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« In IL 14, An Expensive Primary | Blog Home Page | Thompson Announces National Team »

Morning Thoughts: It's Not Heaven, It's Iowa

Happy Columbus Day. In New York, the streets are alive with paraders and Yankee fans still celebrating last night's win. Here's what a late-rising Washington will be reading today:

-- The House and Senate are out of session all week for district work period. Some members are still in town, though: House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey (D-WI) heads to the National Press Club for an address on federal budget priorities, while Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) addresses the Brookings Institution on Russia.

-- A new poll of likely caucus-goers in Iowa, released over the weekend by the Des Moines Register, shows two fields in flux. On the GOP side, Mitt Romney is still well ahead of the pack, with 29%, though former Sen. Fred Thompson is at 18% in the first Iowa Poll (the Register's trademarked poll name) in which he's been included. The poll, the Register points out, was conducted as Thompson made a high-profile campaign swing through the state. The real shocker on the GOP side: If there are just three tickets out of Iowa, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is in position to claim ticket number three. Huckabee has the support of 12% of Iowa Republicans, one point ahead of Rudy Giuliani's 11%. Importantly, more Huckabee supporters say their minds are completely made up than voters who have chosen other candidates.

-- The Democratic seesaw in Iowa continues back and forth, with New York Sen. Hillary Clinton ending up on top this month. Clinton leads the Democratic pack with 29%, trailed by John Edwards at 23% and Barack Obama at 22%. In the May poll, Edwards held 29% and the lead, while Clinton, at 21%, trailed Obama, at 23%, for third. Like Huckabee, Clinton benefits when respondents were asked if they had completely made up their mind; she is favored by roughly half (48%) of about a third of voters who have made final decisions. Obama, as expected, does well among independents and younger caucus-goers, though three quarters of those not supporting him say they favor someone else because of his relative lack of experience, an issue the Chicagoan is actively trying to overcome.

-- Iowa Republicans voted Friday to recommend January 3rd as their state's caucus date, per Marc Ambinder. If Iowa GOP executive director Chuck Laudner can't get Democrats to agree to the date by October 15, he can announce the January 3 date for the Republican caucuses. With Iowans voting so close to New Years, about two weeks earlier than they did in 2004, will a candidate who isn't leading by Christmas have the chance to catch fire in the final days? If Iowans had voted so early four years ago, Howard Dean might have been the Democratic nominee.

-- The biggest news of the week happens tomorrow when Fred Thompson stands on stage with his fellow candidates for his first actual debate. Thompson announced his candidacy the same night as the last GOP debate, in early September, and tomorrow's event promises lots of media attention. The big question: After so many major speeches flopped or were deemed just okay, can Thompson turn in a game-changing performance? Will a format that still has Thompson sharing the stage with eight other candidates actually allow him to do so? Simply put, probably not. The New York Times takes a look at Thompson's last major debate, with Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) in 1994, when the two were battling for a Senate seat. Back then, ex-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato helped Thompson prepare for the back-and-forth. This time, D'Amato's in Giuliani's corner.

-- In the race for union endorsements, SEIU is the crown jewel. The Service Employees have yet to make a pick, as their executive board cannot agree between Clinton, Obama and Edwards. Edwards remains the favorite of important factions on the union's governing body, though locals from New York and Illinois are pushing for no endorsement. If SEIU votes to allow its locals to make their own endorsements, Edwards will lose an important ally in the unified, very politically savvy union. Union officials meet today to go over various proposals, Ben Smith reports.

-- Not content at 2% in the polls? Try something a little different. That's what Sens. Joe Biden and Sam Brownback will do Friday when they hold a joint campaign event to talk about their plan for Iraq. Last week, the Senate voted overwhelmingly for the Biden-Brownback-Boxer Amendment (Throwing Barbara Boxer in there, how's that for bipartisanship?) creating a decentralized federal system for Iraq. The two will address the Greater Des Moines Committee on Foreign Relations over lunch, an event certain to get front-page play in the Register. Still, bipartisan presidential gatherings are not unheard of. In 2000, John McCain and Bill Bradley held a similar event to talk about campaign finance reform.

-- Probably Relevant Stats Of The Day: According to a Chicago Tribune review, Edwards has been to 80 of Iowa's 99 counties; Obama has visited 56; Clinton has shown up in just 31. Still, Obama leads in local offices, with 31 in Iowa, while Clinton has 21, and Edwards and Bill Richardson each boast 15, according to an NBC/National Journal analysis.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama makes a major energy policy speech in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Edwards stops in Corydon, Leon and Mount Ayr, Iowa, while Biden is in Monticello, Vinton, Marengo, Tipton and Clinton, Iowa. Clinton begins her "Middle Class Express" bus tour through Iowa with a speech in Cedar Rapids and rallies in Marshalltown, Boone and Ames. Republicans are all down today, preparing for tomorrow's debate, though we could have sworn the camera showed Rudy Giuliani at the Yankees game last night in The Bronx.