Well, all those Ronald Reagan 11th Commandment lovers (Thou shalt never speak ill of another Republican) have suddenly disappeared. The presidential attack machines are shifting into high gear. And, boy, is it getting personal! Rudy and Mitt are about to engage in drive-by shootings arguing about the crime rates, immigration, who is the bigger flip-flopper. And everyone hears the sounds of fast-approaching footsteps from that noted runner and health nut, Mike Huckabee, who is jogging right by them.

And, of course, the Democrats have been in circular firing squad mode for a while now, with John Edwards the lead attack dog and all the others not that far behind. As Iowa approaches, the stakes get higher and the rhetoric gets hotter.

If the gloves haven’t come off, at least the knuckles are clearly showing, as I said to Wolf Blitzer on yesterday’s "Situation Room."

But the real question in the next five weeks for all of us junkies is what happens in the paid media in Iowa and New Hampshire. Do the candidates unload their vast war chests and begin to spend resources on attack ads? Who attacks whom? And how strong will the attacks be if they come?

The dynamics of the race will be seriously altered once the dam breaks and negative ads become the call of the day. It is one thing to “go negative” in debates or on 24/7 cable news shows, quite another to have the airwaves full of 2,000 gross rating points of negative ads (each voter sees the ad 20 times!).

When that starts happening in Des Moines and Manchester, you will know that the gloves have truly come off.