It’s going to be hard for the candidates to avoid treating the (40%? of) undecided voters in Iowa like fluffy little Christmas kitties who are drawn to the shiniest new toys and have the attention span of, well, kittens, who will find something else to play with in a femtosecond.

The shiny new things can sometimes be old favorites like John Edwards, whose steadiness as a campaigner and depth of support in Iowa have been underrated, or they can be the New New things, like Mike Huckabee, whose genuine populism -- he is perhaps the purest heir to Dick Gephardt’s Democratic caucus-winning populism in 1988 of any of the candidates -- is as much of a reason for his rise as was the publication of his decision to accept Christ as his lord and savior.

(Is it not a surprise that, during the mortgage crisis, the credit crunch, a downturn in consumer spending, hints of a possible recession this year, the candidates on either side who are most comfortable talking about economic issues are doing well? )

When the spotlight’s not on, the newest toys often languish. I hate to belabor the metaphor, but the press seems to be paying attention to, in rough order:

NH -- McCain’s “rise” / Romney’s “tailspin”

Huckabee’s rise

Edwards’s rise

Giuliani’s health

Barack Obama has to earn the top spot in the rundowns these days.

If the lead story on the day of the caucus is akin to “Democrats have chance to make history” or some Hegelian headline like that. (The mechanics: momentum = turnout; high turnout = Obama’s victory). But he’s not the story today: Benazir Bhutto is.

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