THE NOTE: Between Rounds


For those of us who keep score at home (and who doesn't?), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Monday endorsement was bigger than Sen. Barack Obama's (though Obama may say he'd happily choose the Iowan over the Indianan).

Obama's ad buy in New Hampshire is more significant than Clinton's in South Carolina (but Clinton's could be the one that does more damage.)

Clinton's press operation is undeniably tougher than anyone else's (not that anyone else has had as many negative stories that they'd like killed -- with the possible exception of former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y.).

But what's really interesting is how the Clinton v. Obama battle -- very much out in the open this summer, earlier than anyone expected -- has again become tentative and tactical. It's as if someone called a moratorium on the name-calling, as the two heavyweights of the Democratic division again test each other from afar. Thankfully for the combat-starved, the next debate is tomorrow.

And in advance of that, there's the battle for the top-fundraiser's spot. Let the spin begin, and feel free to supply your own salt: "An aide to Clinton's campaign tells ABC News that they expect to have raised between $17 and $20 million in the third quarter fundraising period between July 1 and Sept. 30, and suggested the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will raise over $30 million, thanks in large part to online donations," ABC's Jennifer Parker reports.

Per the Clinton camp, her donors were on vacation in July and August (does that mean Obama's donor base simply works harder?). Not to be outdone, a high-ranking Obama aide tells The Note that they're likely to land in the $17-$19 million range -- and that they expect Clinton to hit $35 million (!) for the quarter. (We'll order extra salt for that last figure.)

The only scorecard that really matters this week will be third-quarter fund-raising numbers, and those figures matter for -- in order of importance among the seven major contenders: John McCain, Fred Thompson, John Edwards, Clinton, Obama, Giuliani, and Mitt Romney (the only one with the personal cash to make up any gaps).

Believe what you will of the spin, but the money race is going to start counting -- and fast, AP's Jim Kuhnhenn reminds us. "The first two quarters of the year, a gauge of fundraising and organizational ability, saw the leading candidates raise whopping sums and build vast networks of donors. But the next three months will be big-spending ones." The new mantra for McCain, R-Ariz. -- who has by far the most riding on the fund-raising totals: Remember John Kerry. "It is the Kerry model in a lot of ways," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis tells the Des Moines Register's Tom Witosky. "We want to hang around and be a very viable campaign in Iowa long enough for everyone to take that second look."

Witosky points out: "Of course, Kerry did not have to cut his Iowa staff the way McCain has, and Kerry did not have to contend with the fundraising headaches that have plagued McCain."

Money is always all-important for the second tier -- and that's just part of what makes the Iraq tussling by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., worth watching. While neither may end up being a factor in the nomination fight, they are both aggressively pushing their (very different) Iraq plans this week.

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