Rich Galen

When you think about it, six of the eight top candidates for their party's nomination for President are easily identified by their first names: Hillary, Barak, Al, Rudy, Newt, and Mitt.

The two Johns - McCain and Edwards - might appear to be at a disadvantage here, but having a common first name hasn't hurt the past seven Presidents: Dick, Gerry, Jimmy, Ron, George, Bill & George.

Lyndon was the end of an era which included a Franklin and a Dwight mixed in with a Harry and a John. Johnson also marked the end of the period when Presidents were referred to by their initials: FDR, HST, JFK and LBJ. Eisenhower was referred to as "Ike" which, in any event, fit the three letter rule.

The big news yesterday was that Newt did an interview with the NY Post editorial board and ripped into Hillary.

Newt said that Hillary was "a nasty woman" who would run an "endlessly ruthless" campaign. [Maybe it was a "ruthlessly endless" campaign which is also true.] No White House staffer has ever mistaken Hillary Clinton for Laura Bush. And that business last week when Hillary's campaign WAY overreacted to David Geffen's dissing her by launching an all-out attack against Barak certainly proves Newt's "endlessly ruthless" comment.

As I said in an CNN interview from here yesterday, people think that politics is a game of solitaire: You sit at the table and play against the deck.

That is wrong. Politics - especially big-time politics - is more like Texas Hold 'em. You have cards which you can see. You opponents have cards you can't see. And there are cards on the table which everyone can see.

You don't just play your hand against the cards on the table; you play your hand against your opponents.

We already know that Barak's early popularity caused Hillary's campaign to accelerate her timetable - perhaps by as much as two months.

Hearing his footsteps closing in on her in every recent poll has caused her to ratchet up the ruthlessness. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Saturday showed Hillary's lead over Barak which had been 41-17; had shrunk to only 36-14.

Similarly, Rudy's growing popularity among GOP voters in recent polls might have been behind McCain's use of the David Letterman show the other night to informally announce that he would be formally announcing in April.

Newt, apparently, felt that being in third place in many polls behind Rudy and McCain but ahead of Mitt called for his getting into campaign mode. The is zero downside, in a GOP primary, to saying harsh things about Hillary.

Sunday night, Al got a good deal of attention when he joked about a potential candidacy while accepting the Academy Award for best documentary so he was put back into the "potential candidate" category" which he knew perfectly well would happen.

Don't be surprised if both Edwards and Mitt make some moves over the next few days to bolster their standing, if not in the polls, then in the media.

They have been the forgotten names in all this, and they can't afford - to switch a NASCAR metaphor - to allow the candidates in the lead pack to get out of drafting range.

In fact, Mitt, in New Hampshire, took out after both McCain and Rudy just yesterday. The AP's Glen Johnson lead his coverage on Mitt's visit thus: Republican Mitt Romney assailed his two leading presidential rivals Wednesday, criticizing John McCain's stance on immigration and dismissing Rudy Giuliani's support for gun control, abortion and gay rights as a losing combination in the GOP primary.

Texas Hold 'em. Not Solitaire.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the NY Post story about Newt and Hillary; and a link to the analysis of the WashPost/ABC poll. A dreadful pun of a Mullfoto, and a very confusing Catchy Caption of the Day.


Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.