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The battle for Iowa

The Washington Post uses the announcement of Oprah stumping for Obama and Bill Clinton campaigning today in Iowa for wife to pit Oprah versus Bill. "Both are legendary communicators, perhaps the two greatest in their generation. Both helped build an ethic of empathy, turning the public confession into a rite of passage. Both are world-renowned -- one for being a former president, the other for a TV show usually identified just by her first name."

Among the many back-and-forths Clinton and Obama had yesterday was this one: "'If she wants to tout her experience of having visited countries, that's fine,' Obama said. But, he added, 'I don't think that Madeleine Albright would think Hillary Clinton was the face of foreign policy during the Clinton administration. But maybe she'll disagree with that.'"

"Later in the day, Albright released a statement through the Clinton campaign saying the former first lady 'had represented American interests and values during her visits to more than 80 countries" and would 'be ready from the very first day to lead our nation in a dangerous and complicated world, which is why I am supporting her candidacy.'"

Meanwhile, Clinton is really pushing against Obama's health-care plan in Iowa. The campaign called and offered her up for a telephone interview with the Des Moines Register, and she said again railed against Obama's plan. "He is the only Democrat who doesn't cover everyone," she said, "and for a lot of Democrats, that's a very important piece of information as they make up their minds about who to caucus for."

The paper points out that "earlier this month she did not feel the need to attack her Democratic opponents. However, last week she began characterizing Obama as light on foreign policy credentials and more recently accused him of claiming to have a universal health care proposal when his plan would in fact leave 15 million uninsured."

The AP's Mike Glover has a helpful reminder of just how easy it is to participate in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. "Not affiliated with a political party? Not registered? Not even old enough to vote? No problem. Come and help choose the nation's next president."

"In yet another quirk of Iowa's caucus system, all citizens can participate as long as they sign a statement attesting to residency in the precinct and show that they'll be 18 in time for the general election."

NBC/NJ's Anburajan and Dann examine the focus some of the campaigns have put on small-town weekly newspapers. In Iowa, a state that has the highest newspaper readership per capita, that impact is even more profound. There are 39 daily newspapers and 272 weeklies in the state.  Campaigns like Obama's generally attempt to reach a handful of these papers to get local coverage in each county they visit.

An NBC survey of 15 weekly and local daily newspapers found these papers reporting mixed experiences with all the campaigns, Democratic or Republican. Most papers said that their inboxes were flooded by emails from all the campaigns and many received phone calls before an event to remind them to attend. The majority of newspapers reported being able to get a few minutes with a candidate either immediately after the event during the rope line or with a one-on-one interview. Senator Clinton was the exception in this case. Both Edwards' and Obama's staff were praised for their efforts to reach out to reporters and provide access to the candidate.

Surprisingly, second-tier candidates did not appear to be as media friendly. Graham of the Missouri Valley Times said that the paper recently missed an appearance by Chris Dodd because his campaign had not reached out to them. Tim Rowher of the Daily Nonpareil (circ: 16,200) described both Dodd and Sam Brownback (before he dropped out of the race) as aloof in their approach. Biden was seen as accessible, but his outreach efforts did not compare to the first-tier Democrats.