THE NOTE: Wither Barack?


What's a Barack-star to do?

First, what he has done: raised $75 million for the primary, including another $19 million last quarter; attracted tens of thousands of people to campaign events, while cashing checks from 350,000 (!) donors; scared the dickens out of a bunch of Clinton folks who were hoping to use this time to refresh their memories of the White House floor plan.

Next, what he hasn't done: move the polls enough to seriously challenge for first position; turn his anti-war position in 2002 into a compelling reason to vote for him in 2008; offer any piece of messaging (other than his eye-popping fund-raising numbers and overflow crowds) that's taken Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton off of her game.

It's not so early anymore, and Sen. Barack Obama chose not to dump a large chunk of cash over the summer, when he could have been defining the "politics of hope" -- and how that differs from the politics of the wife of the man from Hope -- without much interference from other candidates.

Now, the Clinton camp reports this morning, Obama's fund-raising edge is now gone in a $27 million cloud of Clinton smoke -- reflecting both Clinton's resilience and the growing sense of her campaign as juggernaut.

There's time to move the needle, and maybe the Obama camp is right (where most everyone else has been wrong) in saying that his true support isn't registering in the polls. But Iowa is barely 90 days out now, and there's a fast-emerging perception of Clinton, D-N.Y., as untouchable.

That's the backdrop as Obama, D-Ill., looks back to the anti-war speech he gave five years ago to sharpen his distinctions with Clinton and his other rivals, with an emphasis on "judgment," per his aides. "There's no obfuscation to be had about the original vote, where he was and where others were," chief strategist David Axelrod tells ABC.

Yet much has changed in the past few months: Clinton has gone a long way toward insulating herself from any critique based on her vote for the war (and has a plan for winding the war down that's nearly identical to Obama's). And the Clinton camp has steadily raised questions about Obama's experience.

As he looks to engage, Obama could be hamstrung by the very "brand" he's assiduously built -- the reason, in short, that 20,000 people came out to see him in a New York City park last week. "If Obama takes Clinton head on -- the time-tested way to bring her poll numbers down -- he risks sacrificing the qualities that have made him unique in the race," per ABC News. Axelrod: "He has a strong aversion to going out there and engaging in sort of gratuitous attacks."

With his speech in Chicago today at 11:30 ET -- to be followed by a four-day Iowa swing -- he's offering new policy to flesh out his rhetoric. Obama today will set a goal of "eliminating all nuclear weapons in the world," and will call for "a combination of diplomacy and pressure" to keep nuclear weapons from Iran and North Korea," The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny reports. "He is highlighting his early opposition to the war, which he argues is a sign of judgment that is more important than the number of years served in Washington," Zeleny writes.

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