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First thoughts: Hillary's Philly aftermath

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Hillary's Philly aftermath: A little less than 48 hours after the Philly Phracas, the Clinton campaign is in the midst of giving up denying they lost the debate. Instead, they're trying to define how they lost. Strategy One: blame the media. She's the front-runner, everyone saw her as the target, and the campaign appears intent on crediting the moderators for her problems -- since it's easier to blame the media (a trick usually reserved for the Republican side) than see one of her opponents get any credit. Indeed, Mark Penn yesterday held a conference call with key campaign fundraisers and repeatedly talked about the moderators. Our response: what part of front-runner doesn't the campaign understand? We are two months and two days from the first round of voting, the tests are supposed to get harder -- not easier.

VIDEO: NBC's Political Director Chuck Todd offers his first read on the democratic debates, how the Clinton campaign is handling her performance by defining how she lost the debate.

*** Strategy two: Don't get caught in a back-and-forth with any one foe. Lump Obama and Edwards together so that Obama, in particular, doesn't get to look like he's rising above it all. (Camp Clinton loves that Obama's negatives have been rising; they'd like to see that trend continue.) For example, the campaign yesterday released a video entitled "The Politics of Pile-On," a take off on Obama's "politics of Hope," even though it was Edwards who led the charge on Tuesday. And, of course, engaging Edwards directly can breathe life into him and benefit Obama at the same time. Just ask veterans of the '04 Edwards campaign.

*** Strategy three: use the debate to galvanize women so that it looks like a bunch of men ganged up on a woman, rather than simply a bunch of opponents ganging up on a front-runner. Coincidentally or not, Clinton today returns to her alma mater, Wellesley College, a liberal arts college for women. Think she'll bring up Tuesday's debate at the school?

*** Did she answer the question? By the way, we still have to ask: Does Clinton support Spitzer's driver's license plan or not? The campaign yesterday issued this statement: "Senator Clinton supports governors like Governor Spitzer who believe they need such a measure to deal with the crisis caused by this administration's failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform." The Clinton campaign says this statement makes it clear that she does support Spitzer's plan. But the statement appears more supportive of governors who attempt to do this and not an endorsement of the policy itself. Also, check out Giuliani's aggressiveness to remind voters he's against giving driver's licenses to immigrants. Rudy is not exactly the toughest-on-immigration Republican in the field, but being able to contrast his position with the Democrats allows him to look tougher than if he compares some of his stances with his primary foes.

*** It's the economy, stupid? So far, the economy has been a so-called sleeper issue in the presidential race. In fact, it's remarkable how little attention the 2008 candidates have put on the economy, even as a day doesn't go by without a major headline about it. We've noted this before, but if the economy becomes one of the major issues of 2008, the Republicans are going to long for the days when they had to hold town halls defending the Iraq war.

*** On the trail: Elsewhere today, Clinton, after visiting Wellesley, heads to an event at the University of New Hampshire; Giuliani attends a rally supporting GOP candidates running for the New Jersey state Senate and Assembly; Huckabee does another round of media interviews, including Fox & Friends and Charlie Rose; McCain stumps in South Carolina; Obama holds a campaign event in Durham, NC; and Thompson, in Nevada, stops by a state GOP breakfast.

Countdown to Election Day 2007: 5 days
Countdown to Iowa: 63 days
Countdown to New Hampshire: 68 days
Countdown to Michigan: 75 days
Countdown to Nevada and SC GOP primary: 79 days
Countdown to SC Dem primary: 86 days
Countdown to Florida: 89 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 96 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 369 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 446 days

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