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First thoughts: The correct analogy

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Julia Steers
*** The correct analogy: Lots of folks keep bringing up Howard Dean when talking about Clinton's vulnerability vs. inevitability. The comparison, though, doesn't work since Dean never led the national polls by this much -- a new USA/Today Gallup poll has her at 50%, with Obama at 21% -- nor had a stranglehold on the establishment the way Clinton does. The better comparison (if there is one historically and there's a chance there isn't one) is George W. Bush in 1999 or Walter Mondale in 1983. Both Bush and Mondale had HUGE advantages in the polls and among the establishment class of both parties, and then an early state loss put them in a precarious position. The same could hold true if Clinton loses in Iowa. Of course, both Bush and Mondale survived, and maybe that's the firewall-like lead Clinton is building, an ability to survive a major stumble. Dean's lead was never as solid as Clinton's is right now. If Dean should be compared to anyone, it would be Giuliani.

*** All aboard the Hillary Express: Indeed, Clinton inevitability train keeps on picking up steam. Recently, she has picked up endorsements from folks -- like Rep. John Lewis and New Hampshire's Kathy Sullivan -- who appeared to be gauging how the field was playing out before picking a candidate. (By comparison, when was the last time Obama received a major national endorsement? Was it Federico Pena last month? Is the campaign prepping for more Clinton rollouts?) But what are the consequences of Hillary widening her lead, in both polls and perception? Does she retreat even more in a bubble and play the political version of prevent defense? Or does she let it loose, realizing she has the margin to make mistakes. One thing is for sure: As she becomes THE front-runner, a defeat in any of the early nominating states would be treated as an even bigger blow. Still, it's a nice place to be compared with where she was six months ago.

*** It's over, right? The biggest news from the FEC reports isn't Clinton's narrow cash-on-hand lead over Obama in primary money ($35 million to about $32 million) or the top four Democrats' HUGE cash-on-hand lead over the top four GOPers ($104 million versus $36.5 million, per USA Today). Rather, it's that McCain is in the red when you subtract his debts ($1.73 million) from his primary cash on hand ($1.67 million). Ouch. NBC political analyst Charlie Cook actually anticipated this in a National Journal column back in July. "For all intents and purposes, McCain's campaign is over," Cook wrote back then. "The physicians have pulled up the sheet; the executors of the estate are taking over. Paying bills and winding down -- not strategizing, organizing, and getting a message out -- will be the order of the day." For weeks, especially given some recent positive press, many have been cautioning that McCain's campaign isn't over. But with his negative cash on hand, is it time to change that opinion?

*** I'll have the special: In a rare moment this year when the political press corps turns its attention away -- ever so slightly -- from the presidential trail, Democrat Niki Tsongas (widow of the late Paul Tsongas) and Republican Jim Ogonowski (a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel) face off today in a special congressional election to replace Rep. Marty Meehan (D), who left to become the chancellor of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. This is Massachusetts, of course, and Tsongas is the clear favorite. But polls have shown that Ogonowski is keeping the race close, in large part because he's portraying himself as the outsider running against the Democratic Congress. As we've asked before, will Ogonowski -- like Paul Hackett (D) did last cycle -- serve as a model for GOP candidates running for Congress next year? Polls open at 7:00 am ET and close at 8:00 pm ET.

*** GOP cattle call time: Since the campaign season began, it seems the Democrats haven't met a Democratic interest group they won't address. By comparison, their GOP counterparts haven't participated in as many cattle calls. But that changes a bit this week: In addition to the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit later this week, several of the Republicans-- Brownback, Giuliani, McCain, Romney, and Thompson speak (in that order) -- at the Republican Jewish Coalition presidential forum in DC. Expect some tough talk by all on Iran.
 
*** On the trail: Elsewhere, Edwards is in Iowa; Huckabee, in New Hampshire, speaks at the Primary Insight Presidential Candidate Forum and the AARP Divided We Fail Forum; McCain appears on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews; and Thompson -- in addition to his talk to the Republican Jewish Coalition -- speaks at the GOP Presidential Trust Dinner in DC.

Countdown to LA GOV election: 4 days
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Countdown to LA GOV run-off (if necessary): 32 days
Countdown to Iowa: 79 days
Countdown to New Hampshire: 84 days
Countdown to Michigan: 91 days
Countdown to SC GOP primary: 95 days
Countdown to Florida: 105 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 112 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 385 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 462 days

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