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Obama To Advertise In AZ

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe announced on a conference call this morning that the Democrat will begin running new advertisements in Arizona, North Dakota and Georgia. "We've seen movement in both North Dakota and Arizona," Plouffe said.

The decision to spend money in John McCain's home state comes just days after the Republican started running defensive robo-calls aimed at shoring up what several polls showed was a shrinking lead. The latest RCP Average shows McCain leading in Arizona by 5.2 points.

Obama's campaign will launch their positive closing ad, "Something," in the Copper State.

Obama Accepts Nomination, Pledges "American Promise"

DENVER, Colorado -- The first African American in United States history accepted a major party's presidential nomination tonight, breaking at least one barrier that has stood for two hundred thirty-two years.

Giving thanks to party leaders and former rivals after a prolonged ovation from 75,000 fans crammed into Invesco Field, Barack Obama brought the crowd to their feet again: "With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States."

Vaulted into prominence by an optimistic convention keynote speech four years ago, Obama took the opportunity to change tactics with a hard-hitting criticism of President Bush and Senator John McCain while focusing heavily on policy proposals some have suggested have been lacking in Obama's earlier speeches.

"Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land: enough! This moment -- this election -- is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive," Obama said. "Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight."

Perhaps best known for his 2004 assertion that "[w]e are not a collection of Red States and Blue States, we are the United States of America," Obama reprised the line to blunt notions that Democrats and Republicans have differing levels of patriotism. "The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a red America or a blue America, they have served the United States of America," he said. "So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first."

Obama pulled no punches in Denver. McCain's economic policies are flawed "not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it," Obama said. "[I]t's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America."

That change, which Obama has promised since launching his campaign in February 2007, had been somewhat ambiguous before tonight's address, and the Democratic nominee used his speech to flesh out more details of what he called "the American promise."

Obama promised to revise the tax code, eliminate the capital gains taxes for certain small businesses and cut taxes for what he said would be nineteen in every twenty families. He promised an end to dependence on oil from the Middle East and an increased reliance on American-produced energy.

"America, now is not the time for small plans," he said. From education to universal health care, workers' rights and bankruptcy laws, Obama offered red meat to the stadium of fans. In an appeal to more fiscally conservative voters, Obama also promised a "line by line" review of the federal budget with an eye toward cost reduction "because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy," he said.

Obama laid out a contrast with McCain more clearly, and to a wider audience, than he has at any point during the campaign. Obama and McCain have been content with debating more about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than any other single issue, and on both war and domestic policy, Obama cast himself as the candidate of the future. "We need a President who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past," he said.

Though both campaigns has devolved into name-calling and petty arguments over issues which will help no undecided voters decide, Obama pledged to renew his commitment to a high-minded campaign. "What I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes," Obama said. "Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism."

In Invesco Field, and across the nation, enthusiasm Obama's initial introduction to America from 2004 was renewed in one of the most dramatic speeches of the 2008 presidential campaign. "I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me. It's been about you," Obama said.

The American promise, Obama said, is what "brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream."

"America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend," Obama said. "America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future."

Forty-five years to the day after Martin Luther King Jr. told a crowd of thousands marching on Washington that he had a dream, many dreams were realized as Obama accepted his party's presidential nomination.

Obama: "The American Promise"

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
Democratic Convention
Thursday, August 28th, 2008
Denver, Colorado
As Prepared for Delivery

To Chairman Dean and my great friend Dick Durbin; and to all my fellow citizens of this great nation;

With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.

Let me express my thanks to the historic slate of candidates who accompanied me on this journey, and especially the one who traveled the farthest - a champion for working Americans and an inspiration to my daughters and to yours -- Hillary Rodham Clinton. To President Clinton, who last night made the case for change as only he can make it; to Ted Kennedy, who embodies the spirit of service; and to the next Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, I thank you. I am grateful to finish this journey with one of the finest statesmen of our time, a man at ease with everyone from world leaders to the conductors on the Amtrak train he still takes home every night.

To the love of my life, our next First Lady, Michelle Obama, and to Sasha and Malia - I love you so much, and I'm so proud of all of you.

Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story - of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren't well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.

It is that promise that has always set this country apart - that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.

That's why I stand here tonight. Because for two hundred and thirty two years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women - students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors -- found the courage to keep it alive.

We meet at one of those defining moments - a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.

Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can't afford to drive, credit card bills you can't afford to pay, and tuition that's beyond your reach.

These challenges are not all of government's making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.

This country is more decent than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work.

This country is more generous than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment he's worked on for twenty years and watch it shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.

We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.

Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land - enough! This moment - this election - is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: "Eight is enough."

Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we'll also hear about those occasions when he's broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

But the record's clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.

The truth is, on issue after issue that would make a difference in your lives - on health care and education and the economy - Senator McCain has been anything but independent. He said that our economy has made "great progress" under this President. He said that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. And when one of his chief advisors - the man who wrote his economic plan - was talking about the anxiety Americans are feeling, he said that we were just suffering from a "mental recession," and that we've become, and I quote, "a nation of whiners."

A nation of whiners? Tell that to the proud auto workers at a Michigan plant who, after they found out it was closing, kept showing up every day and working as hard as ever, because they knew there were people who counted on the brakes that they made. Tell that to the military families who shoulder their burdens silently as they watch their loved ones leave for their third or fourth or fifth tour of duty. These are not whiners. They work hard and give back and keep going without complaint. These are the Americans that I know.

Now, I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans? How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people's benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?

It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it.

For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy - give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is - you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps - even if you don't have boots. You're on your own.

Well it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America.

You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.

We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President - when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.

We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job - an economy that honors the dignity of work.

The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great - a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight.

Because in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton's Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.

In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.

When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel plant closed.

And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle-management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She's the one who taught me about hard work. She's the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she's watching tonight, and that tonight is her night as well.

I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as President of the United States.

What is that promise?

It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves - protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.

That's the promise of America - the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper.

That's the promise we need to keep. That's the change we need right now. So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am President.

Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.

Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will cut taxes - cut taxes - for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Washington's been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them. In that time, he's said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy - wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced.

America, now is not the time for small plans.

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don't have that chance. I'll invest in early childhood education. I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American - if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don't, you'll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.

Now is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick child or ailing parent.

Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses; and the time to protect Social Security for future generations.

And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day's work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons.

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I've laid out how I'll pay for every dime - by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don't help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less - because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy.

And Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America's promise will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our "intellectual and moral strength." Yes, government must lead on energy independence, but each of us must do our part to make our homes and businesses more efficient. Yes, we must provide more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can't replace parents; that government can't turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility for providing the love and guidance their children need.

Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility - that's the essence of America's promise.

And just as we keep our keep our promise to the next generation here at home, so must we keep America's promise abroad. If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have.

For while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face. When John McCain said we could just "muddle through" in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell - but he won't even go to the cave where he lives.

And today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush Administration, even after we learned that Iraq has a $79 billion surplus while we're wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war.

That's not the judgment we need. That won't keep America safe. We need a President who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.

You don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq. You don't protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can't truly stand up for Georgia when you've strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice - but it is not the change we need.

We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don't tell me that Democrats won't defend this country. Don't tell me that Democrats won't keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans -- Democrats and Republicans - have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm's way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain.

But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other's character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America - they have served the United States of America.

So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past. For part of what has been lost these past eight years can't just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose - our sense of higher purpose. And that's what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America's promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that's to be expected. Because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

And you know what - it's worked before. Because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn't work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it's best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.

I get it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don't fit the typical pedigree, and I haven't spent my career in the halls of Washington.

But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me. It's been about you.

For eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us - that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it - because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.

America, this is one of those moments.

I believe that as hard as it will be, the change we need is coming. Because I've seen it. Because I've lived it. I've seen it in Illinois, when we provided health care to more children and moved more families from welfare to work. I've seen it in Washington, when we worked across party lines to open up government and hold lobbyists more accountable, to give better care for our veterans and keep nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands.

And I've seen it in this campaign. In the young people who voted for the first time, and in those who got involved again after a very long time. In the Republicans who never thought they'd pick up a Democratic ballot, but did. I've seen it in the workers who would rather cut their hours back a day than see their friends lose their jobs, in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb, in the good neighbors who take a stranger in when a hurricane strikes and the floodwaters rise.

This country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that's not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that's not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that's not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

Instead, it is that American spirit - that American promise - that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours - a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could've heard many things. They could've heard words of anger and discord. They could've been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead - people of every creed and color, from every walk of life - is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.

"We cannot walk alone," the preacher cried. "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise - that American promise - and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.

Biden Accepts Veep Nod

He's been a senator for thirty-six years. He's chaired two of the most powerful committees in the upper chamber. And he can't stop talking about his father's old sayings. Tonight, Joe Biden accepted the Democratic vice presidential nomination.

Biden is already skilled at the two roles of a vice presidential nominee, lavishing praise on the man at the top of the ticket while savaging John McCain, even though Biden maintains he and the Arizona Senator are friends beyond politics.

From what Biden called proposals for irresponsible tax cuts to McCain's positions on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Biden maintained McCain offers a continuation. "That's not change, that's more of the same," he repeated. "Again and again, John McCain has been wrong, and Barack Obama's been right."

When one is as verbose as Biden, the inevitable slip-up is bound to happen. Biden committed what he called a "Freudian slip" during his speech, at one point calling John McCain "George" while comparing him to President Bush.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden brings a gravitas on international issues few aside from McCain can match. He spent much of his introduction to the Democratic convention on those issues, citing his recent experience with the conflict between Georgia and Russia. "Remember when the world used to trust us?" Biden asked. "When Barack Obama's our president, they'll look at us again, they'll trust us again."

Born and raised in working class Scranton, Pennsylvania, Biden will use his background to help Barack Obama connect with so-called Reagan Democrats, a group among whom Obama struggled during the primaries.

Biden's personal story is touching as well. Just after his election to the Senate, Biden's wife and daughter were killed in a car accident, while his two sons were severely wounded. Biden took his first oath of office in his sons' hospital room, one of those sons, Beau Biden, told the convention when introducing his father.

That tragedy spurred an above-and-beyond commitment to his surviving family. Biden and others make constant mention of his devotion to taking the train from Washington back to his home in Wilmington on an almost nightly basis.

Obama made a surprise appearance on stage to give the convention a look at the Democratic ticket in person. The Illinois senator, who was formally nominated as Democrats' presidential nominee earlier today, thanked each evening's major speakers, including his wife, former rival Hillary Clinton and husband Bill Clinton.

Clinton: Obama "Ready To Be President"

DENVER, Colorado -- Greeted with the the loudest and longest sustained applause of the convention, former President Bill Clinton did his best tonight to put to rest stories of a bitter rivalry between the one-time First Family and Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

Clinton's only regret, he joked, was that he had to follow his wife's speech a day earlier. "In the end, my candidate didn't win. But I'm really proud of the campaign she ran," the former president said. "Last night, Hillary told us in no uncertain terms that she'll do everything she can to elect Barack Obama. That makes two of us."

Too, Clinton filled in a blank his wife left out the night before and sought to distance his earlier criticism of the Democratic nominee. "Barack Obama is ready to lead America and restore American leadership in the world. Barack Obama is ready to honor the oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," he said. "Barack Obama is ready to be President of the United States."

The Democrat had already passed his first presidential test, Clinton said, in naming Delaware Senator Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate. "He hit it out of the park," Clinton said of Obama's selection.

Clinton has been a headache for the Obama campaign, making headlines as late as this week when, at an event in Denver, he said a candidate who can get something done is worth more than a candidate without the clout. Throughout the primaries, and even afterwards, Clinton seemed to suggest Obama lacked the experience necessary to be president.

Tonight, Clinton did everything he could to answer each charge he himself once leveled. "Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief. Sound familiar?" Clinton asked. "It didn't work in 1992 because we were on the right side of history. And it won't work in 2008 because Barack Obama is on the right side of history."

The politician in Clinton knew his place, leveling respectful charges against John McCain over the Republican's record and platform on the economy. But Clinton's speech was about healing a rift with Barack Obama, and while the media may be infatuated with the story, the sustained standing ovation the former president received tonight showed his party is still infatuated with him, and is willing to forgive any sins he may have committed against Obama after a simple act of contrition.

Kennedy Highlights First Night

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DENVER, Colorado -- Senator Ted Kennedy's surprise appearance at the Democratic National Convention could not have been more appropriate. For a politician who has done as much to define the latter half of the twentieth century Senate as any other, skipping an event like a convention nominating Barack Obama, who Kennedy supported early in the primary campaign, would have been unthinkable.

The Kennedy family, forty eight years after John Kennedy was elected president, remains the closest thing America has to a regal dynasty. To those who fall on the left end of the political spectrum, the photo of a young Ted with brothers John and Robert is an image that still holds incredible resonance.

His speech to convention delegates, which followed a video tribute produced by the documentarian Ken Burns, is a quadrennial affair. Often called the liberal lion, Kennedy is the most visible representation of a wing of the Democratic Party that once ruled, and may be on the ascendance again.

This time, though, just months after a diagnosis of and surgery on a brain tumor, the speech held an added weight. "It means so much personally to every one of us," said James Roosevelt, who chaired the party's Rules and Bylaws Committee and who is the grandson of Franklin Roosevelt. From Massachusetts, Roosevelt echoed those who said Kennedy transcended his state. "To the party and the country, [Kennedy has] been such a wonderful leader, and that's what he was showing tonight."

Those who have held office for years and those who are new to elected office from both sides of the Democratic spectrum spoke of Kennedy's importance to the party. "It was the most powerful speech I've ever heard," said Rep. Jim McDermott, one of the more liberal members of Congress. "It's a great statement, and he's got an enormous amount of courage," said former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, a more moderate Democrat who called the speech "very powerful."

Kennedy's tenure in Congress has so far encompassed both personal and political zeniths and nadirs. From his first years during the heyday of Camelot to the dark days of personal tragedy, from his failed run at the presidency in 1980 to the countless laws which bear his name, Kennedy has served as an anchor to many. "He's been the workhorse. He's steadied the party, he's taken us through some pretty tough times," McDermott said. "But he' never lost his vision of what he thought was right."

The appearance, which was uncertain until just hours before he walked on stage, held special meaning to others who serve as anchors of the party. Vice presidential nominee Joe Biden arrived in town two days early to take in the speech, while Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, one of Kennedy's closest friends, said he flew in to be there for a moment he called "very emotional."

Democrats will celebrate Obama's nomination for the next three days. But for some, the chance to see Kennedy speak in person will be the highlight.

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, this reporter worked for Dodd. Given his close relationship with Kennedy, though, it seemed appropriate to seek his insight.

Convention News And Notes

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DENVER, Colorado -- Get Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer in a room with reporters and other, more staid politicians and the guy just can't help cracking a few jokes. We were going to call this post "Quote of the Day," but there are just too many good Schweitzer lines from which to choose. Here are some of our favorites:

Asked whether choosing a governor would give John McCain a leg up on a Democratic ticket that features two Senators: "Boy, that'd shake up the world if McCain picked another white guy to be his vice president," he said. Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney "are not going to bump him up, they're not going to bump him down. They're just going to be a bump."

McCain got in trouble in Colorado for suggesting a renegotiation of a water agreement among several Western states, something Schweitzer knows about: "In the West, whiskey's for drinkin' and water's for fightin'," he said.

Other notes from the convention:

Democratic Governors Association chairman and West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin says his party will pick up at least one chief executive mansion this year, pointing to Missouri as the most likely pickup. Attorney General Jay Nixon is leading Rep. Kenny Hulshof by a wide margin.

Manchin and Schweitzer, discussing Democratic-held seats up this year, are most worried about North Carolina and Washington. Of Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire's race, Schweitzer said "We're watching it very carefully." DGA finance chairman Martin O'Malley of Maryland said the DGA will raise $20 million this year and will aim "north of 20 [million]" next year.

Former Washington State Democratic Party chairman Paul Berendt, storming down the hall at the Colorado Convention Center, paused long enough to tell Politics Nation that, as a delegate for Hillary Clinton, he would "probably" cast his vote for the New York Senator. Berendt said he will work for Barack Obama, but with his daughter in attendance, he wants her to see him vote for Clinton.

Convention Flair 101

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Looking for free media? There's no better way to get it at a convention than to deck yourself out in the most ridiculous attire imaginable, all in hopes of promoting your candidate to viewers at home who see the presidential contest more as a costume party than a political choice.

Barring funny hats, outlandish use of campaign paraphernalia is also a guaranteed winner. Samantha and Annie Woods did their best, decking out their Volvo in about 520 Obama bumper stickers:

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The sisters paid 29 cents a piece for the stickers, then sold Obama-backing t-shirts to raise gas money they needed to drive to Denver:

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As a former Volvo owner himself, Politics Nation can attest to the number of t-shirts they had to have sold.

What Clinton's Crash Can Teach Us

It is simplistic to say that Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign was done in simply by constant in-fighting and egos that could fill the Beltway. In a broad look at the rise and fall of the most inevitable and anticipated campaign in modern history, Joshua Green's research shows the campaign's strategies could have worked, if only the pieces fell into place. But to manage a campaign the size of a small Fortune 500 company is a feat in itself, a feat only made more difficult when ego gets in the way.

In his sweeping look at the campaign, The Atlantic's Green parsed internal emails and strategy memos to find out exactly what went wrong. As future candidates on both sides of the aisle prepare to mount bids for the highest office in the land, the failed campaign of Hillary Clinton offers all several important lessons by which to live.

1) Who's the boss? Mark Penn, Harold Ickes, Mandy Grunwald and Howard Wolfson lunged at each others' necks as often as possible, swearing at each other on conference calls and leaking rumors that one or the other was moments from being sent packing. At critical times, it was Clinton who stepped in to stop the fighting, and to give the marching orders.

On a political campaign, any number of advisers can offer strategy, claim credit and try to avoid blame. But the person in charge is the candidate him- or herself. When required, Clinton forced action, and it often served her campaign well. The problem was that by the time it was required, action was often too late. Staff also has to learn a lesson: They're there to elect the candidate first. When the campaign wins, everyone gets at least some credit. When it loses, everyone gets at least some blame.

2) Watch Out For The Icarus Effect. As Barack Obama begins to get criticism for his supposed hubris, the Icarus analogy -- comparing the candidate to the Greek figure who flew too close to the sun with wings held together by wax -- has cropped up with increasing frequency. Clinton, though, got there first. At one point polling above 50% among the primary electorate (No candidate who reached the halfway mark had ever lost a nomination), Clinton's slipping support gave rise to a new round of stories questioning whether she might lose.

Clinton's strategists believed John Edwards or Barack Obama could have survived losing Iowa or New Hampshire. It was their candidate, they thought, who would be most damaged by a loss. With the aura of inevitability comes the pressure of expected perfection; one loss, and Clinton the Powerful was Clinton the Mortal. If any future campaign has the choice to claim the front-runner mantle, the lesson from the Clinton campaign is clear: Run away, and no matter one's position in the polls, claim the underdog role. It was a lesson the campaign learned too late; by the end of the primaries, both Clinton and Obama were claiming to be racing to catch up.

3) Identity politics. Chief strategist Penn wrote early in the campaign that race would not be a factor. He was wrong, as African American voters first in South Carolina and then around the country demonstrated. But Clinton always had her own identity problems, to the point of what Green calls "paralyzing schizophrenia." Is she the tough fighter hell-bent against apologizing for her vote on the war in Iraq, or the sympathetic figure who wants invisible Americans to be heard?

John McCain won the primary as John McCain (Though arguably the Arizona senator veered right after securing the nod). Few Americans knew Barack Obama, allowing him to define his own personage to primary voters (Something he is struggling to do now with general election voters). But everyone knew Hillary Clinton, and early polls showed most voters in Iowa thought she was the best potential leader, the strongest and most experienced candidate; they just didn't like her.

Instead of being one thing to one set of voters and another to those in a different state, Clinton should have, like the other two, stuck with a theme throughout. Her successful appeals to working class voters in the final contests, from Ohio to Texas to Pennsylvania and others, was the right strategy aimed at the right slice of the electorate. It just didn't come soon enough.

4) Plan for the worst, hope for the best. Perhaps the biggest cause of Clinton's stunning collapse came as the campaign realized that, after Iowa, it was out of money. Clinton raised more than $100 million through 2007, but had blown through virtually all of it after Iowa Democrats caucused. Harold Ickes, the long-time party stalwart who single-handedly fought a losing campaign of his own to get other Clintonites to pay attention to delegate selection rules, also argued for a significant $25 million reserve fund. Neither of Ickes' warnings were heeded, and instead the campaign spent so freely in advance of what it saw as the February 5 end date -- another prediction that didn't turn out right.

John Kerry was lambasted in 2004 for retaining millions in his campaign account after losing a narrow election to President Bush. And Clinton, to her campaign's credit, won just about every contest the media dubbed crucial to her campaign -- from New Hampshire to California to Ohio and on to Indiana, though never taking a big enough majority of delegates to blunt Obama's early lead. But for a campaign based on firewalls, they had remarkably few resources with which to back them up.

The lesson any future strategist has to recall from the Clinton campaign's broken finances, then, is to spend every nickel one has to, and keep something in the tank for a last stand. For Kerry, that last stand was Election Day. Clinton's tactical mistake was assuming her last stand would be February 5. And while the Obama campaign long planned a delegate fight that could last to June, Ickes' delegate selection warnings went unheeded.

Clinton claimed more votes than anyone in Democratic primary history. But that's as good as Al Gore having won the popular vote. Ickes knew the fight wasn't over popular votes, just like any kid who's taken civics knows the general election isn't about the popular vote. In the primary, the race is for delegates. In the general, the race is for electoral votes.

5) Call 'em like you see 'em. The media has slipped into Obama-mania several times during the campaign, to the point at which every other candidate has complained. Sometimes, the media even takes note, engages in some serious omphaloskepsis and reassesses its approach to the Illinois Senator. That has produced the likely Democratic nominee's most memorably difficult weeks on the campaign trail.

McCain's campaign is the most recent to have successfully goaded the media into taking another look at Obama. The fawning press coverage of the Democrat's overseas trip, followed by a McCain attack ad equating Obama with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears turned into a new storyline that Obama has become too much of a celebrity. Clinton's campaign, with the help of a late February Saturday Night Live skit, caused a similar re-evaluation and similar bad press for Obama a week before his March 4 defeats in Ohio and Texas.

Both times, McCain and Clinton were hammered for their purported negativity and whining. But both times, what the opinion writers said turned into incorrect conventional wisdom. Faced with a candidate who gets overwhelming positive press in the future, a rival should not be shy about complaining, but, like Clinton and McCain, in a somewhat humorous way.

Clinton's slow, steady, decade and a half-long rise to the top of Democratic politics was punctuated by a decline that took just over a month. It won't save Hillary's political future, but strategists might salvage information from that crash in order to prevent something similar from happening to them.

DNC Narrows The Field

Did the Democratic National Committee just acknowledge that Hillary Clinton has no chance to become vice president? In announcing themes for each of the four nights of the party's late August gathering in Denver, the party tapped Clinton to deliver the keynote address on the second night, while the vice presidential pick will make his or her acceptance speech on the third night, Wednesday.

Two different people on two different nights, writes Politicker's James Pindell, necessarily means Clinton is out of the sweepstakes. Sure, we already knew that, but it's still funny that the DNC would make the announcement.

Potential First Lady Michelle Obama will give her speech to the convention on Monday night, while Barack Obama will accept the presidential nomination in a speech at Invesco Field on Thursday, the final night of the convention.

Clinton delivering the keynote speech again highlights the tightness of the Democratic race. Usually, the keynote is reserved for a party's rising star, not someone long established as a political force in her own right. But with Clinton supporters still making noise about wanting respect in Denver, anything less than the top speaking gig would have further incited intra-party riots.

Those who give major addresses to the convention have gone on to take a shot at higher offices themselves. Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton gave a long-winded (thirty-two minute) speech on the 1988 convention's opening night. Then-Indiana Governor Evan Bayh, who Clinton himself said would likely be president some day, keynoted the 1996 convention. Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford addressed the 2000 convention in the keynote role six years before he ran, though unsuccessfully, for Senate.

In 2004, a convention speech even launched a future presidential bid, as Obama himself delivered a rousing address that many credit with vaulting him to the top of national Democrats' minds. So it is somehow ironic that, four years later, it will be a party elder, rather than the new generation, delivering the highlighted speech of the convention.

Obama Offers First Peek

Want to be the first to know who Barack Obama chooses as his vice presidential contender? Just surf on over to his website and sign up with your cell phone. In an email to supporters tonight, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe offers supporters the opportunity to get the news via email or cell phone text message "the moment Barack makes his decision."

"Barack Obama is about to make one of the most important decisions of this campaign -- choosing a running mate," Plouffe writes to supporters in a Sunday evening email. "You have helped build this movement from the bottom up, and Barack wants you to be the first to know his choice."

Obama's campaign sought cell phone numbers via text message during the primary (Lucky for his campaign, the guy's last name has five letters, the number needed for special text-only lines). Once Election Day comes around, the campaign can contact voters less likely to head to the polls via their cell phones to boost turnout.

The offer highlights another aspect Obama's campaign thinks will help them win, the enthusiasm gap. Polls have showed voters backing Obama, especially younger voters, are much more excited about their candidate than voters backing John McCain. Interest in every aspect of Obama's campaign, including interest in and speculation about the vice presidential choice, is higher than ever.

So, does the email mean the vice presidential pick is imminent? Of course, Obama's on vacation this week, and the Olympics would take at least some of the attention away from the pick. But speculation that Obama spent part of the the end of last week in Chicago to deal with the vice presidential pick could mean the vacation is time for the Senator to settle on his choice.

Does anyone know what's on Evan Bayh's and Tim Kaine's calendar for the next few weeks?

Obama, Sarkozy Meet Les Medias

While stopping in Paris today, Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy not only met at the Elysees Palace, they met the gathered French and American media together. The Illinois Senator, more popular in Europe than any American since Elvis, and the Frenchman more popular in the U.S. than any of his countrymen since de Gaulle, lavished praise on each other a day after Sarkozy had referred to Obama as "my pal" in an interview with Le Figaro.

How out of the norm is this? Imagine if President Bush had met the press beside Sarkozy while, as Interior Minister, he ran for president against Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, whom he beat by a narrow 53%-47% margin. Or if President Bush had campaigned against Gordon Brown and openly advocated David Cameron's election?

John McCain met with Sarkozy, with Brown, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and with leaders in Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan. But he didn't hold a joint press conference with a head of state, unlike the junior senator from Illinois. Hubris? Just good politics? You be the judge.

Obama Flexes Ad Muscle

What do Barack Obama's campaign, McDonald's and Anheuser-Busch have in common? Each will be a sponsor of some of NBC's 3,600 hours of coverage of the Olympic Games in Beijing in August.

Obama's campaign chipped in for advertisements to the tune of $5 million after requesting information about buying smaller packages, Advertising Age reports today. The candidate's ads will run on network and cable television as NBC's coverage extends to CNBC, MSNBC, USA, Oxygen and Telemundo.

It's an ambitious plan, and it breaks recent advertising trends. While most presidential campaigns stick with local advertising in key swing states, Obama's buys on network television will run as many times in Wyoming and the District of Columbia as they will in Ohio and Pennsylvania. They are the first network ads since Bob Dole ran a single spot across the nation in 1996.

AdAge also reports the campaign is still looking into the possibility of ad buys on cable channels like MTV and BET, flexing their financial muscle in previously untested ways.

Obama Makes LULAC Pitch

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In a speech to the League of United Latin American Citizens, Barack Obama should have known he would be interrupted on a few occasions by a friendly audience chanting "Si se puede" -- his campaign motto, 'Yes we can,' in Spanish. During his speech yesterday, Obama touched on key issues like education, immigration and health care, and made clear how important the Latino vote would be in November.

"This election could well be decided by Latino voters," Obama said. "Every four years some of the closest contests take place in Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico -- states with large Latino communities." With LULAC members from around the country in attendance, some yelled out their home states where they hoped Obama could compete. "Texas?" Obama said. "No. Not yet. California? We're going to stomp them in California."

Obama also made his case against his general election competition, John McCain, who spoke at the conference four hours earlier. "Now, I know Senator McCain used to buck his party on immigration by fighting for comprehensive reform, and I admired him for it," Obama said. "But when he was running for his party's nomination, he abandoned his courageous stance, and said that he wouldn't even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote."

Obama touted his own support for comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate and promised to make it a top priority in the first year of his administration. "We need a president who isn't going to walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform when it becomes politically unpopular," Obama said.

One question plaguing Obama throughout the Democratic primary process was whether he could win over Latinos in the general election, after regularly trailing Hillary Clinton among the emerging Democratic constituency. However, recent polls have shown Latinos favoring Obama over McCain by large margins, and if the response he received yesterday was any measure, Obama has erased any lingering questions of his Latino support.

Despite recent controversy that Obama is moving to the center of the political spectrum or flip-flopping on stances he made during the primaries, the presumptive Democratic nominee still has rock star-like appeal on stage. As he walked to the podium, almost every arm in the room was raised with a camera or camera-phone, and he was cheered loudly and regularly throughout his speech.

Before closing his speech, Obama noted John Kerry's 6,000-vote loss to Pres. Bush in New Mexico in 2004, compared to the 40,000 registered Latinos in the state who didn't vote. New Mexico was one of only two states to vote for President Bush in 2004 after voting for Al Gore in 2000, and it's a state the Obama campaign is targeting as a pickup opportunity.

"During the immigration marches back in 2006, we had a saying: 'Today, we march. Tomorrow, we vote,'" Obama said. "Well, that was the time to march. And now comes the time to vote."

-- Kyle Trygstad

Obama To Invesco

Barack Obama will accept the Democratic presidential nomination at Invesco Field, the Democratic National Convention Committee announced this morning. The football stadium, across a parking lot from the Pepsi Center where the rest of the convention events will occur, will be able to accomadate 75,000 spectators, about five times the number that could fit in the arena.

The final night speech in front of so many people will give Obama a chance for a big boost coming out of Denver, and could put serious pressure on Republican nominee John McCain to do something equally rousing during his convention the following week. Speculation has increased of late that McCain will wait until the following day to announce his running mate in order to mute some of Obama's expected post-convention bounce.

Thousands of tickets to the Invesco event will be made available to the public, the DNCC announced. "This decision will enable thousands of residents from Colorado, the Rocky Mountain West and across the nation to witness history first hand," Colorado Governor Bill Ritter said in a statement. "What a way to fire up our grassroots activists as we head into the fall campaign."

Adding to the drama, Obama's acceptance will take place on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech on the Mall in Washington. But some may question how the convention committee, dangerously over-budget and having failed to meet their fundraising goals, will pay for the venue. Still, even if the Obama campaign has to foot the bill, the chance to give a soaring address to 75,000 admirers in prime time, with wall-to-wall network and cable coverage, is an opportunity no candidate could afford to miss.

DNC chairman Howard Dean, convention co-chair and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Obama senior adviser Anita Dunn will hold a conference call early this afternoon to announce further details.

Oh, The Symbolism

Hillary Clinton will join Barack Obama on Friday as the former rivals hold their first joint campaign stop, a rally that will be so replete with symbolism that someone has to be making something up. Clinton and Obama will head to Unity, New Hampshire, a small town of 1,530 in Sullivan County just south of Lebanon, near the Vermont border, and about 60 miles west of Manchester.

Forget the name, though. The location is perfect for another reason: Both candidates scored exactly 107 votes in the state's January 8 primary.

Obama has come a long way in uniting his party. Polls are showing he receives about as much support from Democrats as John McCain gets from Republicans, suggesting equally loyal bases, but there are still a few loud and prominent Clinton backers who have refused to get behind his campaign. As Clinton hits the trail for Obama, her image will improve a lot if those disgruntled few join Obama's camp.

Of course, it looks too good to be true: A town called Unity in which both candidates got the same number of votes? Come on, someone's making something up. Actually, not really: The New Hampshire Secretary of State's website reports both candidates did receive 107 votes each, compared with 78 for John Edwards and 15 for Bill Richardson.

For balance, Ron Paul won the Republican vote in the tiny town with just two votes, while John McCain, who won the state, got just one vote there in January.

NY Delegation Backs Obama

WASHINGTON -- Nineteen members of the Empire State Congressional delegation today said they supported Hillary Clinton's decision to end her bid for the presidency on Saturday and back Barack Obama. "We are here to applaud her efforts and what she's about to do," Rep. Charlie Rangel, the dean of the delegation, told reporters from the steps of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Clinton will hold what is being billed as a celebration of her campaign for supporters in Washington on Saturday. While none of the members said they would be at Clinton's rally, citing busy political and congressional schedules that will prevent them from being in the city, the group, said Rangel, promised to start "working hard for unity."

Asked about their favorite daughter's immediate future, Rangel voiced hope that she won't be on the sidelines through November. "I think she'd make a fantastic partner. I should not even have said that," he said, adding: "We're so proud of [Clinton]."

Under the watchful eyes of the DCCC press shop and a scalding sun, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee called Obama an "outstanding candidate."

Tip Of Obama Iceberg?

A day after excoriating the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and trying once again to finally put a difficult hurdle behind his campaign, Barack Obama has already received three big endorsements today from prominent super delegates, giving him four in the last twenty-four hours alone.

Indiana Rep. Baron Hill, whose district in the southeast part of the state is heavily blue collar and should be prime territory for Hillary Clinton, will endorse Obama tonight, the campaign confirmed. In a long statement, Hill cited Obama's denunciation of Wright's comments, which Hill said showed "a strength of character and commitment to our nation that transcends the personal."

Hill also pointed to an earlier endorsement of Obama from former Rep. Lee Hamilton, whom Hill replaced in the House. The former vice chairman of the September 11 Commission endorsed Obama in early April.

Obama will also be endorsed by Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley, one of three Democratic members of Congress from the Hawkeye State and one who had endorsed John Edwards before his state's caucuses. Braley will describe his decision to support Obama on a conference call this afternoon, after what he described as overwhelming support for Obama at his Congressional District caucus over the weekend.

In a move that shows their confidence, the Obama campaign pointed out that Braley and Hill's endorsements bring them to 246 total super delegates -- the latest RCP Super Delegate Count has the number at 241 -- and within 286 delegates of securing the party's nomination. There are 291 uncommitted super delegates remaining.

Just a few hours later, California Democratic Rep. Lois Capps announced she too would back Obama, cutting the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination to 285.

While Hillary Clinton has picked up several super delegates in recent days -- including Pennsylvania AFL-CIO chief Bill George, who endorsed today -- Obama's roll-out the day after his condemnation of Jeremiah Wright feels like the turning point the campaign was looking for. If Obama pulls out at least one win on Tuesday, it may bring down a hail of super delegate endorsements that forces Clinton from the race. Today might be just the tip of the iceberg.

Dem Debate Lacks Clear Winner

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania -- For two candidates who profess to be most concerned with bringing their country and their party together, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spent more time at last night's debate raising issues that divide the Democratic electorate than those that unite them. Last night's encounter, which marks nearly two dozen times the two have shared a stage, focused more on political questions than policy discussions, an indication, perhaps, that the intended audience was not Pennsylvania voters but rather the several hundred super delegates who have yet to publicly endorse a candidate.

The political wrangling that has consumed the political press corps in recent weeks found its way on stage for the entire first half of the debate. Obama, who critics charge has been treated with kid gloves by the mainstream media, underwent the harshest questioning he has faced so far during the primaries. Likely to the delight of Hillary Clinton's battered campaign, the New York Senator's rival spent most of that time on the defensive, both from Clinton and from debate moderators. But if Clinton was looking for a game-changing performance, she failed to contribute on her end, leaving both candidates without clear bragging rights.

Buffeted by days of controversy surrounding his suggestion that some in small-town Pennsylvania were bitter at their economic status, Obama brought up the gaffe in his opening statement. Citing Pennsylvanians' "core decency and generosity," Obama said there is nonetheless a sense of frustration, and that his candidacy hopes to "transform that frustration into something more hopeful." "It's not the first time that I've made, you know, a statement that is mangled up," Obama said.

The uproar over "bitter"-gate was far from the only controversy Obama faced all night. More than a month after a major speech in the same Constitution Center in which last night's debate was held, Obama still had to answer questions about his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose controversial comments are still coming up. Later, Obama needed several minutes to answer a question about why he doesn't wear a flag pin. Though he claimed the flap was a "manufactured issue," Obama did not give the short answer he could have.

Clinton too had a rough night, beginning when she answered for her error in judgment over misstatements about her trip to Bosnia as First Lady. What she said on the campaign trail "didn't jive with what I've written about and knew to be the truth," she admitted. "I'm embarrassed about it."

Both candidates, asked whether their opponent could win a general election against John McCain, agreed, though for Clinton, whose assertion to super delegates that she is the most electable is more central to her campaign, the answer seemed almost overeager. "Yes, yes, yes," she said. "I think I can do a better job. Obviously. That's why I'm here," she backpedaled. "I, too, think that I'm the better candidate," Obama said a minute later.

ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson and fellow moderator George Stephanopoulos spent time on pointed questions about previous campaign statements, tactics and strategy, both for the primary and the general election, questions that would seem to concern party insiders, the media and valuable super delegates more than the electorate. Indeed, both candidates said they had fun during the preceding fifteen months of campaigning, but Gibson acknowledged that the race has gone far past the point at which pledged delegates can provide one candidate or the other a clear majority. "This is sort of round fifteen in a scheduled ten-rounder," Gibson joked as he opened the debate.

Not until 8:53 p.m., about 45 minutes after the debate started, did Gibson elicit the first policy-based response from the candidates, on Iraq. Both candidates said they would hold true to their pledges to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in short order, offering no new policies but reiterating their commitment to ending the war. Asked about defending Israel from a possible nuclear strike from Iran, Obama agreed to do so while Clinton went farther, proposing a "security umbrella" that would protect other Middle East allies from an Iranian strike in exchange for the promise that they not pursue their own nuclear weapons.

It took until after 9:00 p.m. for the first question on domestic policy to arise, though when it did, the candidates engaged in their first real policy back-and-forth in months. Both pledged to cut taxes on middle class families, and generally agreed on capital gains taxes. But the two parted ways on lifting the $97,000 cap on payroll taxes, which Clinton said would hurt the middle class but which Obama said was necessary to fairly taxing much wealthier Americans.

Obama saved his best moment for last, asserting that he made a bet that Americans wanted a change in politics, and that he could be the messenger of that change. "During the course of these last fifteen months, my bet's paid off," Obama said. Clinton's best moment was a long, detailed answer on how to bring gas prices down, which she said she would do partly by investigating the possibility of price gouging and consideration of a possible windfall profit tax on oil companies.

Despite the occasional flare-up, though, both candidates stayed respectful in tone, if not in purpose. That carried some negatives for both candidates. In walking the tightrope designed to avoid losing votes by angering undecided supporters, Obama was forced into a defensive posture, a point from which he struggled to recover all night. Clinton, who was both more humorous and more detailed in her policy discussions, has yet to find the balance between hitting Obama hard on his vulnerabilities and not appearing shrill, could not deliver her own much needed knockout blow.

Trailing by half a dozen points in Pennsylvania, Obama likely did nothing to change his fortunes here. But Clinton, who faces harsh terrain after leaving Pennsylvania, did nothing to seriously blunt Obama's chances among voters in North Carolina, Indiana and following states. Both candidates, it seems, are committed to letting actual voters, be they super delegates or the regular primary electorate, decide the Democratic nomination fight.

Dems' Purgatory Of Nomentum

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania -- When Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton meet on stage tonight for their first and only debate in Pennsylvania since early November, and their last before Keystone State voters head to the polls on Tuesday, both candidates will try and gain crucial and much-needed momentum. Since their last meeting, before the March 4 primaries in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont, the Democratic race has devolved into a chaos of mudslinging, and neither candidate has been able to seize a permanent and crushing upper hand. At the moment, the Democratic race is a contest of no-mentum.

For Clinton, that lack of positive movement has been excruciating, approaching the death of her candidacy by a thousand cuts. Since the March 4 primaries, Clinton, whose rationale for staying in the race hinges on convincing super delegates to give her the nomination at the convention in Denver, has picked up just nine party leaders with automatic votes at a convention. Obama has picked up at least twenty-two in the same period, including such big names as New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and North Carolina Reps. Mel Watt and David Price, who endorsed the Illinois Senator today.

Too, while Clinton's strategy of convincing those super delegates that Obama would lose to Republican nominee John McCain in the Fall is gaining some traction, the Clinton campaign is the wrong messenger, and because of her attacks on Obama's record and rhetoric, the New York Senator has seen her unfavorable ratings jump through the roof. An ABC News/Washington Post poll out today shows Clinton's favorable rating at just 44%, down fourteen points since January; her unfavorable marks are up a corresponding fourteen points, to 54%. Both numbers are significantly worse than those of McCain or Obama.

Obama has not had an easy time closing the deal, either. To be sure, Obama leads the race for pledged delegates to the Democratic convention by a wide and virtually insurmountable margin. After a month and a half of stories involving Obama's relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, one tinged with racial overtones with which the candidate would rather not deal, and almost a week of non-stop talk of his controversial comments at a San Francisco fundraiser, some Democrats have voiced concern that Clinton might be right, and that the candidate who seemed above reproach is in fact as flawed as any other politician.

The Obama team has made its mistakes as well. An advertisement that was running on Pennsylvania stations as late as yesterday claimed that Obama is the only candidate who doesn't take money from oil companies, which allowed the Clinton campaign to point out, correctly, that no candidate can take money from corporations -- a political point scored, albeit a minor one, but it gave Clinton the opportunity to once again play the victim, a role to which she is uniquely suited and experienced. Obama's campaign has also failed to show it can slam the door on harmful stories, whether they involve Wright or the comments in which Obama seemed to imply that small-town bitterness leads to citizens lower on the economic totem pole clinging to their guns, their god and their prejudices.

Both fiascoes were spread around as quickly and as widely as possible by the Clinton campaign, to be sure, and Obama answered both with reasonable explanations. On Wright's comments, a well-received speech in Philadelphia seemed to fully explain his thoughts on the Reverend's comments that many found offensive; and though he has largely stuck to the general point of his remarks in San Francisco, which Clinton and McCain labeled as elitist comments, Obama has apologized for his word choice and sought to more fully explain what he meant. But here we are, weeks (in one case) and days (in the other) later, still talking about Jeremiah Wright and bitter Pennsylvanians.

Clinton, who should have been poised to capitalize on the stumbles of a rookie candidate, had troubles of her own, and like Obama's, her campaign has been unable to get out from under the weight of a foolish comment. Clinton's claim that she landed in a war zone in Bosnia under sniper fire -- a tale quickly exposed as false, complete with footage of a young girl greeting her at the airport -- continues to crop up, no thanks to her husband, who brought the topic up unexpectedly at a series of rallies in Indiana last week.

That scene, news footage of the girl meeting Clinton at the airport, brings to mind a surprisingly apropos metaphor: In "Wag the Dog," a fake war in Albania is launched to divert attention from a presidential sex scandal. One scene depicts the duplicitous president meeting an Albanian grandmother and her granddaughter, both refugees, at an airport. The parallel is telling of Clinton's larger problem: She is seen as just as conniving as many felt her husband was, and in fact she takes the blame that some thought wouldn't stick to him, but she gets none of the breaks he ever did. Americans who trusted Bill Clinton do not now trust his wife. The same Washington Post poll shows just 39% say they think Hillary Clinton is honest and trustworthy, while 58% disagree.

Again, though, Obama has been unable to seal the deal. Despite a strong comeback in Pennsylvania -- he cut Clinton's lead in the RCP Pennsylvania Average from nearly 17 points in mid-March to just six points last week -- his last-minute charge has stalled as he reached what looks like his ceiling in the Democratic primary. Just one polling firm used in RCP Averages has shown Obama reaching 45%. Clinton, meanwhile, has peaked at 56% in several polls going back several weeks. Obama has been unable to break through his apex despite outspending Clinton in television advertising by a factor of at least four.

Tonight, Democratic voters in Pennsylvania will see two candidates who have stalled and are looking for something to get them started again. Keystoners will have the opportunity to move the contest to other states and give Clinton a boost with a big win, or to end the primary by delivering a majority of their votes to Obama. But if voters are faced with two choices who can't seem to avoid a serious gaffe on what seems like a weekly basis, they may do neither. If Clinton wins a narrow victory, the purgatory of no-mentum will slouch unbroken toward May 6 contests in North Carolina and Indiana.

Obama Camp Clarifies Comments

In a hastily organized conference call with reporters, supporters of Barack Obama today defended the senator's controversial remarks in which he characterized residents of small towns as "bitter" at economic hardships they faced by shifting focus to the underlying principle they say Obama was addressing. "I don't think I would agree, or I would use the same words," said Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray. "I would use the word that people are angry. ... It's a very thin surface that you have to scratch beneath to find this anger."

"It's not surprising [that people] get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," Obama said at the fundraiser. "So people end up, you know, voting on issues like guns, and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. And they take refuge in their faith and their community and their families and things they can count on. But they don't believe they can count on Washington." On Saturday, Axelrod attempted a clarification. "When things are going badly, people hold to the things that are important to them, and sustain them, and certainly faith is one -- he's a person of deep faith. Traditions are another," Axelrod said.

Top strategist David Axelrod said Obama had chosen his words poorly, but the sentiment was important to understand. "He made it very clear that he regrets the remarks," Axelrod said. "He was sorry for the offense that anybody took from them, and I think he understands why they might." But several small-town mayors said no apology was necessary. "It's not patronizing. It's not condescending. It's not elitism," said Braddock Mayor John Fetterman.

Since the comments, made at a San Francisco fundraiser last weekend, Obama has been hit hard by both his remaining rivals. "Senator Obama's remarks are elitist and out of touch," Clinton said at a rally in Indiana, while her new top strategists, pollster Geoff Garin, told TPM's Greg Sargent the comments "will be damaging." Indiana Senator Evan Bayh told reporters that the comments should be taken into account by super delegates who have yet to make up their mind about whom to support, while former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, a former small-town mayor himself, called the comments "condescending and disappointing."

In his own statement, McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds characterized Obama's reaction to the firestorm as arrogant. "Only an elitist who attributes religious faith and gun ownership to bitterness would think that tax cuts for the rich include families who make $75,000 per year. Only an elitist would say that people vote their values only out of frustration," Bounds said. "Barack Obama thinks he knows your hopes and fears better than you do. You can't be more out of touch than that."

Staffers at the Republican National Committee pushed the remarks around to reporters and bloggers, while the National Republican Congressional Committee issued press releases calling on twenty-five targeted Democratic members of Congress to repudiate Obama's remarks. "Americans don't want liberal politicians like Barack Obama who believe Washington is a substitute for faith, personal responsibility and belief that the Constitution guarantees our freedoms," NRCC communications director Karen Hanretty said in the statements.

Axelrod and others on the campaign's afternoon conference call lashed out at rivals' attacks, saying that Clinton's especially strain credibility. On the economy, trade and other issues of import to rural voters, Obama's "position has been wholly consistent over the years and that's not something Senator Clinton can claim." While Obama spoke of some rural voters' anger, Axelrod said, "Both Senator McCain and Senator Clinton seem to deny that, and it makes you wonder whether they're reading from the Washington playbook," he said.

"There is a real anger in many of our communities in this country." "We need hope," Fetterman said, not someone who is "fabricating sniper stories." Clinton's and McCain's reaction "showed someone out of touch with what's going on in our communities," Gray said. "That was more patronizing than the statements by Senator Obama."

Obama's WI Numbers Look Good

Hillary Clinton's last shot to convince super delegates that she is the right candidate to take on John McCain in November hinges on her argument that she is more electable than rival Barack Obama. And Clinton polls better against McCain in the latest RCP Averages in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida. But a new survey from Wisconsin Public Radio and St. Norbert College suggests that in at least one battleground state key to any Democrat's victory, Obama has the electoral advantage.

The poll, conducted 3/25-4/5, surveyed 400 Wisconsin adults for a margin of error of about +/- 4.9%. Clinton, Obama and McCain were all tested.

General Election Matchups
Obama 46
McCain 42

McCain 46
Clinton 42

Any poll showing Clinton performing more poorly against McCain than Obama could seriously undermine Clinton's electability argument. It is no wonder, then, that the Obama campaign blasted the poll out to reporters as quickly as they could. If Clinton underperforms in Pennsylvania, super delegates not convinced that she's the most electable candidate could begin flocking to Obama in droves.

Superdels Nervous, Neutral

Pressure is mounting on super delegates from upcoming primary states to make their endorsements now, and two members of Congress, thus far uncommitted, say their endorsements could come soon. Still, they worry the Democratic nominating contest has already gone on too long, and that it could permanently harm the party.

Speaking on Politics Nation Radio on Saturday, North Carolina Rep. David Price and Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire maintained they have not made their decisions final, but that a choice could come shortly. "I'm thinking about [an endorsement]. There's certainly a good argument for going ahead in this kind of situation and doing what seems best in terms of trying to influence the outcome here," Price said. But, he said, "I may have an announcement fairly soon."

Price's district comprises the Tar Heel State's so-called Research Triangle, which encompasses several major universities and is about one-fifth African American. "Obama has a good lead here, but it's a hard-fought situation," Price said of the whole state and of his own district. Despite reports on Sunday and Monday that North Carolina Democratic members of Congress were moving toward endorsing Obama en masse, Price said he didn't think the group would make a joint announcement. "We have not moved as a delegation, and probably won't in any one direction," he said.

Altmire, whose western Pennsylvania district includes several Pittsburgh suburbs, is more worried about the effect the contest will have on the party. "Whenever I attend one of these rallies for one of the candidates and it shows up in the paper, we get flooded with calls in our office with people who have supported me saying, 'If he votes for that candidate or endorses that candidate I'm never going to support him again,'" Altmire said on Politics Nation. "And that's my biggest fear, is that this is starting to become so tense between the two campaigns and there's such animosity that it's driving a wedge between people who should be all focused on the same goal, which is winning back the White House."

After attending one rally last week, at which Senator Bob Casey endorsed Obama, Altmire still hasn't made up his mind. "I'm taking advantage of the opportunity that both candidates and their surrogates are spending a lot of time in western Pennsylvania and in my district," he said. Still, his largely blue collar suburbs are likely to go heavily for one candidate. "If the election were held today, in my district and in my region, ... Senator Clinton would win," he said. "But I think Senator Obama is certainly working hard and going to do everything he can to at least minimize the margins if not win outright."

The Obama campaign has "I think a more global strategy with regard to the state than just focusing on regions," Altmire concluded. Obama "does have the chance to [win], although I would say again that Senator Clinton is the favorite." Regardless of the outcome, Altmire said he will attend the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late August.

While Altmire's Pennsylvania has gone Democratic in recent decades, Price's North Carolina remains more solidly Republican. Altmire said his district is likely to go heavily for John McCain, so that electability is less of an issue for him, but it's something that is at least on Price's mind. "It's certainly a consideration that unpledged delegates, including myself, need to take into account," Price said.

Listen to Price's and Altmire's comments in this space tomorrow, when we post the full two-hour audio of XM Radio's Politics Nation.

Pittsburgh's Strange Bedfellows

In an opinion piece out this morning in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, a columnist writes of his impressionas after meeting with Hillary Clinton in the Western Pennsylvania newsroom. Clinton had "courage and confidence," as well as "impressive command" of top issues. "I have a very different impression of Hillary Clinton today than before last Tuesday's meeting -- and it's a very favorable one indeed," the author wrote.

Without knowing the writer's name, the piece would be another in a series of good interviews Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain have given to editorial boards from Iowa to New Hampshire, back to Nevada and across the country. But knowing that the author, Richard Mellon Scaife, was one of the biggest Clinton-hating attack dogs of the 1990's shows another example of strange political bedfellows.

Scaife, the owner of the paper and billionaire heir to Andrew Mellon's banking fortune, gave more than a million dollars to the conservative American Prospect magazine for what they called the "Arkansas project" during Bill Clinton's presidency. The money went to investigate the then-president's personal life in Arkansas, an effort that may have led Hillary Clinton to refer to the newspaper magnate when she called out the "vast right-wing conspiracy."

Because of Scaife's role in promoting the Clinton-era scandals, the op-ed shocked some Clinton fans. "I never thought I would utter these words, but I would like to shake his hands for keeping his mind open despite the predisposed prejudice toward her," former Clinton lawyer Lanny Davis told the New York Times.

Scaife is one of several conservatives whose large bank accounts could have made them big anti-Clinton factors. But while several leading candidates had independent expenditures made on their behalf, Clinton was the only candidate with major outside money being spent against her as well. As with Rupert Murdoch, the conservative owner of News Corp., Scaife was not among those spending money against Clinton.

While Scaife said he will wait to hear from Barack Obama to make an endorsement, he has yet to go as far as the owner of Fox News. Murdoch held a fundraiser for Clinton last year.

Obama's Speech And The Base Election

A week after a ground-breaking speech that many viewed favorably, while others said he did not go far enough, new polls paint a decidedly mixed picture on Barack Obama's approach to race in America and, more specifically, his relationship with controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. For his purposes, the polls show Obama's speech was effective in the short run, though like John McCain, he faces an ongoing conversation before voters choose to cast ballots for or against him in November that could, ironically, turn what was supposed to be an election fought over moderates into a typical contest for the base.

A month ago, Barack Obama was the golden candidate, untouched and untouchable by scandal, attack or implication from rival campaigns that he was too inexperienced to become president. In the past month, though, issues surrounding his relationship with developer Tony Rezko, his waffling on NAFTA and his ability to answer a crisis phone call at 3 a.m. began to rub the veneer off his once-perfect image. But lurking beneath that veneer was a darker question, an issue Obama would have to deal with before facing voters in November. It's a question that has never been tested at the ballot box: Is America ready for an African American president?

This country remains polarized by race. Obama's speech, and reaction afterward, acknowledged both African American and white angst about race relations here, and, given recent exit polling in states where the racial divide has become increasingly pronounced, the campaign has had to deal with the notion that a latent racism remains in at least some voters' minds. Obama's twenty-year relationship with Wright, now retired, was the outlet through which those dormant feelings were released.

As with Mitt Romney and religion, or John McCain and his relationship with conservatives, it became clear that Obama would have to, in some way, address his relationship with Wright not only in the context of the Reverend's comments, but under the larger umbrella of race relations as a whole.

With the release of several of Wright's sermons, Obama's numbers began to take a serious tumble. Daily Gallup tracking poll numbers showed Obama leading by as many as six points, a 50%-44% margin, on March 13. His lead was cut to three the next two days, and by March 16, rival Hillary Clinton had stolen a two-point lead. As the Wright controversy mounted, Clinton built herself a seven-point head start by March 18, leading 49%-42%, and seemingly giving credence to the notion that Obama, unvetted and untested on the national stage, was a risk Democrats could hardly take.

But since March 18, the day of Obama's speech in Philadelphia, his numbers in the daily tracking polls have only improved. Now, for the survey conducted from March 22 to 25, beginning the night after the address, Obama has retaken the lead, up 47%-46%. In the minds of Democratic voters, it seems, Obama has answered enough questions and reestablished himself enough to retake his position atop the Democratic race - not only in terms of pledged delegates, electoral victories and popular votes, but in terms of the confidence of the overall electorate. As Clinton argues that super delegates should make up their minds based on the best decision for the party as a whole, the answer to that question, thanks to the speech, once again looks like it becomes Obama.

A CBS News poll focused solely on Obama's address concurs, to a large extent. Voters said he addressed race relations in a positive manner by a three-to-one margin, while almost the same ratio said they agreed with his views on the subject. Importantly, independent voters agreed by a 65%-25% margin.

The poll, which surveyed voters interviewed last week about the Wright controversy, showed that, thanks to the controversy, the same number would be more likely to vote for him as would be less likely, at 14% each. Only 24% of independent voters - 11% more likely, 13% less likely - said the controversy would have an impact on their decision.

But the poll showed Rev. Wright's comments and Obama's subsequent speech opens a rabbit hole in which Obama could find danger. While two-thirds of those polled in the initial survey said they believed Obama would unite the country, that number dropped 15 points to 52% in the subsequent questioning. Obama's favorable rating also took a big hit, as 43% say they view him favorably while 30% view him unfavorably. Those unfavorable numbers are up seven points since the last CBS News poll, conducted in the final week in February.

Every poll taken about the speech shows it has gotten significant attention around the country. A survey from Georgia-based InsiderAdvantage shows 82% of respondents were aware of Wright's comments and 83% were aware of Obama's speech.

Unlike the CBS poll, though, the InsiderAdvantage survey showed more voters less likely to cast ballots for Obama after becoming aware of the controversy. Among those who had heard something about the speech and Wright's comments, 52% said they were less likely to vote for Obama, while just 19% said they were more likely to do so. "The general effect on voters was to make them, for that moment, less likely to vote for [Obama]," InsiderAdvantage's Matt Towery said.

But Towery cautioned that the numbers don't mean Obama is dead in the water, thanks largely to the amount of media surrounding the entire contest. "What used to take a month to get out of a news cycle now takes a matter of days," he said. "The fact that on a Wednesday or Thursday the public has a feeling they're less likely to vote for someone doesn't mean they'll think that over the weekend." The message Towery took from his poll, he said, is that the Wright controversy "is blowing over."

Issues of race, should Obama become the Democratic nominee, are not going to go away as the campaign progresses. To win the presidency, Obama has to reach out not only to the independents he seems to attract, but he must bring with him the traditional Democratic base as well. To attract some made nervous by Wright's comments, Obama will have to own the conversation about race.

As McCain prepares to face Obama in November, Americans will be faced with two candidates who appeal strongly to moderates and independents. Both, though, will head into the showdown with repair work to be done in their own parties, making the conversation they have with conservative voters, for McCain, and white, blue-collar voters, for Obama, as important as any conversation geared toward each other and the middle. Obama's speech, like McCain's at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, was the start of that conversation. Neither one will end soon.

March Madness Hits Team Obama

In what has become one of the most hallowed March traditions of office places everywhere, Obama's campaign staff momentarily paused their productivity, filled out their brackets, and threw in $10 towards their office NCAA pool.

Their picks? Spokespersons Bill Burton and Dan Pfeiffer both have Georgetown in the championship, but UCLA winning. A Georgetown alum, Pfeiffer was tempted to pick his alma mater, but lost the campaign pool last year after going with the Hoyas. Pfeiffer says he learned his lesson, noting: "The audacity of my hopefulness only extends so far."

As for the other staffers, speechwriter Jon Favreau and Ben Finkenbinder have Kansas winning the tournament, while strategist David Axelrod and policy director Heather Higginbottom picked UNC. Obama's body man Reggie Love, who played on Duke University's 2001 national championship team, has Duke, Louisville, Kansas, and Marquette in his final four.

But the campaign may be betting on Obama, who won the Senators NCAA Pool last year, to be cutting down the nets. During his short flight from Fayetteville to Charlotte yesterday, Obama filled out his bracket, settling on UNC.

The Clinton campaign confirmed they have organized an office pool for the tourney, although the staff declined to disclose their picks

-- Nora McAlvanah

PA: So Yesterday

Hillary Clinton is in Indiana for a number of events today, while Barack Obama is in West Virginia. With just over a month to go before Pennsylvania voters head to the polls, the Keystone State is already so passe. Recent polls show Clinton leading by a wide margin -- up 16.6 points in the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average -- and Obama has largely moved on to focus on other states.

That's nothing unusual this year. Each time one candidate takes a lead in one state, the other will play down that state's importance and move to the next stop on the calendar. Democrats privately gripe that the extended contest will hurt them in November, and in truth, that's both candidates' fault. Neither has decided to play strongly on the other candidate's turf.

At some point, a battle royale will have to take place. Clinton has already hinted that she may take a pass on North Carolina, which holds its nominating contest on May 6 (and where Obama leads the latest RCP North Carolina Average by 5.4 points), and Oregon, which votes May 20, should be good Obama territory as well. If Clinton plays in either and wins, those victories would go a long way toward her securing the nomination.

Obama, on the other hand, has the opportunity to score on Clinton turf in West Virginia, which votes May 13, or Kentucky, the following Tuesday, May 20. Wins in either of those states could potentially knock Clinton out of the contest.

Indiana remains a toss-up, and each candidate has advantages. Clinton will likely do well in the state's eastern and southern regions, where blue collar whites make up a heavy portion of the electorate. Obama will perform well in Indianapolis, where African Americans are dominant in Democratic circles, as well as the western region of the state, which is in his home media market. So far, Obama has not lost a state that touches Illinois.

It would seem obvious that Indiana is the one remaining battle ground. If Clinton wins, she will wholly own the momentum, and super delegates may begin to break more quickly for her. If Obama takes the prize, he could build a delegate lead large enough to renew calls for Clinton to leave the race.

But we heard the same thing about Pennsylvania. In fact, a Clinton adviser tells CBS's Fernando Suarez, no one has a plan to end the race. "The campaign will go on until all the states and Puerto Rico have voted," the adviser said. Puerto Rico's primary, on June 1, happens two days before the final two scheduled contests, in Montana and South Dakota.

Who Wants A Revote?

As the window for a potential revote in Michigan becomes ever smaller, a team of rich Democratic donors are promising to front the money for a new primary in a last-ditch effort to save the contest, USA Today reports. And to no one's surprise, those donors largely back one candidate over the other, demonstrating again just how crucial a revote is to Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the nomination.

New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, both major Clinton supporters, spearheaded the initiative to put together donors willing to fork over the $12 million for a new contest, and Corzine is one of the ten people listed as willing to guarantee the money will be there. The former Goldman Sachs chief spent $60 million of his own money to get elected to the governorship and is worth somewhere north of $250 million.

Corzine is joined by several other prominent Clinton backers, including Haim Saban, Bernard Schwartz, Roger Altman and John Catsimatidis. While all ten of the donors have given to Clinton's campaigns for Senate or the White House, two are less involved in the campaign, as lawyers John Eddie Williams and Peter Angelos have stayed out. Angelos' name might sound familiar; the prominent trial attorney now owns the Baltimore Orioles baseball team.

The Obama campaign has been naturally suspicious of any revote, and now that Clinton donors are offering the cash to run it, they've become even louder in their protests. Spokesman Bill Burton told USA Today the promise, contained in an open letter to Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, is "even more evidence that Clinton is willing to do absolutely anything to get elected."

Though they were trying to help, the ten donors may have unintentionally doomed Michigan's hopes of holding a revote at all, allowing the Obama camp to slam the window shut once and for all.

Expanding The Map

As Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton head toward Pennsylvania, the Keystone State has already failed to become what so many others have tried to be: Ground zero. Conventional wisdom held that, had Clinton won Iowa, the Democratic race would have come to a screeching halt. If Obama had won New Hampshire, it was all over. Barring that, Super Tuesday was supposed to decide the nominee.

None of those scenarios came to pass. In fact, even Obama wins on March 4, in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island (he managed a win in Vermont) would have increased calls for Clinton to leave the race. When she won all three of those states, the focus turned to Pennsylvania, where the final battle was supposed to take place.

Now, though, the Obama campaign is playing down Pennsylvania, and the Clinton campaign is going along. Over the next several days, Obama will make swings through North Carolina and West Virginia. Clinton will travel to West Virginia before making a swing through Indiana. Indiana and North Carolina voters cast ballots on May 6, while West Virginia holds their primary a week later, on May 13.

So, for anyone who thought the race would be over by any of the aforementioned contests, you're in good company: Virtually everyone thought the same thing. We have five weeks to get the same impression about Pennsylvania, but given the way things have shaken out so far, both campaigns have no illusions that the contest will continue well into May, at least.

When's the first time a candidate schedules a trip to Puerto Rico? Politics Nation hopes to bring you that visit live from the scene.

More Misstatements Re: FL, MI

Democrats in Florida and Michigan are in two very different situations. Sunshine Staters have given up the prospects of being allowed to vote a second time, while Michiganders have sent their own June 3 re-vote proposal to both candidates for their inspection. After the developments yesterday, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sent out statements that once again have both of them misconstruing the process to make themselves look good.

"Today's announcement brings us no closer to counting the votes of the nearly 1.7 million people who voted in January. We hope the Obama campaign shares our belief that Florida's voters must be counted and cannot be disenfranchised," read Clinton spokesman Phil Singer's indignant statement after Florida.

"We hope that all parties can agree on a fair seating of the Florida delegates so that Florida can participate in the Democratic Convention, and we look forward to working with the Florida Democratic Party and competing vigorously in the state so that Barack Obama can put Florida back into the Democratic column in November," the Obama campaign chimed in.

Clinton's camp seems to think the process is controlled by voters, and it's not. There is no provision in the Constitution for a primary, meaning, as the Supreme Court upholds, it's not up to the people to be able to vote, it's up to the parties to be allowed to choose a nominee. However they do that is up to, solely, the Democratic and Republican National Committees. Therefore, no one in Florida, or anywhere, has been disenfranchised this year: They can't be enfranchised to begin with.

In Obama's case, it makes no sense that delegates should be seated in any way other than allocated in the January 29 primary. In baseball, if a batter refuses to get into the batter's box, the umpire can let a pitcher hurl away at an empty plate, and the umpire can call anything a strike. Obama's argument that he didn't campaign in the state is akin to a petulant batter: Just because he didn't show up doesn't mean the contest isn't going to happen. (Bonus points, though, for using the word "Florida" four times in one sentence.

Obama's camp also released a longer statement on what they called a complex re-vote proposal in Michigan. "Considering the fact that Senator Clinton is currently trying to prevent and delay votes in Texas from being counted because she didn't like the outcome, it's pretty apparent that the Clinton campaign's views on voting are dependent on their own political interest. Hillary Clinton herself said in January that the Michigan primary 'didn't count for anything.' Now, she is cynically trying to change the rules at the eleventh hour for her own benefit. We received a very complex proposal for Michigan re-vote legislation today and are reviewing it to make sure that any solution for Michigan is fair and practical. We continue to believe a fair seating of the delegation deserves strong consideration," the statement said.

The statement is a less than subtle call for an even split of delegates, never mind that Clinton won 56% of the vote and "undecided" and "uncommitted," two place-holders for Obama, took 40%. So while Obama's campaign stalls for time, prodding the legislature's plan for holes that would unfairly benefit their rival, their definition of "fair" seems to be malleable. And

And if the Obama camp prefers the argument that they weren't even on the ballot in Michigan, they might be reminded that it was their decision to withdraw Obama's name from the ballot. No one -- not even the chairs of the four early states that forced candidates to sign a no-campaign pledge -- forced them to do so. In fact, other campaigns, lacking the financial resources to compete in Michigan, happily followed suit.

Whatever the outcome -- a re-vote in Michigan and a Florida split seems most likely at the moment -- both Democrats are understandably trying to spin the results in their favor. Both positions the candidates have staked out, though, just ring hollow.

Obama's Opportunity On Race

In early December, amid stagnant poll numbers, Mitt Romney began facing the serious prospect that an underground whisper campaign, spreading rumors about his Mormon faith, would sink his bid for the White House. To counter misperceptions and change the discussion, Romney offered a speech, at the George H.W. Bush presidential library, on the place of religion in the public square.

Many thought the idea of a major address, coming just a month before the Iowa caucuses, was a fatal mistake. But in the aftermath, Romney's poll numbers went up, and his campaign ended up doing well enough to earn more delegates than any candidate but John McCain. By successfully navigating the dangerous waters of a speech on religion, Romney not only kept his candidacy afloat, but finished in better position in several states than pre-speech polling suggested.

Today, Barack Obama faces the same challenge on a similarly taboo yet crucial factor in this year's presidential contest, when he will discuss race in what his campaign is billing as a major address at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center. Like Romney, Obama's speech is a dangerous one to give; but like Romney, Obama can use the address to bolster his campaign.

Race and religion are two topics that neither candidate wants as part of an election debate. For Obama, bringing up race can hurt the image he's spent his political lifetime crafting. Race brings up hundreds of years of negative history and the notion that the conflict is still about one group fighting another. Obama's appeal is the opposite, as a post-racial, post-partisan politician, and about moving past those divisions. Any time people are reminded of the past, they're not looking toward Obama's future.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and the Republican National Committee won't touch the issue of race either, for fear of instant branding as racists. There are plenty of obvious differences between Obama and McCain, should they face off in November, most notably age, experience and their thoughts on the war in Iraq. Clinton faces her own danger, risking the destruction of the modern Democratic coalition by alienating a hugely important part of the base. Opponents who talk about race against Obama will only speed their own destruction.

The electorate won't say it, but both topics weigh on at least some voters' minds. That division was most obvious in Mississippi, where white voters showed more obvious reluctance to vote for the African American candidate than they had in other states. Too, Obama's poll numbers in several primary states have dramatically over-stated his actual support, suggesting at least some role for the Bradley effect.

Like Romney, who attended the funeral of Mormon President Gordon B. Hinckley in the days leading up to February 5, Obama has a religion problem too. Rumors that Obama is Muslim were somewhat disproven last week with the release of several videos of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But Wright's inflammatory statements just substituted one crushing Obama burden for another.

Today's speech will reportedly address Wright's comments as well as the role of race in the campaign. Despite the obstacles, Obama can turn that into a positive, primarily by focusing on a larger picture of the future. In Barack Obama's America, every race can be lifted up, and every race can benefit, he should say.

The difference between Obama and other, older African American leaders is generational. Obama, along with other, new African American leaders like Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, did not live through the tumultuous 1960s, when civil rights leaders marched through the streets and clashed with racist authorities in the Deep South.

Instead, they grew up as the first generation of African Americans became millionaires, after segregation and during a period when, compared with the rest of American history, race relations had never been better.

That doesn't mean there isn't anger in the African American community. But casting the discussion about race as about moving the country forward, instead of as a conflict between two inherently adversarial sides, is the key for Obama's speech.

Obama's "hope" slogan, dotting yard signs across the country, is speaking to people. Anything other than the same on race relations and Obama could wind up stumbling over what could become a make-or-break moment in his bid to change history.

Pelosi, Again, On WH Race

Is it that she doesn't like one of the candidates? Is it that she's just trying to keep her name in the news? Whatever the reason, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi again said the chances of a presidential ticket featuring both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama just ain't gonna happen, NBC's Mike Viqueira reported yesterday.

Whether the combination is Obama-Clinton or Clinton Obama, Pelosi said her "lifetime of political gut" told her some other arrangement will come to pass. "Take it from me, that won't be the ticket," she said. Earlier this week, Pelosi said essentially the same thing at a school in Boston, and at her press conference yesterday she was asked to clarify those remarks.

"I think it is impossible," Pelosi said, per a transcript of yesterday's presser released by her office. "However, let me just say I do think we will have a dream team. It just won't be those two names."

Pelosi said she is excited by the level of enthusiasm both candidates bring to the table, but that she hopes the nasty exchanges of recent days end soon. "I don't like to see disagreement among candidates, but when you set your cap to run for President, you make a decision to go," she said. "And sometimes in the enthusiasm of all the people you attract to the process, some of the exchange is not at the highest level. I think, by and large, it has been and will return to that level."

Asked specifically about Clinton backer Geraldine Ferraro's comments that Obama has an advantage for being black, Pelosi declined to take a shot at the former vice presidential candidate, instead offering subtle criticism. "I think that it's important that perceptions be understood by campaigns and whether -- whatever was the intention or whatever the good thoughts that people may have had about their statements, we have to remember how they are perceived by others," Pelosi said. "And I think that the Clinton campaign moving to, shall we say, put some distance was very important."

Neither Pelosi nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have endorsed a candidate on their own, though those close to both top Democrats have made their own endorsements. Several key Pelosi allies in the House, most notably California Democrat George Miller, have backed Obama, while Reid's son Rory, the chairman of the Clark County Commission, was instrumental in delivering his state for Clinton.

As chair of the Democratic National Convention, Pelosi has said she will remain neutral in order to resolve any disputes that arise. But mentioning the unlikeliness of an Obama-Clinton ticket seems strange, and to go back to it twice only makes more ears perk up.

Philly Presents Challenge for Clinton

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania - Hillary Clinton took a center-court stage at Temple University's former basketball arena last night accompanied by political leaders who have years of experience delivering the city's votes to Democratic causes. But despite a decade-and-a-half long relationship with the City of Brotherly Love and many of those leaders' best efforts, this election may not be so kind to the senator from neighboring New York.

Philadelphia Mayor Nutter is trying to
help Clinton hold Obama's advantage down
Both Clintons have a lot to brag about when it comes to Philadelphia. Greeting a number of labor leaders, local Democratic Party chairs and other long-time politicos, former Philadelphia Mayor and current Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell warmed up the crowd, rattling off a list of accomplishments from Bill Clinton's tenure in the White House. The administration helped restore the shipyard, broke ground on the Constitution Center and put a thousand new police on the streets, Rendell said.

"Anybody who doesn't think the '90s was a good time for Philadelphia? The '90s was a great time for Philadelphia thanks to Bill and Hillary Clinton," Rendell said. The incumbent mayor, Michael Nutter, summed up his city's present responsibility: "Who would have thought that Philadelphia and our suburbs and Pennsylvania will play a critical role in deciding who will be our next president of the United States?"

But in a heavily African-American city surrounded by well-educated liberal enclaves, political watchers say, Clinton's best option may be to cut into rival Barack Obama's support and run up bigger margins around the state. "Obama's going to win the city," said Franklin and Marshall College political scientist Terry Madonna, a Pennsylvania political expert.

On the other hand, Nutter told Politics Nation he expects Clinton to outperform. "She'll do extremely well in Philadelphia. She's well-known, she's well-liked and she's well-respected," he said, though he downplayed the city's importance to Clinton's overall chances here. "There are significant areas of support all over Pennsylvania for Senator Clinton, but Philadelphia, you know, certainly has significant population and a population that is very interested in her message."

Nutter also refused to speculate on what percentage Clinton needs from Philadelphia in order to win the state as a whole. "Six weeks out, I'm not going to get into the numbers game," he said.

"The Clintons have deep roots here, and that will offset some of" the Philadelphia margin, Madonna said, estimating that 55%-60% of the city's vote turnout will be African American, a demographic that has broken overwhelmingly for Obama. Add to that wealthy white voters in areas like Chestnut Hill and Germantown, northwest of downtown, who are expected to vote with Obama and Clinton has an even steeper road to climb.

If she does not meet those high expectations, Clinton can make up any deficit in the western portion of the state, especially in Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located. That area, Madonna said, has been growing in influence in recent years, while Philadelphia has seen a relative drop in electoral influence. Still, the city is likely to be a big part of the Keystone State's electoral math, contributing up to one quarter of the votes cast in the Democratic primary, though Madonna thinks that number is optimistic.

"The battleground will be the Philly suburbs, the LeHigh Valley and South-Central Pennsylvania," Madonna said. Those areas voted very differently in the most recent hotly-contested Pennsylvania Democratic primary, when Rendell faced now-Senator Bob Casey in the race for governor in 2002.

Then, Rendell ran up huge margins of nearly five-to-one support in his city and its suburbs, while winning the valley and the South-Central region by much narrower fractions. Now, "if Obama wants to win, he's got to do something" in those areas. "Casey plays Clinton, with blue-collar, working-class Catholics. Obama plays Rendell, [building on support from] the city and the 'burbs," Madonna said.

Clinton, signing autographs in Harrisburg, will
likely have more success in central Pennsylvania
With six weeks to go before April 22, the Clinton campaign has started on the same experience theme she used, to some success, in recent primaries in Ohio and Texas. "The time for games is over. We've moved into the playoffs on our way to the Super Bowl," Nutter told the crowd at Temple University.

But while Clinton hit Obama earlier in the day, during a rally in Harrisburg, she let Nutter take care of it in his home city. "It's easy when you're not on the field to talk about what you would do, what you could do, what you should have done. This candidate's been on the field," he said, pointing to Clinton. "You want to run for mayor, you want to run for governor, you want to run for president, you gotta have some experience up in here."

Later, Nutter said he won election to the mayor's office the same way Clinton will. "They knew that I had the experience to serve the city well," he said. "Senator Clinton brings the same thing. She has the experience. She's been working for thirty-plus years on behalf of children, their families and other people who need help and support."

Clinton's strategy of playing up experience continues in Pennsylvania even as voters in another state told exit pollsters the issue was less important for them. Mississippians overwhelmingly said the ability to bring change was more important to their choice of a candidate than the right experience, by a 53%-19% margin. Clinton still won the experience argument, by a large margin, but if that is to be her coalition, she will have to refocus the debate.

Exit polls from Mississippi also echoed another recent trend that has to have Nutter and the Clinton campaign feeling optimistic: Among those who had decided on a candidate in the last week, Clinton won a narrow 51%-48% majority. But nearly four in five voters had decided more than a week ago, and they chose Obama by a wider 61%-39% margin.

Nutter said Philadelphia voters, at the beginning of the six-week sprint, have poking and prodding to do before they make a decision. "Philadelphia has a rich history and tradition of taking politics very seriously and asking very tough questions of people who run for office," he said. "We're just starting this effort."

Clinton herself suggested voters will experience something akin to Iowa caucus-goers in the next six weeks, and they, like Iowans and New Hampshire voters, will have a real chance to evaluate the candidates. "I want you to think about this campaign as a long job interview," she told the crowd at Temple. "Because each of us is going to be coming and talking about what we have done and what we want to do, and you're going to have to decide, who would you hire for the toughest job in the world?"

Whether Philadelphians and voters in the rest of the state make their decisions based on experience, as in Ohio, or a need for change, as in Mississippi, the outcome in the Keystone State could be decisive, and voters here know it: "From Pennsylvania to Pennsylvania Avenue," read one sign in Clinton's crowd.

Clinton Lays Out PA Plan

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania -- Despite sound troubles that plagued a microphone aiding Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Hillary Clinton laid out her plan to capture the state's votes and bring jobs back to a beleaguered economy. Rendell, introducing Clinton to a packed house at The Forum just across from the state capitol building, predicted his candidate would sweep central Pennsylvania.

Clinton, joined by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell,
met a boisterous crowd in Central Pennsylvania today
Offering more harsh criticism of rival Barack Obama's experience, Clinton echoed shots she took at the younger senator in Rhode Island. "We can't just gaze heavenwards and hope [for a new future], we have to work for it," Clinton said. "What we have to decide is who is ready to go into the oval office to make those decision," she continued. "I don't want you voting on a leap of faith, I want you to look at the record."

After finding success with a message that focused on the economy in Ohio, where voters who said it was their most important issue favored Clinton by a 55%-43% margin, Clinton signaled she would continue on that track. "We have a lot of work to do and we're going to start that work by turning the economy around," she said, calling for green-collar jobs and for an end to tax breaks for companies that export jobs.

Clinton also won big applause for calling for an end to tax breaks for oil companies, excoriating the current administration's relationship with Middle Eastern companies. "As your president, you will not see me holding hands with the Saudis," Clinton began. The crowd erupted enough to cut off the end of her sentence.

The largely younger audience, somewhat unusual for a candidate who has consistently performed better among older voters, greeted Clinton's call for an overhauled education lending system. Clinton urged new direct loans from government to students, and offered forgiveness for debt if graduates pursue public service jobs.

Clinton also said schools can help: "Colleges and universities have to start taking a hard look at how much their costs go up each year," she said. Interrupted by the crowd many times, Clinton paused only to acknowledge students from Wellesley who shouted her alma mater's cheer.

Even as Mississippi voters cast ballots today, Clinton's focus is already on the Keystone State. "Now the eyes of America and the world are on Pennsylvania. It is Pennsylvania's turn and I'm excited to be here," she said, casting herself as an almost-native. Her biggest evidence: Clinton's father and brother played football at Penn State, her brother under legendary coach Joe Paterno.

Still, Clinton's campaign, ahead by a dozen points in the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average, signaled it will not let Obama come back without a challenge. Hitting Obama, also in the state today, for casting a vote in favor of the 2005 energy bill championed by Vice President Dick Cheney -- a bill she voted against -- Clinton pulled no punches. "When it counted, I said no, he said yes," Clinton said.

Further hammering Obama for questions over his stated position on NAFTA and an adviser's reported comments to the contrary to a Canadian official, Clinton signaled she isn't about to let the matter go. "There's a big difference between talk and action, but if you're going to talk you ought to mean what you say so people can count on you," she asserted.

Clinton has one more public event planned for today, at Temple University in Philadelphia. But here, in Pennsylvania's central region, is where any big Clinton margins would happen.

FL Back Atop The News

As talk of the predicament Florida and Michigan face in coming up with a new election took center stage this weekend, Hillary Clinton's campaign appears to have assumed that Florida, at least, will hold another election. In fact, it is the Clinton camp's advisers who are pushing the idea most publicly.

Governors Jon Corzine, of New Jersey, and Ed Rendell, of Pennsylvania, said they would agree to raise half the $30 million it might cost for both states to hold a new vote, the New York Times reports this morning.

That offer sends a strong message, and it puts the Obama campaign in a somewhat awkward position: By accepting -- even pushing for -- a new contest, the Clinton team has to believe it can win in both states all over again, even with Obama campaigning full time there. Obama has to either accept a new vote or be cast as a candidate willing to disenfranchise Floridians and Michiganders.

If Obama accepts the re-vote, he might lose the contests and, with them, the race. On the other hand, he may win and knock Clinton out. Regardless, Florida and Michigan will become ground zero for the presidential contest, and, should the re-votes be scheduled late enough, may rob the loser of an excuse to stick around.

Perhaps looking ahead to that eventuality, Bill Clinton has already been dispatched southward; he will raise money in Broward County, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, the St. Pete Times writes. As buzz for a mail-in redo mounts, watch the former president's travel schedule. He may end up down south much more in the future.

Power Out At Obama HQ

No, it's not an electrical problem, but a much more potent political crisis that's knocked Power out at Barack Obama's headquarters. Responding to harsh criticism from Hillary Clinton's campaign for comments that Obama's rival is a "monster," top foreign policy adviser Samantha Power has resigned, effective immediately.

"With deep regret, I am resigning from my role as an advisor the Obama campaign effective today," Power said in a statement released by the campaign. "Last Monday, I made inexcusable remarks that are at marked variance from my oft-stated admiration for Senator Clinton and from the spirit, tenor, and purpose of the Obama campaign. And I extend my deepest apologies to Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, and the remarkable team I have worked with over these long 14 months."

Clinton's camp had put pressure on Obama to fire Power, with Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz calling the comments "distasteful" and "inappropriate." Power is not the first casualty of unfortunate comments during the presidential campaign. Most recently, Clinton's top New Hampshire adviser, Billy Shaheen, stepped aside after suggesting Republicans would use Obama's past drug use against him in a general election.

First Look: Pennsylvania

Though battles remain in Wyoming and Mississippi, and while Florida and Michigan seem set to work out some kind of deal to hold their contests again, Pennsylvania remains front and center on the target list for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The state, it seems, holds benefits and drawbacks for both candidates, further imperiling the notion that anything at all will be settled when Keystoners vote on April 22.

Politico's Charlie Mahtesian, a Pennsylvania native himself, calls the state a "should-win" for Clinton, pointing out favorable demographics: The state is whiter, generally older and less well-off than the national average, and its population looks a lot like Ohio's.

15.6% of the state is over 65, compared with the national average of 12.4%, while the median income is just over $40,100, slightly lower than Ohio's $41,000 and lower, as the LA Times notes, than the nation as a whole. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports the state is 29% Catholic, a demographic among whom Clinton did very well, and higher than the 24% national average. Ohio is only 21% Catholic.

Clinton has done well among voters along the east side of the Appalachian plateaus, as Patrick Ottenhoff and Jonathan Martin note, in states from Ohio to Virginia and farther south. That advantage gives her a leg up on the east side of Pennsylvania, too.

Too, Clinton enjoys backing from many prominent local politicians, including Governor Ed Rendell, who served as DNC chairman when Bill Clinton was in office. The former Philadelphia mayor can help Clinton in his native city, where he remains popular not only as governor but as occasional commentator for the Philadelphia Eagles. In fact, Clinton has support from the city's current mayor, Michael Nutter, who is serving his first term.

Still, Philadelphia, the state's largest city by far, is likely to be Obama country. The many colleges in the area, the high African American population and the generally wealthier population are all demographics that favor the Illinois senator, and maximizing his margin there will help him cut into Clinton gains in the eastern portion of the state.

And if Obama's performances have shown anything, it is that he does well when he has time. After months of trailing in Iowa and slowly building an organization, Obama won impressively in a state with more white voters -- and caucus attendees -- than Ohio or Pennsylvania, about the same percentage of college graduates and a lower median income than both states, as well as more Catholic voters than the national average.

Clinton's team will argue that Iowa's caucuses helped Obama pull out the win there, but her rival has also won primaries in the blue collar state of Wisconsin and heavily Catholic Connecticut. If Obama has the time, he can change the way certain demographics vote. And the seven weeks between now and when Pennsylvania voters cast ballots could be plenty of time.

Many of Pennsylvania's 9.4 million eligible voters will head to the polls on April 22. From the outset, it looks like Clinton has a head start: Her lead in the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average is a strong 11.7 points, and the state's demographics look like they favor the senator from neighboring New York. Still, with time and money on his side, don't be surprised if Obama's disadvantage shrinks.

Clinton's Last Card

Hillary Clinton, seemingly days away from being forced out of the presidential field, spent the final weekend before Ohio and Texas voters head to the polls hammering key differences between herself and her chief rival on what, until now, has been Republican turf. Perhaps, the Clinton camp must realize, distinctions on national security are the only way she can beat Barack Obama.

But Clinton's focus on national security, while possibly effective, toe a fine line. The Obama campaign has characterized her language as promoting the "politics of fear," comparing her lines to those Karl Rove might have advised Republicans to use during elections since September 11. Still, with time running out, Clinton has little choice but to try to drive the distinction home.

"My opponent and I are in an important debate about national security and which one of us is best prepared to take charge as Commander in chief," she said Saturday in Fort Worth, according to excerpts provided by her campaign. "He calls that fear-mongering. Well, I don't think Texans scare that easy."

Playing up her national security credentials, Clinton spent much of the weekend surrounded by retired military brass. She touted an endorsement from former Joint Chiefs chairman Hugh Shelton, and her campaign held a conference call with eighteen retired generals and admirals, along with Lee Feinstein, the campaign's national security director. Later, the campaign issued statements on recent rocket attacks on Israel and a tanker deal that Boeing, the American aircraft company, lost to a European rival.

Hoping to convince voters, as she has asserted for months, that she is the candidate of experience, Clinton's campaign even went as far as to draw a subtle link between new Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev and Obama. "Mr. Medvedev has said some hopeful sounding things in the course of his campaign, and the job of a new American President will be to test these words, to see whether they could mark a new approach in Russian politics and foreign policy," she said in a statement.

Obama, though, has not taken the assault lying down. "I have to say, when it came to making the most important foreign policy decision of our generation -- the decision to invade Iraq -- Sen. Clinton got it wrong. She didn't read the nation intelligence estimates," Obama told a crowd in Westerville, Ohio, as The Swamp's John McCormick reported. "I have enough experience to know that if you have a national intelligence estimate ... then you should probably read it."

Susan Rice, Obama's top foreign policy adviser, and several other national security experts backing the Illinoisian's campaign hit back on their own conference call, on which Rice questioned whether Clinton has any more experience on the issues than Obama does.

No matter who wins the primary, both candidates will need to address national security policy against John McCain come the general election. Clinton and Obama, each of whom will likely be put on the defensive by the Arizona senator, are first finding their way against each other. If Obama wins on Tuesday in spite -- or perhaps because of -- Clinton's focus on national security, his chances in November would be greatly improved. And as Clinton's chances seem to be fading, taking the risky step of hitting Obama on national security may be her last hope.

Clinton's Daisy Ad

Hillary Clinton is nothing if not committed to winning this presidential contest. As she sees the clock wind down, though, Clinton has to pull out all the stops to pull out what seems like an increasingly improbable victory. Now, with the aid of veteran ad man Roy Spence, she has done so, as ABC's Nitya Venkataraman reports.

In a new ad (complete with Stephanopoulos analysis), set to air in the closing days before crucial Texas and Ohio primaries, Clinton takes half a page from Lyndon Johnson and half a page from Walter Mondale to suggest, again, that Barack Obama is not ready to be president.

"It's 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there's a phone in the White House, and it's ringing. Something's happened in the world," a deep-voiced narrator intones, as children sleep in the dark. "Your vote will decide who answers the call. Whether it's someone who already knows the world's leaders, knows the military. Someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world. It's 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?" Clinton, answering a phone, says she approves the ad.

The spot is perhaps the toughest Clinton can be without overtly claiming an imminent terrorist attack. Reminiscent of Johnson's "Daisy" ad in 1964 and Mondale's 1984 primary ad, depicting a shrieking red telephone and asking voters who they wanted on the other end.

It's no wonder comparisons should be made to Mondale's spot, which Gary Hart later credited for seriously damaging his credibility. The two spots are very similar, and Spence, who came on board the Clinton team after New Hampshire, created both.

Some will claim the ad is over the top, but Clinton had to emphasize her experience somehow. In a way, it's surprising that it's taken this long; that with just a weekend left to get her message out, she's waited until now to make her case in the strongest way possible.

The ad is certainly no "Daisy." "These are the stakes: To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die," Johnson thunders over a nuclear fireball. "Daisy" was so controversial that it ran a total of one time. Even Mondale's ad, which lasted longer than a single run, had a sharper tone.

Political admaking, in short, is becoming more subtle, and at the first hint of overtness, many cry wolf. That limits a candidate's ability to make up big deficiencies quickly. Still, if Obama prevails in the primary, expect a much harsher version of the ad, with John McCain offering the tag line.

Update: Obama chief David Plouffe hit back hard in a morning conference call with reporters. "Senator Clinton had her red phone moment. She had it in 2002. It was on the Iraq war. And she and John McCain and George Bush all gave the wrong answer," Plouffe said. "This is about what you say when you answer that phone."

Obama Hits Two Milestones

Barack Obama picked up endorsements from North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan and civil rights icon and Georgia Rep. John Lewis yesterday, pushing him, for the first time, over 200 super delegates. Dorgan joins fellow North Dakotan Kent Conrad and three super delegates from South Dakota, including ex-Senator Tom Daschle, Senator Tim Johnson and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, while Lewis jumped onboard after undergoing what he characterized as a difficult journey.

Obama's lead in pledged delegates has fueled a post-Super Tuesday bounce in super delegate support as well. He sits atop 201 super delegate votes, while Clinton has 255. At one time, the New York Senator had a 90-delegate advantage, MSNBC reports. Obama has cut that margin virtually in half in a matter of weeks. About 340 supers remain uncommitted.

Obama's campaign also announced yesterday the campaign had received donations from one million people, something no campaign has reached during primary season. That's far ahead of rival Hillary Clinton, The Caucus blogs, though both camps are in the middle of massive voter outreach drives in advance of contests in Texas and Ohio.

Clinton's team made more than a million phone calls to potential voters in February, and the new goal is to make 1.5 million more before Tuesday's vote. Obama is in the middle of his own million-call drive, and the campaign blog reports they've made 410,000 by yesterday morning. And just in case, the campaign has opened a headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi, in preparation for that state's March 11 primary.

But, having closed the super delegate gap with Clinton, once seen as key to her strategy of taking down a brokered convention, will there be a contested election by the time attention turns to Mississippi?

DeGeneres Drops In On Clinton

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A Monday night fundraiser for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton on the campus of The George Washington University was interrupted for a few minutes when talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres broke in, interviewing Clinton for today's edition of her daytime show in front of her Los Angeles studio audience.

University students and attendees at the low-dollar affair heard what began as a standard stump speech from Clinton. After being introduced by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Clinton addressed universal health care, ending the war in Iraq and being ready for the presidency on "Day One." On this night, one day before the final debate before the March 4 primaries, Clinton declined to mention Illinois Senator Barack Obama, as she had during a speech earlier in the day and throughout a contentious weekend.

More than halfway through the event, DeGeneres suddenly appeared on a large screen behind Clinton, bringing the already raucous auditorium crowd to its feet for more than a minute before DeGeneres was able to speak.

The staged, long-distance interview began on a light note. "Will you put a ban on glitter?" DeGeneres asked. Clinton answered she would ban glitter for anyone over the age of 12.

DeGeneres got serious, asking about Obama's current 11-state winning streak, and asked Clinton, "What needs to happen to change the momentum?" This is where Clinton slipped. After DeGeneres's softball question, Clinton said, "We need to win Ohio and Michigan!" The crowd cheered anyway, before Clinton caught herself. "Wait. I mean Ohio and Texas. We already won Michigan," Clinton said.

DeGeneres asked if Clinton felt the media had been harder on her because she is a woman, and noted the recent Saturday Night Live episode, where the "Weekend Update" sketch made light of what some perceive as favorable coverage of Obama.

The mostly female audience screamed "Yes!" though Clinton would not go that far. "I'm asking the people of America to hire me for the toughest job in the world, which requires a person to actually stand up to whatever comes our way," said Clinton.

DeGeneres's interview with Clinton will be televised on her show Tuesday. According to the show's website, DeGeneres is also attempting to get Obama and Arizona Sen. John McCain to appear.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Clinton Shrugs Off Subtlety

Hillary Clinton had a big weekend, during which she seemed to break through and finally find her sea legs in attacking Barack Obama. Whether those attacks will be too little, too late or not is an open question, but Clinton looked confident in suggesting Obama ought to be ashamed for what she said was a misleading mailer and, later, in mocking his call for bringing people together as naive.

Today, Clinton is seeing headlines about her rearming and going after Obama. But just in case anyone missed it, Clinton heads to a venue this evening that will give every reporter a real chance to see, first-hand, the new, tougher Hillary. Clinton will speak at a low-dollar fundraiser in Washington this evening, and it is likely she will keep up her hard-hitting tactics.

Many aspects of the Clinton appearance tonight look designed to attract media. She will address an audience at The George Washington University, just six or so blocks from the National Press Club and not much farther to the Washington Post and Associated Press bureaus here. The event is billed as a low-dollar fundraiser, entry to which some journalists would give their non-writing arm to attend, though tonight's is open to the press. And the place will be packed: Lisner Auditorium can seat a solid 1490 people.

Just in case journalists missed Clinton's sharp words, replayed endlessly on cable news networks this morning, they will conveniently have another chance to do so. By coming to Washington, the belly of the political beast, Clinton guarantees herself a big press presence, along with every outlet's undivided attention.

Obama Lead Insurmountable?

Barack Obama's strong showings in Wisconsin and Hawaii last night netted him an additional 18 delegates, his campaign estimates, giving him a net lead of 159 pledged delegates. That lead, Obama chief David Plouffe suggested on a conference call this morning, is difficult, if not impossible, for Hillary Clinton's campaign to overcome. "We have opened up a big and meaningful delegate lead," he said.

To net that many more of the 1,000 or so pledged delegates remaining, "they need to win going away," Plouffe said. "The only way, in this system, to win delegates is by big margins." He estimated that, because of delegate selection rules in Ohio and Texas, the Clinton camp would have to win both states by as many as twenty points to win significantly more delegates than Obama.

Time, Plouffe said, is on Obama's side. "There's no doubt Senator Clinton started this [campaign in Ohio and Texas] with a big lead," he said. But "we're looking forward to a lot of time on the ground, which is a luxury we have not had" since January. Indeed, in many cases, Obama has been able to cut into Clinton's lead when he's had time on the ground. With two full weeks before Buckeyes and Longhorns vote, Obama has plenty of time to spend on the ground.

Even with big leads, though, Clinton might wind up with a bad election night. Exit polls from Wisconsin and earlier contests have started showing voters who had otherwise favored John Edwards, chiefly lower-paid white men, breaking hard for Obama once their guy was out of the race. In Wisconsin, Obama won white men by twenty-one points.

While women still make up the majority of the Democratic electorate, Obama looks to have muted Clinton's lead among them while racking up big margins among men. Having made such significant inroads in earlier states, Obama's path to victory -- real or in the expectations game -- in Ohio and Texas becomes much easier.

Plouffe declined an opportunity to offer a full-throated response to criticism yesterday from John McCain, who attacked Obama as offering an "eloquent but empty call for change." Plouffe said McCain would offer what he characterized as a third term for President Bush, but that time remains for their differences to be explored. "The general election is going to be a long general election, and we don't have much control over when that starts," he said.

Do Newspapers Follow Big Mo?

Newspaper endorsements, some political strategists will tell you, mean everything. Others will scoff and contend they mean nothing at all. Regardless of one's feelings, it is hard not to notice the trend of recent newspaper endorsements in the Democratic race: After winning a few primaries here and there, Barack Obama has been scooping up editorial page nods left and right.

Over the weekend, that trend continued. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (incidentally, the paper that broke Dick Cheney's shooting accident) all wrote editorials backing Obama. In fact, going through some notes, it looks like it's been since February 1 since Clinton won an endorsement, that one from the Denver Post.

According to a quick count, Clinton has been endorsed by thirty-two editorial boards, including the Des Moines Register, the Las Vegas Sun, the Kansas City Star, the Orlando Sentinel, the Salt Lake Tribune and, of course, the New York Times. None of those papers represent states that voted after February 5. In fact, Clinton has no endorsements from newspapers circulating in Washington, Nebraska, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Wisconsin or Hawaii.

Obama, on the other hand, has backing from fifty-five editorial boards. Editorial boards that reach large numbers of readers include the Arizona Republic, the Boston Globe, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, both major Chicago papers, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times.

From the eight states which have held nominating contests after February 5, Obama has won four endorsements, from the Journal Sentinel, both papers in Seattle, along with the alternative weekly The Stranger, and the Baltimore Sun. Obama already leads among post-February 19 papers: The Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Austin American Statesman, the Dallas Morning News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as the Chronicle and the Caller-Times, have written endorsement editorials for the freshman Senator.

Papers that endorsed early could well have acted like many voters: They wondered whether Obama could get through a primary and were looking ahead to a general election, gauging electability as well as issues of character and experience. Once Obama started winning a few primaries, perhaps other ed boards decided he could win, so Clinton's electability advantage disappeared.

One major caveat -- much as we would like to, we don't read every paper in the country, so we could easily have missed a few endorsements. The counts above are approximately correct, and we count publishing groups as one editorial board. Still, whatever the reason for the recent dramatic shift toward Obama and the actual number of newspaper nods, the trend is clear: Post-February 5, the eleven papers that have endorsed have all chosen Obama.

Could Edwards Nod Be Trouble?

In recent weeks, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have taken time off the campaign trail to sneak down to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to personally seek one of the most important endorsements left this campaign season. While several top Democrats remain uncommitted, few nods would generate headlines like John Edwards' blessing.

Reports have suggested Edwards is considering backing both candidates. While on the stump, he seemed closer to Obama's change message. But Edwards is also said to be considering Obama's lack of response to attacks as a potential weakness, leaving the door open for the one-time candidate to back Clinton, an outcome that would certainly carry considerable weight.

Edwards attracted support from lower-income white males, a group whose support would boost either Clinton or Obama to a majority. Whether those voters would follow Edwards is a separate question, but his endorsement would go a long way toward convincing many to coalesce behind one of the remaining candidates.

But Edwards' endorsement would require a careful choreography. While in the race, Edwards unabashedly acted as the attack dog, hitting Clinton as an agent of the status quo and, toward the end, criticizing Obama's perceived lack of willingness to fight. Edwards is much better at attacking opponents than Clinton or Obama: When they try to land a punch, Clinton comes off as shrill, while Obama can appear condescending.

If Edwards chooses to endorse, his nod would be portrayed not only as a choice for a candidate, but a choice against the other. The visual would be striking: Either two men would gang up on a woman, or two white candidates would take on a minority. If a campaign is considering how to roll out Edwards' endorsement, it would do well to put him on the stump as an entirely positive messenger. Any negativity could seriously blunt his positive impact, and even turn a benefit into a major liability.

On the other hand, Edwards may not decide to make an endorsement until a nominee is determined. Before leaving the race, he secured guarantees from both candidates that they would make solutions to poverty a central part of their campaigns. Given his support among the Democratic base, it is also likely he will play a role in the next Democratic administration. In a race that still looks neck-and-neck, an endorsement could only jeopardize his future. Edwards might calculate that, instead of risking backing the wrong horse, he would be better served by remaining above the fray and an acceptable cabinet member in either administration.

Obama's No-Win On Financing

A year ago, at the beginning of his bid to secure the clean-up-Washington mantle, Barack Obama made a pact with John McCain that, if the two were to be their party's nominees, each would accept public financing for the general election. That agreement sounded far-fetched: At the time, McCain was in the middle of his high-profile free-fall in the polls, while Obama trailed Hillary Clinton by wide margins in virtually every poll.

Obama, pictured in Derry, New
Hampshire, in January, now faces
a difficult choice
Now, McCain is virtually the nominee-in-waiting. By his campaign's count, he has already surpassed the necessary threshold of delegates needed to win the GOP convention in St. Paul. Obama, too, is close to winning his side. He has Clinton against a wall; she needs wins in key states of Ohio and Texas in order to keep her campaign afloat. The scenario that the two candidates who most talk about reforming Washington will actually face each other in November looks more than possible, it looks probable.

Obama's own success has forced him to make a choice that opens him to attack either way. Both of his opponents, smelling potential weakness, are already hammering him, pushing him to make the choice that would give McCain a much better position from which to win the presidency.

After raising $32 million in January and about $100 million in 2007, Obama proved he can build a campaign warchest unlike any the American electorate has seen before. If he continued to raise the amount he achieved in January, Obama would have raised an additional $300 million this year, more than $100 million above John Kerry's spending in 2004. There is reason to assume that, once Obama clinches the nomination, his pace would actually pick up.

McCain, on the other hand, has never been seen as a strong fundraiser. He fell far short of his $100 million goal for 2007, raising just $40 million and ending the year with $1.5 million more in debt than he had in the bank. While his fundraising, as the nominee, will ramp up, it is reasonable to assume that, both because of McCain's slow pace and Obama's success, the Democratic candidate would have a giant financing edge over the Republican.

So McCain has something fairly significant vested in making sure both candidates stick to public financing. If they don't, Obama would be able to outspend him by leaps and bounds. If they do, McCain has a level playing field. In fact, given that the Republican National Committee has consistently outraised the Democratic National Committee, McCain would even be at something of an advantage, as the RNC could outspend its Democratic counterparts to better define the young senator.

McCain, seen here celebrating his
New Hampshire victory,
benefits either way
McCain has spent much of the last several days lambasting Obama's waffling on the promise. As Democrats have done to him in recent weeks, so McCain has begun targeting Obama with verbal shots, offering a preview of the general election to come, should they face off. "I expect Senator Obama to keep his word to the American people as well. This is all about a commitment that we made to the American people," McCain said in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, on Friday, according to the Associated Press.

Clinton, on the other hand, made no such financing promise. Instead, she has based much of her campaign on the notion that she is the more electable candidate, and were she to face McCain, she would revel in her ability to outpace the Republican in fundraising. Her argument against Obama on public financing will likely be two-fold, and the first stage is already well underway.

"Last year, Senator Obama pledged to take public financing in the general election if the Republican nominee agreed to do so as well," Clinton communications ace Howard Wolfson said in a statement today, ahead of a conference call focused on the same issue. "Unfortunately, he broke that pledge this week. It now appears that Senator Obama made a promise to the American people that he is not keeping."

But the call for Obama to keep his word is a thinly-veiled trap. Should he do so, Clinton's electability argument will take on a new sense of purpose. If Obama is the nominee, she should argue, he will offer Republicans an opportunity to win. If she is the nominee, she can make the case to primary voters, she will show Republicans no mercy, making her the more electable candidate.

Obama faces two choices: First, he can take public financing, save some face now and open himself to new, stronger attacks on his electability from Clinton while providing McCain an even playing field. Second, he can back out and take a few weeks of assault from McCain and Clinton for going back on his word.

While financing a campaign is an issue few voters care about, choosing the second scenario could potentially cost him votes in a primary election. Choosing the first could risk the general election itself by giving McCain a chance Obama doesn't have to provide. The question cynics in his campaign have to answer: Do they really want to change the way politics works, or do they really want to win? The answer to that question will determine their choice on public financing.

Then again, if they decide they would rather change politics and increase their chances of losing in November, some Democrats, in February, March and April, could decide they would really rather just win.

Chafee Backs Obama

Lincoln Chafee will back Barack Obama this year, the Associated Press reports. The former Republican senator from Rhode Island has been publicly flirting with backing the Democrat from Illinois for several weeks, but he will make a formal announcement during a conference call today.

Ohio and Texas present massive March 4 opportunities for Hillary Clinton, but the attention paid there causes smaller states Vermont and Chafee's Rhode Island, both of which also hold contests on the first Tuesday in March, to be overlooked. Only John McCain has been to either state lately -- he holds rallies in both states today, coincidentally.

Among incumbent elected officials, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is backing Clinton, as is Rep. James Langevin. Rep. Patrick Kennedy joined his father and cousin Caroline in endorsing Obama several weeks ago.

Ex-Clinton Aide: Anyone But Hill

Former Democratic National Committee chairman David Wilhelm will endorse Barack Obama in an hour or so, the Associated Press reports. Wilhelm, who chaired the DNC during Bill Clinton's first term, ran day-to-day operations for Clinton's first presidential campaign in 1992.

This isn't the first time Wilhelm has chosen a candidate in 2008 not named Clinton. Wilhelm served as a top adviser to Joe Biden during his ill-fated presidential bid. In the past, Wilhelm has managed races for Senator Paul Simon, Biden, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, the current head of the city.

As a former chair of the DNC, Wilhelm is a super-delegate from Illinois.

Veeps II: Clinton's Revenge

Continuing our three-part, one-day series, we offer four serious candidates Hillary Clinton might consider for vice president, along with one long shot and one candidate who has no chance of joining Clinton on a ticket. Joining the junior senator from New York, you might see:

Evan Bayh: If Hillary Clinton gets the nomination, the electoral map will probably look as it has for the last few elections. Republicans will win the South and most of the Plains states, while Democrats will win the coasts and everyone meets in Florida and Ohio to battle it out, though Democrats will probably also make gains in the Southwest. For a traditional campaign, Clinton would need a traditional vice president, like Bayh. A two-term governor, a two-term Senator and a former Secretary of State, Bayh's Indiana neighbors Ohio, so many people there know him. Bayh would bring management experience, electoral clout and a polished, skilled demeanor to the stage. He might be a little boring, but many, including Bill Clinton, have said he will one day make a serious run at the White House, something he almost did this year.

Wesley Clark: Clinton would already run strong in Arkansas, a state that voted twice for her husband and twice for George Bush. Clark, an Arkansas native, could tip the state completely into the blue column. Also, Clinton's modus operandi throughout the entire campaign has been to project strength. One way she's done that: Never admitting that her vote for the war in Iraq was wrong, and not apologizing for it. Picking Clark bolsters Clinton in several ways. His military background fills in a resume gap, gives her someone who can credibly argue with John McCain's experience on the war (Having served, like McCain did, is good. Having been a four-star general and Supreme Commander of NATO is better.), and offers her the opportunity to make the case that her candidacy is not of Washington.

Tom Vilsack: The former Iowa governor couldn't manage to stay in the race, but his story is uniquely American: An adopted farm boy goes to law school and works his way up to become governor of his nice Midwestern state -- a state, by the way, that Bush narrowly won in 2004. Geographically, picking Vilsack makes sense, and his Midwestern roots would enable him to compete for votes in Ohio and elsewhere. Vilsack brings management experience and a solid record to the table, and he was an early backer of Clinton's. Though he couldn't deliver his state for her in early January, he worked his heart out, and he's essentially been auditioning for the role for months. The pick would come as close to a surprise without really being a surprise as the candidate could get.

Joe Biden: The only former candidate Clinton could really pick, Biden has foreign policy credentials unmatched by anyone except John McCain. Biden refrained from seriously attacking Clinton in the primaries, something she will surely remember, while offering a serious persona and a hefty resume. He's good in debates, too. His biggest drawback: A complete lack of geographical appeal. Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey will all go heavily Democratic, and while Pennsylvania could, conceivably, be a swing state, if Republicans have a good shot at it Democrats are going to lose anyway. But to contrast a vice presidential pick with McCain, who essentially owns the surge strategy, Biden, whose plan to partition Iraq into three states loosely organized around a federal government, is a pretty good choice.

Longshot: Barack Obama: Clinton does not like Barack Obama, and he seems to have pretty strong opinions about her as well. But if Clinton pulls ahead in delegates by a small margin, she may have no other choice but to offer the number two spot to Obama for the sake of party unity, and to avoid riots on the streets of Denver. Many have speculated for months about what they call a dream ticket, but it has always seemed unlikely that the two would wind up together. Only through force, exerted by some combination of super-delegates, Al Gore and Howard Dean, will they form a ticket. The necessity of such force seems to become more possible every day.

Never Going To Be: Bill Richardson: Speculation has mounted for months that Richardson was running for the sole purpose of serving as Clinton's vice president. But his performance in the race left much to be desired. After two disappointing finishes and too many bad debate performances to count, Richardson stepped aside, grew a Gore-esque beard and went home. His refusal to endorse a candidate doesn't bode well for his chances, and Clinton likely perceived that as an insult. Richardson, once the odds-on choice, now seems a safe bet for a plum ambassadorship or a top posting in the State Department, but little else.

Check back this afternoon for a look at John McCain's choices.

Surrogates Take Heat

Through more than two dozen contests, the Democratic race remains even. That should put to rest, once and for all, the notion that somehow the Clinton family controls the Democratic Party. Surely, if they owned the party, the race for the nomination would be over -- in fact, it probably wouldn't have begun. The idea that Bill Clinton is the world's best political strategist is one that should be re-examined, as well.

But while they haven't won yet, and very well may not win, the Clintons still hold a considerable amount of sway in the party, enough to make certain politicians think twice about bucking them and party staffers fear working publicly for an opponent. Hillary Clinton could still win, they think, and if she does, their future in the party could come to a swift and unglamorous end.

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano is one of those feeling the heat. A former U.S. Attorney under Bill Clinton, Napolitano was one of the first of a wave of prominent Democrats to back Barack Obama, and she did all she could to help him win not only her state's primary, but caucuses in neighboring Nevada, where she served as a surrogate at several events.

Clinton won both the Nevada caucuses and the Arizona primary, and Napolitano's nod, Clinton backers in Arizona told the Daily Star, could come back to haunt her. Napolitano cannot run for a third term as governor in 2010, but she might have a political future if she decides to run for Senate, either a seat vacated by John McCain or by challenging the state's junior senator, Jon Kyl. Napolitano downplayed the importance of her own endorsement, but said it had helped close the gap from a 20-point Obama deficit to just an 8 point loss.

One radio host Politics Nation spoke to in Missouri said his callers echoed the concerns. Women particularly, radio host Mark Reardon, of KMOX Radio, said, were upset with Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill's decision to back Obama over Clinton. Still, McCaskill did better than Napolitano did: Obama actually won her home state.

In Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick and Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, all of whom backed Obama, couldn't come close to matching the clout of dozens of state legislators who backed Clinton. None of the three men had served in the state legislature in a state where machine politics still matter, and none could muster the same get out the vote power as local legislators or Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, another Clinton backer.

Kennedy's endorsement drew particularly harsh fire from the New York State chapter of the National Organization for Women, which slammed the liberal lion for abandoning women when it mattered.

Still, many back Obama proudly, if secretly. Former Clinton administration officials like Greg Craig, Susan Rice, Frederico Pena and others have long been on board with the Illinois Senator over their former boss's wife. Some, though, remain in the closet. ABC News met several former lower- and mid-level Clinton staffers at an apartment in Manhattan to watch the Clinton-Obama debate, and openly root for Obama. None would let the reporter cite their names.

Clinton Targets Obama, McCain

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 7 - Speaking to students and community members at Washington-Lee High School, less than five miles from the White House, Senator Hillary Clinton made the case for herself as the better candidate versus each of her two closest rivals, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.

"Are you ready for change?" she asked as she began her speech, bringing loud cheers from the near capacity-filled gym bleachers.

Most of Clinton's speech focused on the economy, education, health care, foreign policy and the environment, but her mentions of Obama and McCain brought the loudest ovations from supporters.

Just hours after news broke that Mitt Romney would exit the race, Clinton continued making her case against the Republican frontrunner. "It appears Senator McCain will be the nominee," she said "I'm afraid he offers more of the same. He can see our troops being in Iraq for the next 100 years. I want them coming home within 60 days of my inauguration."

With the delegate counts about even between Clinton and Obama after 22 states voted on February 5, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., could play a pivotal role in the race for delegates when all three hold primaries next Tuesday. A big win for either candidate could offer a springboard to the upcoming large states on the primary schedule. Texas and Ohio both vote on March 4.

Clinton mentioned Obama only once, but in doing so drove home to supporters what she feels is their most stark contrast. "The big difference between myself and Senator Obama is I think everyone should have health insurance," she said.

Though a large portion of the crowd likely won't be eligible to vote by February 12, Clinton asked that they, and people they talk to who will be voting, consider two questions before heading to the polls on Tuesday. "Who would be the best president on day one to walk into the Oval Office with two wars going on, with an economy falling apart and so much happening, and start solving our problems right away?" she asked. Clinton followed that by asking Democrats "who would be our best candidate to stand on stage with Senator McCain and talk about national security, the economy and all the other important issues?"

-- Kyle Trygstad

Cole: Fear Clinton

In a wide-ranging interview with Politics Nation yesterday, National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Cole went against conventional wisdom to suggest it is Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama, who would present Republicans with the strongest challenge in November. "I think she is actually a stronger presidential candidate than he is," Cole said.

A former executive director of the Republican National Committee, political consultant and chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party, Cole is one of the rare members of Congress who knows something about politics outside his own district. As a political junkie of the first water, analyzing the other party's presidential contest is something he can do with some measure of objectivity, while throwing in a few message bombs as well.

"The Democratic Party is clearly in an incredible fight between it's head and it's heart right now," Cole said. "There's no question [Obama] is a brilliant orator, attractive figure, you know, potentially historic figure, but so is [Clinton]. If you look at it, I mean, he's to the left of her, which creates, you know, what we want to some degree, which is an ideological battle. Second, he's got the thinnest resume since Wendell Wilkie. And third, I'd argue he's not a very plausible commander in chief in a time of war."

"This idea that somehow Obama's going to bring Republicans, it just ain't going to happen," Cole continued. He characterized Obama's wins in red state primaries as misleading. "He's winning a lot of states now," Cole said. But "he's not going to carry South Carolina and Georgia and Alabama and places like that either. Or Idaho, I don't care how many people show up at a rally." Obama drew about 14,000 during a stop in Boise last week.

While some Republican strategists suggest a presidential contest is a silver bullet that will help their party pick up large numbers of seats, Cole is more cautious in his optimism. "The presidential race is broadly helpful to us, with the caveats that obviously, you got Obama on the ticket, that complicates things in Illinois. You got Hillary, that complicates things in New York," he said. "I would think if we have McCain, we probably have better chances in the couple of seats out there, the two or three seats out there we're interested in."

Check back with Politics Nation for more on our extensive interview with Cole, during which he laid out House Republicans' strategies and pointed to key seats his committee needs to defend and contest in order to inch back toward the majority.

Early Calls Good For Obama, Huck

Mike Huckabee is relevant. The Iowa winner, who has lacked news coverage of late, has now won three states, West Virginia, Alabama and Arkansas, as many as John McCain, who has won Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey.

Barack Obama is having a good night too. Despite early exits, which looked good for Clinton, Obama has taken Georgia by a huge margin and looks set to make big inroads in what were supposed to be Clinton-friendly states like Connecticut.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has taken early states Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arkansas -- no real surprises, though it took a while for the nets to call Tennessee for her. Could this be the beginning of a bad night for the one-time overwhelming Democratic front-runner?

Huck Wins WV

Mike Huckabee will win the West Virginia caucuses, NBC News reports, with 52%. Huckabee came in second to Mitt Romney in the first round of voting, finishing with 33% to Romney's 41%, the AP reported earlier. John McCain, finishing third with 15%, survived to the second round, while Ron Paul finished fourth, at 10%, and was eliminated.

Amid rumors of a deal between backers of Huckabee and McCain, Huckabee secured 52% of the delegates in the second round, to Romney's 47%. McCain's goal in throwing support to Huckabee is designed to deprive Romney of a win early in the day. Huckabee will win all 18 of the state's pledged delegates. Nine of the state's remaining 12 delegates will be awarded during a May 13 primary.

Huckabee's win, though, could have adverse effects for McCain as well. The former Arkansas governor, whose home state borders delegate-rich Missouri, has been running a close second in recent polls there. The winner of the Show-Me State takes home 58 delegates through the winner-take-all system. An early victory should embolden Huckabee supporters in southern states that vote today as well. If Huckabee is a major factor tonight, it would be a major blow to Romney.

Taking The Liberal Legacy

Both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee have field days every time a candidate from the other side opens their mouths. To the GOP, anything a Democrat says is liberal extremisim. To Democrats, a Republican's utterances are radical conservatism. It's standard hyperbole for a primary season: Both sides have to play to their base to get to a general, and both sides are ready to pounce when that happens.

Many pointed out, through the course of last year, that social conservatives lacked a candidate they could call their own. Until the rise of Mike Huckabee, none of the top candidates had a particularly strong or appealing religious background. One thing no one mentioned: Liberals didn't have a candidate either.

Sure, everyone called Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards liberals, but all of them appealed to different segments of the traditional liberal coalition. As conservatives could not find a candidate around whom to rally, so too did liberals lack a single candidate who carried, if not the perfect platform, at least the aura of the old fashioned liberal mantle.

In what is increasingly looking like a long-term contest, Obama is now making a concerted effort to pick up that legacy. He hasn't come out with radical new positions or been spotted shamelessly pandering to the base, but recent endorsements, and in recent speeches, Obama has actively sought to associate himself with liberal lions of the past.

Ted Kennedy helps. Endorsements from Caroline Kennedy and California First Lady Maria Shriver, both of whom attended a mega-rally on the UCLA campus yesterday, help as well. Yesterday, at another huge rally in Minneapolis, Obama himself tried the association game with one of the left's true heroes. "When I first got to the US Senate, I opened up the drawer of the desk where I was assigned. And it has the names of some of the great senators who have served," Obama told the crowd, per NBC. "They carve their names in their own hand into the desk drawer, and one of those names was somebody who shared with me this belief that change doesn't happen from the top down. A guy named Paul Wellstone."

Wellstone, whose plane went down in northern Minnesota just weeks before Election Day 2002, is an idol to Minnesota Democrats. A professor by training, an unabashed defender of the left's causes, Wellstone's mark can still be seen around the state, where his campaign's bumper sticker -- green background, white letters and an exclamation point -- is not an uncommon sight, even six years later. Obama wants that association, saying Wellstone "helped to create a movement here in Minnesota, because he believed in you the way I believe in you. And this is part of that movement of change all throughout America."

Most exit polls in early contests have showed Obama outperforming among those who call themselves liberal, while Clinton has generally underperformed among the same group. Courting the lefty base is a smart way to get through a primary: Those who call themselves very liberal make up as much as one fifth of the electorate. Doing so in a way that avoids dramatic lurches to the left is a smart way to look toward November.

Obama hasn't quite wrapped up the liberal base yet. Florida liberals actually preferred Clinton by wide margins. Though perhaps the Illinois Senator is on the verge of scoring another big endorsement from a liberal heavyweight: Former Vice President Al Gore, who is said to be worried about jinxing Obama's campaign with his nod, talks with Obama on a regular basis.

Taking a look at Obama's advertisement played during the Super Bowl, though, the images flashed on screen to associate with global warming sure look like they came straight out of a certain Gore-associated movie. Check it out for yourself.

Just Can't Get Enough

He can't help himself, it seems: After wins in Iowa and South Carolina, Barack Obama has raised $32 million in January, the Associated Press' Jim Kuhnhenn reports. $32 million is an incredible quarter. But you read that right: Obama didn't raise that money in a quarter, he raised it in a month.

If Obama becomes the Democratic nominee, his coffers will swell so fast it may not matter who Republicans put up. Recall that, in 2004, after Democrats nominated John Kerry, the GOP spent the next month virtually alone on the air criticizing Kerry. No matter who Republicans nominate, Obama will have enough money to begin hammering them immediately, while the GOP hunkers down to raise money.

One has to believe that Hillary Clinton will be well-funded too, though not to the extent Obama might be. Not in recent history has the entire Democratic Party been better-funded than Republicans, and the gap this year could be enough to truly change the political landscape.

As Senate and House committees announce their fundraising totals today after filing with the FEC, Democrats continue their dominance. The DSCC reports $29.4 million in the bank and a $1.5 million debt, while Senate Republicans have just under $12.1 million on hand, with no debt, Roll Call and the New York Times report. On the House side, the DCCC kept $35 million along with a $1.3 million debt, while Republicans, finally out of the red, have $5 million on hand and obligations of about $2 million.

Numbers for the DNC and RNC were not immediately available, though we'll have those to you by this afternoon.

Edwards' Siding Goes Right

To his credit, John Edwards does more than just talk about poverty. Edwards has taken volunteers to New Orleans to help rebuild houses, started One Corps to encourage more people to volunteer in their communities and spent his own time lending a hand on numerous occasions around the country.

After announcing he would suspend his campaign today in the same Ninth Ward neighborhood where he launched his White House bid more than a year ago, Edwards rolled up his sleeves and lent a hand in Habitat for Humanity's Musicians' Village, helping out on a couple of houses currently under construction.

Sometimes, though, it takes a professional. One Habitat volunteer familiar with Edwards' work on the two houses reports the now-former candidate, in the process of building a railing, screwed in several spindles on a rather crooked angle. Plus, the volunteer says, "I think he stripped a bunch of the screws." One possible explanation may be Edwards' assistant: His son Jack lent a helping hand.

Edwards then headed to another house, where he found his calling: He reportedly excelled at putting up siding.

Edwards Out

John Edwards will use a speech in New Orleans today to drop out of the presidential race, MSNBC's Chuck Todd reports today. The last major casualty in the Democratic race before the nomination is decided, Edwards is ending his campaign in the same city he launched his bid in late 2006.

Edwards' exit will likely aid Barack Obama in some northern states, where liberals can't wrap their minds around Hillary Clinton, and will help Clinton in the South, where race now becomes more of a factor in many voters' minds. Clinton, too, will likely benefit from Edwards' labor backing; Obama has shown a marked lack of ability to win union support, while Clinton has backing from as many major national unions as Edwards did.

The real winner: CNN, which holds the race's first one-on-one debate tomorrow night in Los Angeles. With Edwards out of the race, there's no one left to play peace-maker between Clinton and Obama.

As Edwards Fades, Lawyers Get Involved

Top trial lawyers met for their winter conference this weekend at a resort in Puerto Rico, and while no presidential candidates joined them (though DNC chair Howard Dean did), several chief advisers to front-running candidates were on hand to convince the attorneys to come on board. Trial lawyers, who provide key financial footing for Democratic candidates, have for months stood behind fellow barrister John Edwards.

Still, Edwards' 4% showing in Nevada, and his disappointing third-place finish in South Carolina, have given his backers pause and opportunity to consider other candidates. Edwards raised more than $8 million from trial lawyers through the third quarter, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, second only to Clinton and just barely ahead of Obama.

As his campaign hits the skids, the Washington Post reports, other campaigns have seen an opening. Terry McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton's campaign chair, and Julianna Smoot, Barack Obama's finance chief, plied trial lawyers at the conference to become their new bundlers. The $100 million candidates, as Edwards is fond of calling them, need the new help. In the run-up to February 5, they're burning more than $2 million a day, the Post writes.

Trial lawyers are a good place for both campaigns to start; they provide more money to Democratic causes than virtually any other interest group available. As Democratic candidates have dropped by the wayside, their top bundlers are getting phone calls from big names in both Obama's and Clinton's camps have sought out their fundraisers.

Democrats have outraised their GOP counterparts by wide margins this year, and trial lawyers will play a big role in ensuring the party has the money to compete in November. Trial lawyers had given nearly $38 million through the third quarter, and just $8 million of that went to Republicans. Once a Democratic nominee is decided, the vast majority of trial lawyer money is expected to go their way.

But because the Democratic race drags on, McAuliffe and Smoot spent the weekend in Puerto Rico, wooing donors who can sustain them through what looks like an increasingly long fight. One possible way to woo former Edwards backers: Promise him the Attorney General's slot.

Gaming Out SC Results

Yesterday, we took a look at plausible Florida scenarios. Today, it's on to South Carolina, where Democrats vote tomorrow in what has become the nastiest, most personal primary on the Democratic side so far. What if Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or John Edwards wins here? Let's take a look:

Barack Obama: Like it or not, race has become a factor in South Carolina, and it may have broader implications for the rest of the contest. Obama scored a big win among African Americans in Nevada, while losing Whites and Hispanics. If Obama wins by a wide margin in Palmetto country, it will be thanks to a large portion of white voters who backed him as well. If he manages a small win, it will be largely because of African American votes.

A big win shows Obama can attract southern Whites. That would seem to forecast victories in other Southern states that vote February 5, including Georgia and Alabama. A narrow victory might be trouble, and in light of that, Obama may focus his Super Tuesday attention on Northern states. A loss, which looks unlikely, will by no means signal the end of the Obama campaign, but could further the perception of a race-based contest. That, in the end, is good for none of the Democrats, who will need Clinton and Obama standing side by side -- whichever ends up as the nominee -- by convention time.

Hillary Clinton: Winning South Carolina would be a huge upset, which Clinton seems to be good at lately. No one expected her to win New Hampshire, and she almost pulled out of Nevada before making a comeback there. South Carolina would be even bigger, and would fuel the media's renewed obsession with her as the front-runner.

But the only way Clinton wins is by tapping a significant number of African American votes. Bill Clinton is widely popular, still, among black voters, and if she is to pull off a victory, it will be largely because of his focus on the community in the last few days. Politics is a zero-sum game: Every black voter who casts a Clinton ballot is not casting an Obama ballot. If she comes anywhere close to Obama's numbers among African Americans, expect the campaign to spin it as a big victory, even if Obama pulls more votes overall.

John Edwards: Recent surveys have shown Edwards on the move in South Carolina, his native state. But it may be just too little, too late. Edwards needs the state more than anyone else, and it looks increasingly unlikely that he'll get a win. To do so, he'll have to pull heavily from both white and black voters. A win, or even a good showing, would send a strong message: Populism isn't dead. That's good news for Edwards, but he doesn't have the money or the time to spread it among February 5 voters.

South Carolina will not likely end anyone's campaign, though it may end Edwards' hopes of being president. For Obama and Clinton, the state is the last opportunity to win delegates before February 5 -- the DNC stripped Florida of its delegates, which were to be awarded on January 29 -- but it is by no means make or break for either.

Obama will likely get the momentum of a win, but the question remains: Will it be enough to propel him to a Super Tuesday win? The Clinton camp should still be worried about damage it has done among African American voters, though exit polls tomorrow will show how bad those injuries are. And Edwards needs to begin to think about what comes next, a gallant but probably futile charge toward February 5, or a graceful hunkering down to decide which of the other two deserves his support.

The Odd Couple

It is largely assumed that, in lieu of his own appearance at the top of the ticket, John Edwards favors Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Obama's and Edwards' messages are largely the same, though their approaches differ, and Edwards' dislike for Clinton has been obvious for months.

But last night, Edwards and Clinton had a symbiotic relationship, as both sought to attack what they characterized as inconsistencies in Obama's record and rhetoric. Edwards took his usual shots at Clinton for being a Washington insider, though they were far from the sharpest he's used, instead paying more attention to Obama.

As if the joint Obama targeting weren't enough to pique interest, Edwards and Clinton actually sat down together in Edwards' green room after the debate, CNN reports. Sources told the network that little more than light chatter was involved, and that such meetings have occurred previously between Edwards and Obama.

Still, Edwards and Clinton have not had a collegial relationship during the campaign, and a chance meeting with light chit-chat seems unlikely. Could the two have begun a conversation that could lead to bigger things -- perhaps a deal of some sort -- down the road?

We've always thought the idea of a Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton ticket would not fly with either camp; the two seem to genuinely dislike each other. And it has been largely assumed that Edwards, thanks to his performance as a running mate in 2004, would be out of the running for the same position in 2008. He's not on anyone's shortlist yet, but ... what if? In a race that very well may be decided by the few dozen delegates Edwards commands at a national convention, a very prominent position in the next administration could be offered by the winning candidate.

How prominent? Maybe that's what Clinton and Edwards were discussing.

Feuding Past Myrtle Beach

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Meeting with reporters the morning after the most contentious debate of the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination fight, Hillary Clinton continued to take shots at lead opponent Barack Obama. "What we saw last night was that he's very frustrated," Clinton said of the change in tone that has marked both campaigns in recent weeks. "He clearly came looking for a fight."

Clinton bashed Obama while
meeting with reporters in Washington
Dismissing surrogates and rejecting notions that her campaign is trying to marginalize Obama by describing him as young and African American, Clinton said there are real differences between the two. "We have a big difference on health care. We apparently have a big difference on credit card rates," she said. "Drawing those differences and contrasts is important for voters."

Still, Clinton took on Obama's character as well as his positions. "He has a hard time responding to questions about his record," she said, further explaining that the eventual Republican nominee will attack that record. "Words matter, but actions matter more. And time and time again, we see where words and actions don't match." Clinton also invoked a rival who has attacked her for months but now seems more on her page in the dispute over Obama's "present" votes in the Illinois legislature: "Both Senator [John] Edwards and I believe you can't vote 'present' as president," she said.

Much of the questioning focused on former President Bill Clinton, who in recent days has reportedly received angry phone calls from Rep. Rahm Emanuel and Senator Ted Kennedy urging him to tone down the rhetoric against Obama. Hillary Clinton today downplayed any feuding that goes on at the surrogate level, saying the debate last night showed off what the campaign should be about: "This is between us," she said.

At the end of the day, though, she denied the strife of the primary would negatively effect the party's chances in November. "We will have a unified party once we have a nominee. There's no doubt about that."

On a day that saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average open down more than 400 points, Clinton began the press conference addressing what she characterized as "a global crisis that could very well thrust us into a deep recession." Clinton blamed the Bush Administration's policies of the past seven years. Clinton repeated her proposal to freeze mortgage rates for five years and to halt foreclosures for 90 days while urging President Bush to convene the President's Working Group on Financial Markets.

She urged the White House and Congressional leaders, who will meet today to hammer out an agreement on a stimulus package, to find common ground on a bill that can pass quickly and that would deal with the mortgage crisis.

Clinton, who is now on her way to events in California and Arizona, disputed claims that she is essentially abandoning South Carolina in the face of an inevitable Obama victory there. "I have a couple of obligations that I have to meet today and tomorrow," she said of her trip, which takes her to the Northeast tomorrow. "We are running a very vigorous campaign in South Carolina."

Reid Wins, Culinary Loses

LAS VEGAS -- When the Democratic National Committee gave Nevada voters a chance to hold early caucuses, few thought the state's voters would have a big influence on the 2008 nominating contests. Even a few weeks ago, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he expected 100,000 people to turn out, no one took him seriously.

Yesterday, aside from Hillary Clinton, Reid was the big winner. More than 117,000 turned out to caucus, a number that approaches one quarter of the registered Democrats in the state. Reid, the first to succeed in a long line of those who have tried to shake up the primary calendar, now has a powerful argument for 2012 and beyond: Nevadans, he can argue, get it.

Reid and his wife, caucusing in their hometown of Searchlight, joined 67 neighbors at a community center next to Harry Reid Elementary School, the Las Vegas Sun reported today. The couple were the only two in their precinct to caucus for uncommitted delegates.

Yesterday's events had their share of losers as well. Chief among them: The Culinary Workers' Union, which waited until the closing days of the contest to back Barack Obama. After convincing state Democrats to open nine at-large caucus sites on the Las Vegas Strip where many of their members could make their voices heard, Culinary officials watched as seven of those nine precincts voted for Clinton.

The union had spent the better part of a year promoting itself as Nevada's king-making organization. But the heavily Hispanic membership bucked leaders' calls for solidarity and split, as Hispanics around the state favored Clinton by a two-to-one margin.

Culinary's top official, Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor, who does not use a first name, was gracious in defeat. "You have to give credit to the Clinton campaign. She won," he told the Sun. Still, after promoting themselves so heavily only to wind up on the losing side, Culinary has some soul-searching to do. The loss has ramifications beyond national convention delegates; it could effect the union's position in the state's political hierarchy, as well as it's position at the bargaining table.

Clinton Wins Nevada

With 98% of precincts reporting, results, from the Nevada Democratic Party headquarters at the Cashman Center in Las Vegas:

Clinton 50.7%
Obama 45.2
Edwards 3.8
Kucinich 0.1
Uncommitted 0.3

Delegate allocation estimates: Clinton 13, Obama 12

Nevada Democrats report initial turnout figures at over 114,000 with 88% of caucuses counting, a number much higher than even the most optimistic political watchers had hoped for. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had initially predicted 100,000, a number many thought far too high.

Disorganization At Dem Caucuses

LAS VEGAS -- Four years ago, the Nevada caucuses hardly mattered. John Kerry won 63% of the vote at just a handful of locations on Valentine's Day in 2004, well after he had sown up the nomination. This year, they could hardly matter more, and perhaps understandably, the Nevada Democratic Party has found difficulty handling the new attention.

At Desert Pines, confusion reigns
Voters at Desert Pines High School, where about a dozen precincts joined to caucus, were confused by where they should go, how the process worked and even if they were registered to vote. "What a mess," said Liz Taylor, a Las Vegas voter who was caucusing for Barack Obama at one precinct in the cafeteria. As flummoxed attendees looked for their candidate's section, Taylor criticized the precinct organizer. "There's a lot of Spanish-speaking people here, and they don't know what she's saying," Taylor complained.

"I hope the press is more organized than we are," said Susan Farnsworth, who was signing people in at another precinct in the school gym. "People don't know where their precinct is." Still, she said, the State Party had tried. "They told us everything to do. And I got it down. I think."

The scene at Nevada Democrats' headquarters, at the Cashman Center north of downtown Las Vegas, was little better. Phones ring non-stop more than half an hour after caucuses were supposed to begin. Volunteers and staff sprint through the building at break-neck speed. And top advisers to many candidates mill around, looking for some member of the press to spin.

At the Cashman Center, parking lots A and B
are presumably less patriotic
Back at Desert Pines, at virtually every precinct around campus, Clinton's sections were more full than those for any other candidate. Obama staffers scuttled around trying to convince more to join them, while caucus-goers hoping to cast a vote for John Edwards were scarcely seen.

Voters echoed their campaigns' main talking points: Clinton backers cited her experience as the chief reason for their support, singling out Bill Clinton as a potential positive influence in the White House while criticizing Obama as naive. Obama fans said they wanted massive and dramatic change, hitting Clinton for being part of the problem in Washington.

Many, though, remained confused, and with the complicated rules of the caucus, things don't seem on track to get better. Most of the confusion can be dismissed as first-time jitters, Taylor, the Obama backer, said. "You always start out like this, with two left feet."

Obama Still A Big Draw

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- As campaigning draws to a close in the battle for Nevada's caucus delegates, candidates hit last minute mega-rallies around Las Vegas. And despite the state's less experienced caucus-going population, crowds were as massive as his initial forays into Iowa. The line outside the University of Nevada-Las Vegas stretched into the desert night, with those hoping to get in waiting expectantly for their turn at the metal detectors.

Still, the campaign may have reason to worry. Many of those who professed to back Obama said they either did not plan to caucus or were unable to do so. "I don't affiliate with either party," said Phil Cole, of Las Vegas, who says he does not plan to caucus. But Cole brought his son anyway, just to see Obama speak. Others said they had to work, or were simply unaware of their caucus locations.

Obama's message of change trumping experience seems to resonate with voters here much as it did in Iowa, where he won, and failed to do in New Hampshire, where he lost. "It's important to me to come up with new ways to handle problems," said Cheryl Martin, who plans to caucus for Obama tomorrow. A foreign policy voter, Martin said the fact that other candidates had more experience did not matter, and that Obama had a different form of appropriate judgment. "He's collecting a lot of intelligent people around him," she said.

As in Iowa, Obama has also attracted voters from across the spectrum. Lori Lemaster, a Republican, says if she had to vote in the GOP caucuses today, she would choose Mike Huckabee. While she says family issues are those that matter to her most, she is considering heading to her Democratic caucus tomorrow to vote for Obama. "He's fresh," she said, when asked why. "He doesn't owe any favors in Washington." And, she says, "he looks like a good family man."

Few Las Vegans are native to the state, and many transplants said this was their first election here. Alan Strait, a recent college graduate who plans to become a teacher, will attend his first caucus in Nevada instead of in his home state, Iowa. Strait has no problems with the rest of the field -- he says he will vote for Hillary Clinton if she makes it through to the general election in November, and while he likes John Edwards, "I don't think he's going to win" -- but Obama's vision on education tipped the scales for him. The first-time caucus-goer will join his neighbors at Cunningham Elementary School (typically of Las Vegas, on Jimmy Durante Boulevard).

Recent polls show Obama running significantly behind Clinton among Hispanics, a key voting bloc. If he is going to win here, he will need a big turnout among those who favored him in Iowa -- chiefly white liberals and intellectuals, coupled with independents and Republicans. The latest RCP Nevada Average shows him behind by 3.7 points, though turnout is anyone's guess.

The line stretching around campus to see him, in his final rally of the Nevada chapter of the campaign, holds within it the candidate's key to victory. If they turn out, he will once again surprise pundits with a big victory. If they stay home, decide to sleep in past the 11 a.m. caucus start time or just can't find their caucus location, Clinton looks headed for another win.

Dems Target Obama

LAS VEGAS -- False email rumors have been circulating for months suggesting that Barack Obama is some sort of Manchurian Candidate from another culture bent on harming the United States. Hearing John Edwards and Hillary Clinton tell it these days in Nevada, it seems they believe Obama is a Manchurian Democrat, sent from the Republican Party to harm the left's chances of retaking the White House.

Edwards slammed Obama twice
at an event in Las Vegas
The way Edwards and Clinton speak, one would be led to believe that Obama is the clear front-runner and that the only way the other two can win is by taking votes away from the popular freshman senator. In separate appearances today, both went out of their way to slam recent comments Obama has made in praise of the Republican Party, and to loud applause.

Speaking to supporters before beginning a nationwide tour, John Edwards took time to claim the mantle of a candidate who can come from behind. "I am not the $100 million candidate. That's the other two guys," he said. "I am the underdog." Before singling out Clinton for taking lobbyist money, a refrain he has long repeated, Edwards turned his attention to Obama. "I have a truly universal health care plan. Senator Obama does not."

Edwards then joined critics of Obama's recent comparisons of his campaign to that of Ronald Reagan, in that both are agents of change. "We know that Ronald Reagan is not an example of change for a presidential candidate who is running in the Democratic Party."

Just half an hour later, joining owners and employees at a small business a few miles away, Clinton echoed the criticisms, citing an interview in which Obama said the GOP was the party of ideas. "My leading opponent the other day said that he thought the Republicans had better ideas than Democrats the last ten to fifteen years. That's not the way I remember the last ten to fifteen years."

Clinton acted as if it were Obama
who led Nevada polls
Clinton's shot at her rival came two minutes -- literally -- after her campaign announced a conference call in which Reps. Barney Frank, Corrine Brown and Shelley Berkley would denounce the comments. Frank's sister is top Clinton adviser Ann Lewis, and Berkley represents the Las Vegas-based district from which a large plurality of Democratic caucus-goers will come tomorrow.

Both campaigns sought to portray Obama as the Nevada front-runner despite recent polls showing Clinton ahead. "Senator Obama has an advantage because of the Culinary endorsement," Clark County Commission chairman and Clinton state chair Rory Reid told Politics Nation. "She has significant union support, but the Culinary Union is certainly a factor. They were an endorsement that everybody sought, simply because of their numbers."

Edwards has left Las Vegas and will attend a rally in Oklahoma City later today, the third stop on what the campaign is billing as a nationwide tour. Clinton will hold two rallies, in Elko and in Reno, before joining husband Bill Clinton for a final rally in Henderson, just south of Las Vegas. Obama has rallies planned for Elko and Las Vegas before heading to a Martin Luther King Jr. dinner in Las Vegas.

Edwards Can Win Nevada

HENDERSON, Nevada - Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spent much of Thursday in California, looking ahead to February 5 mega-states that could decide the Democratic nomination. John Edwards made a brief stop in the Golden State as well, but he used the bulk of his day to stump across neighboring Nevada, which holds its caucuses this Saturday. That should come as no surprise: Given its demographics and the amount of energy the former Senator has put into the state, Nevada is likely to either boost Edwards back into a legitimate three-way race or be the final nail in his campaign's coffin.

During his 2004 campaign, Edwards and fellow candidate Dick Gephardt talked about their fathers' blue collar occupations so much that they should be designated (D-Mill Worker) and (D-Milk Man), respectively. Both battled for union backing, along with Howard Dean. This year, Edwards has fared much better among unions, and lately, Edwards' reliance on his father's background as a way to connect with voters has made a comeback. He has always enjoyed strong support from labor unions, and among both groups of voters, Nevada offers fertile territory.

Nearly 14% of Silver State employees belong to a union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And for all the talk of the importance of the Las Vegas-based Culinary Workers' Union, which is backing Obama, Edwards enjoys significant support among other key unions in the state, including groups representing communications workers, carpenters, steel workers and transport workers.

By contrast, Edwards has been spending significant time and resources in South Carolina. There, just over 3% of workers belong to a union. If Edwards is to take advantage of a decade of good relations with labor, Nevada should be the state he targets.

Top Nevada elected officials have built what should be a good backbone for an Edwards organization. He has the support of the Speaker of the state Assembly and a number of other important legislators, and his staff includes several field experts and union leaders who should be adept at turning out caucus-goers. His organization is deeper in South Carolina, but the Nevada cavalry is nothing to scoff at.

Finally, Edwards' poll position is simply better in Nevada than it is in South Carolina. In the Palmetto State, he trails leader Obama by some 30 points. In Nevada, he trails by as much as ten. Both states present a challenge for the former Senator, though a 30-point mountain is much more terrifying than a ten-point hill.

If Edwards remains intent on staying in the race through the convention, he will need to win at least a few delegates. Even better, he needs to finish better than a distant second, as he did in Iowa, and certainly better than the distant third New Hampshire provided. Edwards has always banked on an impressive South Carolina showing. Perhaps, in the final two days before caucus-goers head out on Saturday, his team should throw everything it can at Nevada, instead.

Dems To Clash In Sin City

Long neglected through the primary process, by both campaigns and the media, Nevada Democrats are the center of their party's attention tonight as the three (or four) Democrats remaining in the race head to Las Vegas for a two-hour debate tonight. Nevada brings many new twists to the Democratic race, and after a muddied picture following Iowa and New Hampshire, appealing to environmentalists, Hispanics and those concerned with Western issues has a new urgency for Democratic White House hopefuls.

A debate serves as a good time stamp in any race, especially one as convoluted as this. So while Michigan Republicans head to the polls to select their nominee, Democrats can pause and reflect on the state of their race. Each candidate has to have specific goals tonight, and when Tim Russert and Brian Williams let them get a word in edgewise, they have to make them count. Here is what each candidate needs to do not only to "win" tonight, but to advance their cause ahead of Nevada's Saturday caucuses:

Barack Obama: There is no doubt, Obama scored a bigger boost from his Iowa upset, which polls predicted and the media was prepared for, than Hillary Clinton did from her New Hampshire win, which no one foretold. Obama's bump gave him a lead in New Hampshire, which subsequently evaporated in the final hours before the vote.

Tonight, Obama needs to be sharp and confident, not shrill and overconfident. He needs to make his point quickly and succinctly, target Clinton when the situation demands it and move on. His advisers should remind him not to be funny, but to be presidential. Democratic voters know how they feel about his positions; they like his stands as much as they like Clinton's. Now, Obama has to show them that he can look and act like a president. The Clinton camp has long been sowing seeds arguing that Obama is not ready. Here is his chance to show voters he is ready.

Hillary Clinton: There is a long list of things Clinton must NOT do. No using the word "cocaine." No cackling. No references to race, no matter how well-explained, that will make everyone angry all over again. What she can do, though, is continue hammering Obama on his war record. As much as Obama's people spin it, the freshman Senator may be against the war, but Clinton actually voted against some funding measures while he voted in favor.

The distinction Clinton can make, again, is that Obama is a talker and she is a doer. That message seemed to resonate with some New Hampshire voters, and it's one that Clinton can carry through the February 5 states. She should show up tonight armed with a laundry list of things she has done or been a part of that are now either law or on their way to becoming law. And to hammer her point home, when John Edwards comes after her, she should smack him down fast and turn her attention back to Obama. While Edwards is taking some "change" votes from Obama, he's also taking some white votes from Clinton in South Carolina, a factor she is going to have to consider at some point.

John Edwards: Edwards is increasingly the odd man out. We heard little from him, save a statement expressing shock, during the recent Clinton-Obama race feud, and he's in desperate need of some oxygen. Fortunately, their spat gives him the opportunity to get back in the game. One unorthodox method he is unlikely to try, but could prove effective: Pretend the other two don't exist.

Clinton has some big labor endorsements, and Obama just picked up some top union backing in Nevada, but neither can compete on the accomplishments or good will level with Edwards, who is roundly beloved by union members. If Edwards focuses all his attention on them, a significant part of the Nevada Democratic electorate, he might go farther toward building a bigger base than he would if he sniped at Clinton all night. If he talks a big game on water and ranching issues, emphasizes plans that would send more low-income Hispanic kids to college and stays above the fray, he could have an intensely local night while Clinton and Obama go national. That might just speak to Nevada voters.

Dennis Kucinich: One thing Edwards needs that is completely out of his control is for the Nevada Supreme Court to agree with NBC and overturn a lower court judge's ruling that Kucinich must be involved in tonight's debate. Without Kucinich, Edwards not only gets more time but gets to be the only adult on stage. Kucinich, needless to say, has to have the court uphold the previous judgment to even be involved.

For all four candidates, the goals are out there, and the fate of the Nevada caucuses hang in the balance. We will know the outcome of Kucinich's fight first: That outcome is the difference between three and four podiums on stage. But the aftershocks of tonight's debate may not be felt until Saturday, when across the Silver State voters will head to church basements and neighbors' homes to caucus.

If all three front-running candidates spend tonight looking forward to future contests, we may not even know the fallout until South Carolina's primary, a week later. Debates are a good point at which to stop and assess the state of the race. But thanks to Iowa and New Hampshire, the picture is far from clear. Nevada Democrats have to be thrilled tonight: Their contest actually matters.

Lineup Of The Week

The Hotline notices the upcoming programs former supermodel Tyra Banks has planned for her talk show this week:

Today: "The Dangers of the Hook-Up"

Tomorrow: "Sex SOS: Can My Sex Problem Be Solved"

Thursday: "5 Ways to Get Over Being Dumped"

Friday: "Hillary Clinton"

For a sneak peak at what Clinton and Banks talked about during their Monday taping, Andrew Malcolm's your guy.

Clinton Tops Obama In 4thQ

Speaking on a conference call with reporters and fundraisers today, Hillary Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe crowed that the campaign had raised more than $24 million in primary money in the final quarter of 2007. McAuliffe said it is the second quarter in a row they had outraised rival Barack Obama in funds available for the primary season.

Bolstered by last night's surprising win in the New Hampshire primary, McAuliffe said the campaign had raised $3 million in the first nine days of January alone, along with $5 million in additional commitments in the past two days. In Clinton's victory speech, the candidate mentioned her website, and despite the lack of a direct ask, the campaign has brought in $1.12 million over the internet alone. Since midnight last night, the campaign said it had been signing up 500 new supporters every minute on the call through the website.

"That victory last night was just something spectacular," McAuliffe said. "We are going to beat Senator Obama's campaign in January in fundraising." McAuliffe said the campaign was finalizing Clinton's schedule for the nearly four weeks leading up to February 5. He himself is set to head to Nevada to lay groundwork for that state's January 19 caucuses.

Clinton national finance director Jonathan Mantz said the campaign was planning a late January fundraising blitz throughout the country. While campaigns are reluctant to send candidates to fundraise in crucial and waning days before a primary, February 5 states include New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, Arizona, Massachusetts and a few other states that serve as campaign cash cows in the race. Holding a fundraiser, followed by a rally, in Phoenix or Los Angeles or New York City or Boston would be politically as well as financially beneficial.

McAuliffe, assessing the race, took a shot at John Edwards who, after Clinton finished third in Iowa, suggested she was out of the contest. "It is a two-person race. I think you have John Edwards coming in a distant third," McAuliffe said. Saying the race will likely be over by February 5, McAuliffe hopes for more nights like Tuesday. "It's a lot more fun winning," he said.

At Clinton Site, Obama Love

EAST CONCORD, New Hampshire -- As the convoy shepherding Hillary Clinton around New Hampshire pulled out of a school parking lot here, Steve Gordon parked his car and walked in to cast his ballot. Despite the Clinton sign-wavers, Gordon voted for Barack Obama. "He is the best opportunity to bring about a change," Gordon said, "after eight years of hell."

The independent, who says he always votes Democratic, says he is satisfied with the Democratic field, but he decided about four months ago to vote for Obama. "I think she's a wonderful Senator," Gordon said of Clinton.

Voters in this suburb of the state capitol, an area that votes largely Democratic, repeatedly expressed preferences for Obama, even as the Clinton bus pulled away. "He's going to follow through," said Marie Leighton, an independent who has voted for both Democrats and Republicans. "I'm looking forward to the change [Obama] is going to bring." Leighton said she would not consider voting for Clinton even in a general election.

Both front-runners, along with John Edwards, have been accused of speaking largely in generalities, though, and voters concerned that details were lacking were not afraid to cast a protest vote. "All the other candidates were side-stepping the issues," said Joe, who would not give his last name. He voted for Bill Richardson, who he felt offered more specifics.

Turnout around the state is reportedly massive, and with the sun shining and mercury heading north to near 60 degrees in the southern part of the state, long lines are expected to continue late into the day. If this Democratic precinct is any indication, the night will end early. Even as Clinton met with voters in a last-ditch effort to find their support, Obama owned the lion's share of voters' energy.

Clinton Mocks Hecklers

SALEM, New Hampshire -- Speaking to a packed high school auditorium just hours before polls open in the nation's first primary, Hillary Clinton offered her closing argument and faced down hecklers to loud and sustained applause.

Fifteen minutes or so into Clinton's speech, two high school age children stood up with signs reading "Iron my shirt" and began to chant. Clinton tried to talk over them as security personnel rushed to remove the miscreants.

After a futile minute, she stopped. "Ah, the last remnants of sexism," she joked. The hecklers removed, Clinton used the moment to her advantage. "As I think was just abundantly demonstrated, I am also running to break through the highest and hardest glass ceiling," she said, drawing a standing ovation.

Clinton later offered to answer any questions the crowd might have. "If there's anybody left in the auditorium who wants to learn how to iron his own shirt, I'll talk about that," she said.

Later tonight, Clinton heads to Manchester where she will hold a rally with husband Bill just three and a half hours before residents in Dixville Notch and Hart's Location head to town halls to cast the traditional first ballots of the New Hampshire primary.

Edwards Sticks With Message

NASHUA, New Hampshire -- Sticking largely to the same theme of fighting against corporate greed that served him in Iowa, John Edwards spoke to a ballroom of supporters today in Nashua, urging them to build on what he hopes can be momentum enough to vault him into another three-way race in New Hampshire. After a narrow second-place finish ahead of Hillary Clinton in Iowa, Edwards needs to compete well in the Granite State to continue his campaign.

Edwards meets the press -- for two and a half minutes
-- at a campaign stop in Nashua
Edwards and supporters cast the battle as movement against opponents buoyed by huge campaign accounts funded by special interests. "We are against lots of money on the other side," Elizabeth Edwards told supporters. "You know, the great machines."

Joined by children Emma Claire and Jack, Edwards sounded similar themes. "This is a grassroots campaign, this is a grassroots movement, and this grassroots movement is going to take back this democracy for the American people," he told the more than 300 volunteers gathered in a local hotel.

Having trailed Obama by eight points in Iowa, Edwards, who in recent weeks has begun attempting to seriously engage his junior rival. Change, he said, "will not happen on its own. And it's not going to happen by just being nice. It's going to take a fight." Edwards also repeated attacks on Clinton. "If we're going to be tough on [lobbyists], if we're going to restore the democracy for the American people, what we cannot do is nominate a candidate who's taken more of their money than any Republican candidate. You have to have somebody, like me, who has stood up to them, fought them, has been willing to take them on."

After hoping for, and failing to get, a win in Iowa, Edwards' campaign now faces few options. Another second-place finish in Iowa is unlikely to produce a bounce here, though the campaign points out that it has a much bigger field operation in New Hampshire now than it did in 2004. Obama and Clinton have poured millions into the state, while Edwards has spent much less, though he professed optimism. "The people of New Hampshire have a little bit of an independent streak, don't they," he asked. "We're not going to have an auction here on Tuesday. We're going to have an election."

In order to remain a top-tier candidate, Edwards has to finish well here. Still, he is mired in third place, 16 points behind Clinton and ten back of Obama in the latest RCP New Hampshire Average. Edwards repeatedly encouraged volunteers here to make a strong push in the final five days, and a sizable crowd in a state he has payed less attention to should be encouraging. But Edwards backer Dave Gottesman, a state senator from Nashua, summed up what the candidate needs to do to get back on top. "We really have to win this thing," Gottesman said.

Dodd To Drop Out

Sources tell RealClearPolitics that Chris Dodd will drop out of the race later tonight.

-Blake Dvorak

Clinton On Letterman

Access Hollywood reports that Hillary Clinton will make an appearance on The Late Show tonight with David Letterman. In his first show back since an early November strike shut down new material, Letterman was originally slated to host actor Robin Williams.

Clinton's visit is made possible because Letterman's company, Worldwide Pants, reached a separate deal with the striking Writers' Guild of America. Without a deal, Clinton never would have crossed a picket line.

The issue came up earlier today when the AP asked Mike Huckabee whether he was willing to cross a picket line in order to appear on Jay Leno's Tonight Show from Burbank. Huckabee was unaware that only Letterman had reached a deal. "I support the writers, by the way. Unequivocally, absolutely," Huckabee told the AP. "I don't anticipate that it's crossing a picket line."

The AP told him he was wrong, but Huckabee offered no response beyond "Oh." Another gaffe for the now-error prone former governor? One would imagine that Clinton's people not only made sure there was a deal with the Letterman strikers but that they made sure WGA officials were okay with Clinton's appearance.

Biden Keeps His Chin Up

INDIANOLA, Iowa -- Some candidates, like John Edwards, are high-energy, shouting into a microphone to the delight of their fired up troops. Others, like Hillary Clinton, speak in more measured tones most of the time, as their supporters listen with rapt attention. No candidate, in either party, can pull off both the energetic highs and the silence-inducing lows like Joe Biden.

Biden and grandson welcome the crowd
Listening to Biden deliver his stump speech is like riding a roller coaster. In a packed room at the Warren County administration building on the first day of the new year, Biden, pacing around a lectern with a faulty microphone, at times looked both like an Edwards-style fiery preacher and a Clinton-esque sober realist. It is a long way from Biden's perch as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to this sleepy bedroom community south of Des Moines, and a long way from Biden's position near the bottom of the Democratic pack and where he needs to be to pull off an upset of any measure.

But while Biden may not have the money to compete with any of the three front-runners, his supporters are just as enthusiastic as any in the field, and lately, Biden says, his crowds have been growing. "The events we've been having the last month, the crowds have been exceeding our estimates by four or five times, most of the time," he told Politics Nation. A rally in Des Moines earlier in the day had attracted somewhere north of 500 people, comparable to crowds the front-runners pull in.

Biden has been around Washington a long time, and he is savvy enough to know how the media works. "It's not a complaint, [but] most of the national press has not covered me," he said, implying that the oversight may work in his favor. "If John Edwards comes in third, he's probably done. Fair or unfair, that's the bar that's been set for John. If Hillary Clinton beats Barack by ten points, Barack is probably mortally wounded. If Hillary gets beat by five or six points, the inevitability is gone. If I come in a solid fourth or a third, I'm a winner."

Any candidate who argues that they are the most experienced would have a difficult time convincing voters that they have more background than Biden. At times throughout the campaign, he has appeared almost frustrated as he listens to others describe what he sees as naive or incomplete proposals. Others, he says, have knowledge gaps to fill. "The next president is going to have virtually no margin for error," Biden told about 150 people in Indianola. "Can we afford to turn over, at this moment in history, the reins to people who are still learning?"

Biden is unapologetic about seeing himself as much more experienced than others in the race. The devil, he points out, is in the details. "While all the other candidates have talked about, and I believe are very concerned about Iraq, and would like to end the war, none of them have put together a specific plan. I mean, they had two years to do it," he said. Biden's plan, for a decentralized government and division of oil revenue, passed the Senate with dozens of Republican votes and virtually every Democrat's support.

Biden listens as campaign manager Valerie Biden Owens
introduces her older brother
"You don't have to imagine what the next crises are going to be in the United States. There's a half a dozen sitting right there, right now," Biden said in an interview. In early November, Biden laid out the need for a new policy on Pakistan and his proposed approach to President Pervez Musharraf. Now, other Democratic candidates "are all now scrambling to figure out what their policy is on Pakistan."

With sixteen years of combined Senate experience between them, Clinton, Obama and Edwards are far behind the thirty four years Biden has served. But like other candidates with more experience than the top three, Biden faces a question of viability. Most Biden supporters say they have already decided on a second choice candidate, in the likely event that they will fail to meet the fifteen percent support threshold.

"I don't know the math, but he won't be at the top like the others," said Roy Hampton, of Indianola. Hampton and his wife decided on Biden almost a year ago. Tomorrow night, if they cannot rally the support, they will join the Edwards camp. Edward Thornton, a supporter of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson from Des Moines, says his friends would all rather decide on one of the second-tier candidates. "They would rather go with Biden or [Chris] Dodd or Richardson, but they all think they haven't got a chance, so they're going to have to go with somebody else," he said.

"We have so many choices, which is unusual, I think, to have four or five that are viable to get news coverage," Thornton said. Still, talk of viability becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, he said. It's also part of the reason why, a day before the Iowa caucuses, many Democrats remain undecided. "If they could make up their mind and think that Biden or Dodd or Richardson's got a chance, then they'd have their mind made up." Instead, backers of the three others think "'He hasn't got a chance in hell,' so they're not making up their minds," he said.

While Biden can seem frustrated with the lack of experience and wisdom his colleagues on the debate stage show, he has nice things to say about the front-runners. "The Democratic Party, and I as well, am rightly proud of the fact that we have two extremely qualified people who will be breaking a barrier that I have fought my whole life as a senator to break, on race and on gender," he said, adding a backhanded compliment: "Both have been able to raise tens of millions of dollars from interest groups."

Despite the long odds, Biden is optimistic that experience will win out. "If you stand up for Joe Biden on caucus night, you're going to be surprised at how many people stand with you," he told the cheering crowd. "I expect to win the nomination," he told Politics Nation. "I wouldn't trade places with any other candidate at this moment."

Hillary The Hawkeye

One of the best predictors of the way a race is going is to find out who wants debates. By and large, the candidate calling for the most debates is probably the candidate who is losing; they need the extra exposure in order to get their message out, and it gives their opponent the opportunity to stumble.

Iowa and New Hampshire are increasingly seen as akin to debates: They are just one chance to earn delegates, and if a candidate isn't doing well in one, he or she should just skip it. Rudy Giuliani is largely skipping Iowa, while Fred Thompson has pulled out of New Hampshire, for example.

As Iowa inches toward what looks like an incredibly close finish, Roger Simon smartly wonders, why is Hillary Clinton subjecting herself to the prospect of losing the first contest she enters, and with it, her inevitability? Why not just treat the event as the first debate challenge from an opponent, ignore it, and focus instead on winning New Hampshire, where she might have been stronger?

Well, the Clinton campaign actually considered that, in a now-infamous memo penned half a year ago by deputy campaign manager Mike Henry. Henry argued for skipping Iowa and focusing more on a national campaign. And while Edwards fans are excited and Obama crowds are massive, Clinton's supporters seem more content with their candidate than thrilled.

The momentum does not look good for Clinton, either: As two front-runners pack venues, Clinton drew abut 150 to an event in Indianola, RCP's Tom Bevan reports. Edwards and Obama are hitting as many events as possible with short summing up speeches of ten minutes or less. Clinton, Tom says, finally asked supporters to head to the caucuses at a lethargic 51 minutes in, then wraps up at 55 minutes.

If Clinton wins the nomination, the point is moot. If she doesn't, second-guessing her campaign's decision to compete for Iowa delegates -- risking so much for something not inherently necessary to a win -- will begin. To move on would have made Iowa meaningless; a win for Edwards or Obama would not be a win if they weren't competing with Clinton. Her continued presence is allowing her opponents the opportunity to bring her down.

Friends Like These

DES MOINES -- Late in the race for Iowa, Barack Obama and John Edwards each won new fans over the last few days, giving them potential boosts as the contest comes to a close.

The quirky rules of the Iowa Democratic Party's caucuses Thursday open the door for some good old fashioned deal-making. Four years ago, Rep. Dennis Kucinich lent his support to Edwards, urging his fans to vote with Edwards if Kucinich failed to reach the 15% viability threshold. This time, Kucinich has told his backers to join Obama's forces. Kucinich said he and Obama had "one thing in common: Change."

The move could give Obama a needed boost in what remains a razor-thin contest. Kucinich earned one percent in the latest Des Moines Register poll, and if a majority of his supporters move to Obama when his viability expires, Kucinich could help push the senator over the top. Obama issued a statement today thanking Kucinich for his support.

Edwards has a new backer to take Kucinich's place, though. Two-time presidential contender Ralph Nader said yesterday that he will back the former senator, urging liberals to get behind Edwards on caucus night. In an interview with the Politico in Muscatine, a small town on the Iowa-Illinois border, Nader took the opportunity to lash out at Hillary Clinton for using empty rhetoric.

Backing from Nader is a two-sided proposition for Edwards. On one hand, Nader's endorsement sends a signal to the most liberal Iowans who might otherwise have caucused for Kucinich or stayed away altogether. On the other, many in the Democratic base still blame Nader for throwing the 2000 election to President Bush.

All About Appearances

DES MOINES -- Reporters from Washington, based in Des Moines for the week, are striving to get to as many candidate events as they can. It sure helps, though, when candidates make swings through the state capitol. It's a good idea, too: Des Moines is in the center of the state and serves as a perfect midway point for bus tours headed in any direction.

No wonder, then, that the state's biggest city will see three consecutive days of evening rallies by the three leading presidential contenders. The events are great visuals, well attended by energetic crowds and easy for reporters to cover.

John Edwards drew about 1,000 people to a rally downtown yesterday. Tonight, Barack Obama ends his day at a rally in a middle school gym on the east side of town. And Hillary Clinton finishes off the year tomorrow with a New Years party at the Capitol.

With four days to go, expect the orbits candidates take around Des Moines to shrink. Obama, for one, already has events scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.


DES MOINES -- On a cold Sunday afternoon, more than 300 people packed a downtown performance space here to see yet another Democratic presidential contender. The crowd didn't come to hear Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards; instead, they offered a raucous standing ovation as New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson entered the room. "I am honored to be in this huge crowd," he said. "Thank you for giving up your Sunday. It is Sunday, right?"

Richardson DSM.jpg
Richardson made his point today in Des Moines
There may be a simple explanation for Richardson's big crowd: Actor and fake president Martin Sheen was expected to serve as host, though what he called a "severe, contagious" cold left him unable to fly to Iowa. Instead, and perhaps better for the candidate, he was introduced by supporter Nancy Sebring, superintendent of the Des Moines Public Schools. Then again, perhaps word of Richardson's legendary charisma, so lacking in most debates this year, has gotten around.

Alternately winning big applause and big laugh lines, Richardson's wide-ranging speech encompassed everything from education to the Constitution and the war in Iraq; he has called for perhaps the fastest withdrawal of American troops of any candidate, which he says differentiates him from the rest of the Democratic field. "They're all terrific, they're all great. They'd all make great vice presidents," he jokes.

Richardson told the crowd his campaign would surprise in Iowa, and that more than 18,000 caucus-goers had pledged to attend their caucuses on his behalf. While many voters will sign multiple pledge cards, the number of potential supporters remains impressive, and gives the campaign's 1250 precinct captains something to work with. "We need you to shock the world," Richardson said.

"Today, it begins. This effort, that is so American democracy," Richardson told the crowd, "where you go and try to get a certain percentage to survive." The governor stands at just 6.2% in the latest RCP Iowa Average, though he peaks at 12% in the latest Mason-Dixon survey for MSNBC and McClatchy. If the big crowd on a frigid weekend afternoon -- when most rational people are snuggly watching football games -- is any indication, RichMentum may be the next buzz word of the 2008 campaign.

Edwards' New Clinton Zinger

DES MOINES -- Members of the media have long complained at Hillary Clinton's unwillingness to answer their questions. Now, Clinton is curtailing the questions she takes from Iowa audiences as well. Top Of The Ticket reports Clinton has not taken questions during campaign stops for the last two days, from either the media or potential caucus-goers.

In response, John Edwards today launched "Ask John," a new program in which Iowa voters can call or email the campaign and receive a response auspiciously from the candidate. Elizabeth Edwards and top campaign aides will also answer questions Iowa voters have.

Edwards is the only Democratic candidate to have visited, and, says his campaign, answered questions in, all of Iowa's 99 counties. His current bus tour will hit 38 counties. The campaign promises to answer each questioner, in some form or another, by caucus night.

Iowa and New Hampshire voters are both notoriously prideful of their unique access to candidates. Whether their hackles are raised by Clinton's refusal to answer questions could determine the flow of the next week. To be fair, not every candidate answers questions at every event. Barack Obama did not take questions yesterday as he debuted his new stump speech in Des Moines.

Richardson Again Calls For Resignation

DES MOINES -- In a speech today, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson will again play the experience card, arguing he is the candidate best prepared to lead. "I have learned that people are often sustained and moved by little more than an unshakable belief" in the ideals of democracy, Richardson plans to say, per prepared remarks.

Asserting that the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is a challenge put directly to the United States, Richardson will pledge to restore the country's standing in the world while urging a fundamental shift in foreign policy. "America must always lead in the name of freedom, and we should never allow our nation to perpetuate dictatorships or provide support to tyrants to oppress their people," he will say.

"Yesterday, I called for President [Pervez] Musharraf to step down. Today, as a nation, I am calling on the administration to stand firm for our ideals in the face of terrorism and in respect for the ideals Bhutto stood for. Anything less would send a dangerous signal to the world that terrorism alters our resolve," Richardson says in prepared remarks. In response to Bhutto's assassination, Richardson calls for a halt to all non-terrorism related military aide to Pakistan until Musharraf steps down and a technocratic government is in place.

The call for Musharraf's resignation provoked strong reaction from two Democratic opponents, Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, both of whom serve on the Foreign Relations Committee. They maintain "misplaced faith" in the Pakistani leader, Richardson plans to charge. "Like the Bush administration, they cling to a misguided notion that Musharraf can be trusted as an ally to fight terrorism or to change his despotic ways."

Richardson has tacked continually to the left in recent weeks, most notably on the war in Iraq. Today, his remarks could continue to help him among those who have been anti-war from the start. "Make no mistake. This administration is losing the war on terrorism," he will say, giving the most anti-war voters real red meat. "Bush's foreign policy has failed, but not for lack of opportunity to make it better."

The tones Richardson strikes, of restoring America's standing and remaining above the fray, are similar to those laid out by other candidates. Still, as a former UN ambassador with myriad stories of hostages rescued, bodies of American servicemen returned and tense negotiations around the world, Richardson should be able to more credibly make the argument than other candidates.

"We cannot afford another president who is a foreign policy novice. We cannot afford another president who takes the easiest path, rather than the right path; a president who makes wrong choices because he doesn't know how to make the hard, but right, choices," he will say. Richardson stands at just 6% in the latest RCP Iowa Average.

More Ex-Edwards Aides Helping 527s

WEST DES MOINES -- John Edwards, who has long railed against the influence of special interest groups in campaigns, came under heavy fire as the New York Times reported today that Edwards campaign officials had contact with officials at a 527 group planning a major advertising blitz on the former Senator's behalf.

An email obtained by the Times, sent from the head of a Washington State local of Service Employees International Union, describes plans to contact the campaign to determine what level of support Edwards advisers would hope for. The email listed meetings including with Edwards campaign manager David Bonior and top SEIU officials.

Questions about the coordination between Edwards' campaign and his SEIU backers were initially raised this week as Chris Cillizza reported the union group, officially known as the Alliance for a New America, was being advised by top Democratic strategist Nick Baldick. Baldick managed Edwards' 2004 race, and many saw his involvement as evidence that coordination, prohibited under federal campaign law, occurred. The group has spent about $600,000 on radio ads in Iowa backing Edwards and plans to spend $750,000 on television ads in the final week and a half before the Iowa caucuses.

Baldick is not the only former Edwards aide now helping the Alliance for a New America. FEC filings show ex-Edwards staffer Katherine Buchanan is the group's "custodian of records," responsible for signing finance reports. Buchanan was previously employed by Edwards' One America PAC as late as December 30, 2005, as well as by Edwards' Senate campaign committee.

Spokespeople for both the Edwards campaign and SEIU deny wrongdoing and insist the two did not coordinate anything beyond a rollout of endorsements, which is legal under FEC rules. "The email put forth by a rival campaign is an internal SEIU email about internal SEIU discussions and has nothing to do with the Edwards campaign," spokesman Eric Schultz told The Page. "Apparently, based on the email we received from a reporter, SEIU officials were having two separate conversations - one with the Edwards campaign to discuss perfectly legal member-to-member activities and another one internally about their own activities - to try and link the two conversations together is false and misleading."

Schultz said both SEIU and the campaign have prohibited communications between certain staff members that might appear improper. "We stand by our strong position that 527s should have no role in the political process," he said.

Edwards has been attacked recently by Barack Obama for backing he is getting from the outside groups, including during a speech today in Des Moines. Obama has suggested that the backing Edwards gets from outside groups is hypocritical, given Edwards' stance against taking money from lobbyists and political action committees. The two campaigns have engaged in a running battle this week, as both fight more openly for the right to hold the anybody-but-Clinton mantle.

While Edwards' campaign is likely not in legal jeopardy because of the SEIU official's email, the revelations could tarnish his squeaky-clean image. The incident, one Democratic operative backing another candidate says, "severely undermines his 'I'll fight them all back to hell' message. But, more dangerous for Edwards is if this is seen as part of a pattern that confirms the story line that's been setting in over the course of the campaign -- that he's not genuine and he'll do and say anything to get elected."

"Not only is he going to have to explain to Iowans why he loses his itch to fight the corruptive influence of the system when the system is benefiting him," the operative continued, "but more fundamentally he'll have to explain why they should trust him. That's a bad place to be going into the final week for a guy running as a populist."

With just a week to go before voters in Iowa caucus, the timing could not be worse: Many agree that Edwards must win the lead-off state, in which he has invested huge amounts of time and money, in order to have a shot at the Democratic nomination.

Obama Previews New Shots In Tour Kickoff

DES MOINES - Launching a massive eight-day bus tour in advance of Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, Illinois Senator Barack Obama offered what campaign aides described as a sharpened stump speech today, calling on Iowans to "stand for change." Evidencing the tightness of the Democratic race, Obama mixed his usual optimistic, at times lofty rhetoric with barely veiled attacks on former North Carolina Senator John Edwards and New York Senator Hillary Clinton, his two chief rivals for the nomination.

Obama DSM 2.jpg
Obama delivers his revised stump speech,
with TelePrompTer
Ten months after kicking off his campaign, which he called an "unlikely journey to change America," Obama's closing argument is largely the same as those he has made before. But intermixed with a standard stump speech were new attacks on his opponents. "There are others in this race who say that this kind of change sounds good, but that I'm not angry or confrontational enough to get it done," Obama said, referring to recent criticism from Edwards. "I'm the only candidate in this race who hasn't just talked about taking power away from lobbyists, I've actually done it."

Defending himself from Edwards' criticism, Obama saved his harshest words for Clinton, with whom he has been locked in a back-and-forth struggle for supremacy in Iowa polls. "You can have the right kind of experience and the wrong kind of experience," Obama said, responding to charges that he is unprepared. "Mine is rooted in the real lives of real people, and it will bring real results if we have the courage to change. I believe deeply in those words. But they are not mine. They were Bill Clinton's in 1992, when Washington insiders questioned his readiness to lead."

Obama, whose campaign has long stressed various forms of change as a key rationale for his run, joked that in the last few weeks other campaigns are following his successful strategy. "It must be catching on because in these last few weeks everyone's talking about change," he laughed.

Politics, though, does not always run on a predictable script, and Obama took time to pause and remember former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who died today in a suicide bombing. "She was a respected and resilient advocate for democracy for the people of Pakistan," Obama said. "We stand with the people of Pakistan in their quest for democracy and against the terrorists that threaten the common security throughout the world."

Obama's "Stand for Change" tour is scheduled to hit twenty-three cities before caucus time. Kicking the tour off in Des Moines, former Air Force Chief of Staff Tony McPeak, introducing the Senator, said it was Obama's fifteenth stop in Des Moines this year. The bus tour includes two more stops in the capitol city, along with swings to eastern and northern cities in the state.

AFSCME Hits Obama

As part of their independent expenditure campaign on behalf of Hillary Clinton, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees are going negative, new FEC filings show. The union spent more than $34,000 on mailings produced by Washington-based 360 JMG LLC yesterday, and the required 24-hour notice filed with the FEC shows the mailings, sent to Iowa, are to be used expressly to oppose Barack Obama.

AFSCME has spent more than $985,000 on the presidential race so far, more than $950,000 of it on Clinton's behalf. The mailings hitting Obama are the first negative pieces the union has produced, and are the first independent expenditures of their kind that attack a candidate other than Clinton. As we reported earlier, several groups have spent a combined total of more than $110,000 on advertisements hitting the New York Senator.

Other groups are weighing in on behalf of their candidates as well. The Carpenters' union, backing John Edwards, have spent more than $28,000 on t-shirts for their members on Edwards' behalf. The union has also spent money on rally signs, decals for hard hats and bumper stickers. Vote Hope, a San Francisco-based organization working to bank 500,000 votes for Obama in that state's February 5 primary, has spent at least $38,000 on his behalf.

Is Edwards In The Hunt?

It has become conventional wisdom that the Democratic presidential race is a contest between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. The common phrase: The three are in a statistical tie. Regardless of whether that statement is accurate, Edwards may be in a better position than his opponents.

Be clear on one point: John Edwards is in third place in public opinion polls. There is no statistical tie for first. The latest RCP Iowa Average shows Obama leading with 29.8%, followed by Clinton at 26.3% and Edwards at 23%. Obama and Clinton are statistically tied for first. Clinton and Edwards are statistically tied for second. But Edwards, 6.8 points behind Obama, is not statistically tied for first.

In fact, Edwards has not led a poll in Iowa since a Time Magazine survey in late August, when he earned 29% of respondents' support. He has been mired in third place in most recent polls, occasionally tying with Clinton (in a Research 2000 poll for the Quad City Times over the weekend) or leading Obama by a few points (in an Iowa State University in mid-November).

Still, as anyone will tell you, it is difficult if not impossible to poll Iowa caucus-goers. In a state with a population of more than 3 million, finding the perhaps 150,000 voters who will attend a Democratic caucus next month is difficult. Campaigns vie for those who have caucused before. Edwards, having run in the state before, has stronger support among previous caucus attendees than Clinton or Obama, both of whom are leaning on those who have not yet attended a caucus. Those voters are not guaranteed to show up on caucus night, leading to the assumption that every Edwards backer who has caucused before is worth more than every Obama or Clinton backer who has not.

For months, Edwards has launched the toughest attacks on front-running Clinton, pointing to her support for the war in Iraq, her failed health care initiative of 1993 and her position on NAFTA, as well as a host of other issues on which the two disagree. But now, just weeks before the caucuses, Obama and Clinton have taken to squabbling, whether over a Clinton supporter's assertions that Obama's past drug use will be an issue or Clinton's own charges that Obama's health care proposal does not cover as many people as hers would. The dialogue, at times, has gotten downright nasty.

Enter the kinder, gentler John Edwards. In 2004, nice-guy Edwards catapulted to a surprise second-place finish along with John Kerry in the Iowa caucuses after similar squabbling derailed Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt. Edwards' team has worked not only to foment unrest between Clinton and Obama, but also to portray their candidate as a fresh, positive face.

The media has taken note: Along with a cover story in Newsweek (Cover header: "The Sleeper"), he earned a big write-up in the Wall Street Journal (Headline: "Not-So-Dark Horse") and a positive appearance on ABC's "This Week" over the weekend. That appearance was marked by Edwards' sticking to a friendlier message, both more upbeat than he has demonstrated so far in the campaign and sunnier than the disposition of either Clinton or Obama.

So John Edwards is not in a statistical tie for first place in Iowa. But given his solid foundation of experienced caucus-goers and his closing argument that emphasizes a more positive message than his rivals, that may not matter. Edwards could be a surprise in Iowa, for the second cycle in a row.

Two Saturday Endorsements

With less than three weeks to go before votes are cast, it's crunch time for any big names who hope to get on the ground floor of the next administration. It's also time to roll out endorsements that have been in the works for weeks, in hopes of winning a few new votes late in the game.

Hillary Clinton, whose campaign has been based largely on inevitability, is benefiting from more establishment Democratic endorsements than we could report this week: Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell. Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski. Now, Maine Governor John Baldacci joins the campaign, they announced this morning.

On the GOP side, Mitt Romney keeps piling up conservative backing. While many have questioned Romney's own dedication to conservatism, he's won support from pro-life lawyer James Bopp Jr., ACU chief David Keene and Bob Jones III, all three of whom lend Romney their own conservative credentials.

This morning, Romney is getting a big boost that should help him among hard-core conservatives as he fights to get to the top of the GOP pack. Romney's team this morning announced support from Judge Robert Bork, whose Supreme Court nomination was derailed in 1987 but who remains one of the best-known and most highly regarded conservative jurists in the country.

The nods speak to both campaigns' emphasis going into the final stretch: Clinton, looking for support in what could be a longer than expected Democratic race, emphasizes her establishment credentials in Democratic circles around the country. Romney, not trusted by some in the conservative base, emphasizes his right-leaning credentials by associating with the biggest names in the movement.

Hillary Clinton: Lightning Rod

No one running for president inspires more vitriol on the right and loyalty on the left than does Hillary Clinton. We've alluded recently to the incredible number of outside groups that are spending on her behalf, and disclosures with the Federal Elections Commission show organizations both supporting and opposing her are pouring money into the race.

Within thirty days of an election, third-party groups that support and oppose a candidate are required to file reports of any independent expenditures within twenty four hours. A quick breakdown:

Groups supporting Clinton have spent at least $649,116 this week.

Groups opposing Clinton have spent at least $114,606 this week.

That's right, this week. And we say "at least" because reports for Thursday and today are not in yet. The biggest Clinton boosters are unions backing her campaign, including the American Federation of Teachers, which spent $310,000 on radio ads in New Hampshire between now and the January 8 primary, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has dropped more than $260,000 into two media buys in Iowa.

EMILY's List, which supports pro-choice Democratic women, is also spending significant resources on women voters in Iowa who might turn in to Clinton supporters. The group has launched an aggressive voter identification and turnout featuring mailings and web advertisements, both on political sites and non-political sites like and

Clinton's opponents are coming at her from both the right and the left. The Life and Liberty PAC, a Washington, D.C.-based group dedicated to educating voters about Clinton and top Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani and their pro-choice records, dropped nearly $78,000 into a phone and mail campaign.

A group called Democratic Courage comes at Clinton from the left, attacking her for "allow[ing] herself to be bullied so much by Republicans that we don't have faith that she would stand up to them either in the general election or if she got into the White House," said the group's chairman, Glenn Hurowitz.

Hurowitz hinted that the group has more up its sleeve. "It's possible that we could focus on another candidate in the future," he said. While he wouldn't comment on which campaign they might target, in a post yesterday at Huffington Post Hurowitz suggests Barack Obama's approach to bringing people together is misguided.

For now, though, Clinton bears the brunt of outside attack ads and is benefiting the most from independent boosters. While third-party organizations will weigh in for and against other candidates -- a new pro-John Edwards group hit the Iowa airways today with a television ad on jobs, while Obama is benefiting from a group called Vote Hope based in California -- it is likely that no candidate will get more attention than Clinton, from both sides.

More Races To Watch

Backers of a proposed same-sex marriage ban collected more than 600,000 signatures to win a spot on the Florida ballot in 2008, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The proposed amendment would be on the same ballot as the race for president, and though some have suggested that the bans did not affect the outcome of the 2004 presidential race -- arguing that President Bush would have won anyway -- there is a compelling reason Republicans can be happy that evangelical turnout could be boosted in the critical swing state.

In Indiana, former First Lady Judy O'Bannon endorsed architect and businessman Jim Schellinger for governor yesterday, the latest in a string of establishment backing for the candidate who trails in the Democratic primary, the Indianapolis Star reports.

Schellinger has a way to go to overcome a name recognition edge enjoyed by ex-Rep. Jill Long Thompson -- Long Thompson had a 4-1 edge in a September poll -- but Democrats think Schellinger gives them the best chance to knock off incumbent Republican Mitch Daniels.

The state has had a large Republican tilt in recent presidential elections, but Daniels has faced a rocky first term, while Democrats picked up three Congressional seats in 2006 and Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh remains one of the most popular politicians in Indiana.

O'Bannon is the widow of former Gov. Frank O'Bannon, who died in office in 2003. She had endorsed Senate Minority Leader Richard Young early in the race, before he ended his bid.

Finally, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal recently told the Associated Press that he was "working hard" to find a reason to go to the Democratic National Convention in Denver next year. Freudenthal voiced disappointment that no presidential candidate has addressed Western issues. Even though he has a vote as a super delegate, Freudenthal skipped the 2004 convention in Boston, and the AP reported yesterday that he hasn't been since 1984, in San Francisco.

The convention will be held just 100 miles from Freudenthal's Cheyenne, Wyoming governor's mansion. And it seems that a larger force has compelled the governor to change his mind: "I heard from a couple of my daughters, as well as my wife, that I was planning to go to the convention," Freudenthal said. "I just wasn't aware of that at the time."

Meanwhile, precinct caucuses have begun in Freudenthal's home state, which we suppose are the first actual preference statements by voters in the 2008 presidential race. Republican precinct caucuses will be held between now and December 20, in advance of the state's January 5 county conventions. The county conventions will allocate about a quarter of the state's national convention delegates, the AP reports.

Not many Republican candidates have stumped in the state, though Mitt Romney has made a few appearances.

Shaheen Out As Clinton Chair

Following comments suggesting Republicans might use Barack Obama's past statements on his own drug use against him in a general election, former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair and former New Hampshire First Gentleman Bill Shaheen has stepped down as chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign in the state.

"Senator Clinton has been running a positive campaign focused on the issues that matter to America's families. She is the best qualified to be the next President of the United States because she can lead starting on day one. I made a mistake and in light of what happened, I have made the personal decision that I will step down as the Co-Chair of the Hillary for President campaign," Shaheen said in a statement emailed from the campaign.

Shaheen was one of the most sought-after endorsements in New Hampshire earlier this year. His choice to back Clinton was heralded as a major victory, lending her a big name with loads of experience working in politics in the state. In an interview with the Washington Post, Shaheen suggested that Obama's past would come back to haunt him. "It'll be, 'When was the last time> Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?'" he said, per the Post. "There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome."

Shaheen issued an apology earlier today.

Obama Points To Staffer

A questionnaire shopped by opponents of Barack Obama suggests the candidate, as he ran for State Senate in 1996, is a lot more liberal than his campaign says he is. The questionnaire, first reported by Politico, purported to show Obama was opposed to capital punishment, supported a single-payer health care plan and supported laws that would prohibit possession of handguns.

Obama opponents are having fun with the questionnaire and the campaign's reaction to it. Speaking on MSNBC last night, Washington Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, a top surrogate for the Illinois Senator, said an Obama staffer filled out the form without getting it approved.

To some Democrats backing other candidates, the example is the latest example of Obama blaming a staffer rather than taking responsibility. "Maybe throwing people under the bus is how they are promoting the use of mass transit," said one Democrat working for a rival campaign.

The Boston Globe today pointed to Obama's missing a face to face meeting with New Hampshire Fire Fighters and a controversial memo labeling Hillary Clinton "D-Punjab" as other examples in which Obama blamed staff for miscues. "It doesn't speak to folks looking for a President who is decisive and says the buck stops with him," the Democratic operative said.

Still, Smith defended Obama in an interview with Politics Nation. Running for office, Smith said, "the buck stops with you every single day." Noting that unauthorized questionnaires had slipped through cracks in his own campaigns for State Senate and Congress, Smith said the error was understandable. "You cannot even begin to imagine the blizzard of questionnaires that come through your office."

"It was Senator Obama's mistake. What we were trying to correct was the notion that positions in that memo were ones that Obama had ever held," Smith said. "They were not."

Pointing to Obama's chief opponent and recent questions about planted audience members, emails insinuating that Obama is a Muslim plant and suggestions from a top Clinton supporter that Obama's past might be used against him by Republicans, Smith said no campaign is perfect. "Senator Clinton has had to throw a hell of a lot more people under the bus than Obama," he said. "I'll give Senator Clinton slack on that. You've got thousands of people working for you on a presidential campaign."

Dodd Misses NY Ballot

Chris Dodd will not be on the Presidential preference primary ballot in New York on February 5, Ballot Access News reports. Candidates were required to file at least 5,000 petition signatures by December 6 to qualify for placement on the ballot, and the Democratic Senator from Connecticut apparently did not meet the deadline.

If this was a strategic decision, the Dodd campaign's plan must be to allocate the bulk of its funds to earlier primary states, and not spend money on gathering signatures in New York. But according to the New York State Board of Elections website, "there is no geographic distribution requirement for signatures as with other statewide elections." Therefore, all of the signatures could have been gathered in, say, Manhattan, rather than sending staffers to every congressional district in the state, as candidates for state offices are sometimes required to do. So how expensive could it be?

Due to its relative proximity to his home state, Dodd might have expected to enjoy some name recognition in the Empire State. Among others, he will appear on ballots in California, Oklahoma and Illinois, but not New York.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Iowa Dems Clarify Caucus Rules

This morning, we mentioned that Iowa political guru David Yepsen is worried that, because of the influx of college students from out of state, the first presidential nominating contest of the year might more accurately be called the Illinois caucuses. Yepsen suggested that Barack Obama's campaign, which has been the most active on college campuses throughout the state, might be operating in an underhanded manner.

But, says Iowa Democratic Party chairman Scott Brennan, there's not much the state party can do about it. "In running the First in the Nation Caucuses, the Iowa Democratic Party follows the Iowa Code in determining the eligibility of potential caucus goers. According to the Iowa Code, all college students who are at least 18 years old are eligible to vote and, therefore, eligible to caucus," Brennan said in a statement.

Still, any college student wishing to participate must be a registered Democrat, which can be done on caucus night, in the precinct where they attend a caucus. That limits the range and effectiveness of a huge boost among college students. The state Democratic Party allocates delegates to precincts based on previous years' Democratic performance. Therefore, boosted turnout at one precinct would only help Obama -- or any other candidate -- win delegates at that precinct.

It is possible, for example, for 500 caucus attendees to fight over 10 delegates at the precinct nearest to the University of Iowa, while down the road 100 caucus attendees could have to allocate 10 delegates as well. So while 50 supporters of Hillary Clinton would fail to meet Democrats' 15% threshold at the larger caucus, those same 50 supporters would win half the delegates and the smaller caucus.

Once results roll in, look for some precincts that vote overwhelmingly for Obama to be centered around college campuses. In precincts farther out, though, the playing field will be level.

Obama Scores Big In NH

Barack Obama, who already enjoys the support of freshman Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes of New Hampshire, got the sweep today as the New Hampshire Union Leader reports. The Granite State's other Democratic member of Congress, Carol Shea-Porter, will back Obama as well. Shea-Porter, whose district includes Democratic vote-rich Manchester, can speed Obama's growing momentum among women.

Hillary Clinton has enjoyed big leads in New Hampshire, by as much as 20 points in the RCP New Hampshire Average. Now, though, her lead has shrunk to just 8 points, and a Mason-Dixon poll out over the weekend showed her leading by just 3.

After a huge rally with Oprah Winfrey this weekend, the New Hampshire momentum seems to be on Obama's side. Will Shea-Porter be the straw that breaks the Clinton camel's back?

Exploring The Gender Gap

Recent polls have shaken the core of the Democratic race. For the first time in months, someone not named Clinton leads in Iowa, and that same someone -- Barack Obama -- is rapidly catching up in New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton, the once inevitable lock for the nomination, suddenly looks vulnerable. But other polls out this week show Clinton still leading, albeit by slim margins, among Iowa caucus-goers.

The difference between the two divergent sets of results can be found in the cross-tabs and holds the key to Clinton's success. When she leads, Clinton enjoys a large gender gap. When she trails, Obama closes that gap among women, effectively shutting off Clinton's most valuable base.

Consider some recent polls. In a Pew Research survey, Clinton enjoyed an eight point edge over Obama among women in Iowa, a 29-point gap in New Hampshire and a 17-point lead in South Carolina. Consequently, Clinton led in all three states.

But in a recent Des Moines Register poll, in which Obama led among Iowa caucus-goers, Clinton's advantage among women had evaporated. Obama attracted more women to his side, 31%, than Clinton, who was favored by 26%. Compare that to Clinton's 34%-21% lead in the Register's October poll. A Washington Post/ABC News [pdf] poll, the first to show Obama leading in Iowa, was also the first to show Obama leading among women -- 32% to 31%.

Pollster Ann Selzer, who conducts the Register's polls, says women react to Clinton and Obama very differently. "There's a real difference between the candidates in distinguishing their leadership style," she said. Those who have questioned Clinton recently on her records at her husband's presidential library have cemented an opinion that she stands for the secrecy and triangulation of the 1990s. "People harken back to a time when [they] felt like things weren't on the up and up," Selzer said. Obama, though, brings a perceived openness to the race. By stressing his ability to solve problems through compromise, he is naturally appealing to women's styles.

Clinton needs women to win the Democratic nomination, and she needs women to win a general election. Recently, the candidate has been showing off her motherly, feminine side in order to boost her credentials with women. But as more women choose a candidate not named Clinton, some on her team have to be wondering how they put together the coalition necessary to get a victory.

Sunday Funnies

Many have bemoaned the lack of privacy for politicians. Others argue that, should someone seek public office, voters have a right to know their history. But sometimes, things just get ridiculous.

"I have not been planning to run for President for however number of years some of the other candidates have been planning for," Barack Obama said today in Iowa, according to a release from rival Hillary Clinton. The Clinton research shop begs to differ: "Senator Obama's comment today is fundamentally at odds with what his teachers, family, classmates and staff have said about his plans to run for President," countered Clinton spokesman Phil Singer.

As evidence, the Clinton camp cites essays the Senator penned about why he wanted to be president. Valid points, right? Perhaps not, when the essays were written in third grade and kindergarten. Clinton provides other articles delving into the process by which Obama decided to run, but really, were essays written when the candidate could barely tie his own shoes really necessary?

Probably not. It did provide a good laugh, though.

Democrats Finalize Primary Calendar

VIENNA, VIRGINIA - With Iowa's lead-off caucuses a scant 33 days away, the Democratic National Committee put finishing touches on the calendar under which it will nominate a presidential candidate. The chaos that has ruled the seemingly endless process of establishing delegate selection rules was finally laid to rest at today's DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting, the last before the party's August convention.

Recent calendar shuffling required Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina to seek waivers as states jockeyed for position. The three states, which have long held early primaries, had been given permission to hold their contests before an approved February 5 window in which other states can schedule their events. The waivers, necessary because all three had changed the dates on which their contests will be held in recent months, were granted with little dissent.

Still, the meeting was not without rigor or conflict. Many throughout the party have voiced frustration that Iowa and New Hampshire, two states that have traditionally held their nominating contests at the head of the pack, continue to dominate the process so completely. "It's unconscionable that we continue to grant special treatment" to the two early states, Michigan Democratic Party chairman Mark Brewer told fellow committee members.

Brewer's home state faced the harshest sanctions of the day. Just weeks after Michigan's state legislature moved to establish a primary ahead of the February 5 window, "Michigan is coming to you today to request equal treatment," DNC member Debbie Dingell said. Early states have too much influence on the process, she argued, as Democrats hope to elect a president. "It is not a president of Iowa or New Hampshire. It is a president of all 50 states," she said.

Despite their pleas, the body stripped Michigan of its entire delegate slate. The move, along with four Democratic candidates' decisions to remove themselves from the primary ballot, makes Michigan's January 15 primary little more than a beauty contest. Michigan becomes the second state, along with Florida, to see its delegates removed for rule violations.

Ensuring that Michigan's contest is all but meaningless, the committee provided an eleven-day window between the New Hampshire primary and the Nevada caucuses, giving candidates a chance to reset messages and focus on the Silver State. Nevada Democrats are giddy at the prospect of increased influence in the process; state party Executive Director Travis Brock passed out stickers touting "the 11 Days of Caucus."

Nevada did not come by its position in the process easily, and its advance could signal a change in the way future calendars are formulated. Opening the meeting, RBC co-chairs James Roosevelt and Alexis Herman spent significant time reviewing the progress and decisions the committee has made. No matter the work put into the calendar this year, many committee members predicted an end to Iowa and New Hampshire's traditional supremacy.

Criticizing New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner's public adherence to a state law requiring him to set the primary a week ahead of other states, committee member Donna Brazile said she believed the "gentleman's agreement" between Iowa and New Hampshire was coming to a close. "I want to thank Mr. Gardner for making sure that it is history," Brazile said.

The final pre-February 5 window schedule:

January 3 - Iowa
January 5 - Wyoming (Republican caucuses only)
January 8 - New Hampshire
January 15 - Michigan (Only Republican delegates allocated)
January 19 - Nevada
January 19 - South Carolina (Republican primary only)
January 26 - South Carolina (Democratic primary only)
January 29 - Florida (Only Republican delegates allocated)
February 5 - Party-approved window opens

Hostage Crisis At Clinton HQ

VIENNA, VIRGINIA -- Two campaign workers are being held hostage at Sen. Hillary Clinton's Rochester, New Hampshire campaign headquarters by a man with a bomb strapped to his chest, WMUR TV reports. The office is surrounded by police, who are negotiating with a suspect.

Clinton, in the Washington area to address the Democratic National Committee's winter meetings, has canceled her speech. Barack Obama's campaign also has an office in Rochester. It too has been evacuated, WMUR said.

Dems Heed Cattle Calls

Most Democratic candidates are going where others tell them to for the next two days in some of the final cattle call candidate events of the year. The Democratic National Committee, meeting in Vienna, Virginia for the final time before their August convention, will hear from six of their candidates tomorrow.

On Saturday, candidates head to Des Moines for the Heartland Presidential Forum, held by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and other local groups. Organizers expect up to 5,000 attendees at the HyVee Hall in downtown Des Moines for the event.

Candidates are unlikely to make significant news at the events, but previous years' DNC meetings have helped, and any chance a candidate gets to address 5,000 Iowans is a huge opportunity. Plus, in Vienna, Democrats will have a chance to say hello to an important part of their 2008 strategy: One session is being keynoted by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, who will host the August convention and who Democrats hope can deliver his increasingly purple state to their party.

While candidates are out in Iowa, a DNC panel is expected to formally strip Michigan of its convention delegates when they meet early Saturday morning. Politics Nation, which is completely obsessed with the calendar crisis, will be there both days to bring you the news as it happens, even as it means waking up for an 8:30 meeting on a Saturday.

More On Nevada

This reporter hypothesized yesterday that, thanks to the brief window between Iowa and New Hampshire and some Democratic candidates' promises not to campaign in Michigan (despite the state legislature's move to force every candidate onto the ballot), Nevada has finally become important.

In the piece, we mention that Democratic candidates have taken far fewer trips to the state than to other early primary states. Our numbers, though, were somewhat off: Hillary Clinton has been to the state eight times, not five, while John Edwards has been there 17 times, not eight. Barack Obama has showed up nine times, as we reported.

With so few visits, is it any wonder that two of the state's biggest labor prizes remain up in the air? The state's Culinary Workers have yet to choose a candidate, and the union that represents most of the workers on the Vegas Strip would -- and probably will -- have a big influence on the race's eventual outcome. Nevada's SEIU chapter has yet to make an endorsement either.

While Senator Harry Reid is remaining neutral in the race, his son, Clark County Commission President Rory Reid, is backing Clinton, lending her a political operation in the state's most populous county, where many of the Democratic votes will come from. Edwards has won more union nods in the state than anyone else, and his success at wooing local SEIU chapters could help him win over Nevada service workers as well. Clinton and Bill Richardson have each been able to win some union backing as well.

Who's ahead and who's behind in the Silver State? We finally have enough polls to create an RCP Nevada Average, which shows Clinton up by a whopping 23.6 points, more than doubling Obama's totals.

Obama Leads In Iowa

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll that's sure to shake up the Democratic race shows Barack Obama has taken his first lead in months in Iowa. The poll, conducted 11/14-18 of 500 likely Democratic caucus attendees, carried a 4.5% margin of error.

Obama led in the last ABC/Post poll, taken in late July, but the results will certainly be a boost to his campaign. We can envision the fundraising email David Plouffe is typing up right now.

Primary Election Matchup
Obama 30 (+3 from last poll, 7/31)
Clinton 26 (nc)
Edwards 22 (-4)
Richardson 11 (nc)
Biden 4 (+2)

Clinton still leads in the RCP Iowa Average, but by a narrow 2.4 points.

Among those certain to attend, Obama holds 28% of the vote, ahead of Clinton's 26% and Edwards' 23%. Edwards performs better among those who have attended a caucus before, taking 26%, one point behind Obama's 27% and ahead of Clinton's 21%. Obama also leads among those who will attend for the first time, leading 35% to Clinton's 34% and Edwards' 14%.

Liberals and Democrats are split, giving 32% each and 28% each, respectively, to Clinton and Obama. But Obama's margin comes among independents, where he holds a 35% to 18% lead, and among self-described moderates, with whom he leads 29%-19%.

Importantly, Obama also leads among second choice candidates, and Edwards' performance in the category is strong enough to inch him ahead of Clinton when first and second choices are combined.

Second Choice
Obama 26 (nc from 7/31)
Edwards 24 (+1)
Clinton 19 (-4)
Richardson 13 (+1)
Biden 6 (+2)

First/Second Choice Combined
Obama 55 (+4 from 7/31)
Edwards 45 (-3)
Clinton 44 (-4)
Richardson 23 (+1)
Biden 10 (+5)

Democrats say the Iraq war remains their top issue, with 33% choosing it as number one and 23% picking it second. Health care remains important as well, with 26% picking it first and 24% marking it as the backup. The economy came in third, as 21% chose it either first or second.

Don't Say No

As the Senate debates the farm bill this week, Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin is in an unusually enviable position. The Iowan, who is managing the debate for Democrats, knows this morning's cloture vote will be a close one. He has also seen Democratic presidential candidates missing their Senate votes in favor of campaign stops.

Fortunately for him, Harkin has leverage. Harkin's office told Politico's John Bresnahan that the Senator has been "calling his friends on the campaign trail" to make sure they'll be back in Washington for the vote.

Harkin has not endorsed a candidate for president yet, though he hosted them all at his steak fry this Fall, and while he looks unlikely to give a nod to one over another, no one wants to irritate Iowa's senior Democrat. Plus, voting for the farm bill will certainly endear all four Senate presidential wannabes to a crucial Iowa voting bloc.

So despite a late night last night -- the debate in Las Vegas ended at 10 p.m. Eastern and some candidates attended the Clark County Democrats' Jefferson Jackson dinner -- four Senators running for president made their way quickly back to Washington in time for this morning's vote. That's going to make for some bags under the eyes.

Watching The Undercard

Tonight's Democratic show-down in Las Vegas features one definite heavyweight fight, set up by the press as Hillary Clinton versus some combination of Barack Obama and John Edwards. We noted from Philadelphia that many were using boxing metaphors, and what better venue than right off the Strip, where the biggest bouts are fought, to continue that metaphor?

But pay attention to what is becoming an increasingly heated, if subtle, undercard. That fight, between Obama and Edwards, is a contest for the half of Democratic voters who haven't already said they would back Clinton. Both argue that they draw the clearest contrast with Clinton, and both shy away from taking on each other. But this fight is perhaps more urgent than a battle against Clinton: United against her, her opponents might stand. Divided, they will probably fall.

The battleground where an Obama-Edwards grudge match will be fought is Iowa. But unlike previous years, strategists for both campaigns say, this year there might be only two tickets out of the state, not the traditional three. "Whoever comes in third here is going to be in bad shape," Edwards strategist Joe Trippi told Politics Nation in Des Moines. That candidate, he said, will be "on life support." And the race is shaping up, in his mind, as a perfect opportunity for Edwards. Obama, he argues, "has had ten months with the whole world saying, 'It's between him and her,' to make it between him and her. Guess what? He's failed at that."

Clinton's problem, says Trippi, is that much of her support is reluctant, as opposed to enthusiastic. That reluctance presents an opening for a new candidate to emerge, and when that happens, "the race resets. And when it resets, she's going to lose a lot of her support."

The media's intense focus gave Obama an opening that Trippi says he missed. "There should have been a way to leverage that [media] focus, you know, to turn the race that way," he said. "People have looked at Barack Obama and have made a decision about him."

Obama backer David Axelrod thinks the subtle digs at his candidate, from the Edwards team, are just beginning. "Obviously, I think [Edwards is] a very, very determined guy. This is his second shot," Axelrod said at an Obama event in Chariton, Iowa. "Ultimately, [Obama's] quarrel is with a style of politics that has come to characterize Washington," he said, and those who would "shift and dodge, and wind up where you need to get to in the short run."

"People look for authenticity," Axelrod said. "They look for consistency. I think they're looking for people to stand on long-held principles and not on sort of short-term calculated posturing." Though the implicit shot touched some of Edwards' own inconsistencies, the Obama strategist couldn't help but return to his main target: "That's, I think, one of the reasons why Senator Clinton has run into some problems."

At the Philadelphia debate, though, it was Edwards who got credit for being fastest on the attack and surest of foot in drawing contrasts. The clarity of those contrasts are key, Trippi said. "We're going out every day and making sure people understand that the clearest choice in this race is between Hillary Clinton and John Edwards."

Obama, who has looked less steady going after his rivals, is only warming up, according to Axelrod. "[Obama] is happy to, and willing to, respond to any challenge. That's been true throughout his political life," said the strategist who cut his teeth in rough and tumble Chicago political circles. "He comes from a pretty tough political arena."

The race for the Anybody But Clinton crowd is not a race for second place. With a slim lead, if that, in Iowa and a not-insurmountable lead in New Hampshire, the presumed front-runner has her work cut out to reach the nomination. But as Edwards and Obama continue to aim fire at Clinton, the clock is ticking for them to make contrasts with each other. Tonight, the undercard is just as important as the main event.

Good As Gold

Barack Obama released a detailed list of bundlers yesterday, a move in line with his calls for transparency in government. The top three Democrats have all released some information on their rainmakers, but Obama's disclosure goes so far as to provide information on how much each bundler has actually raised for the campaign.

Among those collecting big donations for the candidate: Ari Emanuel, brother of House Democratic Caucus chair Rahm Emanuel and inspiration for Ari Gold, the super-agent on HBO's "Entourage." Ari has raised between $100,000 and $200,000 for Obama's campaign, joining other Hollywood bigshots David Geffen and Jeff Katzenberg on Obama's team.

Emanuel, presumably well-trained by his brother, is no stranger to political donations. Over the past few years, he's given $65,000 to the DCCC, maxing out at $25,000 for the 2006 cycle, when brother Rahm was in charge, as well as to various presidential candidates' previous campaign accounts -- he contributed to Senate campaign accounts operated by Obama, Chris Dodd, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and gave money to PACs chaired by Tom Daschle and Russ Feingold.

This year, he's also spent his money backing Al Franken, maxing out to the comedian's campaign for Senate and donating another $5,000 to Franken's Midwest Values PAC, which helped fund Democratic candidates around the country for the last few cycles.

Over the last three cycles, Emanuel has backed a number of presidential campaigns, including those of Wes Clark, Howard Dean, John Edwards (in the '04 cycle), Dick Gephardt, Kerry, Bill Bradley and Al Gore.

Emanuel caused a minor flap last year when FEC records showed he had written a $1,000 check to the Republican National Committee. This year, while he may be bundling for Obama, FEC records show he has yet to actually write his own check to the Obama campaign.

Clinton Controversy Less Clear Than It Looks

CEDAR RAPIDS -- Hillary Clinton has faced criticism in recent days after a campaign aide asked a student to ask the senator a question on global warming, most notably from John Edwards, who suggested that the tactic is akin to the way President Bush operates in front of screened audiences. "It takes a village to ask a question, apparently," joked Bill Kristol this morning on Fox News Sunday, offering the zinger to opponents Edwards and Barack Obama.

Clinton speaks to Iowa
Democrats last night
Two quick thoughts on the matter: Skeptics will point out that Clinton actually called on the student, leading them to believe that she was in on the plot. After all, how likely is it that, in a crowd that presumably numbered in the hundreds, Clinton would find the one planted questioner without knowing who that person was?

On the other hand, after spending several days on the trail with Obama, during which Politics Nation attended half a dozen or so town hall meetings where questions were asked, it strikes us that Clinton may have had little choice but to call on the plant.

Iowans are proud of their access to presidential candidates, but notably few, when solicited by Obama, raised their hands to ask a question. While every event ended before all the questions could be answered, there were never more than three or four hands up when Obama made his exit. So, with the choice of a smattering of audience members interested in asking a question, Clinton might have had a better than even chance of picking the plant.

None of that excuses the staffer's actions, and her opponents will certainly raise the specter that more than a few audience questions were planted at various campaign stops. But perhaps it absolves the candidate herself of blame in the matter.

One further observation: Des Moines is a very small town. After last night's Jefferson Jackson Dinner, three top Democratic strategists all happened to find themselves in the very same, very small bar at the Hotel Fort Des Moines. Jammed with campaign staffers and journalists, Edwards adviser Joe Trippi, Obama chief David Axelrod and Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe all made appearances.

Trippi and Axelrod exchanged pleasantries, and McAuliffe might have said hello, though Politics Nation didn't happen to witness it.

Finally, now that the dinner is over (a clearly relieved Iowa Democratic Chairman Scott Brennan was also spotted around town, sans tie, after the festivities), the sprint to the end is off in full force. The Des Moines Register's David Yepsen pens a great history of the caucuses in this morning's paper, detailing the rise of the caucus's prominence and offering some lessons that might come from this year's contests. A definite must-read for any junkie.

More JJ Photos

The first candidates join Nancy Pelosi on stage:


John Edwards, Nancy Pelosi, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd wait for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to be announced:


Clinton and Obama say hello:


The candidates wait for the pledge of allegience:


MC Nancy Pelosi rallies the troops:


The "Big Lug," Iowa Governor Chet Culver, speaks to his people:


Obama fans go nuts:

jjobamafans.jpg their candidate wows the crowd:


At the end of the night, the confetti falls:


Iowa Dems JJ In Pictures

One gets a sense of the mayhem to come:


Fans line up to get to their tables on the lower level:


Obama fans crowd in, headed to upper concourse:


Outside Veterans Memorial in downtown Des Moines, the sign wars have been fought:


Last night's scramble to put up as many signs as possible left this upper concourse:


Edwards Sharpens Clinton Attacks

DES MOINES -- After addressing the Iowa Farmers' Union this morning, John Edwards continued to sharpen his attacks on front-running Hillary Clinton while also aiming subtle jabs at Barack Obama. "If we change corporate Republicans with corporate Democrats, nothing will change," Edwards told reporters after his speech.

Edwards has accused Clinton of accepting more political action committee and lobbyist money than any other candidate in the race, arguing that she is part of a flawed system. "I don't think you can say the system is fine as it is," he said. "We have to have a president who is willing to stand up to these people."

Edwards has of late sought to cast himself as a candidate willing to fight to change a system, unlike Obama, who takes an approach aimed at compromise through involving all interested parties. "We can't pretend these entrenched interests are just going to step aside," Edwards said.

Asked to respond to charges that Clinton's campaign planted a question in a town hall audience, Edwards landed a strong rebuke. "That's what George Bush does," he said. "That's not the way democracy works."

"If you want to be president of the United States, you go out and face people," he said.

Sign Wars Rock

DES MOINES -- What to do in a decent-sized Midwestern town on a Friday night? Sane people engage in normal activities; this particular Friday, many streamed into the Wells Fargo Arena to hear John Cougar Mellencamp. The concert showed Iowans may be getting tired of the politicking; former Senator John Edwards made a surprise appearance and heard the only boos of the night.

But for those whose sanity might be called into question, the real event was next door, at Veterans Memorial Auditorium. There, like the worst stereotype of a high school election, dozens of staffers and volunteers from each campaign sprinted past watchful Iowa Democratic Party monitors, flying at top speed to the upper decks, where tonight an estimated 9,000 people will listen to six top Democratic candidates at the annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner. Once upstairs, runners slathered walls and halls with printed yard signs and custom-made banners.

These are Sign Wars, Iowa style.

Below, on the arena level, wave after wave of runners prepared, bathed in face paint, armed with bullhorns and slapping duct tape on their t-shirts for use on the upper deck. "Hillary, our nominee," the Clinton backers chanted. "Fired up! Ready to go!" Obama supporters answered, the two camps separated by every other candidate like two school bullies destined to duke it out if they cross paths.

From the middle of the scrum, a defiant chant, aided by a bullhorn: "We want Elizabeth, we want John, we want to see them on the White House lawn!" Even Edwards backers, it seems, are fighting to establish the perception of a three-way race. A lone Congressman, not of Iowa, slowly made his way out the door, uniquely calm and solitary amidst the mayhem.

Upstairs, fallen signs, the first of what will be thousands of victims destined for a dumpster, lay scattered on the floor just minutes into the mad dash. A handful of senior staffers, armed only with digital cameras and envious memories of forgotten youth, wander the concourse, stepping quickly to avoid the sprinting signers, more than a few of whom collided at full speed.

Inside the arena, no signs are allowed, punishable by a ten-minute time out. Candidates walked a thin line around IDP officials with increasingly short tempers. Only Sen. Joe Biden got a time out, though "I'm more than willing to give more," one party staffer said.

The dinner will likely raise more for Iowa Democrats than any single event in their history. It is possible, even, that the party will pull in more than Iowa Republicans did at their quadrennial straw poll, in August. The thirty sections on the upper level sold out in just hours, according to one campaign source, as campaigns snapped up the sections at $5,000 a piece in order to stack them with supporters. On the floor level, tickets ranged from $20 to several thousand, though IDP spokeswoman Carrie Giddins declined to provide specific statistics.

For some candidates, the Jefferson Jackson dinner will provide their best chance to talk directly to several thousand guaranteed caucus attendees. In 2003, the event started Sen. John Kerry's comeback and helped Edwards establish himself as a serious player. This year, candidates will come armed with their best, and for one, it could be the a definitive moment.

But before any dinner can take place, young staffers have to blow off steam, hundreds of signs and untold rolls of duct tape in the greatest sign wars on earth.

Edwards The Ice Cream

DES MOINES -- Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen is surprisingly on-message. The activist businessman, who launched a group dedicated to redirecting federal government spending away from the Pentagon and toward health care, education and other domestic priorities, is backing John Edwards' presidential campaign.

After a news conference today in which a part of that organization, Caucus for Priorities, announced its backing of Edwards, Cohen pontificated on the possibilities his association with the candidate brought up. He denied there were plans for an Edwards-inspired ice cream flavor, even though, as one reporter pointed out, erstwhile presidential hopeful Stephen Colbert enjoys a concoction bearing his name.

Pressed on what an Edwards flavor might be, Cohen stuck to message. "It's not going to be a very fluffy flavor," he predicted. "It's going to be a very solid flavor." Cohen speculated that the flavor might be called "Captain Courageous Crunch," though he may want to run that by lawyers for Quaker Oats, which makes the cereal, before production begins.

Clinton, Edwards Nab Endorsements

DES MOINES -- In the lead-up to tomorrow's Iowa Democratic Party Jefferson Jackson Dinner, major candidates are rolling out endorsements as fast as possible. In a conference call with reporters today, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, long the subject of speculation as a potential vice presidential candidate, announced he would back Hillary Clinton, calling her an experienced candidate who gives Democrats their best shot at winning the presidency.

"I believe she is the strongest candidate our party could put forth," Strickland said, calling Clinton the "most effective carrier" of a message that carried him to victory in the crucial swing state in 2006. Strickland will attend the dinner tomorrow night with Clinton.

"The road to the White House goes through Ohio, and I'm going to be very proud to have Ted Strickland walking that road with me," Clinton said. "She can carry Ohio," Strickland maintained.

Asked whether she would consider Strickland as a potential number two, Clinton demurred, calling it "way premature to be talking about running mates." Strickland too declined to entertain speculation. "I am not presumptuous enough even to consider the vice presidency," he said. "You can just stop any thought of the vice presidency. I'm not interested."

John Edwards will also wade into the endorsement game today when he accepts the endorsement of the Caucus for Priorities at a hotel near the Des Moines airport. The group, an offshoot of the Priorities Action Fund, founded by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's, seeks to point out inequities in the federal budget, spotlighting Pentagon spending. "As Commander-in-Chief, he'll do whatever it takes to keep us safe," Cohen said in a statement. "But he'll also make sure Americans have health care, strong schools, and the opportunity to get ahead."

Caucus for Priorities claims 10,000 members in Iowa, and the group's yard signs, depicting a pie chart with the federal budget, are ubiquitous sights around Des Moines and the state. Their support comes the same day the Edwards campaign announced steering committees in the last of Iowa's 99 counties, making them the only campaign with official organizations in each county.

After the announcement, Edwards heads to Eastern Iowa for events before heading back toward Des Moines for tomorrow's dinner.

Obama Claims Electability

OTTUMWA, IOWA -- Answering voter questions at an elementary school in South Ottumwa today, Barack Obama claimed he is the candidate who can appeal to states beyond those traditionally considered battlegrounds. While other senators offered, Obama pointed out that he alone was invited to campaign with Sen. Ben Nelson, a conservative Nebraska Democrat, during his 2006 re-election bid.

The claim came in response to a town hall attendee who wanted to know why he was the better candidate than Hillary Clinton. Obama has been asked several times during a five-day bus trip to distinguish himself from Clinton, though he has generally demurred. Today, though, Obama said he would bring his campaign to every state, not simply Ohio, Florida and other swing states. "I think I'd be the strongest general election candidate," he said.

Obama Still Fresh Face To Many Iowans

FORT MADISON, IOWA - A new sight is appearing at campaign events around Iowa these days. Along with candidates, enthusiastic volunteers and candidate buttons, potential caucus-goers will also see their own breath. Standing in an open barn that ordinarily hosts rodeos, Barack Obama seems to understand that, along with daylight hours, time is growing short. Still, undecided voters who make their way to hear candidates speak have serious questions about the freshman senator, and many seem reluctant to commit to backing him yet.

Laying out his stump speech, Obama weaves in pleas for commitment cards and flattery aimed at people he calls the most important voters of the 2008 presidential campaign. "You're going to choose the next leader of the free world. Whoever does well in Iowa, I think, will be the next president of the United States," he told voters here. "I really want you to caucus for me."

Promises to eliminate the differences between red states and blue states, pledges to change business in Washington as usual and an optimistic streak second to none can make Iowa voters pay attention. But for many, nothing short of detailed policy proposals will seal the deal.

Those proposals are a hole which Obama has yet to fill for some. "He says he has a plan. Well, what's the plan? Tell us about it," urged Jean Clark, a retired teacher from Burlington who has not yet chosen a candidate. "I wish Obama was stronger."

For others, Obama's newness is all that matters. "He has no baggage," said John Horton, a Burlington retiree whose daughter works on the campaign. Many attendees at Obama rallies profess never to have been involved in politics before. One questioner at a recent stop in Muscatine pointed out his 80-something mother, who he said would vote for Obama, the first time she's ever voted for a Democrat. "That rumbling sound you hear," he joked, "is my father revolving in his grave."

On another hand, the lure of Obama is based on an obvious factor his campaign has chosen not to play up. "We're a multicultural society, and I think Barack Obama is the first articulate expression of that," said Winston Dancing, an undecided caucus-goer from Fairfield. For others, Obama's race is something to consider before choosing to back him. "Unfortunately, race is still a factor in our society, and so is sex" said Clark, who said she is considering only Obama and Clinton as her top choice.

During a five-day campaign swing through Eastern and Central Iowa, caucus-goers interrogating Obama have similar issues on their minds. There is a universality of sentiment in favor of ending the war in Iraq; Obama wins loud cheers when he rails against water-boarding, or when he pledges to restore Habeas Corpus. Corporations, lobbyists and other bogeymen are excoriated at every stop. "The whole big business mentality of the country is just riding us on a rail," Dancing said. "This seems to be kind of a populist movement, and I like that."

The rallies, whether billed as a town hall meeting, a meet the candidate event or a morning coffee, are the same from Cedar Rapids to Burlington, Fort Madison and Fairfield. Obama, bathed in soft yellow light, looks around the room at attendees, bobbing his hand in cadence with his speech. When pondering a question, or when making a joke, he looks at the ground, at times glancing up to make a point.

His theme is always the same. "I have a track record of bringing Americans together, and I think that's what we as Democrats, more importantly we as Americans, need to do," he says. Obama believes that "what's at stake in this election [is] who we are and what we believe in." It is a theme that, at every stop along the bus tour, still leads to standing-room-only crowds.

If there is a common strain among campaigns that trail their rivals, it is that Iowa voters do not want the national media telling them who is ahead or behind. For Obama, though, the narrative has worked well. Horton summed up the consensus among his neighbors, who are divided between multiple Democratic campaigns: "It's between [Obama] and Hillary, of course."

But whether Obama can make up ground on Clinton is a question that remains to be answered. Perhaps, his campaign has calculated, there are still votes to gain and no need to take votes away from Clinton. Obama only mentions Clinton once in his stump speech, when he says the two front-runners got in an argument over whether to negotiate with Iran. But the entire talk is peppered with subtle references to judgment over Iran and Iraq, change in Washington that is more than just cosmetic, and Obama's promise not to accept lobbyist money.

By the time he reaches the question and answer period, Obama seems to recognize that he should fling mud in Clinton's direction. In Muscatine, Obama mentioned Clinton four times in response to voters' queries. In Fort Madison, it was three times. Still, when one man gave him the opportunity to provide contrasts between the two on government reform, Obama instead talked about his work with conservative Republican Senator Tom Coburn, with whom he authored a bill to put federal spending data on the internet.

In Fairfield, one woman asked Obama directly how he can beat Clinton. "I'm going to win in Fairfield and that's going to put me over the top," he joked. He said the race would be competitive, and that the current state of the race was "a statistical dead heat between myself and Hillary in Iowa." But his only direct contrasts with Clinton relate to the fact that he isn't tainted by a long Washington track record and that he does not accept lobbyist and corporate money.

Still, remaining the default "anybody-but-Clinton" candidate is vital to Obama's chances. As conventional wisdom - both here, along the banks of the Mississippi River, and in Washington - coalesces around the notion that former Senator John Edwards is a decreasing factor in the caucuses, Obama's fortunes improve.

At the moment, it seems, undecided Iowans are looking for a reason to be convinced not to caucus for Clinton. Obama, working packed rooms throughout Eastern and Central Iowa, is doing his best to provide that reason. Whether he converts the opportunities presented him, though, remains to be seen.

Obama Flashes Populist Streak

BETTENDORF, IOWA - While John Edwards has long cast himself as a hero of populists and liberals, Barack Obama today hinted that he will challenge Edwards for those votes. Addressing Iowa voters in this industrial town on the Illinois border, Obama proposed measures he said would make life easier for the middle class.

The speech, billed as a major policy address on reclaiming the American dream, mixed Obama's intent on combining big ideas with more practical political considerations. Only minutes after urging attendees to sign pledge cards for the January 3rd caucuses, Obama reached for his usual lofty rhetorical heights. "When our fellow Americans are denied the American dream, our own dreams are diminished. And today the cost of that dream is rising faster than ever before," he said.

"We're tired of tax cuts for the wealthy that shift the burden onto the backs of working people. We're tired of waiting ten years for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay is soaring." Obama offered a raft of new proposals aimed at making life easier on the middle and working class, including tax cuts and credits that would cover 10% of a family's mortgage interest payments and the first $4,000 in yearly college tuition, and eliminating income taxes for retirees making less than $50,000 a year.

Obama also proposed pegging the minimum wage to the inflation rate, a goal that has for years eluded national Democrats. Still, he characterized the effort as a key part of reclaiming the American dream. "Americans share a faith in simple dreams," he said, inlcuding "a job with wages that will support a family."

While most of the crowd was already firmly in the Obama camp, the candidate seemed to urge others to make up their mind. After introducing supporter Bill Gluba, a 2006 Congressional candidate who last night was elected mayor of neighboring Davenport, Obama said he recognized that Iowa voters liked to take their time when choosing a nominee. But with two months before the caucus, he said, "it's about time to make those decisions."

If Obama can convince voters he is a more electable populist than Edwards or others, Bettendorf and Davenport, combined a large Iowa industrial hub, will be key to his success.

Clinton Upping Iowa Spending

Time's Mark Halperin reports that Hillary Clinton's campaign is raising ad spending in Iowa by 20-40% in key markets. The move comes just a week after the campaign announced it will boost its Iowa staff significantly, including sending senior spokesman Mo Elleithee to Des Moines for the remainder.

Clinton, running 7.2 points ahead of closest rival Barack Obama in the latest RCP Iowa Average, recognizes, as Obama and John Edwards do, that the Hawkeye State is perhaps the most important contest on the Democratic side. Many believe that if her rivals don't stop Clinton in Iowa, they won't be able to stop her at all.

The moves also come a week after Clinton's poorest debate performance of the year, in which virtually the entire field trained their fire on her to some effect. The media judged last week's performance something of a stumble for the front-runner, and the Washington Post/ABC News poll out yesterday had her national lead down ten points since late September.

The moves to shore up Iowa, therefore, can be viewed one of two ways: The campaign is either incredibly worried about its support in a crucial test of the candidate's inevitability, or it is kicking in to what many have suggested is the "extra gear" it possesses. Obama and Edwards, of course, will call it a reaction to her recent stumble, while Clinton's backers are convinced they're only just getting started.

Dem Race Actually Interesting

It has long been this column's publicly stated position that the Republican presidential race is a much more interesting contest than its Democratic counterpart. Due to the characters involved, the dilemmas many interest groups have with leading contenders and every candidate's possession of what seems to be a fatal flaw, the GOP side just grabs our attention more.

On the Dem side, there's a clear front-runner in national polls and in every early state (if only by a few points in Iowa). Snooze.

But thinking back on this week, we noticed we're writing a lot more about the Democratic side than we normally do. Last week, a cursory glance at our daily Morning Thoughts column shows that, aside from the "Today on the Trail" feature, we wrote nine items about Republican presidential candidates and only four about Democrats. Two items were bipartisan. This week, though, we wrote a whopping fourteen Democratic items and just eight for the GOP, along with one that covered both parties.

A plurality of our coverage this week had to do with the Clinton-Obama-Edwards debate dust-up, so maybe that's the reason for the increased attention to Dems. Whatever the cause, there's blood in the water, Obama, Edwards and Republicans are all circling what they hope is a wounded campaign, and we actually have a ballgame here. Don't get us wrong, the GOP race is still fascinating, but now we have two nail-biters instead of one.

As a very tech-savvy friend of Politics Nation (FoPN) would say, us reporting on what we already reported: Very meta.

Obama Misses 2nd Iran Chance

Sen. Jim Webb sent a letter today to the White House warning President Bush not to take offensive military action against Iran without the consent of Congress. The issue has recently cropped up in the presidential race, where Sen. Barack Obama former Sen. John Edwards have criticized Sen. Hillary Clinton for voting in favor of an amendment designating a wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.

Obama spent much of Tuesday's debate on the issue, hitting Clinton for offering the president what he characterized as the first steps down the path toward the use of force against Iran. But in what is apparently a missed opportunity to drive the point home, Obama was not among the 29 senators who signed on to Webb's letter. One source familiar with the process said Obama's office was among those asked several times to sign on. Clinton, however, did sign on.

Webb, who has recently become one of the party's leading voices on military issues, was joined by Clinton along with top Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin, John Kerry and Jack Reed, among others, in affirming that congressional authority was not granted by an amendment designating the Quds Force a terrorist organization. That amendment, offered by Sens. Jon Kyl and Joe Lieberman, "should in no way be interpreted as a predicate for the use of military force in Iran," the letter reads.

The missed opportunity is not the first time Obama's Senate record has been put seemingly at odds with his campaign rhetoric on the issue. Obama's argument against Clinton has been questioned by some, who noted he missed the vote on the Kyl-Lieberman amendment in order to campaign.

Neither Obama's Senate office nor his campaign office returned multiple calls and emails seeking comment. UPDATE: Obama's office emailed through the following statement:

Senator Obama admires Senator Webb and his sincere and tireless efforts on this issue. But it will take more than a letter to prevent this administration from using the language contained within the Kyl-Lieberman resolution to justify military action in Iran. This requires a legislative answer and Senator Obama intends to propose one.

Full letter below the jump.

Continue reading "Obama Misses 2nd Iran Chance" »

SC Dems: No Colbert

So much for that idea. South Carolina Democrats, who were considering whether funnyman Stephen Colbert is a legitimate Democrat, nationally viable and has campaigned in the Palmetto State, have rejected his attempt to get on the ballot, Politico reports. It is unclear what the comedian's next step will be, though he could potentially run as an independent on the general election ballot.

We imagine South Carolina Democrats will merit a mention on either tonight's Threat Down or a place next to bears in Colbert's heart.

Gore Wins Blind Bio Poll

Pollster John Zogby is out with his latest blind bio poll, which offers some interesting insights into the Democratic presidential race (find the poll's head-to-head matchup and the latest RCP Democratic Average here). Still, one has to wonder, how "blind" are these polls when more than one candidate is a rock star who is well known to the electorate and when two have previously been on national tickets? Judge for yourself. The biographies offered:

Candidate A is an experienced candidate from the South who has been Vice President of the United States and a US Senator. This person has won several awards, including an Oscar, a Grammy, and an Emmy for his documentary about global climate change. This person has won the Nobel Peace prize and is recognized as an international authority on foreign policy, energy, the environment, and technology. This candidate has opposed the Iraq war from the beginning.

Candidate B is a candidate with roots in the South and the midwest, but is currently a US Senator from a Northeastern State. This candidate is well known for work on many domestic issues, including education, children's issues, and health care. As a US Senator, this candidate voted to authorize the Iraq war. This candidate is critical of how the war has been handled by the current administration.

Candidate C is a first-term US Senator from the Midwest who has emphasized efforts to reach out to include in the political process many people who are disaffected and unused to involvement in politics. This candidate brings a fresh face to Washington and draws huge crowds to campaign rallies. This candidate has opposed the Iraq war from the beginning.

Candidate D is a former US Senator from a southern state. This candidate also has run as a Vice Presidential candidate in the past. This candidate champions health care and education for the poor, and has experience running a national political campaign. As a US Senator, this candidate voted to authorize the Iraq war but has since said it was wrong to vote for authorization.

Not very hard to guess who is who, right?

Blind Bio Matchup
Candidate A 35
Candidate B 24
Candidate C 22
Candidate D 10

Candidate C, who for no reason at all we'll call Barack Obama, brings just two positives to the race the other actual candidates can't claim: A "fresh face" and an opposition to the war in Iraq. While Candidate A sucks up more than a third of the vote, it is likely safe to assume that a Grammy, an Emmy and an Oscar are not what people are voting for; without this war opponent in the race, we'd wager many of those votes would go to Obama.

Luckily for Obama, Al Gore isn't running. Further proof, if one is needed, that a Gore endorsement would be a game-changing moment.

In all, the 527 respondents, who said they would vote in a Democratic primary, are largely satisfied with the choices they will face. 76% said they are either very or somewhat satisfied with the field.

Colbert To File For Dem Ballot

Stephen Colbert will file to run in the Democratic primary as a Democrat, CNN reports, citing a source close to Colbert's campaign. The comedian had initially planned to file for both the Republican and Democratic ballots, but the GOP's $35,000 price tag was too high. South Carolina Democrats require just a $2,500 filing fee.

Still, even after he files, the Democratic Party's executive council will meet tomorrow to decide whether each candidate are eligible for the ballot. Party chair Carol Khare Fowler told CNN that Colbert does not look like he's campaigning to win nationwide if he's only running in the Palmetto State.

Colbert has already appeared at two events in his native state, stopping over the weekend in Charleston and Columbia, and is using his campaign to raise $100,000 for the state's schools through a philanthropic website. The site has already pulled in more than $40,000, CNN reported.

A brief editorial note: Colbert and Comedy Central have clearly had some detailed discussions about their plans. Not only has the television network hired a Washington law firm to help Colbert avoid running afoul of federal campaign laws, but now the "campaign" has anonymous sources willing to chat with the press on background.

A recent poll showed Colbert outdrawing some serious candidates on both sides of the aisle, and it is interesting to note the generally serious tone the media takes with Colbert's joke candidacy. The only conclusion this space can draw: There are too many media outlets looking for stories. Everyone, take a mandatory week-long vacation, beginning today.

Halfway Through...

John Edwards is having a heck of a night. He's trying his best to beat out Barack Obama for the Anybody-But-Clinton crowd.

Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson have gone after those attacking Hillary Clinton as hypocrites.

And which is the bigger storyline: Edwards' performance, or Obama's lack of any form of spark?

Whither Arkansas?

A thought: Sen. Hillary Clinton just mentioned some of her work in Arkansas. As she moves closer to a general election strategy, will the kind-of-Red-State become a bigger part of her message?

It seems like a wise move, and sounds better than pitching herself as a New Yorker.

Best Surrogate Ever

In the audience tonight: Bill Barloon, a former hostage in Iraq who credits New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson with saving him from captivity. Barloon was taken hostage in early 1995 and released after four months of captivity, thanks, he says, to Richardson's negotiations.

Barloon will be in the spin room after the debate, spinning for the media. Not a bad endorsement. Barloon has previously appeared in campaign ads for Richardson.

Russert Mocks Kucinich

Moderator Tim Russert had no problem taking a less than gentle poke at Dennis Kucinich in a debate that, toward the end of the allotted time, just got silly, by asking him whether he really saw a UFO. Kucinich, whose UFO sighting was disclosed in a new book by longtime friend Shirley MacLaine, turned the answer right back around and got big laughs from the audience.

He made sure that Russert repeated, twice, than 14% of Americans claim to have seen a UFO.

Just Noticing

Once the debate's "lightening round" began, and real policy questions started coming down the pike, journalists in Drexel University's media filing center got restless.

Obama, Edwards Lace Up Gloves

PHILADELPHIA -- As hundreds of students and perhaps thousands of volunteers descend upon the campus of Drexel University, top Democratic candidates John Edwards and Barack Obama find themselves painted into something of a corner. Each have promised their supporters, and themselves, that they will land blows against Hillary Clinton, increasingly running away with the Democratic nomination.

Photo credit:
Susan Davis
Whether they can actually do it, however, is another question. The opportunities for candidates to establish themselves as real contenders are waning, and if Obama or Edwards do not land serious body blows soon, their chances of a twelfth-round upper cut in Iowa fade.

Each candidate has important questions to answer tonight. For Obama, who telegraphed his punch in a weekend New York Times interview, buzz is growing that supporters of his are getting restless with his failure to shake the Clinton foundations. After two efforts to change the tone of the debate amounted to little more than false starts, Obama may be forced to take a swing, and for someone unaccustomed to direct verbal jabs, anything less than a perfect swipe only hands Clinton an opportunity for a counterpunch.

Obama's long dedication, as well, to what he calls the politics of hope provides him a delicate balancing act that seems to argue for an attack. While any overt confrontations Obama begins will be greeted by cries that he abandons pretenses of an all-positive campaign, if he decides to avoid direct clashes, Democratic primary voters may wonder how he would be able to stand up to broadsides from the eventual Republican nominee, none of whom will be shy about taking him on.

For Edwards, the risk is of becoming a shrill attack dog. Edwards has done the most to draw contrasts between himself and Clinton, but none have proven terribly effective. Refusing lobbyist money and promising to remove troops from Iraq were Edwards' issues, but his contrasts are muted by the fact that Obama shares many of his policies. Ironically, it may be Edwards' criticisms that makes Clinton vulnerable to another candidate, but because Obama is the fresh new face, Edwards may not be the beneficiary of his own hard work.

If Edwards' campaign is thinking the same thing, it may be more important for the former Senator to draw his contrasts with Obama and set himself up as the Anyone But Clinton candidate.

The second tier can do almost nothing to break through, as countless debates have already shown. In hopes of winning a prominent position in tomorrow's stories, one possibility is to come to Clinton's defense and contrast not with her, but with Obama and Edwards. On the other hand, second-tier candidates this year seem unlikely to be prominent vice presidential contenders, and their campaign staffs may decide that lobbing grenades at any front-runner, at any opportunity, is their best hope.

Going into tonight's debate, in the city of brotherly love, at least two top Democratic candidates are lacing up their gloves. It is appropriate that a statue of Rocky Balboa, the world's most famous fictional boxer, stands just a short distance away on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Gregg Endorses

Sen. Judd Gregg, dean of the New Hampshire congressional delegation, will endorse Mitt Romney today at the state capitol, the Union Leader reports this morning. Gregg will join Romney before the former governor treks across the street to file papers to officially become a candidate on the New Hampshire ballot. A top Gregg adviser, Tom Rath, was an early Romney backer.

Gregg's endorsement means two of the Granite State's four members of Congress have chosen a candidate. Freshman Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes threw his support behind Barack Obama in July. Spokespeople for Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and Republican Sen. John Sununu were not immediately available to answer questions about whether their bosses would endorse.

Former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who is running against Sununu in 2008, is not backing a candidate, though her husband Bill is supporting Hillary Clinton. And Gov. John Lynch, also a Democrat, has remained neutral thus far.

No one from the Iowa delegation has publicly picked a candidate, though several South Carolinians have endorsed. Sen. Jim DeMint is on Romney's team, while Sen. Lindsey Graham is backing John McCain. Rep. Gresham Barrett is on board with former Sen. Fred Thompson.

Quote Of The Week

From yesterday's Marketplace, on NPR:

"I'm willing to work with any president in the next election, no matter who she is."

-- A confident Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), who is, of course, backing fellow New Yorker Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Dems Raiding Others' Camps

Two reports today show the Democratic race is condensing around Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and that both have no qualms about robbing support from other Democratic candidates.

Clinton, the Wall Street Journal reports today, will hold a massive fundraiser at Union Station in Washington on December 6th. The event is expected to draw between 2,000 and 3,000 attendees, but here's what drew our attention: "The location is no accident, says a lobbyist who's among the planners (though publicly still aligned with a rival Democrat): The metaphorical message is, it's time to get on board."

The emphasis is ours, and it's telling: With growing leads in the polls, Democratic insiders are jumping on the bandwagon as fast as possible. And that's bad news for whichever rival Democrat that lobbyist was backing -- and for every other rival Democrat.

Meanwhile, the last Democratic administration produced the experts and big names who run the party's policy apparatus now. And despite the last name on that administration, many former Clintonites are defecting to Obama's campaign, the Boston Globe reports.

In the Globe's backyard, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a former Clinton Justice Department official, threw his weight behind Obama, joining former Clinton cabinet members Frederico Pena and Bill Daley, top foreign policy minds Tony Lake and Susan Rice and others. A few other former Clinton administration officials have backed other candidates, but Obama has been the prime winner of administration ex-patriots.

Endorsements on their own mean little, but collectively show a campaign's momentum. Whether it's being inspired by Obama's message or being nudged by Clinton's inevitability, the window has likely closed for any other Democratic candidate.

Prez Race Good For Party Infrastructure

Never let it be said that a presidential election year isn't great business for state and local parties. Iowa Democrats charge $50,000 if you buy their voter lists early. The Iowa Republican Party brought in more than $1 million for the straw poll in Ames in August. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin raised lord knows how much at his annual Steak Fry in Indianola last month. Plus, candidates flock to annual party events in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But other states can benefit as well. Sen. Hillary Clinton spent Monday night at the Washington State Democrats' annual Maggie Awards banquet, named for the late Sen. Warren Magnuson, and pulled in more cash than any single event in state party history. More than 1200 people showed up at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. The event raised $170,000, which party spokesman Michael King says is "by far" the biggest in Evergreen State history.

Clinton To Get AFSCME Nod

Sen. Hillary Clinton will be endorsed next week by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union, Newsweek's Howard Fineman reports. The group boasts 30,000 members in Iowa, and large contingents in other early states.

That's many more than the 2000 members SEIU boasts in Iowa -- the Service Employees in several states, including Iowa, are backing former Sen. John Edwards -- but SEIU can also import members from California, which is also backing Edwards. The Golden State's SEIU contingent is more than 650,000 members strong.

AFSCME, Fineman notes, came out strong for Bill Clinton in 1992, well before he was the front-runner. Fineman reports the former president called union chief Gerald McEntee on behalf of his wife. AFSCME joins the American Federation of Teachers and the Machinists union in Clinton's corner.

Edwards has attracted the support of the Steelworkers and Miners unions as well as SEIU statewide chapters across the country. The national SEIU couldn't reach an agreement on a single candidate to endorse after locals in New York and Illinois, home territory of Sen. Barack Obama, objected to a national endorsement. Obama has picked up support from state SEIU councils in his home state and in Indiana.

Obama's Smart Fundraising Ploy

Make no mistake: Barack Obama is not hard up for cash. His $36.1 million cash on hand is a huge amount, yet he trails Sen. Hillary Clinton by $2.1 million.

In his latest fundraising pitch, Obama uses that minor disparity to urge his supporters to help him catch up. "The situation here is simple. We are $2.1 million behind. We must close that gap right now. I need you to make a donation," Obama writes in a fundraising email. "Hillary Clinton aggressively seeks money from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs. She's even said that these lobbyists represent real Americans. She's wrong."

The admission and the hit on Clinton, which plays into Obama's perceived strength as a straight-talking outsider, are both smart moves. "Washington lobbyists have chosen their candidate (ed. note: Which candidate, Mr. Obama?) and are determined to provide her (ed. note: Oh...) with an overwhelming advantage. But you can even up this contest."

No pundit or prognosticator can seriously believe that the difference between $38 million and $36 million is the difference between a win and a loss. But by sending subtle hints of urgency, we're betting Obama finds this email to be one of his most successful during the campaign.

Mark Halperin, who has a copy of the email, thinks this is the opening salvo of Obama's new phase of taking on Clinton more directly. The attack is certainly direct, and could signal the beginning of the bloody phase of the primary.

What Women Want

A new ARG poll out yesterday, showing Hillary Clinton leading the Democratic field by 25 points and Rudy Giuliani up on the GOP side by 8 points shows an interesting gender gap developing in both parties: Women are flocking to certain candidates, and those candidates are winning.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton could not have reached 45% without an even half of the women surveyed backing her bid. Just 39% of men support her candidacy. Barack Obama, in second place with 20%, scores better among women than among men as well, by a 21% to 18% margin. Many more men favor John Edwards (third place, 13%) and Joe Biden (fourth, with 5%) than women.

Among Republicans, Giuliani benefits from a sizeable 11-point gender gap. The front-runner, with 24%, scores 30% with women and just 19% with men. The gender gap reverses in second place, as more men back Fred Thompson (21%) than women (11%), giving him 16%, and Mitt Romney's 15% comes with a four-point male advantage. In fourth place with 14%, John McCain scoops up women voters, who favor him by a 10-point margin over their male counterparts.

The gender gap among Democrats is understandable -- Clinton, as the first woman front-runner in history, benefits from a sizable lead. On the GOP side, could Giuliani's head start among women come from his post-September 11th mystique and concerns about crime and safety? If so, the issue may be a tool Giuliani, as the GOP nominee, could use to cut into what would likely be an even larger gender gap in the general election.

Questions Obama Doesn't Want To Answer

Talk about off-message. Presidential candidates are supposed to spend their time discussing policy and their proposals, and press departments everywhere hate it when reporters ask their candidates about the process of getting elected. When Sen. Barack Obama campaigned door-to-door in Des Moines this weekend, Register writer Jason Clayworth succeeded in getting him to talk about the state of his campaign, rather than the state of his ideas.

The headline, "Obama: Iowa campaign on track," screams of a flailing campaign, though the rest of the article is largely positive -- "'We've really exceeded expectations so far,' Obama said. 'We always knew that I've got to introduce myself to voters in a way that some of the other candidates don't have to do.'"

Answering questions about the state of his campaign, as he runs third, behind Sen. Hillary Clinton and ex-Sen. John Edwards, is not how Obama needs to spend his time on the trail.

Oh, and we love this gem: "One woman told reporters about 11 a.m. that she was just about to leave her home to go get a beer when she saw the senator make his way into her neighborhood." Getting a beer at 11 a.m.? Why didn't she invite Obama?

Beware The U-L

Forget the New York Times, the Washington Post, even the Wall Street Journal. Candidates running for president hunger for a kind word or a favorable lede in big early state papers. The Des Moines Register's David Yepsen, we're just guessing, could get any candidate on the phone in ten minutes. The State, in Columbia, covers the primary nonstop. Even the Las Vegas Review-Journal is stepping up its coverage as candidates finally begin to travel the state.

In New Hampshire, it's all about the Union Leader. Founded during the civil war, the paper reaches just over 60,000 people, but those are New Hampshire primary voters, and their opinions can be moved by the Union Leader's slant. And slant it has: Publisher William Loeb put a conservative spin on the opinion page, urging candidates to pledge never to raise taxes. His wife continued the themes until she died in 2000.

Now, publisher Joseph McQuaid runs the paper, and while the conservative bent has been quieted some, his front-page editorials and zealous commitment to the state's first-in-the-nation primary can still cause headaches for candidates.

Today's example: Sen. Hillary Clinton was the only top tier candidate to remain on the ballot in Michigan, which will hold a primary on January 15, three weeks before the approved window. The Union Leader weighs in this morning with a scathing editorial, titled "Clinton's 'is' moment." "If she'll break her word to participate in a virtually meaningless primary, what won't she break her word for?" the paper asks.

The only bright spot: The editorial did not run on the front page.

Clinton, and every other candidate, will has to tiptoe around the feelings of editorial writers in Des Moines, Columbia and Las Vegas. But cross those who buy ink by the barrel in Manchester, and they won't forget it.

Democrats Pull Out Of Michigan

After Michigan Democrats refused to disregard their state's planned January 15 primary, four top Democratic candidates have filed papers with the Secretary of State to withdraw their names from the ballot. Sen. Barack Obama, ex-Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said they would take their names off the state's primary ballot today, according to the Detroit Free Press. Sen. Joe Biden sent out a release saying he, too, would take his name off the ballot today, the last day to legally do so.

Michigan is home to Sen. Carl Levin and party activist Debbie Dingell, wife of Rep. John Dingell, the two most active members of a group of Democrats trying to break the stranglehold Iowa and New Hampshire have on the presidential nominating process.

Candidates earlier this year were asked to sign a pledge not to campaign in states that violated the DNC's rule prohibiting nominating contests held before February 5th. Only Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada are allowed, under DNC rules, to hold early contests.

Other Democratic candidates, including front-running Sen. Hillary Clinton, have yet to issue statements. They have about four hours to make their decisions. The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee will likely treat Michigan to the same sanctions as Florida, which, by holding a January 29 primary, lost all its delegates to the 2008 convention.

It remains likely that both states' delegates will ultimately be sat at the convention, thanks to the presidential nominee's control over membership on the Credentials Committee. Still, the move is another step towards chaos endemic in this year's primary calendar.

UPDATE: Blake Dvorak has the report that Clinton will stay on the ballot in Michigan. How the first four primary states will react could propel this story for a few more days.

Anatomy Of A Splash

Yesterday was supposed to be Senator Barack Obama's big day. On the five year anniversary of his speech against the war in Iraq, Obama was to kick off a big foreign policy tour through Iowa, capitalizing on the biggest tangible difference between himself and front-runner Hillary Clinton -- that he opposed the war she voted to authorize.

Two hours or so before Obama's big speech, on the campus at DePaul University in Chicago, Clinton's campaign dropped their 3rd Quarter fundraising numbers. The $27 million raised, $22 million of it available for the primary, landed with a thud that some in the Obama camp must have thought landed right on their heads. Clinton didn't blow Obama out of the water -- in fact, he still leads in overall money raised -- but the storyline still looked great for Team HRC: 1) Clinton outraised Obama. 2) She had a great quarter. 3) 100,000 new donors gave to her campaign. 4) $27 million (misleading, of course, because $5 million of that is not available for the primary, but that's the number that gets out nonetheless).

Check out the play Clinton gets on today's front pages:

"Clinton Steals Obama's Fund-Raising Thunder," over three columns in front of the New York Times.

"Clinton raised $22 million for her primary campaign in the past three months, $3 million more than Obama, reinforcing her status as the Democratic front-runner," the Wall Street Journal writes in their world-wide news box.

"Clinton saves cash for 2008," teases USA Today, with no other mention of Obama.

Washington Post has a related story, though it's not about money: "Clinton Widens Lead In Poll," prominent as the paper's lead story today.

The Illinois Senator did get one of the most important leads, though: The Des Moines Register fronted Obama's call to eliminate nuclear weapons, noting below the article that "Clinton edges Obama."

Obama won an important battle, in Des Moines. But Clinton, in the Post, the Times, the Journal and USA Today, looks like she won yesterday's war.

Hillary's Big Haul

No wonder Hillary Clinton waited a day. Campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle reports the campaign pulled in $27 million over the 3rd Quarter, with $22 million available for the primary. More than 100,000 new donors contributed to the campaign.

Clinton's numbers will do something to dampen rival Barack Obama's big day on Iraq today, but, as one pundit points out, the real story remains "Obama, Clinton raise lots of money." If Obama's lucky, that will remain the headline. If he's not, everyone will point out that Clinton outraised him by $3 million in primary cash.

Edwards Has $7 Million

First Read reports that former Sen. John Edwards, who recently announced he would accept federal matching funds, isn't doing too badly -- he raised $7 million in the 3rd Quarter, with $12 million cash on hand. They have the potential to earn another $10 million from matching funds.

The campaign has maintained a goal of $40 million raised this year, and with more than $30 million picked up so far, they remain on track. Still, when Sen. Barack Obama has about $75 million and Sen. Hillary Clinton is likely to come in somewhere near that, Edwards' competitiveness in the primary remains a question.

Obama Announces Fundraising Totals

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign just announced their 3rd Quarter fundraising totals -- $19 million in primary money, another $1 million in general election funds.

The campaign attracted 93,000 new donors, giving them a total of 352,000 donors and more than 500,000 individual donations.

$20 million is approximately in line with expectations pundits and the media had set for Obama's campaign. The total brings Obama's year-to-date numbers to $74.9 million for the primary.

When does Senator Clinton release her numbers, and how close will she come to Obama?

Democratic Debate Wrap

Nobody won, some people lost, I wrote of the Democratic debate. Now, perfect for a Friday, the reporter's version of a document dump:

Number of "Moose Crossing" signs: 3

Number of sign-waving fanatics: A few hundred (but fewer than it looked like on TV).


Number of pundits with beards on MSNBC's "Hardball": At least 2.

Washington Post's Dan Balz and NBC's Chuck Todd pontificate for Chris Matthews

Number of Bill Richardson trucks: 2. But I only got a picture of one. Don't think the other was an official campaign vehicle.


The snowman showed up as well, even though the temperature hovered in the 90s all afternoon:


So did the press. The press room during the debate (that's ABC's David Chalian in the middle):


After the debate, the spin room was packed. Why not open up a bigger room?

Among the attendees:

Elizabeth Edwards
And Obama's David Axelrod

As everyone can tell, photography isn't my strong suit. Still, I'll be taking and posting pictures every chance I get along the campaign trail.

Democrats Debate: It's A Wrap

Apologies for not posting this last night, but here's my wrap-up of the debate.

Democrats Debate: Biden's Niche

HANOVER -- Asked whether raising the cap on Social Security taxes would make the system solvent, Joe Biden was blunt: "The answer is yes. No one up here is going to say it."

That's become a familiar refrain for Biden -- the only guy on stage willing to actually tell it like it is. And it works. Biden's blunt talk on everything from Social Security to Iraq takes many aback, in a way that separates him from the field. Unfortunately, blunt-speak is rarely popular, which might explain his low standing in polls.

Biden's reputation is such that the most dangerous place in Washington, it is said, is between Biden and a camera. It is remarkable that someone with so much media experience remains so authentic and blunt, and in a way that is appealing and doesn't come across as false.

Democrats Debate: Round One

HANOVER -- In a round dominated by foreign policy, no one landed any big shots. Barack Obama and John Edwards tried repeatedly to get into it with Clinton: "Had my judgment prevailed back in 2002, we wouldn't be in this predicament," Obama said of Iraq. Meanwhile, Edwards took a shot at Clinton for saying she would continue combat missions in Iraq, which Clinton parried before Edwards had even finished his answer.

On the left side of the stage -- geographically, not necessarily ideologically -- Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd struggled to distinguish themselves. Biden at times seemed exasperated, urging Russert to include him in the debate.

Meanwhile, where's Obama? After early answers on Iraq, the Illinois Senator, who was reportedly feeling ill before the debate, rarely offered his opinion and hasn't interjected.

Finally, on a night when Clinton is the main target, it seems very appropriate that she is flanked by Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel. It also seems appropriate that, for some reason, there is a boxing ring in the press filing room.

Democrats Debate: Opening Thoughts

HANOVER -- As Democrats gather at Dartmouth College for the third of six DNC-sponsored debates, a dominant story line of the campaign so far is coming to a close. Like the unwelcome coming of fall, many decried the early start of the primary season. For candidates trailing in money or in polls, the refrain was similar: It's still early. There's plenty of time left to catch up.

With just over three months and just one fundraising quarter left before ballots are cast, tonight's debate marks the beginning of game time. If second-tier candidates don't break out within a very short period of time, they will find themselves little more than footnotes in history.

For two top candidates, the risk of being left behind is also becoming clear in a way it hasn't before. Senator Hillary Clinton, a recent University of New Hampshire/CNN/WMUR poll shows, is solidifying her lead, and now enjoys the support of more than twice as many Democrats as her nearest rival, Senator Barack Obama. Obama and former Senator John Edwards, searching for holes in Clinton's armor, will use tonight to launch more vollies her way.

If they fail, and if Clinton maintains an ever-widening aura of inevitability, Obama and Edwards will find themselves with one fewer chance. Those chances are dwindling fast. And while fans of both will point out, rightly, that 55% of respondents said they were still trying to decide on a candidate, Clinton's lead will be hard to overcome. Even if many are still unwilling to commit, they are leaning toward the New York Senator. Attacks launched tonight will be aimed at dislodging those tentative masses.

The second tier will not allow the debate to become a focus on the trio of front-runners. Each will fire their own salvos, attempt to distinguish themselves in some way and do whatever they can to make it into tomorrow's stories.

Clinton, the undisputed leader of the pack, has much riding on the debate, but if her previous appearances are indicative, she can further stand above the pack. Obama likely has more at stake tonight, as many pundits are beginning to question whether he is anything more than the second-place finisher. But whoever wins tonight, in the eyes of the media and the viewing public, will have scored a point in a contest with increasingly few opportunities to do so.

Pre-Debate Poll Shows Clinton Solidifying Lead

MANCHESTER -- A poll out today, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center for CNN and WMUR-TV, shows New York Senator Hillary Clinton solidifying her lead on the eve of the latest Democratic debate, to be held tomorrow at Dartmouth College in Hanover.

Perhaps as important as her lead in the primary, the results show that Clinton's biggest weakness -- her perceived inability to win a general -- is not a concern among Democratic primary voters, a majority of whom name her as most likely to beat the GOP nominee. Given that Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards are all virtually equally seen in a favorable light, primary voters look as if they are going with the electable candidate, in Clinton, over Obama and Edwards, both of whom are seen as more likeable.

The poll, taken September 17-24, surveyed 307 respondents who said they planned to vote in the Democratic primary. The margin of error is +/- 5.5%.

Clinton 43 (+7 from 7/07 poll)
Obama 20 (-7)
Edwards 12 (+3)
Richardson 6 (-5)
Biden 3 (-1)
Kuchinich 3 (nc)
Dodd 1 (+1)
Gravel 0 (nc)

Democrats (w/Gore)
Clinton 41 (+8)
Obama 19 (-6)
Edwards 11 (+3)
Gore 7 (-1)
Richardson 6 (-4)
Biden 3 (nc)
Kucinich 3 (nc)
Dodd 1 (+1)
Gravel 0 (nc)

Which Candidate Is Most Likeable?
Obama 39
Edwards 27
Clinton 15
Richardson 6

Which Candidate Has Best Chance Of Beating GOP Nominee?
Clinton 54
Obama 13
Edwards 8
Gore 8

Which Candidate Has Right Experience To Be President?
Clinton 47
Gore 14
Edwards 8
Obama 8

Which Candidate Is Most Likely To Bring Needed Change?
Clinton 36
Obama 24
Edwards 8
Gore 7

Obama 78/11
Clinton 77/15
Edwards 76/10
Gore 73/19
Richardson 53/14
Biden 45/20
Dodd 40/23
Kucinich 31/27
Gravel 7/23

First Stop: Red Arrow

MANCHESTER -- As the Northeast undergoes an early fall heat wave, Democrats prepare to descend on the Granite State for tomorrow's MSNBC-sponsored debate from Dartmouth. Voters here, having endured close to a year of campaigning already, are stoically entrenched, preparing for the onslaught the next three months will bring.

Customers at the Red Arrow Diner, just down the street from Rep. Carol Shea-Porter's district office and Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta's re-election headquarters, are so accustomed to out-of-town reporters dropping in for a sandwich that the waiters make them sign a guest book. Apparently, however, Politics Nation is not well-enough known (yet) to merit a notice.

When stopping into the Red Arrow, if a customer values their health, they won't call the young lady who serves them "ma'am." Politics Nation learned that lesson the hard way, when she threatened to deck us for the slur. Our apologies.

More updates from New Hampshire as events warrant.

FL Dems To DNC: Take That!

In an open letter emailed to Florida Democrats, state party chairwoman Karen Thurman pledged this weekend to make her state's January 29 primary binding. "Don't let anybody call this vote a 'beauty contest' or a 'straw poll,'" she wrote. The move comes just weeks after the Democratic National Committee voted to strip Florida of all its delegates to the convention if the party went ahead with a primary planned before the official opening of the window in which states are allowed to hold nominating contests.

The Florida Democratic Party launched a website,, dedicated to trumpeting their contest, and urging Democrats to participate not only in the presidential primary but in state and local referenda the party calls crucial.

Florida Democrats are operating from a position of strength. While Democratic presidential candidates have signed a pledge, put forward by state parties in early states Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, promising not to campaign in Florida, the primary will still make news. And, at the end of the day, no nominee will want to exclude a state from the convention.

The Democratic nominee, who will have considerable influence over the makeup of the DNC credentials committee, will likely exert pressure to include delegates from Florida or other states in order to fully include what remains a crucial swing state.

Florida's move, and decisions by candidates to sign onto the pledge, is likely a boon to front-runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Without the benefit of sustained campaigning in the Sunshine State, voters will only be exposed to national media coverage, which is largely concerned with the race's two superstars.

The other fallout: WIth the increasing chaos, party leaders may finally decide that the primary calendar in 2012 should look much different from the calendar this year. Both parties are exploring ways to exert any control they can over states, and Florida's move, along with that of Michigan and many other states who moved their contests up to February 5th, could prove the impetus to finally do something.

New Obama Ad Taking HRC's Message

Senator Barack Obama is up with a new ad, entitled "Believe," hitting themes of change in Washington and taking as many jabs as possible at front-runner Hillary Clinton: "I've taken on drug and insurance companies. And won," he says. "I defied the politics of the moment and opposed the war in Iraq before it began."

Neither Obama nor Clinton seem to believe that "change" and "experience" are contradictory messages. Obama's anti-Washington ads come even after what he cites as 20 years of public service, and Clinton, the Washington insider, is running against the Beltway even as she says she's ready to lead on day one.

It's hard to tell how Obama distinguishes himself from Clinton, but perhaps co-opting her message and presenting the same qualities in a different package may work.

Clinton Launches Health Care Ad

A day after her health care plan was mauled by Democrats and Republicans alike, yet won favorable reviews -- both for the process by which she developed the plan and the plan itself -- from the media (including liberal favorite E.J. Dionne, Sen. Hillary Clinton has launched a new ad on health care in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The ad blends the experience and change messages so essential to Clinton's campaign, running through her history on health care (a fine line to walk and not remind people of 1993's debacle) and ending with this tag: "If you're ready for change, she's ready to lead."

The ad:

Taking a look at health care plans each candidate has offered, the Chicago Tribune's Rick Pearson and Mike Dorning think it's an issue with major distinctions between the two parties. Plans offered by Clinton, Senator Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards all rely on greater government involvement. Plans offered by Republican front-runners tackle health care costs by offering tax credits.

Clinton On The Daily Show

No, not THAT Clinton. Former President Bill Clinton will be a guest on Thursday's Daily Show with Jon Stewart. We're waiting for the Senator to make her second appearance, especially after Senator Barack Obama's latest visit.

Steak Fry Rakes In Big Bucks

How big is Iowa Senator Tom Harkin's annual steak fry? Two years ago, former President Bill Clinton headlined. Last year, it was Senator Barack Obama. This year, it was Clinton's wife, Obama, and four other Democrats running for President.

The steak fry brought in a reported 18,000 Democratic activists -- assuming $30 a ticket (and that was only pre-sales; it was $35 at the door), that's $540,000 for Harkin's re-election campaign -- as well as nearly 200 credentialed reporters. That's more than one-third the number of fans who showed up to watch the Iowa State Cyclones narrowly defeat the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, the biggest football game in Iowa of the year.

Today's Des Moines Register features at least four stories about the event. One story, posted yesterday around noon, warned of major traffic delays of at least four miles by noon.

Coming on the heels of the Iowa Republican Party's straw poll, at which turnout was markedly down from 2000, the event seems to show, more than anecdotally, that Iowa Democrats are much more enthusiastic about the Presidential race than the GOP.