THE NOTE: Short on Funds, Can Edwards Compete?

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The GOPer who's flirting with taking public dollars (again, because he has to) has his must win-state: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is pinning his revival hopes on the good graces (and long memories) of New Hampshire voters. McClatchy's Matt Stearns sees McCain's new ad -- featuring footage of him as a POW in Vietname -- as the "most striking political ad of the 2008 presidential campaign -- and the most harrowing in recent memory."

We will know soon if there's anything to a McCain revival -- and it will be the numbers (though not the polls) that tell the truth. "Days before hard financial numbers will deliver hard facts, increments of movement are suggesting to John McCain that he is on his way back to being a presidential contender," writes USA Today's Jill Lawrence. "Resurrection is exactly what McCain and his aides are planning."

But for the GOP, yesterday was a day for the second tier to have a turn in the spotlight. The PBS debate on African-American issues went off despite the absence of the GOP's Big Four, and the rest of the field took their free shots at the empty chairs, per ABC's Ron Claiborne. Former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark.: "I'm embarrassed for our party, and I'm embarrassed for those who did not come. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.: "I apologize for the candidates who aren't here. I think it's a disgrace that they aren't here."

"The no-shows meant a larger share of the spotlight for contenders all polling in single digits," report the Baltimore Sun's David Nitkin and Matthew Hay Brown. "But it came with challenges: The event's hosts and some questioners voiced skepticism that the Republican Party offered any opportunities for people of color."

At Wednesday night's Democratic debate, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., pulled his punches. But there was nothing subtle about what he did the next day. Who knows what the true number is (since all that matters is the visual), but perhaps 20,000 people crammed into a corner of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's backyard to hear Obama speak last night.

Obama argued "that only a fresh candidate could truly change Washington," per The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny. "Twice, he singled out Mrs. Clinton. 'Even your senator from New York wasn't clear about the Yankees,' he said, laughing at his own joke. 'I know who I'm rooting for!' "

As the new fund-raising numbers will (again) confirm, Obama has tapped into something very real. We may be about to find out if he can turn that into something substantive: Next Tuesday -- the fifth anniversary of the anti-war speech he gave in Chicago -- is shaping up as one of those defining campaign moments. And will we finally see him connect his 2002 position to his 2007 plan for Iraq?

Also in the news:

Now that he's, you know, a presidential candidate and everything, maybe someone should get former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., a newspaper -- or, at least, an Internet connection. "I hadn't heard that. I didn't know," he said yesterday, when asked for his response to a federal judge's ruling that lethal injection procedures are unconstitutional in his home state of Tennessee. And this stunner: "Nobody is perfect and no campaign is perfect, but I really don't see anything out of the first few weeks but good news."

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