Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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More on the debate, and where we go from here, later tonight.

ARG's latest daily tracking poll has Kerry 31%, Clark 20%, Dean 18%. That means that from January 19th to January 22nd Dean fell from 28% to 18%. In fact, from yesterday to today he fell 4 percentage points.

Remember, a tracking poll like this combines three days of calls together. So this evenings numbers are the first which don't include any calls from before caucus night in Iowa. Pulling that last batch of the pre-Iowa numbers out of mix probably accounts for that rapid four point fall.

Meanwhile, the other tracking poll out tonight from the Boston Globe and WBZ-TV has Kerry 34%, Dean 19%, Clark 14%, Edwards 11%. The big difference there is a much sharper deterioration for Clark.

Late Update: Friday morning's Zogby numbers show the same story for Kerry as ARG, but a less acute fall for Dean, a continued slide for Clark, and no movement for Edwards.

There is an extreme mood of expectation about this Democratic primary debate tonight. 'The debate' -- and there's always one post-Iowa New Hampshire debate -- is always a big deal for the campaigns and reporters up here. I was up here four years ago, when there was one between Gore and Bradley. But this is a little different. Journalists always have an incentive for saying races are wide open, even when they're not. But this one is truly wide open.

It's not just that it's wide open, whatever that might mean. But the dynamic also seems very fluid. John Kerry has rocketed into the lead here. But that support is clearly soft. It could either solidify with a solid performance or be blunted or even reversed. And the same of course applies to the other candidates.

We haven't yet seen a debate in which Kerry was even close to being the frontrunner. So it'll be interesting to see how the other candidates choose to take up the fight against him.

Early this evening I spoke to Dick Bennett of ARG, the outfit that's been running a daily tracking poll here for a few weeks) and he sees the distinct possibility, perhaps even the probability, of a deterioration for Dean in New Hampshire as bad or perhaps even worse than the one he experienced in Iowa.

Between Clark and Kerry, says Bennett, the gender breakdown (with women favoring Kerry over Clark) remains salient. And the events of the last few days have hurt Dean disproportionately among women. His big strength now, says Bennett, is with young men.

(Bennett says he'll have new numbers out late this evening.)

I would not have imagined that the fall could be nearly that steep. But my own gut sense of the race right now is similar to what Bennett is getting from his numbers. I think Dean is in very bad shape. The issue isn't so much, or isn't exclusively, the loss in Iowa or the whole business with his speech. Rather, I have the sense that he's neutered himself in the final stretch. He obviously took a big punch Monday night. But after the concession speech which, rightly or wrongly, got so much attention, he came into New Hampshire presenting himself, sans red meat, as the successful governor of a small state with success in balancing budgets and expanding health care reform.

That's not a bad message. But it's also not a particularly exciting one, and not at all one that seems energizing enough to turn around the bad momentum he's had all week. They clearly felt they had to make that turn on Tuesday, giving the run of bad press they'd been getting. But I sense it's painted them into a corner.

To get away from being the exciting, offensive candidate, they've made him into the anodyne, boring candidate, just at the moment when he needs a real second wind.

(Along these lines, look at the latest data from the Iowa Electronic Future Markets, where you can invest -- or rather gamble -- on future political outcomes.)

One other thing. Last night Wes Clark had a conference call with a slew of former Gephardt staffers from Iowa, making the pitch that they should sign on to his campaign to head off to various post-New Hampshire states and start organizing for him. The campaign netted about twenty-five of them last night, or roughly a quarter of the folks that Gephardt had working for him in the state.

I had heard from some quarters that the issue might have been money. Another campaign had made a strong pitch for these folks, but simply didn't have the resources the Clark campaign was able to mobilize, and thus lost out. But after talking to various people involved in and knowledgeable the situation my sense is more that Clark's campaign -- not taken up so much with the final fury of campaigning in Iowa -- was more ready to reach out to these folks as soon as the last tears on their cheeks had dried. And that seems to have made the difference.

On Tuesday night, the leaders could be grouped closely enough together that first, second and third place finishers could each really still be viable. So lots of attention, albeit behind the scenes, will be going into shoring up organization and support in post-NH states.

This story in today's Boston Globe should <$NoAd$>knock everything else off the front page. It's an amazing story, a huge scandal. Read the lede ....

Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Commitee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media, Senate officials told The Globe.

From the spring of 2002 until at least April 2003, members of the GOP committee staff exploited a computer glitch that allowed them to access restricted Democratic communications without a password. Trolling through hundreds of memos, they were able to read talking points and accounts of private meetings discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would fight -- and with what tactics.

The office of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle has already launched an investigation into how excerpts from 15 Democratic memos showed up in the pages of the conservative-leaning newspapers and were posted to a website last November.

With the help of forensic computer experts from General Dynamics and the US Secret Service, his office has interviewed about 120 people to date and seized more than half a dozen computers -- including four Judiciary servers, one server from the office of Senate majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, and several desktop hard drives.

But the scope of both the intrusions and the likely disclosures is now known to have been far more extensive than the November incident, staffers and others familiar with the investigation say.

So the law-breaking and dirty tricks were systematic and of long standing. And I suspect it's much more widespread than even what is described in this article. It's creeping DeLayism. No rules -- only power.

As you may have seen already, Drudge has a hit on John Edwards this morning, fresh -- no doubt -- from RNC oppo research. The claim is that Edwards now says no to putting Social Security funds in the stock market whereas in 1998 he supported the idea.

I sometimes wonder what point there is in trying to knock down this stuff from such an unreliable source. But so many in the media run with his arguments. So let me just briefly address this.

Investing any Social Security funds in the stock market looks like much less of a good idea today in the post-bubble world than it did in 1998. And any money -- even the small amount Edwards seems to have supported -- invested then probably would not have done so well over the next few years. So that's a reasonable point of criticism against Edwards.

But Republicans' point here is a charge of inconsistency or flip-flopping. They can't really be attacking the idea of putting Social Security money into the stock market, after all, since it's central to their policy.

But there's a basic point here that Drudge (or rather his liaison at the RNC or the White House or whomever) is intentionally obscuring. The debate over Social Security is about whether risk is pooled or whether it's individualized. Are there guarantees? Or do you invest your money and take your chances on your own? As one friend of mine said a while back, if it's not Social, it's not Security.

What Edwards was supporting in 1998 was taking a small portion of aggregate funds and investing them in the market, not creating individual accounts. And for those who are big Social Security policy wonks that makes all the difference in the world.

In any case, this is a detailed policy argument, over which people of course disagree. But the relevant point for the moment is that what the GOP operatives are trying to point to as a flip-flop here is really a matter of comparing apples and oranges. Not that that's stopped them before, of course, but ...

ARG's Dick Bennett seems to think that Dean is falling quickly into third place in New Hampshire. Today's numbers are Kerry 27%, Dean 22%, Clark 19%. But a further breakdown of the numbers, provided on ARG's site, shows steeper deterioration for Dean and some uptick for Clark.

As noted in the earlier post, we went tonight (this was written Wednesday evening) to see a John Edwards town hall meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A few days ago I saw James Carville say that Edwards was the best stump speaker he’d ever seen, even better than Clinton, or something to that effect. So I wanted to see what all the commotion was about.

I had a mix of reactions and opinions. Or, really, I had an arc of opinions over time.

For most of the time Edwards was doing his presentation, putting on his show, I hadn’t the slightest question what Carville was talking about. While I was watching, in the moment, that is, I also didn’t have much question that Edwards would be the eventual nominee. He’s that good.

His comfort level with a crowd, his ability to roll with and into their moods and reactions, and his ability to craft his talk into a resonant story (a narrative, as we used to say) is simply light years beyond what Kerry or Clark can manage. (Dean is sort of in a whole different category --- he tries for something different.) He’s down-to-earth, gesticulating all over the place, with folksy aphorisms and punch lines all put in the right spots, but in an unforced, uncontrived matter.

He’s funny and folksy, in a campaign sort of way.

With most politicians in these sorts of settings I watch and see the disjuncture between what they are doing and what they should be doing, what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s something like their discomfort quotient, or perhaps the way you can see into their grasping for what the right way is to connect with the crowd or a given voter. With Edwards there’s none of that. He’s a natural. His ease seems total --- and you can easily see the echoes of years of working juries in the court room.

When you hear his talk about ‘the two Americas’ (with one living in perpetual insecurity and another ‘having whatever they need whenever they need it’) you think: Yes, he explains it all exactly right, in a way that would cut right into the president’s deepest political vulnerabilities.

When I watch these guys one of the things I also watch for, either semi-consciously or quite deliberately, is, how will the Republicans go after this guy --- either on substance or on tone and demeanor and life story? With some of the contenders it is painfully obvious. But watching Edwards I had a pretty clear sense that he’d scare the president’s political advisors --- a lot. They talk up the trial thing. They make that clear. But I’ve never thought that would get them much traction.

And yet, an hour or so later, after his presentation and after and Q& A, I had a bit of a hard time remembering quite what I was so dazzled by. It put me in the mind of one of those old clichés about light Asian food: filling at the time, but a few hours later you’re hungry again.

These are just quick impressions from observing one event. I wanted to write a post which conveyed --- in as unmediated a fashion as possible --- my immediate impressions of watching Edwards work a room for the first time. The above isn’t intended as a blanket judgment about a whole campaign and a whole candidate. But in this one case I did have the experience of being truly wowed and then, later, feeling that the whole thing was somehow a bit thin.

I'm dumbfounded. The Washington Post's Dan Balz refers to 'bloggers' and their role in political coverage in his headline campaign story in Thursday's paper.

Alex and I are here at the VFW Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for what's billed as John Edwards 100th Town Hall Meeting. In other words, we're here to see if Edwards is really the all-out, all-time master of the universe when it comes to working a crowd with his homespun, personal touch, stump-speech speaking style. You know, mixing his personal story with policy chat. So far the one thing I can see is that at an Edwards event everyone is pretty like Edwards. Maybe it's all the Lands End, L.L. Bean clothes?

Late Update: Some people misunderstood this post. It seems pretty clear to me. But lest there be any confusion, 'pretty like Edwards' means 'attractive like Edwards', not that they look a lot like Edwards.

I keep hearing that Kerry has stolen John Edwards talk of there being 'two Americas.' Maybe so, but Edwards got it from Benjamin Disraeli.