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First thoughts: Another red-hot day

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Julia Steers
*** Another red-hot day: If it's possible to shift into another gear after what was an incredibly contentious run-up to the Turkey Day holiday, then the campaigns did just that beginning on Saturday and Sunday. And today is another red-hot political news day. From the Oprah tour announcement to the Rudy-Romney fight, things are moving fast in the presidential race. NBC News kicked off the busy day with our report about Trent Lott's resignation. Let's get it started…

*** Romney vs. Rudy: Clinton vs. Obama may be the media's glamour fight, but Romney vs. Rudy right now is a pretty good show as well. Romney did a media avail yesterday to take on Giuliani and respond to some recent attacks by his campaign: "He has a real problem with facts. He's now done this time and again, making up facts that just happen to be wrong, and facts are stubborn things. The truth of the matter is that during my administration, the FBI's crime statistics show that violent crime was reduced in Massachusetts by 7%. So he's wrong again on the facts. He needs to go back to school and look at the facts and add the numbers up properly, and the truth of the matter is the in Massachusetts, violent crime went down." Rudy counterpunched on Morning Joe this morning, telling MSNBC's Joe Scarborough that Romney "lives in a glass house" for comparing Giuliani's views on social issues to Hillary Clinton's. "He has had every position Hillary has had." How soon before Giuliani echoes Ted Kennedy's "multiple choice" line when going after Romney?

*** Another week, another debate: Just as this Romney vs. Rudy fight is breaking out -- with Thompson also taking swings at Giuliani over guns -- the CNN/YouTube GOP debate takes place on Wednesday. While the YouTube format was somewhat restrictive when the Democrats debated back in July, it's likely that the pressure Romney, Rudy, Thompson, McCain and Huckabee are all feeling will mean we have a lively debate in store for us come Wednesday.

*** The Dem showdown over health care: The Republicans weren't the only ones trading jabs over the weekend. As they did at the November 15 debate in Las Vegas, both Clinton and Obama fought over the issue of universal health-care coverage. Could the fact that Massachusetts is having a difficult time mandating that all of its citizens have health insurance aid the Obama camp on this issue? Also, Bill Clinton hits the trail for Hillary in Iowa tomorrow…

*** Fighting after Turkey Day: For more on all the candidate jabs and counterpunches over the weekend -- Thompson firing off on guns (and Fox News too!), Romney criticizing Giuliani on New York's budget, Rudy firing back at Mitt, and Obama and Clinton sparring over health care -- be sure to check out First Read's reports on those back-and-forths.

*** No Chuck Norris this time: Meanwhile, welcome to the first tier, Mike Huckabee. Thompson and Romney seem comfortable unloading on the former governor in Iowa. And the Huckabee campaign has a much more serious ad to follow up its Chuck Norris spot that got its share of free media coverage -- but also seemed to cause Huckabee a gravitas problem. The new ad opens with a hat tip to his Christian background, with these first words on the screen: "Christian leader." Huckabee's speech at the Values Voter Summit is excerpted throughout the 30-second spot. It's the most overt attempt ANY Republican has made at social conservatives. Speaking of TV ads, don't miss the latest one from John McCain and ask yourself if the script isn't one either John Edwards or Barack Obama would like to use.


*** Another Old Bull out the Senate door: Outside the presidential race, the biggest news today is that GOP Sen. Trent Lott plans to resign before the end of the year. NBC News has learned that Lott in the midst of informing close allies that he plans to resign his Senate seat before the end of the year. And a formal announcement is expected to take place in Mississippi today. Getting back into leadership was a vindication of sorts for Lott, after he was forced to step down as the GOP Senate leader a few years ago. This is another GOP old bull -- along with Craig, Domenici, and Warner -- that is leaving the Senate. With rumors that Ted Stevens is leaving (though who knows for sure), that's a lot of experience walking out the GOP Senate door. As for Lott's seat, it's unclear whether Gov. Haley Barbour (R) will appoint a caretaker or someone who can get a leg up for November. Chip Pickering has been considered the heir apparent for sometime, but not every Republican in Mississippi may see things that way. And don't assume Democrats will just rollover on this one. Ex-Attorney General Michael Moore and former US Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy will be the Dem names floated first.

*** On the trail: Biden is in Iowa; Clinton campaigns in New Hampshire; Edwards also stumps in the Granite State, as does Giuliani and Kucinich; McCain travels through South Carolina; Obama, in New Hampshire, attends a roundtable with undecided voters before holding a rally there; Richardson is in Iowa; Romney conducts interviews in Boston; and Tancredo attends a town hall in New Hampshire. Also, in Charleston, WV, Jeri Thompson participates in a West Virginians for Life press conference and later holds a press avail with state legislators there.

Countdown to Iowa: 38 days
Countdown to New Hampshire: 43 days
Countdown to Michigan: 50 days
Countdown to Nevada and SC GOP primary: 54 days
Countdown to SC Dem primary: 61 days
Countdown to Florida: 64 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 71 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 344 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 421 days

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