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Oh-eight (R): Mitt ahead in NH

Per a new Washington Post/ABC poll of New Hampshire, "Romney enters the final month of campaigning with a sizable lead drawing support from 37 percent of likely primary voters, nearly double that of his closest competitor, McCain at 20% and Giuliani at 16%. Huckabee's rise in Iowa has made him the target of his Republican rivals, but he is stuck in the single digits in New Hampshire, with 9 percent. Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), who has predicted he will raise more than $12 million this quarter, is at 8 percent. Fred D. Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee who entered the GOP race to considerable fanfare in September, gets the support of 4 percent of likely voters."

More: "Romney has his weaknesses, however, on other top issues. Giuliani and McCain (31 percent each) outpace Romney (17 percent) as the candidate most trusted on terrorism. McCain has an edge on Iraq, with 36 percent calling him best on this issue, compared with 20 percent each for Giuliani and Romney."

AP/Pew is out with its GOP polls in the first big three states, and the surveys find dead heats in Iowa and South Carolina -- and a healthy lead for Romney in New Hampshire.

A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg national poll is the second national poll in a row (USA/Gallup was the first) to show Huckabee moving into second place behind Giuliani. "In the Times/Bloomberg poll, Huckabee was preferred by 17% of likely GOP voters -- up from 7% in a similar October survey. Support for Giuliani, the former New York mayor who once enjoyed a commanding lead in national polls, slid 9 percentage points over the last two months -- to 23%"

But unlike the earlier USA Today/Gallup survey, this poll shows Clinton's lead in the national Dem primary holding steady at 45%, with Obama and Edwards much farther behind at 21% and 11% respectively.

GIULIANI: "Giuliani has stepped down as head of his consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, after months of refusing to disclose the firm's clients or the role he played." More: "The New York Times yesterday identified one client as the Persian Gulf country of Qatar, which was accused of sheltering suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but today it is a US ally. Others identified in published reports as Giuliani clients are airlines, energy companies, and communications businesses; one client, Purdue Pharma L.P., makes the controversial painkiller OxyContin."

Our question: Why did it take Rudy this long to step down from the firm?

Here's the script of the new TV ad Giuliani is running in New Hampshire and Boston.
"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. The one hour in which they released them was the one hour in which Ronald Reagan was taking the Oath of Office as President of the United States. The best way you deal with dictators, the best way you deal with tyrants and terrorists, you stand up to them. You don't back down."

HUCKABEE: NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann reports: During an on-the-record dinner here at the conclusion of Mike Huckabee's two day swing through the state, the governor hoped to impress national and local reporters with all that he knew about governance, education, and Iowa know-how. But journalists came away amazed by what he didn't know -- almost anything about the NIE report on nuclear weapons in Iran

Asked about the report, Huckabee shook his head slightly to indicate he  wasn't familiar with its content. The Politico's David Paul Kuhn incredulously asked if he had seen the report or had been briefed on it. "No," replied the governor. Kuhn proceeded to explain the NIE's findings and ask a handful of follow-up questions based on the premise explained by Greene "in the most  simplistic sense."

The Chicago Tribune: "Huckabee's unfamiliarity with the NIE summary and his questioning of the conclusions reached by the 16 government agencies that prepared it could add to questions about whether the new GOP frontrunner in Iowa has the foreign affairs experience needed to serve as president—particular during a time of heightened Middle East tensions."

Newsweek's Fineman is reporting that James Dobson is edging closer to endorsing Huckabee.

Meanwhile, the Huffington Post delves into the Wayne Dumond controversy -- something that's followed Huckabee around for years and caused him major political problems in 2002, a re-election campaign he almost lost. The Huff Post believes it has found new evidence. "But the confidential files obtained by the Huffington Post show that Huckabee was provided letters from several women who had been sexually assaulted by Dumond and who indeed predicted that he would rape again - and perhaps murder - if released."

"In a letter that has never before been made public, one of Dumond's victims warned: 'I feel that if he is released it is only a matter of time before he commits another crime and fear that he will not leave a witness to testify against him the next time.' Before Dumond was granted parole at Huckabee's urging, records show that Huckabee's office received a copy of this letter from Arkansas' parole board."

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell profiled Huckabee on Nightly News last night. "With success here in Iowa comes tougher scrutiny," O'Donnell reported. "No question, Republicans say Huckabee is conservative on social values, opposing abortion and gay marriage. But when it comes to other issues, there's some doubt," particularly on taxes

MCCAIN: The candidate spoke about the Iran NIE report last night at a New Hampshire town meeting, NBC's Bethany Thomas reports. "I haven't seen anything quite like that before -- there probably has been -- there was really a re-assessment that indicates that perhaps the Iranians are not as heavily engaged in developing nuclear weapons as we had previously thought. I would like to know what it is what information that we have that changed that intelligence estimate. I also would like to remind you that the Iranians are still supporting terrorist organizations -- Hamas, Hezbollah. And they are still dedicated to the extinction of Israel and they are still providing the most lethal explosive devices to people that are coming into Iran and are killing young American soldiers."

ROMNEY: Here's the Boston Globe's investigation into Romney's lawn service, and how the paper discovered that the service STILL employs illegal immigrants. The Globe first reported this in late 2006, but after confirming that the company still employs illegal immigrants as of yesterday, Romney decided to fire the firm. "Questioned yesterday afternoon during a campaign swing through New Hampshire about the use of illegal immigrants on his lawn, Romney declined to answer. An aide said he would issue a statement, and Romney, emerging from a Concord restaurant, said, 'Did you hear him? We'll give you a statement.'"

"Last night, the campaign issued a statement saying Romney had just learned - apparently from Globe reporters - of the company's continued practice of employing illegal immigrants, and immediately fired it. 'After this same issue arose last year, I gave the company a second chance with very specific conditions,' Romney said in the statement. 'They were instructed to make sure people working for the company were of legal status. We personally met with the company in order to inform them about the importance of this matter. The owner of the company guaranteed us, in very certain terms, that the company would be in total compliance with the law going forward."

Be sure to read the details of this piece. Basically, the illegal worker bought illegal papers and technically gave the owner of the lawn service what appeared to be legal papers.

The Globe runs a second story on lawn-gate and notes how Romney's rivals "wasted little last night ridiculing" him over this controversy.

MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski interviewed Ann Romney on Nightly News last night, and Romney talked about her husband's upcoming speech on his religion and whether Americans will vote for a Mormon. "What Mitt is going to speak on is really religious liberty and what we are going to face as this nation," Ann Romney said. Then Brzezinski asked, "So to those who say Mitt Romney could never be elected because he is a Mormon, you say what?"
 
"No!" Ann Romney said. "That is not correct … I totally have faith in the American people if they are fair and good."

Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld endorsed Romney. "He's a true-blue fiscal conservative and he's spelled out exactly how he's going to hold down spending in Washington," Weld said during a campaign stop with the candidate in New Hampshire.

TANCREDO
: Tancredo is up with an even more outrageous ad on immigration, compared with his first one. "The ad begins with images of the bloody bodies of 28 people reportedly killed by gang members in Honduras and says the same type of violence has come to the United States with illegal immigrants."

THOMPSON: The candidate talked up his gun stance while stumping in Greer, South Carolina yesterday.

Also in South Carolina, he reacted to the Iran NIE.  "I hope that they are accurate with this assessment, but right now, I don't have the confidence in our own intelligence capabilities to make that assessment."