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.
From today's speech: "In 2009, we will have a window of opportunity to renew our global leadership and bring our nation together. If we don't seize that moment, we may not get another." (For the record, it was just back in April that Obama was saying that "we can maintain a strong nuclear deterrent.")
But, as rival camps love to point out, the anti-war speech Obama so often cites was not by itself a huge act of courage for a Democratic Senate hopeful in a liberal state -- and wasn't followed up with anything particularly risky in the Senate. "Nobody should accept at face value the Illinois senator's claim that he was a 'courageous leader' who opposed the war at great political risk," AP's Ron Fournier writes.
Fournier continues: "The truth is that while Obama showed foreign policy savvy and an ability to keenly analyze both sides of an issue in his October 2002 warnings on Iraq, the political upside of his position rivaled any risk. And, once elected to the U.S. Senate two years later, Obama waited months to show national leadership on Iraq."
This piece of pushback from an Obama aide this morning: "The Washington-insider notion that it didn't take courage to oppose the war, and it didn't take courage to embrace it, mindlessly boils down the start of the war in Iraq to a basically meaningless political exercise. We fundamentally reject that view."
USA Today's Susan Page asks: "For all the buildup, is Obama running in neutral?" "He has not made significant inroads in the New York senator's support nationally or seized the lead in any of the states that hold early contests," Page writes. "Obama, 46, faces a paradoxical problem. The leading black politician of his generation, he has lost African-American support to Clinton since he announced his candidacy. . . . That's partly a reflection of his weakness among core blue-collar Democrats who remain solidly in Clinton's corner."
As Clinton is challenged on her left, the GOP's national front-runner, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, is facing serious pressure on his right (and it's roomy over there). It's bad news all around for the Republican Party -- lagging fund-raising, a dispirited, divided base, and an agenda in Congress where the GOP just plain isn't were the public is.
"The growing anguish on the right over Rudy Giuliani's presidential candidacy signals a coming test of strength inside the Republican coalition, a test that will help answer whether the power of religious and social conservatives has crested," writes The Washington Post's Dan Balz. "Whoever becomes the Republican nominee will need a mobilized religious right to win the election. But what some Republicans are asking is: at what cost?"
Yesterday, Giuliani was busy "brushing aside threats from Christian right activists to run an independent candidate if the ex-mayor wins the nomination," per the New York Post's Carl Campanile. "I'm working on one party right now -- the Republican Party," Giuliani said at a diner in New Jersey (yes, remember that he's campaigning in New Jersey). "The emphasis is on fiscal conservatism, which brings Republicans together."
Not so fast, Mr. Mayor. "The Republican Party, known since the late 19th century as the party of business, is losing its lock on that title," writes The Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes. "The votes of many disgruntled fiscal conservatives and other lapsed Republicans are now up for grabs, which could alter U.S. politics in the 2008 elections and beyond. Some business leaders are drifting away from the party because of the war in Iraq, the growing federal debt and a conservative social agenda they don't share."
In case Republicans are still having trouble waking up today, consider the big money picture of 2008. "Among them, the Democratic candidates have raised an estimated $225 million during the first nine months of the year. By the time Republicans reveal their latest numbers this week, they could be more than $80 million behind," The Washington Post's Matthew Mosk writes.
A similar take, from The New York Times' Michael Cooper: "Strategists in both parties said that the fund-raising imbalance showed that Democrats, and their donors, are more energized this year as they battle to reclaim the White House after nearly eight years of Republican rule. And they said President Bush's sagging popularity is hurting the Republicans who are vying to replace him."
At least the GOP can feel good about the battles in Washington -- right? Wrong, says a new ABC/Washington Post poll, which finds just 27 percent of the public wanting full funding for the Iraq war to continue, while 72 percent want extra funding for children's health insurance -- the bill President Bush is set to veto this week.
It's "a guns-and-butter battle that's helping to keep President Bush at his career-low job approval rating," writes ABC polling director Gary Langer. "Bush, moreover, is presiding over a significant drop in the number of Americans who identify themselves as Republicans -- down from 31 percent on average in 2003 to 25 percent on average this year, the fewest since 1984."
Elsewhere in the money race, Edwards brought in just $7 million for the quarter, per ABC's David Muir and Raelyn Johnson. With his (very recent) decision to pursue public financing, the Edwards team immediately turned its sites on Clinton: "Hillary Clinton does not want this election, this primary framed on the issue of money," Edwards adviser Joe Trippi said. (Probably not, but she can spend enough money to make sure that's not the case.) This from (an understated) Clinton spokesman Phil Singer: "The Edwards campaign says it opted into the public financing system out of principle. Others might come to a different conclusion."
Among the Republicans, former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., brought in about $10 million for the quarter (to be supplemented by another $6 million or so in personal cash); it's $8 million for former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. (OK, but not great); and mostly silence from Giuliani land, though Fox News is putting his number in the $10 million range. The latest numbers have made the GOP primary "harder to unravel," per Politico's Jeanne Cummings.
Politico's Jonathan Martin reports that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., raised about $5 million for the quarter but is still carrying a $2 million debt. While the campaign is disputing those numbers, they are not providing numbers of their own. Per spokesman Brian Rogers: "We're still opening envelopes." (Remember, they're short-staffed.)
No numbers yet from another closely watched Republican, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, but this is not encouraging: "We're not going to have millions of dollars, but we always knew that," Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman told The Hill's Sam Youngman. (Presidencies aren't won for less than the price of Manhattan condos.) Youngman reports that another Republican, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, hauled in $1.2 million online last week, and his campaign says its quarter topped the $2.4 million raised in the second quarter.
Also in the news:
Anita Hill breaks her silence -- you didn't think she was the type to let Clarence Thomas have a free shot, did you? "With hindsight, I can't think that I should have done anything differently," Hill said on ABC's "Good Morning America. "I understand that he is very angry, and he wants to vindicate himself. But in fact, when I testified in 1991, I was truthful. . . . I don't have the imagination to come up with the things that occurred to me."
"I will not stand by silently and allow him, in his anger, to reinvent me," Hill writes in a New York Times op-ed. "I have repeatedly seen this kind of character attack on women and men who complain of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. In efforts to assail their accusers' credibility, detractors routinely diminish people's professional contributions."
After voting last week to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, Clinton is trying to insulate herself from charges that she's ready to allow the president to invade Iran. Per ABC's Eloise Harper, Clinton yesterday said she would co-sponsor a bill "to prohibit the use of funds for military action in Iran without authorization by the Congress." (What was with that vote last week -- Clinton looking toward the general election, or a rare Clinton mistake?)
Thompson's short, strange presidential trip appears to have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- while campaigning in Iowa. Per the Des Moines Register's Thomas Beaumont, Thompson "said Monday he was certain former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, a point of contention in the 4 1/2 years since the war began." Thompson's quote (which, to be fair, doesn't make it clear what time frame he's referring to): "We can't forget the fact that although at a particular point in time we never found any WMD down there, he clearly had had WMD. He clearly had had the beginnings of a nuclear program."
Giuliani is facing another distraction, this one from the (relatively) friendly confines of California. With the news that a top policy adviser and fundraiser, Paul Singer, was the sole donor to the group trying to blow up California's electoral college vote, the group opposing the (essentially defunct) initiative is piling on by calling for a formal FEC investigation, per Steven Harmon of the San Jose Mercury News. The Giuliani camp says it wasn't involved in what Singer was up to.
Jewish organizations aren't happy with McCain's description of the United States as a "Christian nation," AP's Liz Sidoti reports. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=3675349 But McCain should get partial credit for this concession: "I'm not Talmudic."
Wondering why Al Gore doesn't feel any obligation to endorse Hillary Clinton? Sally Bedell Smith's new book, excerpted in the new Vanity Fair, has some insights. "As a sitting president, Bill was in a unique position to boost his vice president's candidacy by scheduling White House events to highlight his achievements. But in 1999 those resources were diverted from Gore to Hillary 'in a big way,' said one member of the Gore team. 'The Clintons come first. That was their basic framework.'
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., (nearly $2 million for the quarter) is steamed that Iraqi leaders are dismissing his plan for a federalist division of Iraq. "I don't know who the hell they think they are," Biden told reporters yesterday, per ABC's Brian Wheeler.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., found a way to get people to pay a smidge of attention to his presidential campaign -- and all he had to do was get his Website hacked into. Per ABC's Z. Byron Wolf, "Under the 'Duncan Hunter for President '08' banner, visitors to gohunter08.com today saw a graphic informing them that the site had been 'hacked by Adnali f0r TurkStorm [dot] org No War!' " Hunter "is perhaps the staunchest defender of the Iraq War in the Republican presidential field," Wolf writes.
"Lawmakers from both parties are rushing to reinstate a perk they once enjoyed: the power to book multiple flights out of Washington, D.C., but only pay for the one they use," ABC's Justin Rood reports. The perk disappeared two weeks ago when an airline lobby group determined it to be a violation of a tighter gift ban, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, "are pressing a Senate panel to act and officially reinstate the perk," Rood reports.
Bloomberg's Laura Litvan has the perfect quote to sum up the rash of GOP retirements in Congress: "I've discovered I prefer the majority," said Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio. Litvan writes: "Some of the party's best-known, longest-serving lawmakers are walking away from their political careers, and more are giving it serious thought."
And in New Hampshire . . . ABC News, WMUR and the New Hampshire Union Leader will host Democratic and Republican debates on the first weekend of 2008, shortly before the Granite State's primary. Exact dates and times of both debates will be announced when the dates for the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are officially set. The campaign spotlight will be focused on the Granite State as January begins, and the ABC News/WMUR/Union Leader debates will come at the presidential contest's most intense moment. Stay tuned to this space for additional information.
"I campaigned for George because I knew his mother and dad for 30 years, and I figured he was from pretty good stock. But Jeb was being groomed too -- they got the wrong kid. There's something wrong philosophically with how Bush's brain works -- I feel sorry for him. I used to think Gore was nuts in his worrying about global warming, but he was ahead of his time." -- Lee Iacocca, in an interview with Details.
"There has been no response by Republicans to this yet, and I don't know that there will be. I have no clue. . . . Now I, little old private citizen Rush Limbaugh, the subject of Senate action, the subject today of House of Representatives action, all based on a purposely told lie, which they know is a lie, and yet they are persisting in this." -- Rush Limbaugh, lonely on the air after his "phony soldiers" comment.
Bookmark The Note at http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/TheNote/story?id=3105288&page=1.