The Note: Fatal Diseases

The Republican field shrank by one over the weekend -- and no, we're not referring to Sen. John McCain, who is vowing that only "contracting a fatal disease" would force him to drop out. We're not sure if these woes are classified as terminal campaign illnesses, but here are a few symptoms of something serious: mass defections; almost no money in the bank; no prospects for starting to raise real cash; looking like you're replaying yesterday's news; and positions that are out-of-step with the Republican base as well as the country as a whole.

The money woes are perhaps McCain's most serious challenge (can anyone offer a plausible theory for how he turns that around?), and they're not limited to the Arizona Republican. Second-quarter fund-raising reports show Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., opening huge leads on all of their rivals in both parties. "Both surpassed the $32.7 million that President George W. Bush had to spend at the end of June 2003," Bloomberg's Jonathan Salant and Timothy Burger write. "The two Democrats have more than twice as much to spend as Republican frontrunners Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney."

What's driving it? We can talk about the Democrats' leg up in Internet organizing, or the experienced finance teams put together by Obama or Clinton, but it all comes back to an unpopular war that's closely linked to the GOP -- and will be back in the spotlight in Congress this week. The Senate may not pass anything meaningful, and Congress almost certainly can't force the president to change course before this fall, but that misses the broader point: Bush and McCain -- those old rivals from 2000 -- have each other's company in having lost the public on the war. And -- though this is taking a bit longer -- they're losing Congress, too.

Forget Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe -- the real ominous sign for the White House and its allies is the resolution being offered by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Sen. John Warner, R-Va. -- a pair of Republican elder statesmen, pleading with the president to develop a new plan and submit an entirely new war authorization bill. Keeping in mind that the Iraqi parliament's decision to flee the Baghdad heat in August is unlikely to yield much in the way of results, how much longer can Bush and McCain hold out hope? "What we're looking for now are plans that are much more realistic for the use of our troops in Iraq, in the Middle East, and worldwide," Lugar told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week."

McCain has made clear that he's foursquare behind the president -- hardly a good starting place for what's now an insurgent candidacy. A campaign shake-up is not life-altering stuff, though McCain looks plain awful in the aftermath of his campaign's implosion. The Washington Post's breakdown of the breakup has top aides overestimating fund-raising capabilities by laughable sums -- the original budget called for $45 million in the bank by this point in the campaign, not the $3.2 million in actual cash McCain has on hand (not to mention $1.8 million in campaign debts). "Work it out," he told his warring fashions in January, per the Post's Michael Shear, Dan Balz, and Chris Cillizza. Sounds like the type of stern message the president is delivering to the Iraqi government -- and it had about as big an impact.

Ex-McCain strategist John Weaver tells New York magazine's John Heilemann that the campaign basically got everything wrong -- fund-raising, spending, and messaging. "We began the campaign believing our own b.s., and I'm very guilty of that," Weaver said, in one of those comments that just nails it.

And yet . . . It's hard to imagine McCain ordering up a better storyline than the one that followed him to New Hampshire on Friday -- where much of the national press corps ditched the campaign's first Bill-and-Hillary-together event in the Granite State to see McCain restate his commitment to the Iraq strategy (and to staying in the race). "It is a return to his roots, a return to the kind of lean insurgent's campaign that he ran in 2000, say the aides who are left, sounding more than a little like the Coca-Cola executives who heralded the return of Coca-Cola Classic after the New Coke debacle," Michael Cooper wrote yesterday in The New York Times.

As for the candidate who is leaving the race, Jim Gilmore, we hardly knew ye. (And neither did anyone else -- he topped out south of 3 percent in the polls.) The former Virginia governor leaves us with two main contributions to the presidential campaign, one funny and fleeting -- making "Rudy McRomney" famous -- and one serious and (possibly) lasting -- his call to begin a troop deployment out of Iraq. No Republican in the first tier has followed him down this path -- yet. Gilmore himself, meanwhile, could run for governor again, or might seek Warner's Senate seat if he retires at the end of 2008.

On the Democratic side, Clinton and former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., aren't getting their wish of a winnowed field. The second-tier candidates -- presumably the same ones who would be excluded from the "smaller group" Edwards and Clinton were caught on tape longing for in future debates -- are using the comments to blast the top tier. "People take some offense at it in these early primary and caucus states," said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. (In case you're keeping score, Clinton said it was all Edwards' idea, and Edwards said he was talking about holding more smaller forums, not inviting fewer candidates to the big ones. Right, and you both shop at Costco.)

Edwards has made this week pivotal for his campaign, with a three-day "poverty tour" he kicked off today with a "Good Morning America Town Hall" in New Orleans. One way to judge his success: see which word appears more in news stories about Edwards this week -- "Katrina" or "haircut." "Not paying attention, that's basically how it happened," Edwards told ABC's Diane Sawyer when asked about the most famous trim since Britney went bald. "Some lessons you learn the hard way. I've learned my lesson. I got a very cheap haircut a few days ago, and I'm going to keep getting cheap haircuts." Keeping the laughs rolling, he added later in the program: "What is the tip on a $400 haircut?"

On a more serious note, Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, said her latest bone scan showed "nothing new to report" in her battle against cancer.

Also making news:

In the Iraq debate, Lugar and Warner are making headlines, but they don't have Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on board -- or the support of the White House. "Unfortunately, Sen. Reid is not as confident in the president's willingness to change course voluntarily," Reid spokesman Jim Manley tells ABC's Jake Tapper.

With all the attention on McCain's fund-raising, don't forget that GOP money leader Mitt Romney also saw a big second-quarter fall-off -- and spent all the new money he raised. "It's unclear whether Romney can sustain the pace he's achieved: nearly $5M in television advertisements, $2.3M in salaries and insurance, and $1M in donor prospecting and list rental," The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports.

It's all about the "burn rate": Obama spent a little more than half of the money he raised in the second quarter, while Clinton spent three-quarters of the money she raised. That helped Obama erase the cash advantage Clinton entered the campaign with: He now has $34 million available to spend in the primaries, while she has $33 million.

Romney and McCain were joined by three other candidates in spending more than they took in in the second quarter -- long before the expensive ad wars typically heat up. Also on the negative cash-flow list: Dodd (who actually has run ads), Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. Tommy Thompson, R-Wis. (in the red when debt is factored in) and former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark. (just $435,000 in cash on hand) also earn places on the financial worry list.

And for one candidate who is poised (come on already!) to jump in, a lesson that all this coyness comes with consequences. Former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., just might be violating part of the campaign-finance laws he helped rewrite in Congress by claiming to be "testing the waters" while he's really taking laps in the pool, Jennifer Rubin reports for ABC. He's only supposed to be raising money to determine whether a run for president is viable, but Thompson is hauling in millions and filling out a full-fledged campaign staff before making his run official. "In the words of an attorney associated with another campaign, Thompson is 'playing footsie' with the campaign rules," Rubin writes.

Why aren't conservatives outraged over the revelation that Thompson might have lobbied for an abortion-rights group? They're probably too busy worrying about the rest of the GOP field to care very much about a thinly documented allegation, Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. "The muted reaction illuminates a larger point: just how hungry many on the right are for a Thompson candidacy and their inclination to overlook evidence that the soon-to-be candidate may be something less than a true believer."

Thompson is beefing up his conservative outreach team, with an eye on a coming "Thompson-Romney duel" over the support of key religious and other social conservative leaders, Dan Gilgoff reports in US News and World Report. "The aides are arranging more meetings between Thompson and conservative Christian leaders and have launched a rapid-response operation to fend off attacks on Thompson's conservative credentials," Gilgoff writes.

Romney is spending more money that speaks to that battle, and not just on the ads that feature him and his high-school-sweetheart-turned-wife. His latest ad condemns pornography, drugs, violence, and sex on TV as Romney pronounces himself "deeply troubled about the culture that surrounds our kids today." "And if we get serious about this, we can actually do a great deal to clean up the water in which our kids and our grandkids are swimming," Romney says in the ad, which features long, lyrical shots of the ocean (a place far, far away from Iowa).

Quick quiz: Who came in fourth in the GOP money race last quarter? Mike Huckabee? Sam Brownback? No, it's Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, "whose antiwar candidacy and whose following on the Internet helped him take in $2.35 million. Nearly half of Mr. Paul's money came in donations of less than $200," per The New York Times' Michael Cooper and Michael Luo.

Newsweek's Anna Quindlen offers a modest -- if premature -- suggestion for Clinton: complete the Democratic dream team by choosing Obama as her running mate. "Do the big thing that also happens to be the right thing," she writes. "Your Web site says help make history. Go ahead. I dare you." Somehow, we doubt it will happen -- and not just because Quindlen may have the order of the ticket reversed.

The kicker:

"He is a Yale graduate and is inclined toward the 'establishment.' . . . His background could be Republican." -- Nixon strategist Murray Chotiner, in a 1971 memo recommending that the Republican Party seek to recruit a young John Kerry to run for office.

"Obama Girl vs. Giuliani Girl." -- latest video in the mini-craze, and -- in the tradition of Hamilton vs. Burr -- the first known instance of settling a political argument with a pillow fight.