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That, and other news, in today’s Political Panorama.

I’ve returned from a week’s vacation in Rome, and while its tough to return from such a great city, it’s a relief to get off the euro and off the dollar. My thanks to William Triplett for filling in the past week.

With Hillary Clinton poised to run away Democratic nomination, at least in the eyes of many political reporters and pundits, the inevitable focus this week will be on what her opponents will do to try to topple her. There’s also the lingering last best hopes that Al Gore will get into the race, especially if he wins the Nobel Peace Prize, which is announced on Friday. And on the Republican side, the pressure is on Fred Thompson to use his considerable performance skills and produce a winning night at his first GOP debate on Tuesday.

In fact, according to the New York Times, Thompson doesn’t have such a stellar record of debating, even with his acting credits. He’s trying to lower expectations, and experts weigh in to support his case. “There’s the expectation that if you’re a performer, you’ll be good at any kind of performance, but that’s not true,” said Shannon Jackson, a professor and chairwoman of the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. “Certain performers are used to having scripts that they can practice and rehearse. They find challenges when they don’t have a script, or the required script changes and they have to improvise.”

Much more biting is the “Saturday Night Live” skit (below) that is making the rounds over the Internet, playing off his caricature as lazy. “How do campaign when you don’t like hard work and people make you sick?” the  faux Thompson says. Or there’s this zinger: “Since my announcement, my numbers have been going down faster than Larry Craig in a Minneapolis washroom.”

In truth, even though Thompson hasn’t exactly dazzled the media in his campaign, his numbers have held up in places like Iowa. where he is in second place in a Des Moines Register poll behind Mitt Romney.

Streep Support: News junkie Meryl Streep, starring in the politically charged “Rendition” and “Lions for Lambs,” opening within weeks of each other, indicates her support for a woman president, i.e. Hillary Clinton. She tells the Times of London, “I’m glad that there seems to be change. People are holding their breath. That’s why you don’t see masses on the streets – they know he’s [Bush] going. I’ll be relieved when the whole group is out. I think in a way things had to get this bad before they got better. It would be nice to have a woman president. I think half the Senate should be women, half of Parliament, half the ruling mullahs. But that will never happen, darling!”

“Lions for Lambs,” directed by Robert Redford and starring herself, Redford and Tom Cruise, will be particularly damning on the media and its failure to be more critical in the rush to war.  Streep says of the Bush team, “In this Administration, if you don’t play by their rules you’re shut out of the loop. The press, to maintain lines of communication within the White House, played a game that in the long term did not serve them.”

Opening Soon: “Caucus! The Musical,” which debuts in Des Moines on Dec. 27.  Given that the state is likely to vote on Jan. 3, it may not be such a long run.