Presidential hopeful Fred Thompson cast himself Monday as the consistent Republican conservative in the race and suggested during a speech on Rudy Giuliani's home turf that the former New York mayor was a liberal.
"Some think the way to beat the Democrats next year is to be more like them. I could not disagree more," Thompson told the Conservative Party of New York.
"My friends, I suggest it's not time for psychological flexibilities in terms of our principles. That's the surefire way of making sure we don't win," he added.
Forget the pleasantries. The criticism grows sharper by the day in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
The reason: Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain and Fred Thompson are bunched at the top and trying to emerge with voting to begin in just a matter of weeks.
"We're now into a 90-day sprint and each of the campaigns is struggling for a strategy," said Scott Reed, Republican Bob Dole's 1996 campaign manager. "Who do they take out, who do they go after and who do they risk alienating by being the aggressor? They're all trying to figure that out."
Mitt Romney was in Michigan, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada and then went back to Michigan. Rudy Giuliani visited Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, Alabama, Washington and New Hampshire. John McCain went from Michigan to Iowa to New Hampshire.
But where was Fred, as in Fred Thompson?
Besides participating in his first presidential debate in Michigan last Tuesday, Thompson was missing from the campaign trail. The former Tennessee senator and star of NBC's "Law & Order" was scheduled to be in New Hampshire this weekend, but canceled.
New Hampshire voters noticed.
The lack of attention by candidates of both parties to the huge entitlements crisis facing this country has been, to say the least, troubling.
But Sen. Hillary Clinton, in an interview with two Washington Post reporters the other day, put new spin on this. Clinton is now not merely avoiding addressing this difficult problem, but also rejects the premise that the problem even exists.
Speaking with the Post's Dan Balz and Ann Kornblut aboard her "Middle Class Express" bus in Iowa, Clinton announced that we have no Social Security problem.
Republican Mitt Romney criticized presidential rival Rudy Giuliani on Friday, arguing that his own real-world experience and socially conservative values represent the "Republican wing of the Republican Party." The former Massachusetts governor, who espoused moderate views in his 1994 bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, said that when Republicans act like Democrats, the nation loses.
Democrats Barack Obama and John Edwards are criticizing presidential rival Hillary Rodham Clinton for her latest comments on negotiating with leaders of Iran and other countries that are on poor terms with the U.S.
Obama noted on Friday that when he said in July he would meet with such leaders without setting any conditions, Clinton called his stance "irresponsible and frankly naive."
Questioned Thursday by a voter in New Hampshire, Clinton said twice that she would negotiate with Iran "with no conditions."
An Oscar, an Emmy and the Nobel Peace Prize. Will Al Gore now seek the ultimate reward and Oval Office mantel space? Don't count on it. Odds are that the former vice president won't risk his Nobel-burnished image and huge public platform with a return to the rough-and-tumble world of presidential politics — at least not in 2008, advisers say.
"We face a true planetary emergency," Gore said in a statement shortly after winning the prize on Friday. "The climate crisis is not a political issue."
Can it be? Are Republicans being funnier on the presidential campaign trail than Democrats this time around?
True, we live in perilous times. All the more reason it's imperative to have a chortle or two, a witticism now and then, even a staged joke as we stagger along with the candidates to the finish line.
So far it's been sort of a grim race. A Gallup Poll commissioned by USA Today found that Americans are in the mood for more laughs in politics, with 83 percent saying a sense of humor is a good attribute even for the most serious presidential candidate.
"The most important 'traditional value' in this election is keeping the Clintons out of the White House," says Greg Alterton, an evangelical Christian who writes for SoConsForRudy.com and counts himself among Rudolph Giuliani's social-conservative supporters.
People like Alterton are important, if overlooked, in the Republican presidential sweepstakes. Anti-Giuliani Religious Rightists are far more visible. Also conspicuous are pundits whose cartoon version of social conservatism regards abortion and gay rights as "the social issues," excluding other traditionalist concerns.
It's an old kids' hide-and-seek game message, and Hispanic leaders are sending the call out to Republican presidential candidates: Come out, come out, wherever you are!