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First thoughts: Bill's kidding, right?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Julia Steers

*** You're kidding, right? Yesterday in Las Vegas, per the AP, Bill Clinton compared the dust-up over his wife's answer on the drivers' license question to … the 2004 Swiftboat campaign against John Kerry and the GOP ad in 2002 that linked Max Cleland to Osama bin Laden. Over the weekend, it was Clinton supporter Eleanor Smeal comparing the post-debate reaction to Anita Hill. Now it's Bill invoking the Swiftboaters and Max Cleland. For one thing, much of the criticism over Clinton's response is coming from Democrats, and it's over how she answered the question -- not its substance. Moreover, no one is questioning her patriotism, as the Swiftboat and anti-Cleland ads did. Given this overreaction from Clinton supporters, how worried are they about the aftermath of her debate performance? Let's see if Bill Clinton keeps this line of defense up when he campaigns in Iowa later this week.

*** What about Edwards? He's getting lots of second looks in the media, but most are focusing on his critiques of Clinton -- with the caveats that candidates who went negative in 2004 were eventually punished. Of course, Edwards folks can argue that this isn't 2004 and Democrats may very well be angrier now than they were in 2004. Moreover, Tom Harkin, Iowa's liberal senator, has never been afraid to throw an elbow or two, and he's yet to be punished at the polls. Could it be we're all OVER-learning another lesson of 2004? In fact, there's a whole lengthy list of recent conventional wisdom that probably should be dismissed under the umbrella of "let's not over-learn the lessons of 2004."

*** Good news for Romney: Romney's campaign picked up some good news yesterday, when conservative Paul Weyrich endorsed the former Massachusetts governor. If anything, the endorsement is yet another example of how establishment evangelicals and social conservatives are coming around to Romney – which seemed unthinkable a year ago. Romney's challenge, however, will be convincing rank-and-file social conservatives to vote for him. Meanwhile, the Republican who isn't counting on help from establishment social conservatives -- Rudy Giuliani -- sits down for an interview today with NBC's Brian Williams, which will air tonight on NBC Nightly News. Speaking of Rudy, he put himself on the record again in defense of Bernie Kerik, at least defending of the job Kerik did while Giuliani was mayor.

*** P is for Paul: Yesterday, according to NBC's Doug Adams, Ron Paul's campaign raised more than $4 million in a grassroots push tied to the Guy Fawkes plot to blow up the British Parliament in the 17th Century, which was referenced in the film "V Is For Vendetta." (We are not kidding here.) It's a stunning haul, and it's perhaps the biggest feat we've seen from a non-frontrunner this year. But we still have our doubts about whether Paul can translate that into actual Republican delegates. He has flourished in online polls and in online fundraising, but will his supporters -- many of whom aren't traditional GOP voters; after all, how many Republicans you know are Guy Fawkes fans? -- show up in the early Republican contests? In the first test of support that the media paid attention to this year, the Ames straw poll, Paul finished a disappointing fifth in a field that didn't include Giuliani, McCain, or Thompson. Paul might have a real opportunity in New Hampshire, given the state's open registration and libertarian streak, but where else can he pick up actual delegates?

*** A Split decision? It has largely escaped attention due to the presidential race -- which has eclipsed all other political stories this year -- but it's Election Day. The biggest contests today are the gubernatorial races in Kentucky and Mississippi, and it's a pretty safe bet that the Democrats and Republicans will split them. In Kentucky, Democratic challenger Steve Beshear (D) has anywhere between a 15- to 23-point lead in the public polls over embattled incumbent Ernie Fletcher (R), whose administration became mired in a state hiring scandal that resulted in Fletcher's indictment (which was later dismissed after he struck a deal with prosecutors). Given the scandal, don't read TOO much into Beshear's likely victory (though national Democrats will use the results to tweak Mitch McConnell, who is up for re-election in 2008). Meanwhile, in Mississippi, it appears likely that incumbent Haley Barbour (R) will win re-election in his contest against challenger John Eaves (D). Per the Cook Political Report's Jennifer Duffy, Barbour is still basking in the glow of his response to Hurricane Katrina -- at least compared with Kathleen Blanco -- despite a Bloomberg News piece from the summer, which alleged that Barbour's family and friends had benefited financially from the post-Katrina reconstruction. Also: Is Barbour now running-mate material? If a southerner doesn't win the nomination, doesn't a southerner have to be on the GOP ticket? The last GOP ticket not to have a southern on it -- Dole-Kemp -- was the GOP's least successful campaign in a generation.

*** Judi's day: Today, Judith Giuliani campaigns by herself in New Hampshire, where she speaks at a leadership summit on breast cancer. This is the first time that she has campaigned solo in front of the media (remember that she skipped the forum hosted by Maria Shriver). But according to campaign aides, Mrs. Giuliani is expected to do more campaigning by herself, NBC/NJ's Matthew Berger reports. In fact, she just got her first campaign aide.

*** On the trail: Clinton continues to talk energy in Iowa; Dodd is also in the Hawkeye State, where he gives a speech on the rule of law in US national security and foreign policy; Edwards campaigns in New Hampshire; McCain stumps in Iowa, where he speaks on renewable energy and holds a media avail; Obama travels to Iowa; Richardson holds a conference call to discuss his new book, "Leading By Example," which describes his plan to tackle the country's energy problems; and Thompson visits South Carolina.

Countdown to Iowa: 58 days
Countdown to New Hampshire: 63 days
Countdown to Michigan: 70 days
Countdown to Nevada and SC GOP primary: 74 days
Countdown to SC Dem primary: 81 days
Countdown to Florida: 84 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 91 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 364 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 441 days

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