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First thoughts: Risking credibility?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Risking Credibility? Twenty-nine days until Iowa… Despite the new National Intelligence Estimate, Bush is still talking tough on Iran – as are the GOP presidential candidates. Thompson yesterday questioned the accuracy of the intelligence, which concluded that Iran had stopped its nuclear program in 2003. (Of course, there's irony here since intel was such a debacle regarding Iraq.) McCain also seemed to question the report. And Giuliani is up with a new TV ad in New Hampshire that links Iran with terrorists. "I remember back to the 1970s and the early 1980s. Iranian mullahs took American hostages and they held the American hostages for 444 days. And they released the American hostages in one hour, and that should tell us a lot about these Islamic terrorists that we're facing." Are the Republican presidential candidates risking credibility here, particularly McCain and Giuliani, who are both trying to appeal to the normally skeptical New Hampshire independents? One thing is for sure: They still want to talk about Iran. But what happens when you keep talking about an Iran that no longer seems so threatening?

*** Returning to 2003: Today's New York Times writes about something we had been thinking: All of a sudden, as Clinton and Obama duke it out, Edwards is campaigning like he was in 2003 -- staying above the fray. A few weeks ago, especially after the Philly debate, it looked like Edwards was going to reprise Gephardt's role from four years ago. But suddenly the guy is running as if he's "Back to the Future" in December 2003. Rival campaigns for some time have always been nervous about the media's obsession with Clinton and Obama, because they were worried it would allow Edwards to do something like this without the same scrutiny that both Clinton and Obama would get if they changed their style this drastically overnight. 

*** Lawn stories: Good news for Romney! He figured out how to stop having reporters ask about The Speech. Instead, they're now asking about his lawn service -- and its employment of illegal immigrants. Yesterday, in response to another Boston Globe report on his lawn service, Romney fired the firm. Seriously, how the heck did we get to a point in this presidential race where a major candidate is forced to have to fire a lawn service to prove their worth to be president? Of course, with illegal immigration being such a hot topic -- especially on the GOP side -- perhaps this was inevitable. But did Romney overreact here? After all, per the Globe, it was the illegal immigrant who lied to the lawn company, and this was known to Romney and the lawn service and, frankly, the Globe for about a year. Didn't Romney just say at a debate that customers shouldn't be held accountable for hiring a firm that might have illegals? By his actions, hasn't Romney now said customers should be held responsible? 

VIDEO: NBC Political Director Chuck todd talks about the implication of Romney's landscape decision.

*** Welcome to the first tier, Mr. Huckabee: In Iowa yesterday, Huckabee admitted that he knew little about the NIE report on Iran, and reporters pounced. And courtesy of the Huffington Post, it looks like Huckabee is going to have to deal with the Dumond story today.

*** Bill makes more news: We guess it should no longer be surprising that Bill will make plenty of news when he goes out on the trail. Yesterday in New Hampshire, he criticized the media's coverage of the presidential race. Less noticed was his statement that reporters misconstrued his recent comments on the Iraq war. But in jumps Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry, who says he might have voted against the 2002 Iraq resolution -- if Bill Clinton had been more vocal in his opposition to the measure.

*** Big speech day: Clinton delivers what her campaign is billing as a major economic (on subprime housing) in New York City; she'll also sit down with CNBC's Maria Bartiromo later today. And Obama, in Iowa, gives a speech on national service. Per his campaign, the Illinois senator will propose increasing the number of AmeriCorps slots and doubling the number of Peace Corps volunteers by 2011. One of his incentives to reach these goals is to ensure that the first $4,000 of college tuition is free for those who complete up to 100 hours of service a year. At the speech, Obama will be introduced and endorsed by former Pennsylvania Sen. Harris Wofford (D).

*** On the trail: Elsewhere, Dodd holds three town halls in Iowa; Edwards campaigns in South Carolina; Giuliani raises money in Ohio and Kentucky; Huckabee is in Little Rock, AR; Kucinich is in Iowa; McCain campaigns with Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling in New Hampshire; Paul stumps throughout New Hampshire; Richardson hosts "Breakfast with Bill" in DC; Romney raises money in New Orleans and Houston; and Thompson campaigns in South Carolina. Also, Michelle Obama participates in a round table with working women in New Hampshire.

Countdown to Iowa: 29 days
Countdown to New Hampshire: 34 days
Countdown to Michigan: 41 days
Countdown to Nevada and SC GOP primary: 45 days
Countdown to SC Dem primary: 52 days
Countdown to Florida: 55 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 62 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 335 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 412 days

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