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Here we go with the fall campaigns

September 2, 2007 |  2:22 am

Well, this is it, the third and final holiday of summer, when many schools get ready to open, college football starts and most of us celebrate the misnamed Labor Day by not doing any. It is also the last opportunity of summer for politicians to parade and pretend to party with voters.

Now, the game gets very serious and people start paying attention.

By Tuesday, this warp-speed campaign will move into the final four-month leg before the caucuses and primaries start in a flash flood of voting that could well have both parties' nominees selected before Valentine's Day.

Wednesday night the Republicans debate on national TV, and Thursday morning possibly the last GOP candidate, Fred Thompson, finally and formally enters the race through a carefully-crafted webcast that gives him maximum and unfiltered control over his initial message to the millions.

It's just like something a TV actor would prefer, a meticulously-massaged script done and re-done over weeks by a team of writers and policy people who know the words that resonated with focus groups and the chance for the candidate to do as many takes as he likes to get it just right before it goes on the Web, free of hectoring reporters and their questions about campaign tardiness.

Such control will evaporate as soon as he gets on the road, of course, when life becomes an exhausting blur of getting into and out of cars, speaking and smiling and answering questions and trying to avoid obvious mistakes. But first impressions are important. And Fred's supporters have grown weary waiting.

"He's going to suck a lot of the oxygen out of the room when he first comes in," says Mike Huckabee, the formerly fat former Arkansas governor who's gained so much new attention for himself by exceeding his low expectations at the Iowa straw poll. "But I'm not sure I'd want to be in his position, where the expectations are simply just sky-high for him to be able to perform." Notice how Mike did everything he politely could to boost those expectations even higher.

Today the candidates are fanning out across the country, following meticulously prepared schedules to get the maximum exposure on a slow news weekend in strategic media markets. The Billary Show, which gained so much attention over the July 4th weekend with that hand-holding parade in the heat, resumes today in New Hampshire and tomorrow back in Iowa.

Today, Hillary Clinton, who's been campaigning for about seven months, "kicks off" her fall campaign, as opposed to the summer and spring campaigns, with rallies in Concord and Portsmouth with the former president. The pair pops up again tomorrow in Iowa for a Labor Day picnic in Sioux City and a Labor Day labor rally in Des Moines.

With New Hampshire empty of the Clinton couple, Barack Obama and his family and Bill Richardson will hit the Granite State tomorrow for separate rallies and meetings and parades and ice cream socials before Richardson goes on to South Carolina and then California for fundraising and Obama jumps back into Iowa. All the other candidates in both parties are busy too saying words they've said hundreds of times already and shaking hands of people they'll never see again who will remember the moment for a long time. John Edwards will be in Iowa before dashing off to Pittsburgh for another union endorsement.

Next thing you know it'll be late September, and we'll be speculating on Newt Gingrich joining the GOP field while much of the country rakes leaves and settles into football and hockey and that other contact sport, presidential politics.

--Andrew Malcolm