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First thoughts: Do or die for GOPers

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Do or die: Want more evidence of how just up for grabs the GOP contest is? The top four Republican candidates all have do-or-die contests coming up. For Romney, it's Michigan. For Huckabee, it's South Carolina. For McCain, it's one of Michigan or South Carolina. And for Rudy, it's Florida. It's now just like the NFL playoffs: win or go home. 

*** Hunting for delegates: We found this comment from Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson fascinating. "For the first time since 1988, this is a delegate race," he said. "This is about more than any one state." Of course, the comment is confirmation that there is no front-runner. And until there is one, you'll hear the campaign that believes they might be behind talk about delegates. Why? Even though Clinton won New Hampshire, she and Obama earned the same number of delegates out of the state. The way the Democrats award delegates, losing 52%-47% can get the losing candidate nearly the same number of delegates as being on the winning side. That said, winning primaries is how one keeps superdelegates (those unpledged folks who can bounce around even after they supposed commit to one candidate) in the fold. Clinton has the superdelegate lead, thanks to establishment Clinton ties. But a good number are still undecided and they'll go with the national front-runner.

*** Retool sheds: Clinton and Romney have been the most public about their message and campaign retooling efforts. But should they be the only campaigns retooling? What about Obama? His campaign seems to have trouble connecting to women. How will they fix that? Oprah was the answer in early December. What about now? Will we see more Michelle? Will we see more of the campaign leadership diversified? It's been easy to pick on Clinton's campaign for its lack of message discipline over the last six months, but that doesn't mean all is perfect in Obama Land, either. Will they evolve their message a bit? Or will they stick to what they believe has been successful so far?

*** And how is this the media's fault? Not surprisingly, there are plenty of articles out today about how the media and pollsters working for them got the New Hampshire Democratic race wrong. But why blame the media when the campaigns were seeing the same polling data in their own tracking surveys? Indeed, Clinton was shaking up her staff on the very day the New Hampshire primary was taking place. Is that a sign of a camp that thinks they are going to win? New Hampshire was a shock to everyone -- the media, pollsters, the public, and campaign operatives. There are plenty of reasons to get mad at the media. But this isn't one of them. In fact, the press did its job pretty well on Election Day. There were no blown calls; the media didn't rely on just public polling -- they dug in and found out what the campaigns were seeing, you know, checking in with pollsters who, if they aren't right, get fired. Not the case with media pollsters.

*** Richardson bows out: Today, Richardson is expected to announce that he's ending his presidential campaign, after finishing fourth in New Hampshire with just about 5% of the vote. His withdrawal could impact the upcoming contest in Nevada. Hispanics are now up for grabs, which could be good news for Clinton. But supporters of Richardson -- who campaigned on a very anti-war platform -- seemed to flock to Obama in Iowa. Did Richardson succeed in making himself a plausible vice presidential candidate? To the public, yes. To the candidates (and many members of the media), probably not. Too many gaffes.

VIDEO: NBC Political Director Chuck Todd offers his first read on the implications of Bill Richardson dropping out of the presidential race.

*** Third GOP debate in six days! Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, Paul, Romney and Thompson are in Myrtle Beach, SC, where they participate in a FOX debate. It begins at 9:00 pm ET and ends at 10:30 pm ET.

*** On the trail: Elsewhere, Clinton stumps in Las Vegas; Edwards is in South Carolina; Hunter attends a Lincoln Day dinner in Michigan; Kucinich holds a Q&A in Troy, MI; Obama has a rally in Charleston, SC.

Countdown to Michigan: 5 days
Countdown to Nevada and SC GOP primary: 9 days
Countdown to SC Dem primary: 16 days
Countdown to Florida: 19 days
Countdown to Tsunami Tuesday: 26 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 299 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 376 days

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