From NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Julia Steers
*** So how did he do? First and foremost, yesterday's GOP debate was about Fred Thompson's debut, and the collective sense is that he scored from anywhere from "survived" to "just fine." The campaign is very happy, particularly with his performance in the second hour. Be sure to note the disconnect on Thompson -- between those who have spent a lot of time with him on the trail (most of these folks believed he did MUCH better than expected) to those who haven't (who seemed to emphasize his uneven performance).
*** First, consult all the lawyers: If the debate has legs for anyone, it will be for Romney -- and that may not be a good thing. If there was a gaffe committed by any candidate it was Romney's answer on Iran when he said he'd have consult attorneys before anyone else before deciding whether to unilaterally go after Iran's nuclear facility. One can picture the attack adds now, even hear Thompson possibly say, "I may have played a lawyer on TV, but the last group of folks I need to consult is a bunch of lawyers when I decide what I need to do to keep this country safe." This is a tricky thing for Romney's to clean up since, technically, he was speaking the truth because EVERY president consults counsel to decide certain constitutional questions.
*** Gut check: Or is it a head or heart check? How many GOP primary voters are finding themselves split on whom to support because their head tells them Romney is the brightest guy to put up against Clinton; their heart wants them to believe Thompson could become the answer; and their gut keeps coming back to the idea of Giuliani? A few other debate thoughts: Did anyone else notice Huckabee disappearing a bit on stage? His normally well-received schtick didn't seem the right pitch for an economic debate, and Thompson definitely seemed to overshadow him. McCain had a couple of good moments, but he also didn't seem to be as involved in this debate as he was in previous ones. By the way, when will the front-running candidates begin banding together and ask debate organizers to shrink the field. All of them would likely benefit.
*** Bartlett's quotations: Is the GOP having a unity problem? First there was Dan Bartlett's rough analysis of the GOP field, which seemed to get extra play because reporters were wondering if he was channeling the White House. Then there was the waffling by Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo at the GOP debate about whether they'd support the eventual GOP nominee. Remember, it wouldn't take more than a percentage or two in some states for a third party candidate like Paul or Tancredo to cost the GOP a whole bunch of Bush '04 states out West.
*** A boost for the GOP? The happiest folks about yesterday's decision by some of the Democrats to yank their names off of the Michigan ballot: the Michigan Republican Party. This means their primary will be the ONLY game in town on January 15. Oh, and that news came on the very day the Michigan GOP was co-hosting the CNBC/MSNBC/WSJ debate, which certainly helped the party remind their presidential candidates of this potential opportunity. Also on the Dem side, Clinton is taking media elite incoming today -- from a Washington Post editorial and Maureen Dowd. Their message is the same: She's waffling or straddling, depending on your point of view.
*** On the trail: Clinton today campaigns on innovation in New Hampshire and then attends a Club 44 event in Boston; McCain stumps in Iowa; Obama stumps in Maryland; Richardson raises money in Iowa; and Romney has a meet and greet in Royal Oak, MI before heading to Denver, where he holds a press avail.
Countdown to MA-05 special election: 17 days
Countdown to LA GOV election: 10 days
Countdown to Election Day 2007: 27 days
Countdown to LA GOV run-off (if necessary): 38 days
Countdown to Iowa: 85 days
Countdown to New Hampshire: 90 days
Countdown to Michigan: 97 days
Countdown to SC GOP primary: 101 days
Countdown to Florida: 111 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 118 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 391 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 468 days
Click here to sign up for First Read email alerts.