From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The new argument the Clinton camp is making about Obama is "Talk vs. Action." It's a where's-the-beef-like mantra, circa 1984 in the race between Mondale and Hart. That said, this is what's going to make it tough to stop Obama if he wins in New Hampshire: If there's one thing that Obama is good at on the campaign trail, it's taking the attacks of his opponents and making light of them on the campaign trail, NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan notes. Obama has never shied away from addressing attacks in his town halls, by doing so he attempts to reown the issue and recast the attacks in his favor. "They're saying one more thing that we're hearing lately, I mean we're hearing a lot of stuff lately, you know. The dump trucks keep getting backed up 'beep beep beep beep' I'm going with everything all at once," Obama said last night. Still, Obama is going to have to respond to the empty rhetoric charge. We've sensed that a lot of reporters (even the ones taken with his tone) believe he hasn't been very specific. Will he drown us all in white papers?
*** The soft sell: Besides challenging the beef behind Obama's rhetoric, the campaign also is trying its best to soften Clinton up. She gave an interview to Access Hollywood, in which she did a girl talk of sorts. Among the things one learns: On a Saturday night when she has some free time, she likes to do some "kind of cleaning activity. I find cleaning closets and drawers to be extremely gratifying because you know there is a beginning, a middle and an end. Unlike a lot of what I do which seems to be much more long term." In the interview, Clinton also admits to being a "Dancing with the Stars" viewer (but only because her mother loves it). Meanwhile, Bill Clinton seemed to express frustration last night at the need to re-tool his wife's image. Per NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli, Clinton said: "We can't be a new story, I'm sorry. I can't make her younger, taller, male."
*** Skipping South Carolina? Meanwhile, this admission is pretty big news: "We're going to lose South Carolina," a Clinton adviser told the Politico. So could this mean Clinton sort of skips South Carolina? It's something the chattering class is talking about: Should she or shouldn't she? Is the state unwinnable? Then again, does the Clinton campaign want to wage a national campaign that allows Obama to ride national momentum and be able to give his stump speech in 20-plus states? Or do they attempt to pin Obama down in one state, hoping he makes a mistake and let him potentially struggle straddling the black-white divide in the state? As for Nevada, the Clinton campaign has to be happy that the culinary union hasn't endorsed yet. There had been all sorts of rumors that the powerful Nevada union would endorse the winner of Iowa (if that winner were either Edwards or Clinton). Is it now waiting for New Hampshire?
*** The GOP's "Change vs. Experience": Republican Party primary voters have a decision to make: Do they nominate someone who can speak to change or someone who constrasts well on the issue of experience? That seemed to divide last night's debate. Romney and Huckabee definitively were on the side of change while McCain, Thompson, and Giuliani were on the side of experience (though all the experience guys tried to prove a little bit of change). It had the feel of a debate that was designed to see who could best face Obama without really mentioning his name since it appears Obama has proven to the media, at least, that "change" is the buzz word of 2008.
*** Call it a draw: Since we're in New Hampshire, the debate really was about who did better: McCain or Romney. And on that score, it seemed like a draw, with possibly a slight edge to McCain -- only because of the various assists he received from the other candidates and from Fox News. Huckabee and Thompson both showed their comfort level assisting McCain by attacking Romney regularly. Everyone has their motive: Huckabee needs Romney out of the way in order to get into a one-on-one with McCain in South Carolina (and maybe Michigan); for Thompson, it may simply be about, well, hating Romney. Given the circumstances, Romney had a better night than Saturday; this isn't a guy who's going to be giving up easily. Huckabee, meanwhile, acts more like a front-runner than anyone on that stage. It's odd; he'll finish third (or even fourth) in New Hampshire and yet he's the most comfortable talking about, well, anything. As for Giuliani, he was much better and a bit more involved but being seated on the side was a symbol the campaign shouldn't be happy about right now.
*** Bloomberg goes to Oklahoma: Outside of the battle for New Hampshire, the other big news today is that college football game tonight between LSU and Ohio State -- and that meeting in Oklahoma of Dem and GOP centrists, which includes Mike Bloomberg. But how much energy will get drained out of that meeting now that two of the least polarizing candidates for the middle -- Obama and McCain -- are leading in New Hampshire? Clinton vs. Romney was the perfect result for this group, but now it seems they struggle to find the opening if it's McCain and Obama. Plus, we're just asking: Does Bloomberg want to run and be known as the guy who stopped the first African-American president?
*** On the trail: Clinton campaigns in Portsmouth, Dover, Salem, and Manchester (where she appears with Bill Clinton); Edwards continues on his 36-hour tour across the state; Giuliani stops in Nashua, Hudson, Merrimack, and Derry; Huck & Chuck visit Mason, Concord, and Rochester; McCain makes seven stops in the Granite State; Obama already held a rally in Claremont and then goes to Lebanon and Rochester; Richardson has a whopping nine events; and Romney is in (among other places) Nashua, Derry, Salem, and Manchester (where he meets with volunteers at his headquarters).
Countdown to New Hampshire: 1 day
Countdown to Michigan: 8 days
Countdown to Nevada and SC GOP primary: 12 days
Countdown to SC Dem primary: 19 days
Countdown to Florida: 22 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 29 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 302 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 379 days
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