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.
Last week we explored the weird and wacky sayings of some of our Republican leaders during the past year. This week, we prove that Democrats are just as capable of raising eyebrows by committing the quixotic quip.
When Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., found out that Vice President Dick Cheney is a distant cousin, Obama's spokesman said, "Every family has a black sheep."
In September, Hillary Clinton went on the David Letterman show to prove she has a sense of humor, which some Americans do not believe.
Michael Huckabee, who has impressively come up from behind among the Republican presidential candidates, now leads in Iowa. The former Arkansas governor and Baptist preacher reaches new highs on likability when the other candidates don't wear well.
Huckabee is credited with galvanizing the evangelical vote. He can draw Republicans to him. Yet, where the party goes on amnesty will define what kind of party the Republicans will become.
After a day off for Christmas celebrations, US presidential contenders hit the campaign trail full tilt Wednesday, just days before voters in key states begin to narrow the field of White House hopefuls.
Top contenders could afford no more than a two-day holiday before resuming their fervent courtship of voters in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, whose early nominating contests give them an outsized role in choosing each party's candidate for the national vote in November.
Hattie Irving, an 81-year old Iowan, has never participated in her state's presidential caucuses, but she plans to this time — to support Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"I was very impressed with her as first lady. I think it's important to take part," Irving said at a Clinton campaign event at a senior center here.
Brad Smith, a 27-year old engineer who moved to the state in 2005, plans to attend his first precinct caucus, too — and stand up for Barack Obama.
Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee would seem to be the answer to their prayers, yet for many Christian conservatives in Iowa, he has not closed the deal for the Republican caucuses.
Do they still like Mitt Romney? Are they intrigued by Fred Thompson? As always, voter uncertainty comes with the Jan. 3 caucuses, now just a week away.
Huckabee, the former Baptist minister, is leading in the Republican polls here, though his advantage has narrowed. Perhaps, that's due in part to the negative TV commercials Romney is airing.
Hillary Clinton, instead of running as a Democrat for president, ought to be a full-time investor, because, you see, she once put $1,000 in cattle futures and, nine months later, had made $l00,000. It's not precisely comparable to making a hole-in-one on every hole in an 18-hole golf course, but her feat brings that feat to mind. The lady's a whiz.
Rudy Giuliani revels in a reputation for being unstoppable — the bold prosecutor of mobsters and crooked politicians, the dauntless mayor at the World Trade Center. And now a Republican presidential contender.
But Giuliani does know failure. He lost his first campaign, a 1989 run for New York mayor.
The Concord Monitor broke with political tradition Sunday, telling readers in the state with the first presidential primary why they should not vote for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney instead of whom they should support.
In a scathing anti-endorsement that called Romney a "disquieting figure," the New Hampshire newspaper's editorial board said he looks and acts like a presidential contender but "surely must be stopped" because he lacks the core philosophical beliefs to be a trustworthy president.
With John McCain on vacation and Rudy Giuliani occupied elsewhere in the state, Mitt Romney sought this weekend to close the deal with New Hampshire Republicans who remain undecided about his presidential candidacy.
Romney fired away at McCain, repeatedly accusing the Arizona senator of failing "Reagan 101" by voting twice against Bush administration tax cuts. Romney also said McCain's past support for allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the United States and work toward legal status amounted to amnesty.