The Note

Could the presidential campaign landscape be radically altered in the next two weeks?

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NEWS SUMMARY

Is leading The Note with a question such poor writing style that we should be ashamed?

In any case, between the second-quarter fundraising derby; the cattle calls; the Bush cash juggernaut; the Medicare battles and mandatory votes; the Howard Dean announcement (and anticipated Sunday show battering); and the hand-wringing over the size of the field — between all that, it's possible that something will in fact give.

While none of the Democrats seem to be aggressively trying to drive any rivals out of the race (what with all of them being so busy making sure they are able to stay buoyant themselves … ), there is a distinct feeling of political gravity in the air.

We forgive Jackie Calmes her beyond-hackneyed "SHOW ME THE MONEY" set up, because other than that, her Washington Wire item on the 2nd-quarter raising numbers is pure solid gold, taking public the expectations game heretofore confined to certain tables at Lauriol Plaza:

"June 30 reports loom as test of 2004 rivals' strength."

"Edwards, whose $7.4 million was tops for Democratic White House wannabes in March, 'will not hit our shock-and-awe number' for second-quarter, a spokeswoman says. Insiders say he will approach $5 million. Many expect Kerry to shine; manager Jim Jordan says onus is on Gephardt: 'After an embarrassing first quarter, he's the guy under pressure.'"

"'Rookie spin,' Gephardt's Erik Smith counters. 'Raise expectations for others when you're worried about meeting your own.' Newcomer Graham's report is awaited to gauge his Florida support. Lieberman 'hopes' to match his past $3 million, an aide says; outsiders saw that as subpart. Dean may hit $4 million, says manager Joe Trippi; rivals' rumor of $6 million is 'in-my-dreams … number.'"

Wow — Erik Smith calling Jordan a "rookie." The implications are staggering.

Meanwhile, down the page Ms. Calmes shifts from money to Medicare, staying, however, in the Invisible Primary netherworld:

"Medicare vote splits White House rivals from other Senate Democrats."

"Most Senate Democrats, led by liberal Kennedy, support a bipartisan Medicare bill creating a seniors' drug benefit, but those seeking their party's 2004 nomination balk under pressure from labor. Kerry and Graham voted no in Finance panel; both decline to say how they'll vote in Senate. 'I imagine he would be consistent,' a Graham aide says."

"Edwards objects that the measure 'didn't do a thing' to bring down drug costs, an aide says. Lieberman hasn't taken a position. Labor says the benefit won't go far enough; some want to deny Bush any credit for enactment."

"Liberal backers counter: Take the $400 billion benefit now — before Republicans cut taxes again."

More broadly, the AP's Will Lester has Democrats looking at a crowded field and worried about fundraising and message dilution.

He also offers his assessment of General Wesley Clark and Senator Joe Biden that is tough on both but harsher for Biden.

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