Things are getting nasty in the presidential race. That is the subject of this evening's "Talking Points Memo."

Both sides are starting to slug it out, and the liberal side is really getting brutal to each other. We'll have a report on that coming up. But last night at the Republican debate in South Carolina the gloves came off.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON: You have the direction that Governor Huckabee would take us in. He would be a Christian leader, but he would also bring about liberal economic policies, liberal foreign policies.

MIKE HUCKABEE: The Air Force have a saying that says if you're not catching flack, you're not over the target. I'm catching the flack. I must be over the target.

RUDY GIULIANI: John gets great credit for supporting the surge. But, John, there are other people on this stage that also supported the surge. The night of the president's speech — yes, John. The night of the president's speech I was on television; I supported the surge.

JOHN MCCAIN: I condemned the Rumsfeld strategy and called for the change in strategy. That's the difference.

RON PAUL: People are looking around for an excuse to bomb Iran. I mean, we're already, with our CIA, being involved in trying to overthrow that government.

MITT ROMNEY: I think Congressman Paul should not be reading as many of Ahmadinejad's press releases, but let's…

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Now the question is: Is that a good or a bad thing?

In the long run, presidential candidates challenging each other is a good thing. It makes them sharper. It gives the folks an idea of how quick they are on their feet. But in the short run, many Americans get disgusted with the shootouts, especially when they get personal. However, the stakes are so high to be the most powerful person in the world that we can expect nothing less than verbal warfare.

"Talking Points" believes personal attacks — that is smears, defamation rumor and mean spirited barbs designed to injure — diminish presidential candidates, but we do embrace spirited debate on the issues.

So far most of the smear stuff has come from the media, as usual. The candidates have pretty much stayed away from it. And that's a good thing. With the world closely watching, any candidate who starts to smear could well find the smear coming right back at him or her.

All in all, I liked last night's debate. I thought it was illuminating, and Fred Thompson really helped himself.

That's "The Memo."

Pinheads & Patriots

Unfortunately the propaganda chief of Al Qaeda is an American, Adam Gadahn, and he recently singled out Jay Leno's wife, Mavis, warning her of "punishment."

See, Ms. Mavis Leno is an outspoken feminist who has bravely campaigned to stop violence against women all over the world, something Al Qaeda and the Taliban endorse. For doing that, Mavis Leno is a patriot.

On the pinhead front, our pal Dennis Kucinich wants a recount in New Hampshire. Apparently they lost the one vote that was cast for him. The Ohio congressman won less than two percent of the vote in the Granite State. I think something may be amiss.

New Hampshire has responded, telling Kucinich he can have the recount if he pays for it, but that might deplete his gas money. We love Kucinich, but today he is a pinhead.

You can catch Bill O'Reilly's "Talking Points Memo" and "Pinheads and Patriots" weeknights at 8 and 11 p.m. ET on the FOX News Channel and any time on foxnews.com/oreilly. Send your comments to: oreilly@foxnews.com