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Today on the Presidential Campaign Trail

IN THE HEADLINES

Presidential candidates scramble to turn Pakistan violence to their advantage at home ... Poll: Many voters still bouncing among presidential candidates, especially on GOP side ... Obama says Iowa voters should end Washington's 'food fight,' vote for him for true change ... Giuliani defends new ad featuring images from Sept. 11 attacks ... Ron Paul expects to gain former Tancredo supporters ... Republicans to confront each other two days before N.H. primary ... Edwards says he's ready to fight for the middle class ... Clinton's campaign looks like a family business as she seeks to close the sale in Iowa

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Bhutto death roils US presidential race

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan jolted the race for the White House on Thursday, sending candidates in both parties scrambling for political advantage.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who have made experience a cornerstone of their campaigns, said the murder was proof of a need for a president who is ready to take command.

"I know from my lifetime of experience you have to be prepared for whatever might happen, and that's particularly true today," Clinton said in an Associated Press interview while campaigning in Iowa.

She declined to be drawn into a discussion about the impact on a leading rival, Barack Obama, the first-term senator from Illinois who has stressed a need for change in Washington.

McCain was not so reticent about comparing his experience with that of other GOP contenders.

"My theme has been throughout this campaign that I'm the one with the experience, the knowledge and the judgment. So perhaps it may serve to enhance those credentials to make people understand that I've been to Pakistan, I know Musharraf, I can pick up the phone and call him. I knew Benazir Bhutto."

The assassination of Pakistan's former prime minister occurred one week before the Iowa caucuses, the first test of the 2008 race for the White House, and provided a reminder of the importance of national security in an era of terrorism.

Republican Fred Thompson said al-Qaida is likely responsible because "they're driven to distraction by the notion that a secular woman could be the head of a government, especially one that was tough on terrorism."

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Poll: Voters still sampling candidates

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.

Mike Huckabee, who has roared to a tie with longtime front-runner Rudy Giuliani, has little reason to feel safe, according to an ongoing national survey conducted for The Associated Press and Yahoo News.

Half of all voters — including four in 10 Republicans — know too little about Huckabee to even say whether they have a favorable impression of him, let alone whether he is conservative, liberal or moderate. That could be ominous, because it gives his rivals the opportunity to define him. Witness Mitt Romney's criticism of the former Arkansas governor on immigration and Fred Thompson's contention that he raised taxes "like a Democrat."

The Democratic side is less chaotic, with Hillary Rodham Clinton maintaining a clear lead nationally over Barack Obama, though voters are still doing plenty of shifting. About one in five backs a different contender than in November, and nearly half say they still may settle on someone else, according to the poll conducted by Knowledge Networks.

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In Iowa, Obama says he'll bring change

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Barack Obama declared Thursday he's the only candidate who can bring true change in Washington, hoping to persuade Iowa voters to give him the first victory in the Democratic presidential race.

Making his case against Hillary Rodham Clinton without naming her, Obama said, "The real gamble in this election is playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expecting a different result."

Clinton has emphasized her Washington experience — as first lady and then as a senator from New York — though she, too, calls herself the candidate of change.

Obama, a senator from neighboring Illinois, is spending the final week of the Iowa campaign speaking to voters in small towns across the state. But one week before the Jan. 3 caucuses, he came to the capital of Des Moines, where representatives of the world's media were gathered, to deliver his "closing argument" speech.

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Giuliani defends Sept. 11 images in ad

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Rudy Giuliani Thursday defended a campaign ad that uses images from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying other candidates have relied on similar pictures.

The television ad features images of firefighters at ground zero on 9/11. The tragedy made the former New York mayor a national political figure.

"It's a part of my life that helps define me. It's not the only thing that defines me," Giuliani said, adding that he also has run ads about his record as mayor.

Giuliani's emphasis on the 2001 attacks marks a strategy shift as he faces a series of likely defeats in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early contest states — and as he seeks to stay relevant with his unconventional plan of favoring big states that come later in the primary season and offer more delegates.

The one-minute spot is scheduled to air beginning Friday on cable's FOX News Channel and in Florida and New Hampshire.

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Paul expects to gain Tancredo supporters

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul on Thursday said he expects to gain support from people who previously backed Tom Tancredo because of his tough stand against illegal immigration.

Tancredo, a Colorado congressman, quit the race for the Republican nomination on Dec. 20. Although Tancredo endorsed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Paul said many of those people are turning his way.

Paul opposes creation of a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally, and he supports construction of a fence along the Mexican border, installation of more electronic surveillance and an increase in border patrols.

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GOP candidates to meet in N.H. forum

WASHINGTON (AP) — The New Hampshire Republican Party is sponsoring a forum for Republican presidential candidates on Jan. 6, two days before the state's first-in-the-nation primary.

The forum, where the candidates will be questioned by Fox New Channel's Chris Wallace, will be held a day after ABC holds back to back Democratic and Republican presidential debates.

"Never underestimate New Hampshire voters' appetite for politics," said Fergus Cullen, the chairman of the state Republican Party.

Participating in the forum will be Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson.

Unlike a debate, the candidates will face questions from Wallace around a table in a studio on the campus of St. Anselm College in Goffstown, N.H.. The 90-minute encounter will air live beginning at 8 p.m. ET on the Fox News Channel and on Fox News Radio.

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Edwards continues populist themes

WAUKON, Iowa (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Thursday continued his populist appeal to Iowa voters, saying he's the White House hopeful who's ready to do the most to fight for the middle class.

Edwards has been trying to hammer home his message that he'll stand up to special interests in Washington. As part of the effort, he launched an eight-day, 38-county tour keeping him in Iowa until the Jan. 3 caucuses, the first nominating contest of the 2008 election season.

"My belief is that we desperately need to make this government work for everybody again. We need to stand up to the forces of corporate greed that are destroying the middle class of this country," he told a crowd packed tightly into a small restaurant bar in northeastern Iowa.

While Edwards has been trailing rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton in the polls, he told voters that there are many caucus-goers who are still making up their minds.

"I think one week from tonight, you are going to stand up, you are going to rise and say 'enough is enough,'" he said. "You are going to start a wave of change across this country that cannot be stopped."

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Clinton's family business hits the stump

LAWTON, Iowa (AP) — Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign took on the appearance of a family business as she headed into the final week of the race for Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses, driving home to activists the stakes in those caucuses and her view that she's ready for the job.

"Next week the eyes of the country and the world will be on Iowa, the world will be holding its breath," said Clinton. "We know that this decision you face is so important, you are picking a president and there isn't any more significant decision for you to make as a citizen."

Clinton opened her campaign day with a rally before about 300 people jammed into a high school in western Iowa.

Most polls have shown Clinton in a very tight and fluid race with rivals John Edwards and Barack Obama, with the stakes very high in next week's caucuses. Clinton has led in national polls but many strategists argue that a win in Iowa could give her the momentum to seal to the nomination.

She was working to close the sale in the final week, and leaving nothing to chance. Daughter Chelsea Clinton was at her side as she stumped through a series of stops in western Iowa, and her husband, former President Clinton, was keeping his own campaign schedule in the state.

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THE DEMOCRATS

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd are campaigning in Iowa.

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich talks to voters in New Hampshire.

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THE REPUBLICANS

Mike Huckabee raises campaign cash in Florida before campaigning in Iowa. Arizona Sen. John McCain and Fred Thompson also meet with Iowa voters.

Rudy Giuliani speaks at several events in Florida.

Mitt Romney campaigns in New Hampshire.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY:

"I don't care if he's a Mormon. The cheap shots at it offended me, and made me take a closer look at him. I don't see anything wrong with him," — Millicent Muller of Farmville, N.C., who moved from backing Rudy Giuliani to Mitt Romney.

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STAT OF THE DAY:

Eighty-nine percent of registered voters reported casting ballots in the 2004 election, up from 86 percent in 2000, according to the Census Bureau.

Compiled by Ann Sanner.