The New York Times leads with news that President Bush's national security advisers are considering a push to conduct more aggressive covert operations in Pakistan because terrorist groups are trying harder to destabilize the central government there. The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with, and the NYT fronts, several stories each on the latest in the presidential primary race, offering breakdowns of last night's back-to-back Republican and Democratic debates. The papers agree that former front-runners Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney have shifted strategy after their defeats in Iowa, with Romney changing his pitch and Clinton going on the attack.
The NYT recounts a Friday meeting in which Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and others discussed a proposal to expand the authority of the CIA and the military to conduct more operations in tribal areas of Pakistan. The story, sourced by anonymous administration officials, says the meeting was spurred by intelligence reports that al-Qaida and the Taliban are stepping up efforts to destabilize Pakistan. It could also be, the NYT says, that the White House is interested in increasing its efforts to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. The NYT quotes U.S. and Pakistani analysts who doubt that such a policy would be a good idea. No proposal has been put forward yet.
The LAT fronts analysis on Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf's ability to stay afloat amid the continuing turmoil in his country. Musharraf appears to be riding out the latest crisis, the LAT says. But the LAT does not have the benefit of inside knowledge from the NYT's anonymous officials in Washington, who say some members of the administration consider the threats to Musharraf "so grave" now that he might let them do what they want.
The LAT reports that the Democrats said the word change 62 times during their debate last night. The WP reports that at some moments the stage seemed to be divided in two during the four-way Democratic debate, with John Edwards looking to align himself with Obama and "change" while Bill Richardson stuck by Clinton and "experience," though Clinton also insisted that her candidacy offers change. She earned cheers by pointing out the significance of electing the nation's first female president, but for the most part the Democrats avoided "identity politics." Edwards was the only white male on stage.
The WP reports that Romney accused his rivals of attacking his character as he shifted his strategy to portray himself as the Republican version of Obama and Edwards—the man who will bring Change to Washington. John McCain zinged Romney by agreeing that he is the candidate of change, but the bad flip-flopping kind, not the good fixing-Washington kind. Toward the end of the article, the WP reports that Romney won the Wyoming primary yesterday, capturing eight of the state's 12 delegates. The NYT says the presidential race is currently in the hands of voters unaffiliated with either party, which benefits Obama and McCain, the candidates who have cultivated "anti-establishment" images.
Below the fold, the NYT fronts a bleak headline: "AIDS Patients Face Downside of Living Longer." The story examines the massive health complications usually associated with old age that now afflict long-suffering AIDS patients. The long-term effects of lifesaving antiretroviral drugs have been studied little as the first generation of AIDS survivors reaches middle age.
Roughly every three days since 2001, a team of elite white coats from the federal government scans city streets for nuclear weapons, says a front-page LAT story. No terrorists have turned up so far, according to the LAT, but the feds did find nuclear material on a bum near Las Vegas and on a hot-dog vendor in New York City.
The WP fronts a story on the ambitions of a Chinese telecom firm to penetrate the U.S. market. The company, Huawei Technologies, has teamed up with investment firm Bain Capital Partners in a $2.2 billion bid to takeover 3Com Corp., a Massachusetts-based IT company. U.S. lawmakers are uneasy about the deal, citing possible ties between Huawei and the Chinese government, and one House Republican has asked President Bush to block it. The story does not remind readers that Bain is the company Mitt Romney founded in 1984.
The NYT fronts a look at how private spending on infrastructure is gaining ground on tax-backed spending. The story's muse is Yale University, which is rapidly putting up new buildings and renovating old ones while the local government in New Haven can't even finish a freeway. The boom in private investment is happening nationwide, the NYT says, thanks largely to philanthropic giving.
The big story across the top of the WP is the soul-crushing defeat of the Washington Redskins in the first round of the NFL playoffs. Having watched the game, TP could hardly bear to relive the agony by reading the article, but he did. It says the 'Skins didn't cry much about the loss because they had already cried so much about the murder of teammate Sean Taylor earlier in the season. The story is bittersweet; the team lost, but the players love each other, so their souls remain uncrushed. TP is heartened.