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.

Richardson is taking on the front-runners directly: "You might be surprised to learn that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards would all leave tens of thousands of troops in Iraq," he says in a new 4 1/2 minute Web video. The video, write ABC's Teddy Davis and Sarah Amos, belies the notion that Richardson is "simply angling to be somebody else's running mate."

With a Senate vote on his partition plan coming today, Biden has an op-ed in The State outlining his plan. "Absent an occupation we cannot sustain, or a dictator we do not want, there is no way that Iraq can be governed from the center -- because there is no center," he writes. "While starting to leave Iraq is necessary, it is not enough. We also have to shape what we leave behind so that we have not traded a dictatorship for chaos."

While Giuliani and Thompson, R-Tenn., showed they are capable of jumping on current events (and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is good at firing up the GOP base) only Romney, R-Mass., is putting money behind his condemnation of the Iranian president's visit.

Romney calls for indicting Ahmadinejad and says he is "leading the opposition" to his visit (which had already begun by the time his radio ad starting airing). The Washington Post's Michael Shear: "Forget about Fred Thompson's 'Law & Order' history. It's Mitt Romney's campaign ads that are ripped from the headlines."

Just about all of the '08ers had harsh words for Ahmadinejad (though none scores better than Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, whose "college fry" of a face-to-face denunciation earned him the New York Post headline, "U DA MAN!").

But see if you can follow Obama's line of reasoning: Columbia -- his alma mater -- had the right to invite Ahmadinejad, but he wouldn't have extended the invitation himself. He would, however, still be wiling to meet one-on-one with Ahmadinejad, ABC's Jonathan Greenberger reports. "Listening to the views, even of those who we violently disagree with, that sends a signal to the world that we are going to turn the page on the failed diplomacy that the Bush administration has practiced for so long," he writes.

If you have any doubt that the Clinton camp knows how to exploit something like this, just look at what they pulled off in their fight with a men's magazine. Politico's Ben Smith breaks the story of how Howard Wolfson and company got an unflattering profile of "Hillaryland" killed by GQ -- by threatening the magazine's access to planned "celebrity coverboy" Bill Clinton. "The campaign's transaction with GQ opens a curtain on the Clinton campaign's hard-nosed media strategy, which is far closer in its unromantic view of the press to the campaigns of George W. Bush than to that of Bill Clinton's free-wheeling 1992 campaign," Smith writes.

This reminds us of two things we already knew: 1. Hillary's press shop will rip out intestines to get its candidate elected. 2. Bill Clinton remains a bigger celebrity (and magazine seller) than his wife.

The Democrats get their chance at a current-events pile-on today (their very own Ahmadinejad moment?) with speeches before a labor federation in Chicago -- well-timed, coming a day after the first nationwide autoworkers strike in three decades.

Expect lots of talk about how wonderful unions are, and how evil big business can be. But the United Auto Workers strike "is unwelcome news for Democratic presidential candidates," the New York Sun's Nicholas Wapshott reports. "If the dispute is prolonged, they will have to choose definitively between supporting free trade or protectionism."

Now that there's general agreement that Clinton is the front-runner (couldn't we have gotten that out of the way six months ago?) what happens next? The Washington Post's Dan Balz and The New York Times' Adam Nagourney deliver twin doses of cold water to the Clinton campaign in their Web columns.

Balz delivers a brief history lesson. "The rush to anoint Clinton as an inevitable nominee overlooks the history of nomination battles," Balz writes. "The most likely [obstacle] is a defeat and that certainly appears most possible in Iowa. A Clinton loss in Iowa would instantly change perceptions of the Democratic race and bring new scrutiny to Clinton's candidacy that may be overlooked right now."

Nagourney delivers a brief reminder of Clinton's own history. "The truth is, there is no evidence that the Democratic primary voters have fallen head-over-heels for Mrs. Clinton," he writes. "Her hold on them is solid but certainly not unshakable. Any event that reminds Democratic voters of what remains of lingering concerns about her -- starting with her electability, given the sentiment of many Americans toward the Clintons -- could topple her from her front-runner perch."

In a reminder that nobody's leaving Clinton alone, along comes Elizabeth Edwards (again) to weigh in on the politics of the moment. Edwards suggested to the New York Daily News yesterday that the Clintons gave up on their healthcare plan "to stockpile political clout for other fights," Celeste Katz reports. Key quote from Mrs. Edwards: "They lost the fight in 1993, pulled it out because they wanted to use their political capital to get NAFTA passed as opposed to universal health care in '94."

And there's this hint that David Plouffe may be right when he says Obama's support is wider than the polls suggest. The Los Angeles Times' Scott Martelle gets the beat on Obama's door-knocking operation in Nevada, where he "is the only Democratic presidential campaign using this tactic, according to local observers." (Don't miss the Las Vegas resident who introduces one poor volunteer to his .44.)

Also in the news:

With the GOP field bowing out of the minority-issues debates, more condemnation is coming from inside the Republican Party. Former rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla. -- the last African-American to serve as a Republican in Congress -- tells ABC's Jake Tapper that his party's candidates are guilty of "stupid decisions." Watts says: "I think the best that Republicans could hope that African Americans might say is 'was it because of my skin color?' . . . Now, maybe it wasn't, but African-Americans do say, 'It crossed my mind.' "

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., reiterated his criticism of the no-shows on ABC's "Good Morning America." "I am puzzled by their decision," Gingrich said. "I can't speak for them. I think it's a mistake. I wish they would change their mind."

He's also talking up his issues workshops and reiterating his statement that he'll run for president if he gets commitments of $30 million. "There are an amazing number of people who've walked up to me and said that they want somebody who can debate Sen. Clinton, who can go toe-to-toe next September and October," he said.

Here's the story that no phone call from Judith Giuliani can make easier to swallow: The National Rifle Association "is considering stepping into the presidential campaign fray early next year during the primary season," the Washington Times' Joseph Curl reports. Says NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox: "Given the candidates and the process and the front-loading of the primaries, it is a possibility that we could get involved in one of these presidential primaries." (The candidates? If you weren't sure what that means, Curl talks to NRA members and "found a consensus: Mr. Giuliani is not their man.")

The New York Times' Clyde Haberman uses the cell-phone incident to recount the history of "Rudy the loopy," complete with his "Godfather" imitations, off-color jokes, and the time Donald Trump "nuzzled his fake breasts." Haberman writes, "The weirdness factor, as some have called it, is as much a part of the Giuliani package as 9/11, banished squeegee men and shuttered porn parlors."

Piling on, the New York Post's Carl Campanile describes Giuliani and President Clinton as "bosom buddies" back when they still held office. "Letters in Giuliani's archives show that Rudy and Bubba were mutually admiring pen pals while in office -- praising each other particularly on anti-crime initiatives then opposed by the National Rifle Association," Campanile writes, a tidy piece of oppo-research successfully dropped.

And here comes Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y., taking "a rare, veiled swipe at his predecessor" by saying he doesn't understand why Giuliani is distancing himself from the gun lawsuit Giuliani himself filed as mayor, per The New York Times' Diane Cardwell. While Giuliani said he doesn't agree with the "several turns and several twists" the case has taken, Bloomberg responded that the case has "not changed at all."

Remember this Giuliani quote? "The reality is that I'm not running on what I did on September 11th," Giuliani said three weeks ago. Now there's this: "A spokeswoman for Rudy Giuliani says it is unfortunate that a supporter throwing a party that aims to raise $9.11 per person for the Republican's presidential campaign is asking for that amount," per the AP's Libby Quaid.

The Boston Globe's Peter Canellos looks at the "marriage of convenience" between Obama and Jesse Jackson. When Jackson accused Obama of "acting like he's white," Canellos writes, "Jackson mostly hurt himself." But "for Obama, linking arms with Jackson and Sharpton at a protest rally would present a political problem. . . . Obama seeks to identify himself with the black experience, but not the anger that often seems to motivate [Al] Sharpton and, to a lesser but visible extent, Jackson."

Thompson has a defender in Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, notwithstanding James Dobson's harsh words about his candidacy. Land tells the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody that Dobson is guilty of "mischaracterizing" Thompson's positions. "To say that he is for 50 different views of marriage in 50 different states is a gross mischaracterization of his position," Land tells Brody. "Secondly, do I wish that he attended church every Sunday? As a Baptist pastor, of course I do. But does that make him a person of unbelief? That's harsh and unwarranted."

The Washington Post editorializes against Obama's tax-cut plan -- and in favor of Edwards'. "These are the sort of have-a-cookie proposals that sound great to voters, especially Democratic primary voters, so they might be smart politics. That doesn't make them smart policy," the editorial says of Obama's plan. Edwards, meanwhile, "has a tax plan that is less expensive (about $25 billion a year) and smarter, targeted at taxpayers who need the most help and at creating incentives for savings."

President Bush hits the United Nations today, and a much different president will be on display, per USA Today's David Jackson. "The president who challenged the United Nations to take a hard line with Iraq will take a softer approach when he addresses Tuesday's annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. "The more conciliatory tone may reflect Bush's desire to enlist international help in areas beyond the Iraq war."

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. doesn't get why the president is keying up his biggest spending clash with the Democratic Congress over health insurance for poor children -- and neither do we. "On no spending issue do Democrats have broader public support -- or more Republican allies -- than on expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program," Dionne writes.

With Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, getting his next (and probably final) day in court tomorrow, the prosecutor in the case says in a court filing that he urged Craig to get an attorney. "In order to believe the defendant's claim that panic drove him to his plea, the court would have to believe that this state of panic lasted over a period of a month and a half," Christopher Renz writes in his court filing, per McClatchy's Erika Bolstad. "The defendant's current pursuit of withdrawal of his guilty plea is reactionary, calculated, and political." Perish the thought!

Donna Brazile calls out the Floridians today in her Roll Call column -- in a worsening spat between the Democratic National Committee and one of the most influential state Democratic parties. "Their blatant contempt for rules they once supported is not only a sign of arrogance, but worse, it's a sign of desperation from a state party that felt powerless in confronting its Republican-controlled Legislature," Brazile writes.

Welcome, Cliff Clavin, to the campaign trail. John Ratzenberger (of "Cheers") kicks off a series of town hall meetings for the Alliance for American Manufacturing today in Manchester, N.H.

The kicker:

"Don't mess with me fellas. This ain't my first time at the rodeo." -- Caption on the "Hillary Clinton" Ace of Spades in the 2008 edition of "Politicards," which the Clinton Presidential Library has declined to sell, per the Rocky Mountain News' M.E. Sprengelmeyer. The 2004 cards, which portray Clinton as the "Queen of Denial," remain on sale at the library.

"If you can't get your lips off the backside of George Soros long enough to use those lips to say it's wrong to declare a sitting general . . . guilty of treason . . . how would you ever expect to have the support of the very military you might have to send into deadly battle?" -- Former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., finding a colorful way to denounce Sen. Clinton's non-denunciation of, in the Washington Times.

"The honest to God truth is, I was hoping you would. I feel a little left out following Jimmy Smits. . . . Thank God I'm not running against him for president." -- Biden, on ABC's "The View," after being warned that he might be asked about his "booty."

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