Monday Morning Quarterback: Musical Primaries

As the curtain rises on a new week in presidential politics, we find the Clintons together again in Iowa, where the former first lady has lost her newfound tie for the lead, the long-awaited formal announcement of candidacy by Fred Thompson, a Republican debate in New Hampshire, and the end to the burgeoning rogue primary activity - at least on the Democratic side.

Bill and Hillary Clinton campaigned together Sunday in New Hampshire, where she's in a tough fight with Barack Obama, and on Monday were set to head as a team to Iowa. John Edwards, who has spent much of the past few years since the Kerry-Edwards ticket lost in 2004 essentially camping out in Iowa in order to claim the first-in-the-nation contest in 2008, has regained the lead after falling into a three-way tie with Obama and Clinton. And all it took was a week-long Edwards bus tour to accomplish that.

(If you're getting the idea that winning Iowa, at least on the Democratic side, will be not unlike an NBA game in which whomever gets hot in the final two minutes ends up the victor, you are probably right.)

Meanwhile, the long-awaited Fred Thompson for President campaign at last gets official this week. The former Tennessee senator and Law & Order star will announce formally on September 6th, in an Internet webcast. He is likely to prefigure that announcement the night before on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

That, of course, is the political venue which Arnold Schwarzenegger made famous four years ago, when he announced his "surprise" candidacy for governor of California in the California recall campaign.

I say "surprise" because Schwarzenegger, with whom I've been acquainted for years, told me throughout his pre-campaign period -- in which he was readying the launch of his movie, Terminator III -- that he intended to run for governor and needed to work things through with his wife, his business, and his political situation. But most people chose not to believe that, so it was a surprise. Which Schwarzenegger was quite happy about, actually.

Thompson's announcement, of course, is anything but a surprise. And while he is a very well-known character actor, he is hardly the global megastar Schwarzenegger is. So his announcement, in its various formats, will inevitably come as something of an anti-climax.

Which is not to say that we won't be covering it closely, as he is clearly one of the top Republican prospects for the presidency.

Following his announcement, Thompson will tour the early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, ending up in his home state of Tennessee. But he won't participate in the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire on the 5th, cablecast by Fox News. Indeed, the New Hampshire Republican chairman just blasted Thompson for purportedly scheduling his announcement on the 6th to neatly avoid his state's debate.

Even as Thompson at last moves to make his candidacy official, something which many expected around the 4th of July, the Republican race has an unsettled air about it.

Part of it is due to two prominent Republican resignations under fire last week.

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, longtime confidante to President Bush from their days together in Texas, at last stepped down amidst an unending flurry of questions about his role in the mass firings of US attorneys and in purported civil liberties violations in regard to the war on terror. And Sen. Larry Craig, a staunch opponent of gay rights, quit his Idaho Senate seat Saturday following revelations of his guilty plea in a police sex sting around homosexual activity in the men's room at the Minneapolis airport. This came on the heels of Karl Rove's departure from the White House.

Beyond these questions of scandal, the Republican race is also unsettled by possible changes in its sequence. Florida Republicans say they are moving their primary to the same day as South Carolina's, on January 29th. Wyoming Republicans say they will hold presidential caucuses before first-in-the-nation Iowa. On January 5th, of all things.

It's all spinning a bit out of control. And the national Republican Party, while threatening sanctions of state delegations to the Republican national convention, does not have the matter in hand. Whether the Republican Party can regain control of its own nomination process will be a major question of the week ahead.

By contrast, the Democrats seem to be getting their act together. National party chairman Howard Dean succeeded in getting all the major presidential candidates to agree not to campaign in Florida or any of the other rogue primary states seeking to break up the agreed early sequence of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina as the only contests prior to California and the others on February 5th.

New Mexico Governor and former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson was the first major candidate to agree to this plan, this past Friday. Then all the other major candidates other than Hillary -- including Barack Obama and John Edwards -- agreed by early Saturday morning. Finally, Hillary Clinton also had to agree.

It wasn't easy for her.

Clinton, whose Democratic National Committee representative Harold Ickes opposed the new constellation of contests, seeing danger in moving South Carolina to the front of the queue and an unwanted X-factor in the new prominence of Nevada, was the last candidate to agree to Dean's insistence that the rogue contests be skipped. Florida, the most prominent rogue, is probably her best state in the South. Now it's off the board.