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First thoughts: Clinton's Four Corners

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
HANOVER, NH -- So how many folks were confused about which NBC channel was airing the season premiere of the "bionic woman": was it on NBC or MSNBC?  More from last night's debate: Clinton was a bit testy, particularly on the Social Security questions. She also allowed her "laughter" tick to kick in for a few other tough questions. Overall, though, no

one landed a blow on her, and at this point in the game, that's how these debates have to be judged. In a way, she reminded us of one of those Dean Smith teams playing "four corners" or "stall ball" -- by playing it extremely safe. This is what a front-runner does: protects a lead. But if she were being judged on actually answering the questions she was asked, she'd get the lowest marks among those on the stage. To borrow another sports analogy, Clinton punted on the questions regarding Social Security, her war authorization vote (she talked about health care, but not the war vote when Russert brought up both), and the Clinton Library donors. (BTW, how soon before the Clinton library makes the decision that they'll have to do full disclosure on its donors. Won't it be better for Clinton to deal with this in '07 than '08?)

*** A Tale Of Two Candidates: Perhaps the most surprising thing last night was Obama's decision to not aggressively go after Clinton. He didn't seem to change his tone or game even as it appears he's stalled both in the national polls and here in New Hampshire. That said, it's still worth pointing out how far he's come since the first debate back in April. But when given the chance to contrast himself with the front-runner, he punted too, except when he criticized her handling of health care in '93. Of the candidates chasing Clinton, Edwards stood out. He seemed to realize he needed to contrast himself with Clinton on just about every answer he gave. It was one of his better performances; he's getting his William Jennings Bryan schtick down pat. But How will he get past Obama (in money, buzz, and polls)? That's the question for him.

*** The Rest: As for the second half of the field, Biden -- once again -- performed well. If he had resources, he just might get some traction. Then again, maybe it's just us Beltway types who think he's shooting straighter from the hip than any of the other candidates. Of course, when you've got nothing left in the bank, you got nothing left to lose. At a minimum, he's earned a spot on the veep short list, forget Secretary of State. Dodd seemed a bit better tonight, but he just can't seem to stop from speaking like a senator and that hurts him at these debates. Then there's Richardson. What is there to say? It appears he's getting smaller and smaller at these debates. His

campaign said he was joking when he stated that he received the first immigration question because he's Hispanic, but (to us) the joke fell flat. He's trying too hard on some questions and it shows.  Finally, Gravel may want to save the tape of this debate, it may have been his last.
*** Pledge, not just for furniture: What are the unintended consequences of all three leading Democratic candidates not pledging to end the Iraq war 10 years after it began? The war began in 2003 and the three leading Dems would not pledge to have all combat troops out by 2013... Ten years.

*** Ouch: While Edwards may have been basking in the glow of solid reviews from his debate performance last night, the campaign must feel like it was punched in the stomach when it clicked over to today's Des Moines Register. The paper -- similar to what the Columbia State did a few weeks back -- reports on its front page the 100+ Iowa foreclosures by sub-prime mortgage lenders owned by the hedge fund Edwards had worked for last year, Fortress. BTW, did Edwards lose his temper on a bit at last night's debate on this question because he knew this Des Moines Register story was coming this morning? Talk about a precision oppo-strike.

Skipping Smiley: For a Republican Party that has been trying to make inroads with African-American voters, it probably doesn't help that its top four candidates (Giuliani, McCain, Romney, and Thompson) plus Tancredo decided to skip tonight's Tavis Smiley-moderated debate at Morgan State University in Baltimore. It also probably doesn't help when Smiley goes on the airwaves to criticize those candidates. And it certainly doesn't help when Jack Kemp said this to the Washington Post about the no-shows: "What are we going to do -- meet in a country club in the suburbs one day?" Or when Newt Gingrich told the paper: "It's just fundamentally wrong. Any of them who give you that scheduling-conflict answer are disingenuous. That's baloney." Those who are attending -- Brownback, Huckabee, Hunter, Paul, and Alan Keyes (yes, Alan Keyes) -- will take questions on issues like health care, housing, and Katrina relief. Also, there will be this dubious honor for those not attending tonight: unmanned podiums.
*** From MySpace To Your Place: Edwards becomes the first presidential candidate to participate in a MySpace/MTV dialogue. Per a release, this hour-long discussion will air on mtvU and will also stream on MTV.com and MySpace. It will be moderated by MTV's SuChin Pak and Gideon Yago, as well as WashingtonPost.com's Chris Cillizza.
*** On The Trail: In addition to his MySpace/MTV dialogue, Edwards campaigns in New Hampshire; Giuliani, in California, picks up an endorsement from former GOP Gov. Pete Wilson; McCain is in New York, where he gives a speech to the Hudson Institute and raises money; Obama is also in New York, where he holds a rally in Washington Square Park; Richardson stumps in Boston and Philly; Romney meets with voters in Sacramento, CA; and Thompson raises money all day in Tennessee.
Countdown to LA GOV election: 23 days
Countdown to Election Day 2007: 40 days
Countdown to LA GOV run-off (if necessary): 51 days Countdown to Iowa: 109 days Countdown to SC GOP primary: 114 days Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 131 days Countdown to Election Day 2008: 404 days Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 481 days