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The game changers

A look back at 10 of 2007's the biggest game-changers (so far) of the campaign, listed in chronological order.
/ Source: National Journal

What a difference a year makes, as the cliché goes, in the ephemeral world of politics. But in the 24-7 world in which this presidential campaign has evolved, the truth is that a day -- even a second -- can change the entire game.

That game has changed repeatedly over the past year, prompted by single events, scripted and unscripted, whose shockwaves continue to play out. If you blinked, you might have missed them. So as we look back on 2007, here are 10 of the biggest game-changers (so far) of the campaign, listed in chronological order:

April 15: Obama's first-quarter fundraising
Both helped and hindered by soaring expectations as he joined the race in February, set out to prove he posed a serious threat to ’s vaunted machine. Obama passed his first test (fundraising) with flying colors, nearly matching the record-breaking $26 million Clinton raised. His number of online donors (roughly 50,000) equaled her entire list. He did so by tapping the Internet savvy of his supporters and emphasizing his opposition to the Iraq war and grassroots excitement. Obama shocked the political world again in the second quarter, outraising Clinton outright, but it was the money he raised during the first three months of 2007 that confirmed expectations that the Democratic primary would be a dogfight.

April 15: Edwards' $400 haircut
Early fundraising reports did not cast quite as favorably as Obama. Although Edwards raised millions, the dollar figure that would help define his campaign was $400. FEC reports showed his committee paid for two haircuts, at $400 each, by celebrity stylist Joseph Torrenueva of Beverly Hills -- plus $250 at a salon and spa in Dubuque, Iowa, and $225 at the Pink Sapphire in Manchester, N.H. Late-night comedians had a field day. For a son of a millworker who hoped to highlight his concern for poverty and organized labor, this story reminded voters -- and the media -- that there are, in fact, two Americas.

May 15: Huckabee jokes about Edwards' haircut
The question at the second Republican debate was about spending, and replied with a tasty zinger. The target? Edwards and his high-falutin' haircut. "We've had a Congress that's spent money like John Edwards at a beauty shop," he said. Ba dum bum ... The crowd went wild, the media ate it up. And while that one-liner may not have changed the race at that moment, it was the first time Huckabee had displayed the laugh-out-loud humor that would become a trademark of his debate performances and has contributed greatly to the recent bout of momentum he's now riding.

July 13: McCain campaign's implosion
Once the GOP's prohibitive front-runner, 's campaign fell hard in mid-July, the victim of overconfident spending and staffing. Two of his top advisers, Terry Nelson and John Weaver, resigned. Plummeting in the polls, McCain dramatically downsized and re-tooled his entire operation. Political obituaries were everywhere: His support for immigration reform had hurt him among conservatives and his support for the Iraq war alienated the independents who had been key to his New Hampshire victory in 2000. His loss benefited Rudy Giuliani, whose front-runner status for the second half of 2007 has been fueled largely by support from the independents and moderates who once backed McCain.

Oct. 9: Thompson's first debate
One month after 's late entry into the GOP race, political insiders tuned into the CNBC debate in Dearborn, Mich., to gauge his campaign skills. They were, much like Thompson himself, unenthused. "Thompson's So-So Performance," read a newspaper editorial from his home state of Tennessee. "A Gentleman's C," read another headline. Impressions may have effectively been sealed just seconds into the debate, when, in response to the first question about the economy, he created an awkward silence by pausing for an inexplicably long period of time. In a sign of how low expectations were, pundits considered a high point to be his ability to correctly name the prime minister of Canada. The debate didn't change the game, exactly; Thompson had already been panned as ill-prepared, uninterested and lazy. But his performance solidified a Beltway consensus that the actor-turned-politician-turned-actor-turned-politician was not in this game to win.

Oct. 19: Brownback's withdrawal
Sam Brownback's decision to drop out of the campaign was greeted with a mild shrug. The Kansas senator had run a lackluster campaign, had been polling in the single digits, even in his must-win state of Iowa, and he had raised little money. But Brownback's decision changed the entire game. His departure freed up a large bloc of evangelical Christian activists who have since fueled the sudden rise of Huckabee. While he personally endorsed McCain, Brownback has acknowledged polls that show a large number of his supporters moving into the Arkansan's column. That shift has changed the tone of the entire GOP discussion to religion and, arguably, forced to deliver a speech defending his Mormon faith.

Oct. 30: Clinton at the Drexel University debate
Burdened for weeks by the word "inevitable," Hillary Clinton was tired and unfocused on Halloween Eve. She performed adequately during the first hour and 45 minutes of the Drexel University forum, but her evening -- if not her entire campaign -- began to unravel as she bobbed and weaved her way through a discussion of granting drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants. Sensing a shift in a race that was quickly growing stale, the media seized on new "proof" that Clinton was, as opponents charged, a two-faced political parser. But contrary to predictions, she was largely done in by her own words, not the salvos launched by Obama or Edwards. Obama fumbled his way through the same question the following day, but it didn't matter. The caricature was uniquely cast for Clinton, and it's one she's struggled to escape ever since.

Nov. 5: Paul raises $4 million
If has an impact on 2008, he'll have Guy Fawkes to thank. Fawkes, a Roman Catholic, anti-Protestant rebel, tried to assassinate King James I by blowing up the Parliament on Nov. 5, 1605. But more importantly this year, Fawkes inspired Paul supporters to organize an online fundraiser that raised more than $4 million in one day for Paul's long-shot campaign and signed up 21,000 new donors. They did so through a Web site called That haul, and another big fundraiser timed around the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, made Paul the GOP field's largest one-day fundraiser. With that, the media started to pay attention to Paul, who has since started running TV ads in New Hampshire as he climbs in the polls. His prospects for the nomination remain slim at best, but he's under increasing pressure from some quarters to wage a third-party bid. And, at the very least, people are listening to Paul -- something few would have predicted a year ago.

Nov. 10: Iowa's J-J dinner
Much as John Kerry had done four years ago, Obama used the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Iowa as a platform to change the game. To wild applause and glowing media reviews, he told Democratic dinner-goers that his campaign could fuel a new Democratic majority that could end the gridlock and polarization that have plagued the capital for decades. "The same old Washington textbook campaigns just won't do it in this election," he said in a thinly veiled slap at Clinton. "That's why not answering questions because we're afraid our answers won't be popular just won't do it." Following that speech, Obama pulled even and then surpassed Clinton in state polls.

Dec. 8: Oprah campaigns for Obama
While she had for Obama months ago on CNN’s "Larry King Live," Oprah Winfrey's three-state tour on his behalf offered him a fresh round of buzz and wildly favorable coverage. All three cable TV networks went live to her Des Moines appearance, where she issued oh-so thinly veiled critiques of Clinton. "If we continued to do the same things over and over and over again," she said, "I know that you get the same results." With Oprah, Obama has managed to appeal directly to Clinton's loyal base of women; he has seen his support among women rise steadily since then. Although voters tell pollsters they're more heavily influenced by Bill Clinton's presence in the campaign on his wife's behalf, Oprah is a close second. Not bad for a TV talk-show host. Or, for that matter, a freshman senator.