The Note: Iraq Hangover

As the 2008 spouse club -- Bill included -- makes headlines, and the Democrats talk about the poor while those poor Republicans talk more about abortion, let's pick up the pieces (and the pizza crust) from the Senate all-nighter. What do Democrats have to show for their antics? A grand total of four Republican defectors. Several very tired presidential candidates, including some early-rising (or night owl) front-runners. An anti-war left that's still anxious to see action. Republican charges that they're abandoning the troops. And one unusual (pseudo-)filibuster that we'll be hearing about again and again.

Was it all a misguided political stunt? Don't take this feat for granted: Democrats stuck together in yesterday's vote, and picked up one more Republican than they expected. Democratic leaders' decision to pull other Iraq proposals from consideration -- for now -- makes the Democratic unity the main take-away from this much-anticipated week. As Democrats continue the process of forcing a change in course, yes, it's taking longer than their base would like. But does anyone doubt that they're moving in the right direction?

"The point is there is no military victory here," former President Bill Clinton told Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Good Morning America," saying that "evidence of progress" on the security front isn't spilling over into the political and diplomatic realms. "The president has weathered the challenge in the Senate because of the filibuster. . . . But in the end, September will come, and it won't be long."

Even the Democratic presidential candidates stopped sniping at each other long enough to stay on the same page. The Senate's Iraq debate "had the effect of blurring distinctions among the party's presidential candidates," Janet Hook writes in the Los Angeles Times. "That convergence among the Democratic presidential candidates was a far cry from just a few months ago, when [Sen. Hillary Rodham] Clinton opposed a withdrawal deadline and was heckled by party activists for it."

It's the GOP presidential candidates -- not the Democrats -- who are doing the scrambling these days. The New York Times' Adam Nagourney chronicles the movement sparked by the fading of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and the impending candidacy of former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. Candidates are being forced "to rewrite their strategies as they adjust to a playing field vastly different from just one month ago," Nagourney writes. It means former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., is putting more emphasis on Iowa, and former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., is ready to take on Thompson and weaken Giuliani, he reports.

On Iraq, now comes a critical period for both parties, starting with a Senate hearing and a Pentagon briefing for lawmakers today. On the political front, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has decided to move slowly, and so far isn't compromising with Republican war critics. Democrats are "betting that time and grass-roots pressure over the August recess will bring them the Republican votes they now lack to begin the withdrawal of US forces," David Rogers writes in The Wall Street Journal. Said McCain, "I am more sad than I am angry."

Iraq now won't be revisited on the Senate floor until September, which cuts both ways: That's several more weeks for Republicans -- including presidential candidates -- to feel their knees weaken, and also more time for President Bush to make the case that his strategy is finally working. "Reid's move [to pull the Defense bill from the floor] was hailed by antiwar groups, which have urged Democrats not to compromise," The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane write. "But his decision may also have the effect of providing Bush with an opportunity that he has wanted: 60 more days to make his case that the war is making progress."

Also today:

Former President Clinton came to his wife's defense on "Good Morning America." Responding to Elizabeth Edwards' suggestion that Senator Clinton feels she has to "behave as a man and not talk about women's issues," Bill Clinton said: "I don't think she's trying to be a man. I don't think it's inconsistent with being a woman that you can also be knowledgeable on military and security affairs, and be strong when the occasion demands it. I don't consider that being manly. I consider that being a leader."

Bill Clinton also said in Johannesburg this morning that it would be "silly" to speculate about a Clinton-Obama -- or an Obama-Clinton -- ticket. "If my wife were to ask me to discuss who might be her running mate if she were to win the nomination, I would refuse to answer," he said, per ABC's Kate Snow. Hold your laughter . . .

The Edwards campaign does want Elizabeth Edwards to be a voice of the campaign -- the New Hampshire ad, not to mention the interview, make that clear -- but not the voice of the campaign. "Silly," deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince told reporters when asked if Mrs. is eclipsing Mr. "John Edwards is clearly the voice of this campaign." Prince is also not concerned about falling behind in New Hampshire. "We characterize that poll as a July poll," he said, per ABC's David Muir. We'll remember that the next time the campaign tells us he's winning in Iowa.

The Republicans are focused on abortion again -- not necessarily by choice. Giuliani has moved away from the daily sparring match he faced a few months ago on abortion, but now he wants everyone to put it to rest already, OK? (Let me take that one. No.) His latest (and most comprehensive) effort to defuse the issue came yesterday in Iowa, where he promised to appoint "strict constructionist" judges and said adherence to Roe v. Wade would never be a precondition for a nominee. "The abortion question is not a litmus test. Roe v. Wade is not a litmus test. No particular case ought to be a litmus test. That's not the way to appoint any Supreme Court justice or any judge," Giuliani said, per the Des Moines Register's Jonathan Roos.

Hear that Fred? Those flies are buzzing a little louder in your ear. "Billing records show that former Senator Fred Thompson spent nearly 20 hours working as a lobbyist on behalf of a group seeking to ease restrictive federal rules on abortion counseling in the 1990s, even though he recently said he did not recall doing any work for the organization," Jo Becker reports in The New York Times. Would Arthur Branch stand for that kind of answer?

What exactly is so hard about announcing that you're a candidate? That's what "Fredheads" want to know, as they fear a loss of momentum if Thompson delays his candidacy any longer. "The time has come. Enough with the ambiguities. Enough with those around you being more decisive than you are," Keith Harper, who runs a pro-Thompson Website, told The Hill's Sam Youngman.

Yesterday marked the end of former senator Edwards' poverty tour, but Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., "stole the thunder" by outlining a $6 billion-a-year anti-poverty initiative, the Washington Times' Brian DeBose reports. Who might Obama have had in mind when he delivered this line? "This kind of poverty is not an issue I just discovered for the purposes of a campaign, it is the cause that led me to a life of public service almost 25 years ago."

The Boston Phoenix's Steven Stark takes a crack at dissecting Obama's troubles in locking down lower-income and black voters, casting him as the geeky heir to Adlai Stevenson, Eugene McCarthy, Gary Hart, and Bill Bradley. "Being the favorite of the egghead or wine-and-Brie set (two negative characterizations of this constituency through the years) doesn't win you enough voters, you see," Stark writes. "The key to Obama's success is not, as the press has led us to believe, whether he can overcome his relative inexperience. It's whether he can appeal to someone who would rather share a beer with him than a glass of chardonnay."

Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., smells the top tier. He's seeking to build on his third-place showing in a recent New Hampshire poll with a TV ad in Iowa that's slightly more serious than his "job interview" series. "Our troops have done everything we've asked, and I don't want to see any more die," Richardson says in the ad. "We need to get all of our troops out of Iraq."

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who chairs a Foreign Relations Committee hearing today featuring Ambassador Ryan Crocker live from Baghdad, has written a book his spokesman says/hopes will help serve as "the announcement cycle that we never had." He writes that he viewed suicide as a "rational option" after the death of his wife and baby daughter in 1972, and has harsh words for the president, according to Nicole Gaudiano of the Delaware News Journal. "History will judge him harshly not for the mistakes he made -- we all make mistakes -- but for the opportunities he squandered," Biden writes.

The Boston Globe's Scott Helman pores over campaign-finance data and finds Republicans spending heavily on voter lists; Romney's campaign spent $22,000, for instance, for the names and e-mail addresses of the 1.3 million subscribers to the conservative NewsMax magazine. "Democrats and Republicans combined have spent at least $4.8 million through June on voter lists, consumer databases, and companies that analyze personal data for political ends," Helman writes. "Republicans outspent Democrats 4 to 1 on such efforts."

Did anyone use those cots in the LBJ room? At least two freshman senators, Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Bob Casey, D-Pa., appear not to have realized that they were really brought in for show. "I took a cot on the opposite side of the room, as far away from him as I could possibly get -- because it was a little weird, you know -- and lay down and I napped a little bit," said McCaskill, D-Mo., per ABC's Jake Tapper.

The kicker: Wacky spousal edition

"He handles all of that. That's one of those things, I'm like, 'You are the Harry Potter parent.' " -- Michelle Obama, explaining in an AP interview that running for president doesn't get her husband off the hook for trying to find a copy of the last book in the wizard series.

"At my age, any scream's a good scream." -- Bill Clinton, on "Good Morning America," responding to the case of mistaken identity where some Iowans thought he was Bob Barker in a July 4 parade.

"Some of the time I fly private -- which is really terrific -- but most of the time I fly commercial, and as you know, you are only allowed three ounces and one of the tiny quart-size bags. I can't make that work." -- Ann Romney, promising to reverse TSA restrictions on liquids if she becomes first lady. Here's hoping Mrs. Romney stays on the trail.