The first question at last night's debate forced the candidates to react to the decision by the four frontrunners to not show. Huckabee said he was "embarrassed." Brownback said it was a "disgrace." The other candidates didn't use as harsh of language.
Des Moines Register's Yepsen called the entire GOP a "loser" for its frontrunners deciding to skip the event. "For a party already in minority status in much of the country, it defies political logic to just brush off these constituencies. Republicans don't need to win the votes of everyone in those groups, but they must carry a big enough slice to deny victories to Democrats in close contests."
The Washington Times notes, "The first 10 minutes of the debate were dedicated to bashing the four no-shows and, in some cases, Republicans as a whole."
BTW, the GOP candidates are being offered a second bite at the Univision debate apple, on Dec. 9.
GIULIANI: NBC/NJ's Matthew Berger reports Giuliani, who suddenly is within striking distance in New Hampshire, has been increasing his mail presence there. According to Marc Ambinder, Giuliani has mailed at least seven glossy pamphlets to Republicans and independents in the state, and has conducted surveys of voters. The mail stress Giuliani's immigration policy, as well as his broader "12 Commitments."
MCCAIN: USA Today does the "is McCain on the comeback" story. We'll get a true sense of McCain's place in the campaign when we get a look at his 3rd quarter FEC report. Does he outraise Thompson? If he does, it will be a perception boost for the one-time frontrunner. But if the other three top-tier candidates out-raise him by double or triple, it's going to be a sign of just how long the road is for McCain.
McCain unveiled his first TV ad of campaign, a bio spot that shows McCain as a P.O.W. "Titled "One Man," the ad hammers home that McCain knows war in a way no other candidate does, drawing a sharp -- if subtle -- contrast with three other men: fellow Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson. None of them served in the military."
McCain has started to go on the offensive against other candidates, including implicitly in his ads invoking words like "judgment," "experience," and "leadership." His campaign manager tells the Boston Globe, ""I do think people's credentials are going to be debated in this election, and this is a very important one in this time of war." Davis also insisted in the Nashua Telegraph: "We've got enough money to run a campaign that will be effective and will work."
The AP notes McCain's renewed bluntness: "'We don't have time or opportunity for on-the-job training, and the other candidates for president I don't believe have the qualifications that I do to hit the ground running and immediately address these serious challenges,' the four-term Arizona senator and Vietnam veteran told reporters following a speech on the military. 'The country would be safer with me as its leader,' McCain added. He said that while he respects his opponents, "this is all about who is best equipped to take on the challenge of radical Islamic extremism."
McCain also wrote a piece in the National Review saying, "America's dependence on foreign oil is a major strategic vulnerability for our nation" and that he has "an energy plan that won't be another grab bag of handouts, a full employment act for lobbyists, nor another round of tax breaks and other subsidies to big oil. It will recognize the fundamental truth that our oil problem is an automobile fuel problem and break the dominance of oil in our transportation sector just as we diversified away from oil use in electric power generation 30 years ago."
McCain renewed his call for a new U.N. of sort, called the "League of Democracies." He has voiced increasing frustration with the shortcomings of the United Nations and its inability -- through the intransigence of two Security Council members, China and Russia -- to tackle a succession of major international political disasters. He has worried aloud that the world body will be inadequate to the task of heading off the threat to Israel and the Western world posed by a nuclear-equipped Iran, not least in the Islamist state's capacity to provide terrorists such as Hezbollah with a nuclear weapon.
Some active-duty soldiers may have violated a Pentagon policy by participating in a McCain campaign event in N.H. Seven personnel from a Manchester, N.H., recruiting station appeared in uniform and briefly addressed the crowd. A Department of Defense directive signed in August 2004 by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz prohibits on-duty members of the armed forces from "speak[ing] before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause."
ROMNEY: The campaign is circulating another Alex Gage-written strategy memo that attempts to re-calibrate expectations a bit. "It is likely that Gov. Romney will continue to hover around 10 percent in national polls as he has for the past several months, and that he will gradually gain ground toward the end of the year as voters begin to pay more attention to the race," the memo continues. "But we should not expect him to be competitive in national polls with better-known celebrity candidates like Giuliani, Thompson, or McCain until after Iowa and New Hampshire."
Perhaps the most striking declaration in the memo is the reminder to "interested parties" that the campaign does not expect to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. "Giuliani is already on the air with radio advertisements in both states, and McCain is about to begin his television and radio ads in New Hampshire; we know we will have an uphill battle." This memo comes just days after a new New Hampshire poll shows Romney and Giuliani in a dead heat, a switch from the last few months when Romney consistently led the field by double-digits (in some cases).
But Romney's camp insists it's not worried about NH poll slip.
The winner of the Romney ad make-your-own-ad campaign was announced yesterday, and NBC/NJ's Erin McPike reports the winner is from Utah. Today, Romney speaks in Utah before Council for National Policy. Although the council's meetings are closed to the public and details are supposed to be kept secret, according to an investigative report in the New York Times from 2004, the Romney campaign did include on its schedule as early as Wednesday that the candidate will speak before the conservative group. The campaign estimates several hundred supporters will attend today's rally, which wraps a week of fundraising rallies to end the third quarter.
THOMPSON: Following a week where Thompson seemed to be unaware of the key issues facing Florida voters, Thompson found himself similar situation in Tennessee -- his HOME STATE! Thompson said Thursday he was unaware a federal judge had ruled last week that lethal injection procedures in his home state were unconstitutional. Thompson also told reporters he was unaware that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed this week to consider a Kentucky case about whether lethal injection violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Thompson's support for the death penalty was a major part of his campaign platform when he first ran for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee in 1994. Asked for his response to the recent Tennessee and Kentucky cases, Thompson responded, "I hadn't heard that. I didn't know."
Thompson is in Tennessee this week to raise money and fast. Just how much does he have to raise by the end of the year? Some estimates hit $50 million, which translates into about $10 million a month.