From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
LAS VEGAS, NV -- Thanks to Drudge, last month's debate in Philly, and Clinton's new position on drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants, tonight's Democratic showdown here at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas could be pretty interesting. Will Drudge's report of a Clinton camp warning to moderator Wolf Blitzer not to "pull a Russert" influence the debate? (Blitzer and CNN deny hearing from the campaign.) Will Clinton go on the offensive after playing defense at last month's debate? Did the New York senator -- by issuing a statement yesterday saying that, as president, she wouldn't support giving drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants -- open herself up to further charges that she evades tough questions? And given the UNLV venue, will Jerry Tarkanian or Larry Johnson be in attendance? Actually, that famous UNLV team could be a good metaphor. They seemed unbeatable until they met a more cerebral, though less talented, opponent. UNLV lost their undefeated season and the championship because they couldn't handle the pressure of a rare close game. Can Clinton handle the pressure now that she doesn't seem so inevitable?
*** Vegas, baby, Vegas: Seven Democratic candidates -- Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Kucinich, Obama, and Richardson -- will appear on stage together here in Las Vegas. The two-hour debate airs on CNN beginning at 8:00 pm ET, and it's divided into two parts. The first hour is moderated by Blitzer, with additional questions from Campbell Brown and John Roberts. The second hour will consist of undecided registered voters asking the
candidates questions, with help from Suzanne Malveaux. (By the way, who will be the first candidate to make a "planted question" crack once we get to this part of the debate?)
*** A lot of ground to cover: It's been just a little more than two weeks since the last
debate. But that, of course, is an eternity in this presidential cycle. Among the events and issues since that night in Philly: the "politics of piling on" versus the "politics of parsing"; Plant-gate; Obama's speech at the J-J dinner and his performance on Meet the Press hours later (which was the basis of McGovern's criticism); Edwards refusing to say he would endorse Clinton if she wins the nomination; Dodd's shot at Edwards' seeming anger, as well as his criticism of Bill Clinton for lumping reviews of Hillary's past debate performance with the Swift Boat ads; and Biden's phone conversation with Musharaff. That's all in just in two weeks.
*** She said what? And the latest twist and turn in the Dem field, as we mentioned above, is Clinton's new position on the issue that became the climax of the last debate. On the very day that Eliot Spitzer announced that he was abandoning his plan to give illegal immigrants drivers' licenses, Clinton -- who had stated, for the most part, that she generally supported Spitzer's plan -- said yesterday in a statement: "As President, I will not support drivers' licenses for undocumented people and will press for comprehensive immigration reform that deals with all of the issues around illegal immigration." Come again? If that's the case, why didn't she say that when she was originally asked the question? Of course, as is the Clinton way, they have embraced her new position and even begun attacking Edwards for now being the only one of the Big Three not to have taken a definitive position on this. Actually, the Edwards indecision is surprising. Most rank-and-file labor folk are probably against the idea of driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. Actually, so is a large majority of the country.
*** Enter the Silver State: Tonight's debate also has inspired today's papers to look at the state's relevance on the primary calendar. The up side is that Nevada will be the only game in town between New Hampshire and South Carolina, and the pols here are very excited about their January 19 contests. But how level is the playing field? The state's politics is dominated by various power centers, much more so than other states and the early decision by Harry Reid's son to back Clinton spooked a lot of the other campaigns.
*** Mass. action: Today's date not only marks tonight's Democratic debate. It also marks the deadline that Massachusetts residents have to sign up for health insurance or face possible penalties -- the requirement that Romney signed into law when he was governor. And to mark the day, the Thompson camp today sends out this email: "Mitt Romney says his government-mandated health care plan is one of his most important accomplishments as governor. But what does his plan really accomplish, and is this the kind of health care plan YOU would want to be forced to pay for?" The email ends up hitting Romney's plan for allowing cheap abortions and then Thompson touts his own pro-life credentials.
*** On the trail: Before tonight's debate, Biden holds an event at his Las Vegas HQ. And afterwards, all the Democratic candidates attend the Clark County Democratic Party's Jefferson Jackson dinner. Elsewhere, Giuliani stumps in Florida; Huckabee is in Washington State, where he tours Microsoft; McCain hits fundraisers in California and Colorado; Romney also raises money in California, as well as hosting an "Ask Mitt Anything" town hall in Burbank, CA; Tancredo campaigns in New Hampshire; and Thompson holds a media avail in New York City.
Countdown to Iowa: 49 days
Countdown to New Hampshire: 54 days
Countdown to Michigan: 61 days
Countdown to Nevada and SC GOP primary: 65 days
Countdown to SC Dem primary: 72 days
Countdown to Florida: 75 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 82 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 355 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 432 days
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