USA Today writes up the new USA Today/Gallup poll: "Clinton is backed by 45% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, up 6 percentage points from a poll taken two weeks earlier that showed her standing eroding… Obama is at 27%, up 3 points, and former North Carolina senator John Edwards is third at 15%."
"In hypothetical matchups for the general presidential election, Clinton and Obama each led Giuliani, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Romney, although at times narrowly. Obama was somewhat stronger, besting Giuliani by 6 points, Huckabee by 11 and Romney by 18. Clinton had an edge of 1 point over Giuliani, 9 points over Huckabee and 6 points over Romney.
BIDEN: The Union Leader followed Biden around the state and profiled him. "Ask the average voter what he or she thinks of Biden, and you're likely to get one of two responses: 'Who's he?' or 'He'd make a great secretary of state.' The latter seems to irk Biden even more than the former. 'I'm not going to be secretary of state. Don't say that,' he pleaded with one voter at a recent campaign stop on the Seacoast. 'In no administration would I accept the position of secretary of state.'"
In a phone call yesterday, NBC's Ken Strickland notes, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman -- and presidential candidate -- Joe Biden told Pakistan President Musharraf to "return Pakistan to the democratic path" by lifting restrictions on the press, restoring an independent judiciary, and ensuring free and fair January elections.
CLINTON: The "personal touches" were on display for Clinton in Iowa yesterday, the Des Moines Register writes. "Clinton's staff believes there's little doubt among Iowans that the New York senator has the strength to lead. But proof that the former first lady turns off a significant number of Iowans is easily found in the most recent Iowa Poll. Clinton was seen as the most "negative" and "ego-driven" of all the Democratic candidates. And 30 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers viewed her unfavorably."
The New York Daily News: "With her aura of inevitability shattered, and nothing to show for a spate of negative campaigning last week, Clinton's presidential campaign is now trying to melt voters' hearts."
Per NBC/NJ's Athena Jones, Hillary Clinton told an audience in eastern Iowa on Monday that anyone who had been on the national scene as long as she has is bound to end up with a lot of detractors and said any Democratic nominee would have "high negatives" very quickly. She was speaking in response to a question from a man who said he knew a lot of people who for some reason didn't like Clinton and asked how she could win over those voters.
"You know, there are people who would never vote for me. It breaks my heart, but that is true and that don't like me, although they've never met me. But you know, I've got to tell you that if you've been fighting for the causes you believe in and taking on tough special interests as long as I have, you're going to get beat up. And anybody who has done, or anybody who's been as a Democrat on the national scene as long as I have is going to end up with a lot of people who have been convinced that there is something that shouldn't be liked or approved… What I have found is that campaigning and talking about real issues and making your case to people actually does change opinions."
This isn't the first time in recent weeks, Jones notes, that Clinton has had to tackle such a question. Clinton also talked about the some in the media having their own reasons for criticizing her. "Now there are some people who will never agree with me. They're ideologically opposed to me; I'm far more progressive than they wish to be. They have commercial reasons. You know, we joke a lot about some of the folks, the talking heads on radio and TV, you know if the ratings dip a little bit, well, you know they've got a hard core that always responds to going after me, so they can make some money off of me." (Our question, though: At what point should Clinton stop talking about why she appears to be more polarizing than her foes? Does talking about it help or remind voters of the issue?)
Interestingly, Al Sharpton had to cancel his trip South Carolina yesterday and never did meet with Bill Clinton as planned. Instead, the two talked by phone. The New York Times: "The talk followed by just days The Philadelphia Inquirer's publishing an account of a conversation, secretly taped by the F.B.I., in which Mr. Sharpton appeared to promise a Philadelphia fund-raiser some help on a business deal in return for a five-figure contribution to the 2004 Sharpton campaign. Mr. Sharpton said in an interview Monday that there had been no quid pro quo involved, and pointed to his talk with Mr. Clinton as a sign of his innocence."
The change in strategy to focus on Clinton's softer side may seem contrived to some cynics, but the campaign is getting the press coverage it wanted. The LA Times' headline: "Supporters describe Clinton's softer side." Subhead: "A Web video, 'The Hillary I Know,' is part of a larger effort to lower the Democratic presidential candidate's unfavorable ratings."
The New York Daily News takes a look at the pressure Mark Penn is feeling right now, and gets Penn to say he's not worried about being tossed out in a shakeup.
Politico's Ben Smith, himself a veteran of covering the Clinton campaign team in its New York days, looks at that history and finds that Howard Wolfson has won out over Penn in this latest Clinton strategic message shift.
So was Bob Kerrey being Bob Kerrey with his compliment of Obama about his Muslim heritage or was there something more sinister behind his decision to call Obama by all three of his names? Clinton was asked about it yesterday. "In a meeting with the Quad-City Times editorial board, Clinton said Kerrey's use of Obama's full name was nothing more than part of a compliment. 'I think the remarks were very positive,' Clinton said. 'I know Bob. He was being very complimentary of Sen. Obama. He was making a point that Sen. Obama makes himself all the time, that because of his upbringing and his heritage he is, in his view, very well suited to communicate with the rest of the world. And he has just said himself that he wants to have a particular outreach to the Islamic world. So I think Sen. Kerrey was being, you know, very generous in what he said."
But then this? The Huffington Post: "Kerrey … said during a television appearance on Monday that her primary opponent, Sen, Barack Obama, attended a 'secular madrassa' as a child… 'I've watched the blogs try to say that you can't trust [Obama] because he spent a little bit of time in a secular madrassa,' the Nebraska Democrat said on the Situation Room with John King. 'I feel quite opposite. I think it's a tremendous strength whether he's in the United States Senate or whether he's in the White House.'"
EDWARDS: The candidate's apparent momentum in Iowa is starting to get more notice.
The man who is the coverboy of the Washington Post style section, David Yepsen, says not to rule out a surge by either Edwards or Thompson.
The Edwards campaign today has unveiled a faux movie trailer urging Iowa Democrats to caucus for him on January 3.
OBAMA: Obama is up with a new direct mail piece in New Hampshire that goes after Clinton for attacking his health-care plan and uses clips from reporters. The piece is done in such a way as to appear he's defending himself from Clinton's attacks. Is it negative or a response?
Obama begins airing in South Carolina the "Chances I Had" TV ad he's run in other states.
The New York Times' David Brooks takes a look at the two Dem front-runners, and suggests that Obama would make the better president. "If Clinton were running against Obama for Senate, it would be easy to choose between them. But they are running for president, and the presidency requires a different set of qualities. Presidents are buffeted by sycophancy, criticism and betrayal. They must improvise amid a thousand fluid crises. They're isolated and also exposed, puffed up on the outside and hollowed out within. With the presidency, character and self-knowledge matter more than even experience. There are reasons to think that, among Democrats, Obama is better prepared for this madness."
More: "What Bill Clinton said on 'The Charlie Rose Show' is right: picking Obama is a roll of the dice. Sometimes he seems more concerned with process than results. But for Democrats, there's a roll of the dice either way. The presidency is a bacterium. It finds the open wounds in the people who hold it. It infects them, and the resulting scandals infect the presidency and the country. The person with the fewest wounds usually does best in the White House, and is best for the country."
One group of folks where Obama's come up short, as the AP notes, is in union support.
The unnamed Barack Obama bus tour winds its way back to Des Moines today from Sioux City, NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan notes. There, Obama will hold a foreign policy forum in Des Moines before heading to New Hampshire. The campaign has visited 23 cities in 22 counties over the past six days, connecting with a few thousand voters. He ended the day with a rally in Sioux City at the Orpheum Theater, drawing a crowd of at least 800 people.
Aside from Obama jabbing Edwards yesterday, there was little "news" to report. Obama went from one small town hall to the next meeting with crowds of around two hundred or more people in four different cities, with the same message of hope, change and caucusing for him.
RICHARDSON: Per the campaign, the New Mexico governor will use the last several days until the Iowa caucuses to make Iraq the "centerpiece" of his closing argument. Indeed, "At a campaign stop in Mount Vernon …, Richardson said ending the war is the 'lynchpin for restoring the American dream,'" Radio Iowa reports. "Richardson criticized other candidates for starting to emphasize domestic issues and Richardson also criticized the news media for shifting focus away from the war."
The Des Moines Register adds, "Quickly ending the Iraq war is the key to repairing political damage caused by the conflict and restoring the American Dream, the New Mexico governor told about 200 people Monday at Cornell College. 'The day after I take the oath of office, and pledge to protect the Constitution of this country, I am going to tell our troops in Iraq: "You have served magnificently. Now you are coming home."'"