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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Three hundred million people, one commander in chief. And in order to win the top spot, lots and lots and lots of statewide contest.

First up is the Iowa Caucus. Tomorrow, the contenders try to win the love and loyalty of members of their own party. And on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, recent poll show Huckabee losing his lead over Romney; Obama is leading the Democratic pack ahead of Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

For more, we've got Donna Brazile, a nationally syndicated columnist who also teaches at Georgetown University. Plus, Robert Traynham, D.C. Bureau Chief for the Comcast cable network, CNA.

Welcome to both of you.

Mr. ROBERT TRAYNHAM (D.C. Bureau Chief, Comcast, CN8): Hi, Farai.

Ms. DONNA BRAZILE (Columnist; Professor, Georgetown University): Thank you. Happy New Year.

CHIDEYA: Yes. Happy New Year. So who's going to get a happy new year tomorrow at the caucuses? What do you think, Donna?

Ms. BRAZILE: First of all, I think the outcome is very unpredictable on both side. The race remain very fluid. What we do know is that Senator Obama has drawn capacity crowds. But can he turn out his voters? He's relying on a lot of first-time voters - young people, independents who often side with either party as well as people who may or may not attend caucuses in the past but may feel inspired to attend this time.

It is a must-win state for John Edwards. If John Edwards failed to come in first or close second, I don't see how Mr. Edwards can reboot his campaign.

For Senator Clinton, the experience has been her trump card. She has the most experienced people on the ground, helping her to turnout her voters. She has a commanding lead in some posts. In other posts, she is tied, like, Obama for first place.

So it's anyone's guess right now in terms of who will win. What we do know is that it's an exciting race. The Democrats are expecting a large turnout tomorrow night. And this race will go down to the wire.

CHIDEYA: Robert, before we turn to the Republicans, do you think that this is make or break for John Edwards?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: I do believe it's make or break for John Edwards. He has pretty much has put all of his stock into Iowa. He has pretty much said that if he is able to put off a commanding lead, if you will, in Iowa, that will springboard him from a financial standpoint, but also from a political standpoint into New Hampshire and South Carolina. Look. I mean, Iowans know John Edwards. He has been around the block twice now. He was there in 2004 for obvious reasons. And he's back again in 2008. He has visited every single country. There are 99 counties in Iowa. And he recognizes that this is a make or break for him.

CHIDEYA: What about those Republicans - I mean, I want to get to Rudy Giuliani in a second. But right now, let's really look at Romney and Huckabee. How are those two guys playing out their cards in Iowa?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: You know, Farai, this is - I agree with Donna. This is an absolutely phenomenal campaign. You know, 2008 is already turning out to be almost like 1948, where it is just a rollercoaster ride. And it reminds me of that super duper rollercoaster ride at Six Flags, where you laugh nervously all the way up and you scream like a heck all the way down because you just have no idea where you're going to land.

You're right. I mean, this is a race, frankly, between Governor Romney and Governor Huckabee. Mayor Giuliani, for the most part, has not campaigned in Iowa. He's pretty much weighing to Tsunami Tuesday on February 5th, particularly, in Florida. Huckabee recognizes that this is, frankly, his moment in the limelight, if you will.

Remember, five months ago, Farai, no one knew who Mike Huckabee was. He was at the bottom of the polls, down there with Kucinich and Mike Gravel and some other folks. But now, he has surged, and he is trying to capitalize on that surge by saying, look, I'm an outsider. I'm a former governor of Arkansas. I'm just like you.

Romney, for the most part, is trying to say, look, I'm experienced. I've been on the national scene before. My father has been here many, many times before as former governor of Massachusetts - excuse me - of Michigan as well as, obviously, someone who runs for president back in 1968. It is really neck and neck. There is only going to be about 100,000 people, registered Republicans in the Iowa caucus that are going to decide who the next winner will be on the Republican side. So literally, Farai, every single vote counts.

Ms. BRAZILE: Let me also say something in terms of the Republican side because I've had a very interesting time watching them. Look, this is a must win for Governor Huckabee. He has to win in order to go on to the next round. He has surged late in the game. But Mitt Romney has been on the ground for many, many months. He has a terrific organization. They are layered. And perhaps, the race now in Iowa is who will come in third. John McCain, who is all but left the state has come back to try to come in third place. Fred Thompson is still in the hunt again for third place.

So, you know, while it's a must win for Huckabee and Romney, let's look at the third place finisher because I think they're really fighting for the New Hampshire vote.

Rudy Giuliani - there's a big show going on in Iowa. And you know what? He's late in the ranks in Florida on January 29th and Super Duper Tuesday on February 5th. He has gone - you know, this is like a Broadway premiere. He should see a lot in Iowa. And unfortunately, he will not show up until late in the season.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Farai, may I respond to that?

CHIDEYA: Absolutely.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Well, I disagree with Donna in a sense where this is a make-a-break for Huckabee in a sense where I think if he comes in the straw in number two position in Iowa, he still is able to maintain, if you will, some of the Huckaboom is what they're calling it. I think it's a little bit different, frankly, when it comes to Romney because, keep in mind, if he loses Iowa and if he loses New Hampshire - and because McCain is surging in New Hampshire - and remember, the New Hampshire media market is in the backyard of Boston - that is really hard for Romney to maintain, if you will, some of the credibility that he is the most authoritative, the most experienced person in this race besides Mayor Giuliani.

So I disagree with Donna. I do believe that if Mike Huckabee comes in second or maybe even the third in Iowa, he still is able to springboard over to New Hampshire and obviously on the South Carolina and Nevada.

CHIDEYA: I want to ask both of you guys about a couple of New Yorkers. We've mentioned Rudy Giuliani and his tactical decision to not be so invested in Iowa, but then there is the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who has a whole team sitting around, trying to figure out if he should jump in the race. What don't you give us, Donna, first a little bit of a comparison of these two guys? Do you think that, first of all, the Giuliani strategy is going to work of holding off? And secondly, what do you think about Bloomberg? Is he going to throw his hat in?

Ms. BRAZILE: Well, first, let me start with Mayor Giuliani. I think it was a mistake for him to not put some staff and some organization in Iowa and New Hampshire because, clearly, as the national frontrunner - remember, he's been leading most of the national polls. He had the most to lose if he didn't, you know, show up and compete in those early states.

Now, he's banking on Florida on January 29th, and that's a huge gamble, a risky gamble. If John McCain comes out in New Hampshire with a lot of momentum, McCain can go on to win Michigan, where he was strong in 2000. He's going perhaps to win in South Carolina, where he has a terrific organization. And let's go back to this whole issue of electability.

The Republicans want to win in 2008 like the Democrats, and so there's going to look for somebody who can beat the Democrats. And if you're not up there to compete where everyone else is competing, it's hard for you to, you know, steal the show at the last minute.

In terms of Michael Bloomberg - if both political parties nominate someone that voters like on either side, I don't see the - I don't see an appetite for a third party alternative. Although there are five billion reasons not to count Michael Bloomberg up because he's a billionaire, he's an attractive candidate, he's a non-politician, he's a recovering politician - I mean, he makes sense in the absence of no one who the nominees will be. But if Democrats like their choice, Republicans like their choice, I don't see a movement for a third party candidate.

CHIDEYA: Robert?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: If Mike Huckabee - excuse me - if Michael Bloomberg gets into the race, this is Mayor Giuliani's worst nightmare. Here's why: it's because, obviously, there's a lot of independents out there that sway the elections one way or the other. And if, in fact, Mayor Bloomberg is in the race, the Giuliani campaign says, well, wait a minute here. That is our worst nightmare simply because independents typically go with an independent. And a credible independent like a Mayor Bloomberg certainly will put a dent, if you will, in Mayor Giuliani's armor.

Mayor Giuliani is doing a very, very risky strategy here. He basically is saying all or nothing. I want to play on the national scale. And I'm not going to belittle myself by going into Iowa and to South Carolina as well as into New Hampshire. That is a very, very risky strategy for two reasons. One, you offend Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and some other states. These are very, very fickle voters. And they are used to seeing their presidential candidates up close and personal.

Secondly, it's all or nothing for Mayor Giuliani. If, in fact, he's not unable to win Florida or some of the other states, Nevada, Michigan and some other states, he is pretty much dead in the water, if you will. And that's exactly where McCain and Huckabee, for the most part - and Romney - is saying, this is exactly where Mayor Giuliani is extremely vulnerable.

This is his Achilles heel. He's a 300-pound gorilla right now, where he is the man on the scene. He is the one leading in the national polls. But if, in fact, these fickle voters and these individual states, who ultimately decide who the nominee is going to be, if they don't like Mayor Giuliani, he's dead in the water.

CHIDEYA: I want to wrap things up with a little look at the health care bill. Over the weekend, the president signed legislation extending government-funded health insurance for children. You'll remember this was an enormous battle, vetoes and attempted overrides.

Some people say this is a victory for the president. He didn't give in to Congress. He now is, in some ways, being beneficent and sort of giving out this health care, but on his terms. How do you think that that's going to play out, Donna? Is it going to help Republicans either in the presidential race or in future Congressional races?

Ms. BRAZILE: This bill has strong bi-partisan support from both chambers. It's not a victory for the president. It's not a victory for the Democrats. It's an - it's a defeat for the nine million uninsured children in this country that relies on the federal government for help in meeting their health care needs.

I would hope that the president and the Democrats can find time this legislative season to work out a compromise. They're not for our part. The Democrats want to expand the program to cover more children. The president is opposed to the tax increases in the bill, which I can understand given his pledge. But this is an opportunity to help nine million uninsured American children.

This is a bill that has strong bipartisan support. And I hope that they authorize and then extend it for another five years and not just three months.

CHIDEYA: Robert?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: It's a floating number out there. I mean, the president is saying that six million people will be insured by this extension to March of 2009. The Democrats are saying that they want to extend this. You know, they won't stop fighting for this until 10 million people are insured.

To answer your question specifically, Farai, I don't know. I don't think anyone really knows as whether or not this is going to play in the presidential cycle, if you will. I do believe that Senator Clinton and probably Senator Edwards both have campaigned on very populous campaign platforms, if you will, will probably use this to their advantage especially John Edwards.

It'd be interesting to see how the Republicans play this. Probably, if I am Mitt Romney, or Mike Huckabee, a former governor who actually had to administer the chip funds, I probably would campaign on this in a positive way by basically saying, if you will let me, I will continue to work with Democrats in Congress to try to expand this program to the best of my ability because I know firsthand how this bill helps.

Look, the bottom line is that there are people out there that are uninsured, people that are living paycheck to paycheck, and a lot of these people are kids. And the fact of the matter is that the federal government does have a responsibility to insure these sick children. The only question is, is who's going to pay for it?

CHIDEYA: Robert and Donna, thanks so much.

Ms. BRAZILE: Happy New Year. We look forward to talking to you this whole year.

CHIDEYA: Oh, yeah. We're looking forward to talking to you both.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Campaign '08, 24 hours, seven days a week.

CHIDEYA: That's right, babes.

Ms. BRAZILE: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Donna Brazile is a nationally syndicated columnist who also teaches at Georgetown University. And Robert Traynham is D.C. Bureau chief for the Comcast able network, CNA.

This is NPR News.

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