The Note: Making It Real

Tossing aside all subtlety on this Friday the 13th. . . . Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., wants us to know that he's black (but doesn't want us to know that so many black voters are still supporting another candidate). Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., wants us to know he cares about poor people (but not that he worked for the same type of hedge fund he now wants to hike taxes on). Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., wants us to know he's married to his high-school sweetheart (but not about those not-so-nice things he's said about GOP orthodoxy).

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., wants us to know she's married to Bill Clinton (but would rather we hadn't overheard her make some type of secret pact with Edwards.) And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wants us to know what he thinks about Iraq -- if only he could get us to stop everyone from focusing on his campaign turmoil. (Going 24 hours without losing a high-level staffer -- or at least maintaining a campaign balance carrying seven digits -- would help.)

On the day that the original "Comeback Kid" makes his first campaign trip to New Hampshire on behalf of his wife, McCain is vying for his own comeback -- but this is a much different campaign than we've seen from him. ABC's John Berman reports that McCain flew commercial last night to New Hampshire and stayed at a Courtyard Marriott -- even as Romney hosted much of the national political press corps at his $10 million lakefront home on Lake Winnipesaukee (where one of his neighbors is Mr. Marriott). McCain has his son, Jimmy, a US Marine, with him on the trail, but no campaign bus -- cutting costs -- and only a bare-bones staff.

Per excerpts released by his campaign, McCain plans to get tough with the Iraqi government with a 1 pm ET speech in Concord: "The Iraqi government can function; the question is whether it will. If there is to be hope of a sustainable end to the violence that so plagues that country, Iraqi political leaders must seize this opportunity. It will not come around again." Yet Iraq is a difficult issue upon which to rebuild a flagging campaign (until/unless McCain makes a dramatic shift, at least). And the revelation that he has as little as $250,000 in unencumbered cash in his campaign account raises an even more fundamental question for him: Does he have the money to stay in the race if he can't afford to keep the Straight Talk Express fueled up? Gas is expensive these days, and it's tough to run a campaign on stubbornness alone.

Post-release of the administration's status report that indicated little progress by the Iraqi government, Senate Democrats assailed the president's war strategy and seized on the opportunity to push legislation that calls for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Under questioning yesterday from ABC's Jake Tapper, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, refused to answer whether the United States had a moral obligation to secure the war-torn nation for Iraqis or whether the withdrawal of U.S. forces would make the country safer for the tens of millions of Iraqis who live in the country today.

As for President Bush, he wants everyone to know that he really, really doesn't care what Congress has to say about the war. "I don't think Congress ought to be running a war. I think they ought to be funding our troops," he said yesterday, channeling his inner teenager in asking his parents to just hand over the car keys and get out of his way. Surprise -- Congress has a somewhat different view of its constitutional role. The House voted last night to require the US to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by April 1. The not-so-bad news for Bush: Only four Republicans joined Democrats in the final tally, and he appears to be holding back the tide in the Senate. "President Bush appeared Thursday to win two more months for his 'surge' strategy in Iraq," write Maura Reynolds and Noam Levey of the Los Angeles Times.

What happens next? Probably a whole lot of nothing. The Washington Post's Peter Baker says to prepare for "at least two more months of anger and posturing but no change in direction. A weakened president is desperately playing for time while a Democratic opposition mounts its case against him and Republican lawmakers agonize over how long to stick with him."

This is easy stuff for the Democratic candidates to seize on as they dial up their anti-war rhetoric. Expect more for Clinton today as the original "Comeback Kid" comes back to New Hampshire for his first day campaigning with his wife in the state with the kickoff primary. "This report could have been given a year ago, or two years ago, or even three years ago," Clinton told the Union Leader's John DiStaso.

As for Obama, he issued his own harsh critique of the progress report on the troop "surge" yesterday, and wowed the crowd at the NAACP forum in Detroit. After Clinton received the most praise at last month's debate at Howard University, "Obama delivered a more forceful performance yesterday, each of his answers bringing crescendoing cheers from the crowd of more than 3,000," The Boston Globe's Scott Helman reports in writing up the battle for the black vote. "He walked on stage to deafening applause, which resumed after he used his opening statement to paint himself as a proud product of the civil rights struggles and the work done by the NAACP." (Master P is among the black voters who's having trouble deciding between Clinton and Obama, per Helman.)

Also from the NAACP forum -- the first open mic incident of the campaign! (Aren't these the best kind of stories?) After an event that featured more Mike Gravel bomb-throwing, Edwards went over to Clinton to chat -- and neither of them knew that Clinton's microphone was still live. "We've got to talk because they, they are, just being trivialized," Clinton said to Edwards, per ABC's Teddy Davis. "Our guys should talk," Clinton concluded.

AnAP reporter heard a bit more of the conversation, making it clear that Edwards and Clinton are going to press to have fewer candidates on stage in future debates. Edwards was caught on tape saying, "We should try to have a more serious and a smaller group." Clinton agrees: "We've got to cut the number . . . they're not serious."

Back on McCain's money woes, his $2 million cash-on-hand figure looks even less impressive when you consider that he is carrying a campaign debt of $1.7 million, ABC's David Chalian reports. That debt includes $750,000 owed to the Internet consulting firm belonging to new campaign manager Rick Davis, "who apparently has gone unpaid for his work in the second quarter," Chalian writes.

Huffington Post's Tom Edsall sees only one way back for McCain: "Throw one stink bomb at the White House and another at Republican National Committee headquarters," he writes. "The only place left for McCain is to be the anti-Bush Republican. This was his turf in 2000, and it is far more fertile ground today."

But when it rains . . . One of McCain's Florida co-chairs, state Rep. Bob Allen, was "charged with offering to perform oral sex for $20 on an undercover male police officer," per the AP. Now there's a novel fund-raising tactic . . .

Also in the news:

Romney is up with a new radio ad featuring his wife, Ann, talking about how the couple met in high school, but the buzz is being captured by another video recapping some of the things Romney said as governor of Massachusetts. This one, posted by the Massachusetts Democratic Party, features Romney talking about the GOP. "I'm not convinced that the state would be better off with all Republicans," he says in one clip. "As a matter of fact, I've been in a state like that for the last three years. It's not a good thing."

Former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., is no longer flat-out denying doing work on behalf of an abortion-rights group, and now is saying only that he doesn't recall doing any such work, Politico's Mike Allen reports. Though Thompson spokesman Mark Corallo initially said he "did not lobby for this group, period," he had a different response yesterday: "He has no recollection of doing any work for this group. And since he was of counsel and not a member of the firm, it was not unusual for the firm's partners to trot their clients in to meet him, get his views and even some advice."

Thompson may not get into the race until late August, early September, or some time in 2011, but at least he'll have this quote from one of the nation's most influential conservatives to nourish his supporters for a while. "My assessment is that at this moment in time it is Fred Thompson's race to lose," Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody.

Next up for the firefighters' union in their attempt to sink former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y.: stops at selected Giuliani campaign events, where they plan to hammer home the same message they're circulating in the video released this week. "If we have to go to California, to Des Moines, Iowa, or wherever we have to go to let the American people know what this man is truly about, how arrogant he is and how he distorts the truth -- yes, we will," New York Fire Department Deputy Chief Jim Riches, who lost his firefighter son in the attacks, tells the Daily News' Celeste Katz.

Edwards is set to kick off his poverty tour Sunday night in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, and will get rolling Monday with a "Good Morning America Town Hall" hosted by ABC's Diane Sawyer. Submit a question here.

The Los Angeles Times' Mark Barabak sees the tour as an attempt to "regain his political footing," but is skeptical as to whether it will work. The tour "will reinvigorate an old campaign theme and test an even older notion: that talking about poor people is a politically losing proposition," Barabak writes.

Romney and Clinton are leading the endorsement race in Iowa, "but two-thirds of Iowa lawmakers are still undecided with six months to go until the caucuses," reports Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register. One Democratic state senator, Dennis Black, said he was leaning toward Edwards but went with Clinton because she reached out "much, much more."

The kicker:

"I'm aware of the fact that perhaps somebody in the administration did disclose the name of that person." -- President Bush, yesterday, on the CIA leak investigation.

"I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action." -- President Bush, Sept. 30, 2003, on the CIA leak investigation.