The Note: Beyond Iraq

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., got a big laugh back in April when he channeled the Beach Boys and sang a few monotonic bars of "Bomb Iran." But no one in the presidential field or the rest of the political universe will be laughing if the Bush administration starts humming the same tune.

As violence in the Middle East dominates the news, Iran looms as the foreign-policy challenge that's most likely to subsume the remainder of the Bush administration -- and disrupt the rhythms of the 2008 campaign. The scariest story from the weekend: Helene Cooper and David Sanger reported in Saturday's New York Times that using military force to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is a very real option at high levels of the Bush administration. The White House's Cheney wing (which doesn't always win such arguments, but doesn't always lose, either) is "pressing for greater consideration of military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities," they write.

Some Republicans candidates appear to view a potential crisis with Iran as an opportunity to show off their tough-guy credentials -- how else to explain their rush toward inflammatory rhetoric at the early debates? But it's impossible to imagine a situation where the US stance toward Iran isn't overshadowed by the various missteps in Iraq. And yesterday's comments by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker made clear that a troop drawdown in Iraq is unlikely by September -- the deadline many Republicans have in their minds for reassessing their support for the Iraq war.

This has Democrats rightly optimistic about a changing political dynamic on Capitol Hill, putting new pressure on the president at the very moment he'll most need a united party. "You're going to see people change -- Republicans," Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., told George Stephanopoulos yesterday on ABC's "This Week." "There continues to be denial about the progress that is not being made."

None of the Democratic candidates is perfectly positioned to emerge as a strong leader that party will coalesce around during a foreign-policy crisis. But in this context, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's long view -- exuding toughness while passing up (some) political shots at Bush -- looks smart. And voters are responding to something she's doing: The new USA Today/Gallup Poll has Clinton, D-N.Y., in solid control of the race with a double-digit lead over Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., after an outlier poll had the race essentially tied. "She has a consistently strong lead that is holding up over time," gloats Clinton strategist Mark Penn.

On the Republican side, the short-term factor that's most likely to shake up the race sounds more like a song made famous by Billy Idol: "Money money." Coming off a disappointing first quarter, it's crunch time for the McCain campaign -- and things are not looking good. The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick and Michael Cooper report that he brought in just $7 million in April and May, leaving him scrambling to make up ground in the final days of June.

But some of the interests that should be McCain's natural constituency are hesitating to give to a candidate who has antagonized them in the past. "At a critical moment for him, his presidential campaign may be paying the price for a career of positions seemingly calculated to alienate constituencies that according to Washington custom should be prime sources of campaign cash," Kirkpatrick and Cooper write.

The Los Angeles Times' Dan Morain took a Sunday peek inside the fund-raising machine constructed by former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., and finds Democrats and Republicans, and "saints and sinners" both. "With campaign funds pouring in from such diverse corners of the donor world, an incongruous set of election-season numbers has emerged: Romney, with a mere 10 percent showing in recent polls, is far ahead of his GOP rivals in fund-raising," Morain writes, encapsulating why Romney is set to win a few more news cycles before the second quarter is up.

Also in the news:

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Shalaigh Murray reported yesterday on an anti-Mormon "whisper campaign" engineered by an Iowa-based staffer working for Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. "Theologically, the only thing Christianity and the LDS church has in common is the name of Jesus Christ, and the LDS Jesus is not the same Jesus of the Christian faith," read an e-mail circulated among Republican activists in Iowa. The Brownback camp quickly apologized, but here's betting this won't be the last story of this nature.

Also not going away, despite apologies from top Obama campaign officials: the "D-Punjab" memo. The piece of anti-Clinton opposition research is still getting wide discussion in Indian-American circles, and last night one of the organizers of South Asians for Barack Obama wrote on the group's blog that he was "shocked and dismayed" by the memo. "In addition to being offended by the clear anti-Indian sentiment in the memo, we were particularly disturbed because the memo flies in the face of what we respect most about Senator Obama -- his inclusive message and his ability to relate to people of all backgrounds," Hrishi Karthikeyan wrote.

More details today of the Obama-Tony Rezko relationship: "Obama has collected at least $168,308 from Rezko and his circle" over his 12 years in state and national politics -- nearly three times the sum his campaign has acknowledged, per the Chicago Sun-Times' tally.

Former governor Jim Gilmore, R-Va., a one-time hawk, now wants to start withdrawing troops from Iraq -- and his plan sounds a lot like the "strategic redeployment" option long supported by DNC Chairman Howard Dean. "I believe the only realistic alternative -- the least bad option, if you will -- is a limited deliberate drawdown of our military men and women and a redeployment of the forces remaining in the region to areas where they can more efficiently and effectively carry out a clearly defined mission," Gilmore writes in a Washington Post op-ed. The real question may be when, not if, other GOP presidential candidates follow.

A Mason-Dixon poll in South Carolina suggests that the first Southern state to cast primary ballots could "shake up the presidential race," McClatchy's Les Blumenthal writes. Obama is the clear leader among the Democrats, while soon-to-announce former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., claims the GOP's top spot.

The Thompson scrutiny has officially begun. Newsweek's Holly Bailey explores Thompson's Senate papers and finds some intriguing tidbits. In January 1994, he told an interviewer that while he was "pro-life," he had doubts as to whether life begins at conception: "I don't know in my own mind if that is the case so I don't feel the law ought to impose that standard on other people." He also wrote a thank-you note to Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., the Democratic sponsor of the campaign-finance law that is loathed by many conservative activists: "You were essential to our success."

Another bad home-front headline for former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y.: The New York Times' Michael Wilson looks at Giuliani's sometimes troubled relationship with firefighters. "He wound up with this 'America's Mayor' image. Those of us who had to deal with him before and after 9/11 don't share that same sentiment," Robert Keys, a FDNY battalion chief, tells Wilson.

Here's an interesting path to political revival for the president: pardon "Scooter" Libby. The White House is being told in a "subtle" lobbying push that either a pardon or a commuted sentence "would be a way for an embattled President Bush to reassert himself, particularly among conservatives," Politico's Mike Allen reports. "Friends of Bush and Libby have been quietly working cocktail parties and other venues, laying out their logic for a pardon." That's all well and good, but is the president ready for a 19 percent approval rating?

The kicker:

"We ran your license plate," over-eager Romney aide, to New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich, who was apparently following the governor's car a little too closely in New Hampshire.

"This really is about can we govern, or are we going to let the union halls and the talk radio take over this debate and we walk away saying we can't deal with this issue now?" Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on "This Week," laying out the stakes in the immigration debate in terms his party may not like to be reminded of about a few months from now.

Youtube victim of the day: John Edwards.