Without further ado, here are the top eight developments you need to know about what's happening on both sides of the presidential campaign:
1) As rumors continue to percolate that former senator and actor Fred Thompson might enter the race, Monday may see the presidential race change in a relatively major way: Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel is preparing to announce his political future. He might step down from the Senate, announce he’s running for reelection, or throw his hat into the presidential ring, as has been rumored for months. Hagel, who hasn’t taken any visible steps towards assembling an organization or raising money, would upend the race if he could begin to do both. Hagel’s been a vocal critic of the Iraq war and the Bush administration and could continue to make life very difficult for supposed front-runner John McCain, who has failed thus far to generate the enthusiasm many expected he would. McCain, meanwhile, is stepping up his campaign with the announcement that Tom Loeffler, a well-connected former congressman, will become the campaign’s consigliere. Mario Puzo fans will remember the role of a consigliere as the chief enforcer, tasked with making sure that the support of supporters remains strong. As in many establishment GOP campaigns before McCain’s, Loeffler’s role is to make anyone who might cross McCain—and, say, support Chuck Hagel—think twice.
2) With the first fundraising quarter closing at the end of the month, all the campaigns are busy gaming the press—underplaying their own fundraising efforts while overplaying the likely success of others’. Money is, in the early stages, all about expectations. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is publicly talking about a target of $15 million for the first quarter, but one rival camp told the Post’s Chris Cillizza this week to expect her to raise $40 million to $50 million. To put that number in perspective, it is roughly the entire 2003 haul for Howard Dean’s then-record-breaking campaign and exceeds what any Democratic presidential campaign had ever spent on a race prior to 2004. Meanwhile, Barack Obama is trying a novel fundraising approach: raising people, not dollars. His latest effort counts the number of people who contribute, not the number of dollars raised (although you can bet someone at headquarters is monitoring that number closely).
3) This week saw the opposition research files on Barack Obama begin to spread, including a front-page article in the New York Times on some questionable (money-losing) investments Obama made and some unpaid Cambridge parking tickets from his days at Harvard Law School. The leaks thus far have no fingerprints on them from other campaigns, but it’s just the beginning of what’s sure to be a year of dribs and drabs of stuff to muddy the image of Obama. The question is, what can we read into these leaks? Is this the best stuff out there on Obama, or is someone trying to build a pattern of thoughtless actions?
4) Also this week, some serious interest-group outreach begins: Mitt Romney launched his first Spanish-language radio ads in Florida, and both he and Hillary Clinton launched groups to recruit the support of women. Romney’s “Women’s Leadership Team” in South Carolina and Clinton’s “Women for Hillary” effort hope to capture big chunks the expected 54 percent of voters in 2008 who will be female. EMILY’s List, the pro-women political PAC, made clear its support early: It endorsed Hillary within hours of her announcement. As Hillary’s campaign trumpeted this week, “Women are the ‘X factor’ in this upcoming election.”
5) The AFL-CIO announced this week that it would take its presidential endorsement slowly. In 2004 the unions lined up strong and early for Dick Gephardt and then later for Howard Dean, but that didn’t end up working out well for them. The challenge for 2008 will be trying to figure out how to get behind the right candidate early enough to demonstrate that unions still carry some clout. This question is not unrelated to the front-loading of the primary schedule—it appears now that as many as 20 states might end up creating a national super-duper-mega-ginormous February 5 primary.
6) One of the early voting states, Nevada, where unions are strong, is seeing a major blogosphere controversy over Fox News’s planned debate there. Bloggers are pressuring candidates not to participate in what they see as an event run by the GOP’s propaganda arm. So far John Edwards, the darling of many Nevada unions and the candidate trying hardest to win over the 'netroots, is the only person to skip the debate. Every else is “thinking about it.”
7) One minor note that might have huge implications for the presidential race: Dick Cheney was diagnosed with a blood clot in his leg this week. The British press is awash in speculation that Cheney, who has had multiple heart attacks, might have to step down as early as next week when President Bush returns from his Latin America trip, but so far the story’s been quieter on this side of the Atlantic. A vice-presidential vacancy might open the way for Condi Rice or maybe even John McCain to become the veep and thus the presumed heir apparent to the Oval Office in 2008.
8) Even though he continues to lead in all the polls, Rudy Giuliani is facing a continuous drumbeat about his personal life. This week an old campaign ad done by his second ex-wife for his mayoral campaign surfaced on YouTube—it shows her saying what a great family man he is. The contrast with her sweet words and the bitter public divorce the two underwent when he was a mayor is clear. How this will play in the Republican “family values” world is unknown, but on James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” show this week, Newt Gingrichadmitted that he carried on an affair while he was leading the impeachment charge against Bill Clinton for his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, so he who is without sin will have to cast the first stone here.