Republicans play the expectations game as the race gets nasty

More evidence is hardly needed to show that Fred Thompson can't quite get himself to run a presidential campaign -- if he even has the motivation at all. Yesterday, Thompson declared that he said he is "not particularly interested in running for president but I think I'd make a good president." While what he meant was clearly that he is not thrilled by the duties of campaigning, strategizing and retail politics, such comments are sure to draw lots of negative publicity on the former senator who has already been plagued by criticism that he is too lazy and does not work hard enough for the nomination. And given that the Republican nominee will have to battle the Democrat for months in the general election, such comments are certainly not going to reassure Republicans that Thompson would be competitive throughout 2008.

Thompson might have shot himself in the foot even more by declaring today that he has "a decent chance" of finishing second in Iowa. Now, if Thompson actually did finish that high it would be such a huge shock that hardly anyone would talk about anything else and Thompson could very well end up with the nomination; at this point no one believes such a result to be in any way possible, so why would Thompson trumpet such an objective? Thompson would be lucky to get a strong third, and that alone would get him some good publicity -- unless, of course, the press holds him to his own standard of being the runner-up.

Huckabee, on the other hand, tried to present himself as a victim today by accusing Mitt Romney of running a "dishonest" campaign and pounding on him and on McCain with negative advertisement. And Huckabee concluded that it would be a "miracle" if he pulled off a victory against Romney -- echoing comments last month by Bill Clinton who was marveling that his wife was even competitive in the caucuses given that Edwards has lived there for 4 years and Obama comes from a neighboring state. As I noted the other day, however, we have to grant that Romney's ads are much more substantive and focused on policy than McCain's much more personally negative responses.

Andis Romney who is facing the dirtiest trick right now: CNN is reporting that Christmas cards that were sent to Republicans in South Carolina falsely claimed to be issued from the Mormon Church and wished voters a Merry Christmas (again falsely) from the Romney family -- a clever way to remind the GOP base of Romney's religion and get voters angry that they were receiving cards from the Mormon Church. It is not known who issued these cards, and it will probably never be uncovered. South Carolina is the land of GOP dirty tricks (just look at 2000) and expect many such nasty moves in the two weeks between New Hampshire and South Carolina. Given the number of candidates with heretical pasts, there is plenty rival campaigns can use to try and demolish them.

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