The Note: Inside David Axelrod's Steel Cage


Bending to reality, The Note will suspend regular coverage of politics until further Notice.

For the foreseeable future, we will simply chronicle the politics and coverage of Barack Obama's quest to become America's 44th president with daily awards in all categories.

As Robert Gibbs (likely) said to Senator Obama as they reviewed the events of the last 24 hours: "Welcome to the Freak Show, boss."

Best analysis of the meaning of Clinton versus Obama: Dan Balz's must-read opus in the Washington Post. LINK

Best explanation of the planned February 10 Springfield/Lincoln symbolism: the Chicago Sun-Times. LINK

Best Clinton versus Obama fundraising reporting: the Los Angeles Times. LINK

Best David Axelrod quote (of the news cycle): "There is such a compulsion on the part of the political community and political media community to create a steel cage match between Clinton and Obama you can almost see the fight posters."

Most absurd over-the-top analysis of Clinton versus Obama: Dana Milbank's childish Washington Sketch in the Washington Post. LINK

Most perfunctory Howard Wolfson quote: ""The field is shaping up as a strong field. It's an exciting time to be a Democrat. We obviously wish Sen. Obama well."

Best sign for John Edwards: Polling partners ABC News LINK and the Washington Post LINK, and the New York Observer LINK, cast Edwards high, below the frontrunners but above the pack, and he made the Today show as a soundbite.

Best/latest indication of how well-wired Lynn Sweet of the Sun-Times is: "In a conference call with some of his best fund-raisers Tuesday, Obama said he could need to raise between $65 million and $70 million for the primary season -- a year away -- and set a goal of raising $500,000 on his first day in the race." LINK

Biggest show of Clinton weakness (from the Los Angeles Times): "He's going to have an effect on our fundraising — no question about it," said Sim Farar, a major Clinton fundraiser in Los Angeles." LINK

Silliest headline: New York Daily News' "Up Hill Battle: Obama's Early White House Bid Rattles Clinton Camp," which suggests via blind quotes that Clinton might announce next week in reaction to Obama.

Best low-ball expectations setting by an anonymous Obama adviser (in the Chicago Tribune): "An Obama adviser said the exploratory committee hopes to raise $7 million by the end of March." LINK

Best evidence that the Chicago Tribune treats its hometown candidates differently than the Boston Globe does: this slobbering editorial. LINK

Best color: Jeff Zeleny (who is going to co-own this story), in the New York Times, "In Washington, Mr. Obama's announcement caused a stir among Democratic political operatives, who rushed to make inquiries about joining his campaign. A list of telephone numbers for local offices in Iowa, New Hampshire and Chicago -- none of which have even opened yet -- were being circulated via e-mail." LINK

Biggest names for Clinton to worry about (for now): David Geffen (per the Los Angeles Times) and Tom Daschle (per the New York Sun's Gerstein LINK

. Best line of tab analysis: "Obama's biggest problem may not be that he's black but that he's green." (New York Daily News)

Most banal Jennifer Palmieri quote: "The country's going to face some tremendous challenges in 2009 and we need the very best candidates to run. . . . [A]nyone who has good ideas on how we tackle these problems should get into the race."

Clearest sign that Tommy Vietor needs more sleep and less BlackBerry time: this New York Times photo. LINK

Most overt indication that Sen. Clinton is actually in the race already: Wolfson to the Los Angeles Times, "Sen. Clinton has a strong case to make for her own candidacy, and is going to have to make the best case for herself." LINK

Sen. Obama attends a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq at 11:30 am ET, attends the Democratic Caucus Lunch at 12:45 pm ET, and presides over the Senate at 5:00 pm ET.

We'll hear more from Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) today about her endorsement of a cap on U.S. troops in Iraq since Jan. 1 (and perhaps an explanation of how aggressive she plans to be in pushing that position, and if she supports the Kennedy bill) today when she joins Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Congressman John M. McHugh (R-NY) at a press conference to discuss their recent visit to Iraq at 3:00 pm ET. Check out Sen. Clinton's comments this morning on ABC News' Political Radar: LINK

(Over to you, Sen. Obama.)

With Republican Sen. Hagel on board to co-sponsor a Senate resolution on the Iraq war, and with majority agreement that the Senate will go before the House, we have some answers But there are still questions: what will be voted on and when; what will Mitch McConnell do; and what other Republican Senators will vote with the majority?

President Bush visits the National Institutes of Health laboratories in Bethesda, MD at 10:35 am, and then participates in a roundtable discussion on advances in cancer prevention at 11:15 am.

Republican National Committee members start arriving in Washington today with some closed press events this afternoon in advance of their winter meeting truly getting underway tomorrow. Mel Martinez's fate remains somewhat unclear.

It's a busy day in on the Hill. The House Foreign Affairs Committee meets to discuss Iraq, with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appearing as witness, starting at 10 am ET, while at the same time the House Armed Services Committee meets to discuss alternative Iraq strategies.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing on "Iraq: Regional Diplomatic Strategy." at 9:30 am ET.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a closed committee hearing on "Iraq's Regional Neighbors and Their Influence on the War" at 2:30 pm ET.

2008: Democrats: Obama:

ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin analyzes the permanent realignment of the 2008 Democratic race with the entry of Sen. Obama (D-IL) into the race, forming the "Big 3" of the contest. Halperin writes, "those three -- Clinton, Obama and Edwards -- have the three key "Ms" far in excess of the other prospective candidates: money, media access and majesty." LINK

For ABC News' World News Webcast, Jake Tapper uses the Illinois Senator's unique name to spell out the elements of Obama's candidacy. . . in rhyme, no less. LINK

The New York Times' Zeleny writes that the Senator's announcement ends weeks of speculation that "sent ripples though the ranks of other Democrats eyeing the presidential nomination" and an Obama candidacy "changes the contours of the Democratic landscape." LINK

More Zeleny: "The dynamic among Mr. Edwards, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, not to mention other Democrats, is poised to touch off a curious scramble inside the party. Mr. Edwards is seeking to capture the economically disenfranchised or anxious class of voters, who might also find Mr. Obama appealing. At the same time, it remains an open question whether Mrs. Clinton will have competition for the moderate voters who provided a staple for her husband's candidacy 15 years ago."

The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Chris Cillizza have an unnamed senior Obama adviser saying, "There will be bumps; there always are." The Washington Post duo also report that Obama's "unwillingness to set a date" for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq "has infuriated war opponents, who also fumed last year over Obama's support for the reelection campaign of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), one of President Bush's strongest allies on Iraq. The Web site called him 'O-bomb-a.'" LINK

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza looks at Obama's "impressive team" including: David Plouffe, who is widely expected to serve as national campaign manager, David Axelrod, who will handle television advertising, Robert Gibbs, who will be the campaign's communications director, Paul Harstad, who will handle polling along with Cornell Belcher, Julianna Smoot, who will be finance director, Steve Hildebrand, who will be an early state adviser, Cassandra Butts, who will oversee policy development, Paul Tewes, who will be Obama's Iowa state director, Bill Burton, who will be national press secretary, Dan Pfeiffer, who will be traveling press secretary, Devorah Adler, who will be research director, and Alyssa Mastromonaco, who will oversee scheduling and advance work. LINK

Judy Keen of USA Today tackles the question -- is Obama experienced enough for 2008? And she quotes the Senator's political strategist David Axelrod accentuating the candidate's strong decision making skills, telling a Chicago station, "However many gray hairs he has, he managed to get it right on Iraq." LINK

Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun Times keys off the planned Springfield, IL announcement on Feb. 10 and compares Sen. Obama to President Lincoln on experience and legislative backgrounds. LINK

"The Iraq war is a defining issue for Democratic hopefuls," writes the Washington Times' Christina Bellantoni, "and Mr. Obama is one of the few in the crowd who does not have to defend a vote to go to war." LINK

Bloomberg's Jay Newton-Small on how Sen. Obama's recent arrival on the national scene promises to be "both an asset and a liability." LINK

The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan includes this response from the New Hampshire Democratic Party spokeswoman: LINK

"'New Hampshire is typically very supportive of maverick candidates,' said Kathleen Strand , spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party."

"'A lot of people [in New Hampshire] are very excited about Senator Obama and his message and the kind of campaign he's going to offer.'"

(We hope Susan goes back to Strand for a reaction quote when Sen. Clinton jumps in.)

Dick Morris points out what he calls Obama's first major blunder in a column for The Hill where his "pro-nepotism" vote against Senate reform banning the practice of legislators hiring family members on their campaign or PAC payrolls may come back to haunt him. Morris Notes that "Sen. Clinton, who opposes wives cashing in on their husbands' positions, voted righteously in favor of the reform and will probably use the Illinois senator's vote against him in the presidential primaries." LINK

Per Roll Call's Lauren Whittington, Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, offers his support and endorsement to Obama, and/but an anonymous CBC staffer urges others to keep their powder dry.

2008: Democrats: Obama vs. Clinton:

The New York Sun's Josh Gerstein Notes former Sen. Tom Daschle's (D-SD) inclination to support Sen. Obama and writes up the Clinton efforts to shore up potential Obama-supporting bundlers. LINK

". . . behind the scenes, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have been intensely jockeying for the backing of New York's leading Democratic fund-raisers, according to people close to the discussions. In recent days, donors thought to be flirting with support for Mr. Obama have been the focus of particular attention by the Clinton camp. Mrs. Clinton has made direct appeals to some who are wavering and, as she returned from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan recently, called from Europe to shore up her support."

As Kak Connery makes a "Note to self" not to plan any Chicago pressers for Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) on Feb. 10, the Democratic Caucus chairman tells the Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes that Obama's candidacy "reflects the first 'truly grass-roots draft' he's ever seen. 'It should be a wake-up call to the party establishment in both parties.'"

"'Seeking to explain Mr. Obama's appeal, Mr. Emanuel, who also remains uncommitted, said, 'Every president is an answer to their predecessor in some capacity. If you think, as I do, that George Bush is the most divisive president in recent memory, Barack as a force for unity is a perfect antidote to the Bush years.'"

If you remember Emanuel endorsing Sen. Clinton's potential presidential candidacy while appearing on "Real Time with Bill Maher" and if you're scratching you're head to see the former Clinton aide referred to as "uncommitted," The Note can tell you that the folks at the new itsy-bitsy Wall Street Journal got it exactly right. LINK

The Hill's Elana Schor on Emanuel's dilemma. LINK

Emanuel's earlier endorsement of Clinton came when his fellow Chicagoan was not seen as a potential presidential candidate and the man who engineered the Democrats' takeover of the House in 2006 is, indeed, now "uncommitted" in the 2008 presidential race, even if is non-doctor brother is raising coin for the Illini Guy.

Anne Kornblut of the New York Times blogs that Sen. Clinton apparently had nothing to say about Obama's entry into the presidential waters. LINK

Jason Horowitz of the New York Observer focuses on Senator Clinton's low profile today amongst the Obama mania and Notes her opponents await her pending announcements on war strategy as they will be the best tackling point against her in 2008. Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings added, "'she is not going to have the chance to have two Iraq plans between now and 2008. She sort of has to get it right on the first try.'" LINK

The New York Post's Ian Bishop and Maggie Haberman set up the Obama and Clinton "collision course" with the New York Post headline "Barack is on Track for '08: Illinois Wind Blows for Hill as Obama Begins Bid." LINK

The San Francisco Chronicle's Marc Sandalow cites the Congressional Quarterly to show that the voting records of Obama and Clinton reveal no tangible differences. LINK

Janet Hook and Michael Finnegan of the Los Angeles Times see an Obama and Clinton showdown writing, Obama's "decision to take the first formal step toward running for president marks an extraordinarily rapid rise in politics -- and sets up a high-stakes competition for campaign money, staff and supporters with the presumed front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York." LINK

2008: Democrats: Obama: Iowa and New Hampshire:

Per the Union Leader, lobbyist Jim Demers, who expects to be an unpaid volunteer for Obama in New Hampshire, said, "I'm in the process of helping them find some staff. I have more than 35 resumes, and they hope to have a campaign manager very soon." LINK

Per Des Moines Register's Thomas Beaumont, the Obama camp confirms that Paul Tewes, Al Gore's 2000 Iowa caucus campaign manager, is being courted to be the Senator's Iowa director. LINK

2008: Democrats: Obama: editorials and op-eds:

Mark Davis (heard nationwide on the ABC radio network) opines in the Dallas Morning News that Sen. Obama has the key to improving the Democrats' chances in 2008, saying that, "he is not afraid to invoke faith in a party that has become a haven for secularism, and he is prone to measured words in an environment usually filled with ad hominem attacks." Davis believes that if Sen. Obama can attract enough of the support of black voters from Sen. Clinton, "anything is possible." LINK

2008: Democrats:

Fredreka Schouten of USA Today reports that the money race is on within both parties. LINK

16 female Senators:

Don't miss ABC News' Diane Sawyer's exclusive interview with the women of the Senate on a range of topics including women in leadership positions, what women do better than men, and if the country is ready for a woman president. Watch it here: LINK

Politics of Iraq:

Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times has a look at President Bush's TV interview criticism of the Iraqi government's handling of the recent executions of Saddam Hussein and two of his deputies. LINK

Politics of Afghanistan:

Reuters' Andrew Gray writes that Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would consider sending additional troops to Afghanistan to help continue stabilization. LINK

Bush Administration agenda:

Bloomberg's Matthew Benjamin and Kevin Carmichael report that conservative leaders are "confident" their opposition to higher taxes "scuttles any chance" that President Bush "will make a deal with congressional Democrats to overhaul Social Security." LINK

ABC News' Teddy Davis on President Bush's "cracked egg." LINK

State of the Union: Democratic response:

Peter Hardin of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports on the Democrats' choice of Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) to give the Democratic rebuttal to President Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday. It was Sen. Webb's narrow victory over former Sen. George Allen (R-VA) this past November, days after polls had closed, that tipped control of the Senate to the Democrats. Sen. Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy, made his opposition to the Iraq war his central campaign theme. LINK

The Libby trial:

ABC News' Jason Ryan reports on the jury selection process Scooter Libby trial. Jurors were vetted for potential biases toward the vast array of famous personalities involved in the case, including their feelings toward the Bush Administration, reports Ryan. LINK

"The government's theory is that the vice president's office was extremely concerned with any kind of press articles that were critical of the reasons as to why we were going to war in Iraq," David Schertler, a former federal prosecutor told ABC News, and in attempting to ascertain the political leanings of the potential jurors, defense attorney Ted Wells indicated to one woman, "There is a real possibility Vice President Cheney will be sitting in that chair."

ABC News' Politics Page has a useful primer on the CIA leak investigation. LINK

Democratic agenda:

The Washington Post's ed board criticizes the Democratic majority on energy policy, writing that "hitting up oil companies is a poor substitute for a real energy policy." LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Richard Simon looks at Democrats' efforts to repeal billions of dollars in tax breaks for the oil industry. LINK

Barbara Barrett of McClatchy's Washington Bureau Notes the Democrats' revised plan to cut interest rates on federal student loans. The plan will not address all the loans Democrats initially proposed to target. LINK

". . .though education advocates praise the effort as a nice start, they say it won't do much to boost college access at a time of soaring tuition increases," writes Barrett.

Steve Tetreault of the Las Vegas Review-Journal looks at Sen. Harry Reid's (D-NV) apparent belief that corporate funded travel for Senators is not necessarily untoward, but clearly has a perception problem. LINK


ABC News' Nitya Venkataraman explores the role of the presidential exploratory committee and the carefully orchestrated dance toward official declarations of candidacy. LINK

2008: Republicans: McCain:

In an effort to isolate a politician who has long played for the center on the right,, a liberal advocacy group, is launching a $250,000 television ad buy ripping Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the GOP's 2008 presidential frontrunner, for wanting to send more U.S. troops to Iraq. "John McCain has done more than just embrace George Bush's failed policy in Iraq. It's actually his idea to escalate the war there," the narrator claims in the ad which begins airing today in Iowa and New Hampshire, two states that host crucial early nominating contests. Danny Diaz, a McCain spokesperson, responded to MoveOn's ad by telling ABC News: "MoveOn.Org is an out-of-the-mainstream organization that has a long history of airing inflammatory material, even comparing the President to Hitler. It is not surprising that a liberal group opposed to military action after September 11th would attack Senator McCain's conservative values, as well as changing strategy and securing victory in Iraq." ABC News' Teddy Davis has more on the "Political Radar": LINK

2008: Republicans: Hagel:

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) will break ranks and join with Democrats in introducing a resolution opposing President Bush's war escalation "putting a bipartisan stamp on the looming Congressional showdown over the war," write Carl Hulse and Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times. LINK

2008: Republicans: Tancredo:

The Associated Press reports on Rep. Tom Tancredo's (R-CO) entrance onto the presidential field and largely portrays him as a one-issue candidate. LINK

The Denver Post's Anne Mulkern writes about Tancredo's vision to fill 'the void' in American politics by running for president. LINK

2008: Democratic National Convention:

Karen Crummy of the Denver Post writes about the advice given to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) by Boston and Philadelphia officials who have hosted conventions. Simply stated, "Plan a big party, enjoy the revenues, but plan for the worst." LINK

2007/8: Governors:

Per a DGA press release: "Democratic Governors Association (DGA) Chair Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius today announced that a committee of governors selected Nathan Daschle to serve as Executive Director of the DGA. Daschle is currently the DGA's Director of Policy & Counsel."

Political potpourri:

Just when you thought things couldn't get larger in Texas, Michelle Middlestadt of the Houston Chronicle looks at the possible four additional congressional seats (and electoral votes) the Lone Star State is poised to gain after the 2010. LINK

Norm Clarke of the Las Vegas Review-Journal writes how the selection of Rich Little as WHCA dinner headliner is a bit safer territory than an edgier comedian like last year's headliner, Stephen Colbert. LINK