Shuffling the pawns in Iowa

“You want to talk why Iowa is three-dimensional chess, it is the ultimate. I think it’s more five-dimensional chess, if there’s such a thing … ” — NBC political director Chuck Todd put it well on Meet the Press last Sunday.

Here’s what we think he means.

Iowa caucus strategy isn’t as simple as moving around a few pawns and trying to rook the fellow on the other side of the board.

There are multiple games on multiple tiers. “Winning” is not a simple as “winning.”

Presidential battles heat up

White House foes renew battle Saturday on multiple fronts, through snow piled prairies and a blizzard of political ads, a tantalizing five days before their fates are first put to voters.

Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, locked in a cut-throat struggle ahead of Thursday’s leadoff Iowa nominating caucuses, are straining to outdo one another with clarion calls for political change.

Fine-tuning the campaign rhetoric

After a year of position papers and policy speeches, handshakes in the summer heat and winter snow, advertising that floods mailboxes and TV screens, and too many bites of pork on a stick at too many county fairs, it’s time.

For the final arguments.

Heading into the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, the presidential candidates are boiling down their messages.

On the Democratic side, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards are in a three-way tie in the polls. Among Republicans, it’s a close race for first between two former governors — Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

Candidates strike out with young voters

While the 2008 presidential candidates are taking potshots at each other, some young Americans are taking shots at the entire two-party system.

When asked to respond to a YouTube video by Medill News Service that shows young adults shouting the first five words they think of when they hear the words Republican and Democrat, one 19-year-old called the two-party system a failure, an opinion supported by a 28-year-old.

It’s still the economy, stupid

Voters began to worry more about their pocketbooks over the last month — even more than about the war in Iraq.

More than half the voters in an ongoing survey for The Associated Press and Yahoo! News now say the economy and health care are extremely important to them personally. They fear they will face unexpected medical expenses, their homes will lose value or mortgage and credit card payments will overwhelm them.

Events, however, can quickly change public opinion. Thursday’s assassination of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto could draw more attention to terrorism and national security, an issue that still ranked highly with the public and which 45 percent of those polled considered extremely important.

The GOP’s alien agenda

Who said this?

“Immigration to this country is increasing and is making its greatest relative increase from races most alien to the body of the American people and from the lowest and most illiterate classes among those races … half of whom have no occupation and most of whom represent the rudest form of labor.

A tough guy named Rudy

A jet passenger remembers seeing Rudolph W. Giuliani on a Dallas-to-New York flight. Heading home after a March 2005 speech, Giuliani perused a volume of Elizabethan literature.

Miles above Pennsylvania, a door-seal suddenly cracked. As the cabin depressurized, the pilot nose-dived from 38,000 feet to a safer 9,000. Oxygen masks swung above the heads of horrified travelers.

What did Giuliani do? As another, visibly rattled traveler recalled: “He put his mask over his face, picked the book back up, and kept reading Shakespeare.”

Turmoil, unease rock GOP

Dig beneath the surface of the raucous Republican presidential race and you will find even deeper turmoil: Four in 10 GOP voters have switched candidates in the past month alone, and nearly two-thirds say they may change their minds again.

None of the GOP candidates has reason to feel secure, according to an ongoing national survey conducted for The Associated Press and Yahoo! News.

Another dumb mistake by Hillary

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton may have shot herself in the foot trying to get Iowa voters to pledge support to her — she is encouraging them to caucus on January 14, 11 days too late.

At a rally featuring her husband, former President Bill Clinton on Saturday, campaign workers asked supporters to sign and mail cards that said “Yes! I’m an Iowan for Hillary” with their contact information as well as other supportive friends.

Campaigns ratch up the rhetoric

The most wide-open presidential race in a half century pushed unpredictably into a decisive new phase Wednesday, the rhetoric a bit more pointed and the appeals a tad more urgent in the final run-up to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

“This is crunch time,” said former Democratic Sen. John Edwards, and he spoke for all.

In a race without front-runners, a brief Christmas lull yielded quickly in both early-voting states to a new round of subtle digs, outright criticism, fresh TV ads and stepped-up efforts by independent organizations.