The rise and gaffe of John Edwards.
It’s no surprise that Obama has remained in close competition with Clinton. But for a while, it looked as though the Democratic contest might turn into a three-person race. The Edwards family’s gracious response to Elizabeth’s recurrence of cancer impressed the country so much that it became one of the few campaign stories to transcend the political pages up to this point.

Unfortunately for Edwards, reports of his $400 haircut also surpassed the confines of political coverage — becoming continuing fodder for late-night comics and GOP candidates alike. It may be unfair, but a $400 haircut — especially for a populist candidate — is an easy thing to understand and a hard thing to explain away. It doesn’t only make Edwards look foolish (who would pay $400 for a haircut?) but foppish.

Edwards may well recover from this gaffe; his lead in Iowa seems to be holding for now. But the incident checked his momentum and is the main reason why Bill Richardson has now begun to move in the polls. Sometimes small incidents have large ramifications

Waiting for Fred and Newt.
As far as many conservative Republicans are concerned, until Fred Thompson and New Gingrich declare their candidacies, the GOP field will remain incomplete. And the anticipation has already taken its toll on the campaign: so far, the GOP debates have been far less important than the Democratic ones, since many believe the current candidates are only “auditioning” until some of the main acts arrive. This diminishes the current field (especially McCain, who needs to find his second wind) and makes it impossible for any of the candidates in the back of the pack to make a move.

Take the early polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. While the Democratic campaign has retained its shape, Republican voters appear to be all over the lot, understandably confused about their choices. The longer Thompson and Gingrich wait, the worse the current Republican candidates look. Which could very well be their intention.

THE FIELD

REPUBLICANS
RUDY GIULIANI Odds: even
JOHN MCCAIN Odds: 5-2
MITT ROMNEY Odds: 4-1
MIKE HUCKABEE Odds: 100-1
SAM BROWNBACK Odds: 500-1
TOMMY THOMPSON Odds: 5000-1
DUNCAN HUNTER Odds: 20,000-1
JAMES GILMORE Odds: 20,000-1
TOM TANCREDO Odds: 50,000-1
RON PAUL Odds: 500,000-1

DEMOCRATS
BARACK OBAMA Odds: 5-4
HILLARY CLINTON Odds: 3-2
JOHN EDWARDS Odds: 7-1
BILL RICHARDSON Odds: 25-1
JOE BIDEN Odds: 75-1
CHRIS DODD Odds: 85-1
DENNIS KUCINICH Odds: 25,000-1
MIKE GRAVEL Odds: one million to 1

On the Web
The Presidential Tote Board blog: http://www.thephoenix.com/toteboard

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