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First thoughts: Closing arguments

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro

*** Closing argument time: Back in early February, almost 10 months ago, the Democratic presidential candidates all spoke at the DNC's winter meeting in DC. And in a way, each of them made their opening arguments there. Clinton played up her anti-war credentials. ("If we in Congress don't end this war before January 2009, as president, I will.") Obama said it was time "to turn the page," and he talked about the politics of hope. ("We've had a lot of plans, Democrats. What we've had is a shortage of hope.") And Edwards preached that silence "is a betrayal." ("This is not the time for political calculation. This is the time for political courage.") Today, the candidates once again speak to the DNC -- this time in Northern Virginia -- where they get to make their closing arguments with just 34 days to go until Iowa. Richardson, Edwards, and Obama (in that order) speak in the late morning, while Kucinich, Biden, and Clinton (in that order) take their turns in the early afternoon.

*** Another round of forums: But that isn't the only forum these candidates will address in the next two days. Saturday afternoon, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Kucinich, and Obama -- appearing separately -- speak at the Heartland Presidential Forum in Des Moines, IA, where they will discuss issues like agriculture, health care, and immigration. Then, beginning at 8:00 pm ET later that night, all eight of the Democratic candidates will participate in the "Iowa Brown & Black" presidential forum, which will focus on issues important to Latinos and

African Americans. NPR's Michele Norris and PBS's Ray Suarez moderate the forum, and it airs on HDNet TV. (If you thought the audience was small for last night's Cowboys-Packers game on the NFL Network, we're pretty sure even fewer people will have access to watch this forum -- never mind this is occurring on a Saturday night.)

*** Scrutiny time: With Iowa getting closer and closer, the media's coverage of the top Democratic candidates is getting tougher and tougher. While many focus on Obama's coffee with Michael Bloomberg this morning, Obama aides and supporters have to deal with a Washington Post piece that resurrects the Hopefund PAC story and a Paul Krugman column that excoriates Obama on health care (with some amazingly harsh language; will he be this harsh of an Obama critic if he's the nominee?). Clinton doesn't get off easy, either. The Post today emphasizes the media's frustrations with the Clinton campaign, and the Boston Globe suggests that New Hampshire has become a firewall for her. (Is this a good thing? Raising expectations like this for New Hampshire?) And Huckabee gets a little bit of scrutiny today, too.

*** Bill's back: Bill Clinton returns to campaign in Iowa on Saturday. And as WHO-TV's Dave Price notes, it will "be a battle of the Clintons" in the Des Moines metro area that afternoon. "Hillary will take part in the Heartland Forum in downtown Des Moines at 4:40 pm ET, while Bill speaks at 4:30 pm ET at Norwalk High School. Price asks: Does the press cover Bill or Hillary?"

*** Biden says the "I" word: Biden made news by saying yesterday that Bush should be impeached if he unilaterally attacks Iran. The liberal blogosphere will love it. But this is striking language from the guy who may want to be the next secretary of state. (Will this come up at his confirmation hearing? Doesn't this put the nail in his coffin for running mate consideration?) Ironically, a call for impeachment by Foreign Relations Committee Chair Biden would have garnered more headlines than a call for impeachment by presidential candidate Biden.

*** Security detail vs. Kerik indictment: Isn't it interesting that this story about Giuliani's billing records and his security detail while mayor has received more play and put Giuliani more on the defensive than the actual Bernie Kerik indictment? (We'll let others decide why the one affair is more intriguing to the press than the other affair.) Giuliani spent the entire day on the defensive over this story, but the big question is whether this is going to spur more reports about this period in Giuliani's political life. Is this the start of a rough couple of weeks or simply another Kerik-like speed bump?

*** On the trail: Elsewhere today, Dodd -- who isn't attending the DNC meeting -- campaigns in Iowa; Edwards heads to Des Moines after speaking at the DNC confab; Giuliani speaks at a town hall in South Carolina and then one in Boca Raton, FL; Huckabee, in New Hampshire, addresses the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce; McCain stumps in South Carolina; Romney attends a series of events in Iowa, including an Iowa Christian Alliance house party; Tancredo is in New Hampshire; and Thompson, along with wife Jeri, appears on CNN's Larry King Live.

Countdown to Iowa: 34 days
Countdown to New Hampshire: 39 days
Countdown to Michigan: 46 days
Countdown to Nevada and SC GOP primary: 50 days
Countdown to SC Dem primary: 57 days
Countdown to Florida: 60 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 67 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 340 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 417 days

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