes him to Sioux City and Mason City, IA. How did Day One go? The good: He got tons of news coverage (on TV and in print), and his campaign says it has raised more than $350,000 since Wednesday. The not-so good: The Des Moines Register's David Yepsen called his Des Moines speech "underwhelming"; the New York Times front-pages that some of Thompson's views (on campaign finance reform, tort reform, and affirmative action) don't necessarily make him the heir to Reagan; and his crowds weren't all that impressive. As one smart analyst told First Read yesterday, "Two hundred people in Des Moines is barely the size of an Obama overflow room in Story County." This was always the danger of the late entry: Everything about the Thompson trip is under the microscope.

*** All About Rudy: While this week was all about Thompson, next week will be all about Giuliani. The 9/11 anniversary will bring Rudy an opportunity to brandish his best credential. Of course, next week could also bring renewed scrutiny of Giuliani's 9/11 record. No doubt a news organization or two will have a story or two examining that record – which could either be a big help or a problem. Either way, next week is Rudy's week.

*** Speaking Of 9/11…: A few days before its anniversary, and just a day after reports that Osama bin Laden will give a statement on it, Edwards will give a major a counterterrorism speech today in New York. He will be introduced by 9/11 widow and activist Kristen Breitweiser. In the speech, per the campaign, Edwards will propose creating a modern-day equivalent of NATO for terrorism: the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Treaty Organization (CITO). "Every nation has an interest in shutting down terrorism," Edwards will say. "CITO will create connections between a wide range of nations on terrorism and intelligence, including countries on all continents, including Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe. New connections between previously separate nations will be forged, creating new possibilities."

*** On The Trail: Elsewhere, Clinton speaks at the New Jersey Democratic Party's annual conference and then addresses the AARP's "Life @ 50+" event in Boston; Huckabee, in New Hampshire, participates in SEIU's "Walk a Day in Their Shoes" program and then delivers remarks at the AARP conference in Boston; McCain raises money in California; Obama hits a "Woman for Obama" luncheon in San Francisco and then heads to Portland for fundraiser; and Romney campaigns in New Hampshire.

Countdown to LA GOV election: 43 days
Countdown to Election Day 2007: 60 days
Countdown to LA GOV run-off (if necessary): 71 days
Countdown to Iowa: 129 days
Countdown to SC GOP primary: 134 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 151 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 424 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 501 days