The calm before the storm

Bill Clinton lowers expectations, Barack Obama dispels rumors and Ron Paul carries his own suitcase.

By Tim Grieve

Published January 3, 2008 11:12PM (EST)

Deep in the pre-caucus lull -- the words "hurry up and wait" are taking on new meaning today -- here's what we're hearing from folks on the ground in Iowa.

Bill Clinton's expectations game: Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown finds the former president at Starbucks in Des Moines, where he tries to make it OK for his wife to perform poorly tonight by saying, "I didn't win a race until I got to Georgia. You just got to keep going. It is a long process."

Dirty tricks, Part 1: A Mitt Romney volunteer tells the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder that Romney supporters are getting calls, purportedly from the Romney campaign, in which they're given a "litany of misleading statements like how Romney planned to raise taxes and why, etc."

Dirty tricks, Part 2: Responding to reports that pro-Huckabee pastors have received anonymous mailings warning them that their advocacy could put their churches' tax-exempt status at risk, Mike Huckabee tells CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes: "I know there is some real -- just frankly -- anger among pastors across the state. They feel like this is one of the most underhanded things they've ever seen. To try and trick people in their First Amendment rights for speaking up -- it's a form of voter suppression." Huckabee says he wasn't "even going to venture a guess" as to who's behind the mailings.

Death threats (not really): Huckabee said he sympathized with reporters who've been following him around Iowa, but only to a degree. "Some of you start chasing me from early in the morning till late at night, and you still have to file your stories," he said. "So we've decided that so long as we can keep the energy, hopefully you can. And when then the stories get nasty, we'll try to stay up later and kill all of you." (It's a variation on a theme: On New Year's Day, the New York Times' Katharine Seelye caught Huckabee hoping that bloggers backing his campaign would file so many posts from Iowa that they'd be "clogging up the [Internet] lines" and preventing mainstream media reporters from filing any more negative stories about him.)

Figure skating (really): The Times' Mark Leibovich caught up with Barack Obama at a middle school in Knoxville, Iowa, where the candidate said that people are telling him he needs to "knee-cap the front runner -- you know, do a Tonya Harding on her." We're not sure when Tonya Harding references became an obligatory part of Iowa campaigning, but they did. As Leibovich notes, Huckabee said Tuesday that "the Tonya Harding school of politics doesn't play in Iowa," and that he was looking to "be Nancy Kerrigan this week."

The persistent rumor, misheard: In his only public appearance today, Obama took a stroll through a food court in Des Moines. The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray says that somebody along the way asked Obama if he's an atheist. "I'm a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ," Obama said. "Don't read e-mails." Murray helpfully notes that the candidate's answer was "a reference to bogus Internet claims that Obama is either a Muslim or an atheist," but doesn't bother to mention that the Post spread the Muslim version of the rumor with a ridiculous and rightly maligned front-page piece on it.

Yes, we do write about Ron Paul: Politico's Jonathan Martin bumps into Paul -- carrying his own suitcase in the lobby of the Des Moines Marriott -- and asks whether he thinks he has any chance of finishing in the top three tonight. Paul says he doesn't know, then complains that Fox News is excluding him from its New Hampshire candidates forum because "they don't want to hear from anybody who's against the war."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Bill Clinton Mike Huckabee War Room