Who’s laughing now?

Those who dismissed Rep. Ron Paul as a joke in the Republican presidential primary campaign aren’t laughing so hard these days.

The Texas libertarian’s rise in the polls and in fundraising proves that a small but passionate number of Americans can be drawn to an advocate of unorthodox proposals such as returning to the gold standard and abolishing the income tax, CIA and Federal Reserve.

Paul, 72, recently set a one-day, online GOP presidential fundraising record, and pulled slightly ahead of Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee in a New Hampshire poll, where he had 8 percent of the Republicans’ support. In Iowa, he tied John McCain for fifth place, with 4 percent each.

When in doubt, bash Hillary

Increasingly you get the impression that if the Republican presidential candidates didn’t have Hillary Clinton, they wouldn’t have a campaign. “Obsession” might be too strong a word but the Republicans just can’t let go of the former first lady.

Pitfalls of planted questions

Did someone from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s team plant a question during an event in Iowa last week — and if so, who did it and why? That’s the mystery keeping all of political Washington agog and dogging what has until now been an almost flawless execution of a presidential primary campaign.

Was the senator herself involved? Highly dubious. Did a dumb, inexperienced staffer ask a college kid to pitch a predictable sop of a question? Likely. Or worse, could it have been planted by a seasoned political operative? Dumber than dumb. And unnecessary.

All the nudes that’s fit to print

More Australian voters would like to see Labor Opposition leader Kevin Rudd naked than their current prime minister, John Howard, a poll showed on Sunday just two weeks out from a hard-fought general election.

The question was posed in a Galaxy poll of 1,200 voters and published in Zoo magazine, the Australian Associated Press reported.

The survey found 34 percent of respondents wanted to see Rudd, 50, with his gear off, more than double the 16 percent who said the same thing about Howard, 68.

Hillary’s lead starts to slip

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s lead is shrinking among Democratic contenders for the White House after a series of miscues and stepped-up attacks by her rivals.

Her air of invincibility took a hit this week amid reports that her staffers had planted audience questions, combined with fresh criticism by Democrats who accused her of shifting with the political winds during a presidential debate two weeks ago.

Although the former first lady still leads the pack of Democratic contenders for the White House, polls released Monday suggested that her campaign was losing steam.

The last hurrah

With all deference to the good people of Iowa, whose common sense in most things including politics is exceeded only by the richness of the state’s soil, there is really no good reason that they should have such an overridingly important role in the presidential selection process. Yet in two months they will meet in caucus, not even a primary, and give at least one Democrat and one Republican a considerable boost toward the nomination.

Edwards uses Vets Day for political gain

Presidential contender John Edwards is introducing a $400 million plan Monday to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, including those recently returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under Edwards’ plan, veterans could seek counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder outside the Veterans Health Administration system; the number of counselors would increase; and family members would be employed to identify cases of PTSD.

Edwards, a North Carolina Democrat, was scheduled to introduce the five-point plan during a speech at New Hampshire’s Plymouth State University.

More troubles for McCain

John McCain’s error-prone Presidential campaign is in trouble, in debt and now in conflict with itself.

McCain doomed his chances from the start by supporting George W. Bush’s illegal and immoral war in Iraq. Then he abandoned the “straight talk” persona that helped him so well in previous campaigns. Then he spent all his money on consultants and fancy campaign digs.

Hillary’s cough

For Hillary Rodham Clinton, one woman’s cough is another’s good omen.

For the past two days, the Democratic presidential hopeful has been losing her voice and coughing spells have interrupted her speeches as she campaigns in New Hampshire.

Speaking at Kennett High School on Thursday morning, Clinton told the audience that she has been fighting a cold but was looking on the bright side. The New York senator described a conversation she had with her husband, former President Clinton, in which she told him she had lost her voice.

Rudy’s ‘Bernie’ problem

If anything can expose a chink in Rudy Giuliani’s armor, criminal charges against his one-time police commissioner might do it.

Giuliani, the former New York mayor, has hung on as the front-runner in the Republican presidential race, defying predictions that his moderate record and three marriages would repel conservative primary voters.