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First thoughts: Fred's debut

From NBC's Chuck Todd and Domenico Montanaro

*** Fred's debut: All eyes are on Fred Thompson this week as he makes his debate debut at the CNBC/MSNBC/The Wall Street Journal debate on Tuesday from Dearborn, Michigan. It is the first Republican Presidential debate of the 2008 campaign focusing on economic issues, and will be broadcast live on CNBC at 4 PM ET, live streamed on msnbc.com, and re-broadcast on MSNBC at 9 PM ET. CNBC's Maria Bartiromo and MSNBC's Chris Matthews will host the debate. So how much detail will he have at his fingertips? Will he show real enthusiasm for winning? Perhaps the best thing to happen to Thompson was the "SNL" parody, which helps lower expectations even more. And the "SNL" parody served as a guide as to what NOT to do, and what not to say; what stereotype traps NOT to fall into. Here's a good question for the Thompson campaign, did they have the candidate watch the parody?
 

*** Edwards' last stand: What is it about politicians on the brink that bring out their potential best? Edwards is getting very comfortable becoming the chief Clinton attacker on the stump. Does this help him or Obama, though, in Iowa? Remember, in '04, when one-time Iowa frontrunner Dick Gephardt started getting more strident on the stump (and attacking the then-frontrunner Howard Dean)? Both went down. This is certainly the scenario Obama is counting on. But for Edwards, he doesn't have much choice. Since, as he notes, he's yet to run a sustained TV campaign in Iowa, he needs to garner as much free media as he can. By the Way, check out his electability argument against Clinton. It was one of his strongest moments on "Meet" Sunday. Watch Obama borrow that language.
 
*** New Year's in Iowa! State Republican leaders met via conference call last Friday night and agreed to "recommend" Jan. 3rd as their caucus date. Democrats have not picked a date yet, but Democratic sources say that -- contrary to rumors flying around last week -- the two parties are unlikely to split their caucuses over two different nights. So there ya have it folks, Iowa will be Jan. 3 (probably announced the week of Oct. 15 in a bipartisan way if it gets negotiated in time). It may have been necessary for Iowa to hurry up and grab a date before New Hampshire's Bill Gardner decided to snatch either the 3rd or the 5th. Now, N.H. either goes the 8th or leapfrogs to December.
 

*** Speaking of Iowa, there's no poll that gets (and deserves) more attention than the Des Moines Register poll by ace Iowa pollster Ann Selzer. The bottom line: Clinton's surging; Edwards is slipping; and Obama's stalling. Clinton appears to be benefiting from her gender and from her concerted effort to woo older Iowans. On the GOP side, the big buzz is for Fred Thompson's second-place showing (does he have the organization to sustain that?) and Huckabee's third-place finish, just ahead of Giuliani. For Romney, his campaign is probably hoping Thompson's showing is enough to lure the new candidate into seriously contesting the state. By the way, don't miss the collective media C.W. all starting to treat Iowa as make-or-break for the Democratic side while holding off on making that claim for the GOP side. Over the weekend, Clinton was challenged by an Iowan on Iran. Look for more campaign trail confrontations for the candidates now that things are getting even tighter and more (desperate?) for some of Clinton's foes.
 

*** Rudy's ambition: Today is a big deal for Italian-Americans and the New York Daily News uses Columbus Day as a backdrop to look at how Giuliani is tapping into Italian-Americans for his campaign. Perhaps the best scoop in the Daily News piece: Giuliani first began thinking about running for president in 1963. Okay, "thinking" is a bit of a stretch but it's one of those "moments" we in the media love to find out about in our presidents. Remember, we LIKE our presidents to have ambition. By the way, Columbus Day (parade and all) coupled with the Yankees comeback win last night sure makes for an interesting day in NYC.
 
*** Quick hitters: Future of the GOP stories are starting to hit critical mass; Goldwater HBO doc will add fuel ... Is Al Gore campaigning for a Nobel Prize? And if he adds a Nobel to his Oscar- and Emmy-heavy resume this Friday, will Obama-weary anti-Clinton Democrats renew their draft calls? ... The upcoming joint Biden-Brownback Iowa event has us wondering why other second-tier candidates haven't paired up in a bipartisan way. Imagine how excited the Davids (Broder and Yepsen) would be if Huckabee and Biden did a Lincoln-Douglas schtick across Iowa? ... The Los Angeles Times has a great "how's-she's-done-it" piece on Clinton ... Has Richardson's new anti-war track hurt him in South Carolina? At least with one supporter. ... By the way, will Obama ever travel to South Carolina and not talk about faith?
 
***On the trail: Biden continues to campaign in Iowa with five stops, including four meet and greets and a house party; Brownback campaigns in his home state of Kansas; Clinton makes four stops in Iowa, including a speech on economic prosperity and three organizational rallies; Dodd makes five stops in Iowa, including two community forums; Edwards makes three stops in Iowa; Hunter is in Michigan at the North Oakland Republican Club Presidential Forum; Obama speaks on energy in New Hampshire; Elizabeth Edwards has four stops in New Hampshire where she discusses health care.
 
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