THE NOTE: Obama Blasts Clinton on Iraq, Iran

Yes, the Democrats and the Republicans who want to be president really are running in the very same year.

The top Republican candidates are currently skewering each other over who would seek the least amount of legal advice before attacking Iran.

The Democrats, meanwhile, are attacking the front-runner over a resolution that MIGHT be interpreted as emboldening the president to think about attacking Iran.

This is yet more evidence of the yawning divide between the parties (or, at least, what the candidates perceive as that divide). But in terms of real important distinctions between the candidates, the heat exceeds the light -- an indication of the urgency surrounding more than a few candidacies at this moment.

On the Democratic side, the fifth anniversary of a certain Senate vote authorizing war in Iraq is ample fodder for the Democrats who want to take on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. And (no surprise here) one candidate in particular is trying to draw as much attention as possible to the calendar.

"She was too willing to give the president a blank check," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told the AP's Philip Elliott (and you should know who "she" is by now). "There's been a little bit of revisionist history since that time, where she indicates she was only authorizing only inspectors or additional diplomacy." This is how it's about Iran: "The question is: Does she apply different judgment today?"

Obama is backing up that argument with a new online ad today. (Title: "Blank Check.") "While other Democrats fell in line behind George Bush, Barack Obama opposed the war from the start," a voice-over says. "And he's fighting to end it now, and to prevent history from repeating itself."

And Obama takes his argument against the Iran resolution to the op-ed page of the Union Leader: "Sen. Clinton says she was merely voting for more diplomacy, not war with Iran. If this has a familiar ring, it should. Five years after the original vote for war in Iraq, Sen. Clinton has argued that her vote was not for war -- it was for diplomacy, or inspections." His close: "This is not a debate about 2002; it's about the future, and in that debate I can run on, and not from, my record."

But this is inconvenient for Obama, as he tries to make a case against Clinton based on the Iran vote (yes, the vote that he missed): "If I thought there was any way it could be used as a pretense to launch an invasion of Iran I would have voted no," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., tells the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman. Obama often cites Durbin's vote against the Iraq war as evidence that senators should have known better than to buy into President Bush's arguments in 2002, Zuckman points out.

Clinton is avoiding direct engagement with Obama. Yesterday, she talked up expanding Internet access to rural areas (shortly before listening to the Goo Goo Dolls in a fund-raising concert; "The greatest band to ever hit the stage," said that great concert promoter Terry McAuliffe, per ABC's Eloise Harper).

Clinton also sat down with The Boston Globe editorial board yesterday, and offered up some quotes that are likely to be clipped and saved by oppo staffs. Though she's a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she said she had no idea that Blackwater USA had immunity from prosecution in Iraq. "Maybe I should have known about it; I did not know about it," she said, per the Globe's Marcella Bombardieri.

On why she dropped her "baby bonds" proposal: "I have a million ideas. The country can't afford them all." (Some RNC operatives already like that theme.) And on her electability: "I am winning," said the candidate who does not read polls. "That's a good place to start."

Concerts aside, Clinton has spent the last few days talking -- horror of horrors! -- substance. "And you thought her husband was wonky," Time's Ana Marie Cox writes from Des Moines. "Hillary Clinton may not get angry on your behalf like John Edwards or inspire you like Barack Obama. But Iowans do not take their role in the electoral process lightly, and Clinton is counting on their level of seriousness to help her turn around the one state where she struggles to maintain the lead that has come so easily in the rest of the country."

Meanwhile, the latest GOP scuffle is the kind of ugly name-calling fight that all candidates say they hate (until they see a chance to pick one). It started when former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., said at Tuesday's debate that he would "sit down with your attorneys" to decide what's legal before launching an attack. This was an opening too wide for former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., to resist.

"The Giuliani campaign has branded Romney's response 'the lawyer's test' and is trying to use the response as a way to portray the former Massachusetts governor as unsure of himself and less than commanding on issues of terrorism, which Giuliani considers his strength," ABC's Jake Tapper reports. Said Giuliani surrogate Adm. Robert J. Natter: "In these momentous decisions, we need leadership, not litigation."

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board slaps Mitt down: "Egad. Call in the attorneys? Perhaps it is Mr. Romney's experience in business that taught him to want lawyers at his elbow, given that no CEO can survive without them these days."

Romney's response brought the debate back to the fiscal issues he's been hitting Giuliani on in recent days. "If there's somebody that wants to talk about suing and lawyering, the mayor gets first place," Romney said, referring to Giuliani's legal case against the line-item veto, per the AP's Liz Sidoti. (Sorry, governor, tell us again why the lawyers answer is a "phony issue," but this one isn't?)

But HE started it, right guys? The backdrop here is that both of these frontrunners have an interest in making this a two-man race, "ignoring their rivals as they assail each other over taxes, spending, and national security," The Boston Globe's Michael Levenson reports. He dusts off this Rudy quote, from a campaign stop on Romney's behalf in 2002: "This is a man with real leadership qualities, and that's what we need in government right now. We don't need just other politicians."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also wants a one-on-one with Giuliani. "John McCain waved goodbye to his mutual admiration society with Rudy Giuliani Wednesday, ripping the former mayor's fiscal record for the first time in the campaign," the New York Daily News' David Saltonstall reports. McCain is also citing Giuliani's opposition to the line-item veto: "I'm very disturbed at Mayor Giuliani's claim that he'll bring fiscal discipline."

McCain also offered what he called "a little straight talk" in accusing both Giuliani and Romney of raising taxes, ABC's Bret Hovell reports. "And if you want to call them fees or you want to call them bananas, the fact is they're still tax increases when the consumer and the constituent has to pay additional monies into government coffers," McCain said.

But the real battles with Giuliani are over social issues, not fiscal ones, and there's fresh evidence today that Romney could be the beneficiary of concerns about Rudy. "An influential evangelical public relations executive wrote to some 150 top conservative Christian leaders warning of the prospect of a Giuliani or Hillary Rodham Clinton administration and prodding them to rally instead around Mitt Romney," Michael Luo reports in The New York Times. Mark DeMoss is urging evangelical leaders to "galvanize support around Mitt Romney, so Mr. Giuliani isn't the unintended beneficiary of our divided support among several candidates."

Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer also took the opportunity yesterday to praise Romney -- and offer some criticism of former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., who wants to be the conservative choice, Ralph Z. Hallow writes in the Washington Times. "I don't think he's flip-flopping," Perkins said of Romney (high praise, no?). "Bauer agreed that Mr. Romney's change of heart was sincere, even though it 'happened to coincide with a primary [election campaign] schedule,' " Hallow writes.

The campaign squabbling isn't enough to make a certain former vice president want to be persuaded into running for president -- do you think? The "Draft Gore" folks made a splash with a full-page ad in The New York Times yesterday. The group is run by a five-member executive committee that doesn't include any DC powerbrokers, ABC's Nitya Venkataraman reports. They got that now famous $65,000 "standby" rate in the Times, and they raised the cash in SIX DAYS in small donations in the $20-$50 range. "The ad "comes two days before the announcement of this year's Nobel Peace Prize winners; Gore's crusade for the environment landed him a nomination," Venkataraman writes.

The Nobel buzz is only getting Gore's supporters more engaged -- but the man himself has said and done practically nothing that would make them optimistic. "Other groups, from New York to Iowa to California, are running drives to put Mr. Gore on primary ballots or make him an option in caucus rooms," The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg writes. "Yet, as of now, the movement is without a candidate. Mr. Gore's representatives say he has no plans to run or interest in doing so." Gore adviser Michael Feldman: "There isn't some secret campaign being put together here."

Also in the news:

The consensus on former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.: He "performed just well enough at Tuesday's Republican debate in Dearborn, Mich., to keep his nascent presidential campaign alive and lurching forward," Time's James Carney writes. But: "His suit jacket was too large, leaving a gap between his neck and collar that conveyed an image of incipient frailty. His campaign is hoping he comes across as Reaganesque, but not in this way. Last night, at times, he did look a bit like Reagan did -- in his first debate against Walter Mondale in 1984, when Reagan seemed out of touch and overmatched."

"Fred Thompson did great in that debate! He stayed upright the whole time! And he knew the name of the prime minister of Canada! No question, this man is ready to lead," Gail Collins writes in her New York Times column. "All actors, it seems, are not Ronald Reagan. Thompson not only isn't charismatic, he doesn't even seem pleasant. If Fred is a man of the people, I am Jennifer Lopez."

Des Moines Register columnist Marc Hansen focuses on Iowans who have given up on Thompson because of his late start and his campaign's seeming lack of organization. "I spent two weeks trying to find him," says 49-year-old Chuck Davis, who is now impressed with Romney. "Now I'm asking myself if I was more attracted to the character he was playing on TV."

Thompson sits down with ABC's Charlie Gibson tonight in the next installment of the "Who Is?" weekly political feature on "World News." "Never occurred to me that I had to be anything," Thompson says of his childhood.

And this on his time with the Watergate committee: "You're supposed to participate in the investigation and do the right thing. And that was my prosecutor experience. But you were also supposed to make sure that there was not overreaching and unfairness along with it. Sometimes when all the political forces and all the media and everyone gang up on one side it seems like you can kind of run roughshod over things and people's rights."

If this whole presidential thing doesn't pan out, Thompson will always have his acting career to fall back on. Thompson earned $12.1 million since January 2006 "from his various entertainment-related gigs," Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel reports.

That's real money, but it's not Romney money. Romney has already dumped $17.4 million into his own campaign -- which puts him ahead of the much-maligned pace set by Steve Forbes in both 1995 and 1999, ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "Multimillionaire Steve Forbes was the subject of quite a bit of scorn among GOP political circles for the multimillion-dollar loans he gave his quixotic campaigns for the presidency in 1996 and 2000," Tapper writes. "Less discussed in the 2008 presidential contest is the fact that multimillionaire former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is now outpacing Forbes in self-loans."

Romney had an uncomfortable campaign encounter yesterday, where a student accused Romney of trying to "pull the gay card, the gay-friend card," ABC's Matt Stuart reports. And how about this line from Romney -- who of course wants "strict constructionist" judges? "Even if he thought it was unconstitutional he shouldn't a fought it," Romney said, referring to Giuliani's lawsuit against the line-item veto.

Judging by the campaign schedules, "The Republican field is all-but-ceding the Iowa caucuses to Mitt Romney,"'s Chris Cillizza writes.

Look for McCain to step up his visibility in Iowa, Tom Witosky writes in the Des Moines Register. McCain tells Witosky that he's not happy about being fifth in the latest Register poll: "This is a tough state, and I have a long road ahead. But I am here now; I am going to be back a lot, and I intend to do well."

McCain unveils his healthcare plan today, "but unlike his rivals he will focus on controlling costs, rather than reducing the ranks of the uninsured," The Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler reports. "His main message when he unveils the plan in Iowa will be that the rising number of people without insurance is a symptom of the larger problem of rising costs."

Here's another wrinkle from McCain: "He is also placing a much greater emphasis than any of his opponents on judging the performance of doctors," Marc Santora writes in The New York Times. "The campaign argues that this system would also increase competition, by virtue of giving the consumer a database that shows which doctors or programs are more successful."

Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is touring South Carolina's "Corridor of Shame" today, but he won't be using that phrase. "I'll be focused on the whole concept of providing opportunity and hope to the communities that have been struggling, based on providing the same opportunities I've had to everyone," Edwards told The State's Aaron Gould Sheinin.

Salon's Mark Benjamin looks at the potential conflicts of interest among the wealthy folks who are donating to the Clinton Foundation -- and helping his wife's campaign. "Some contributors to Bill Clinton's foundation are also among Hillary Clinton's top fundraisers," Benjamin writes. "But it remains to be seen how the Clintons will manage the potential problem of perceived conflicts of interest, should Hillary Clinton become the next president."

Obama is reshuffling his ground staff and his top leadership, with an eye on the calendar, Lynn Sweet reports in the Chicago Sun-Times. Obama "is pushing to have organizations in place in the more than 20 states holding a primary or caucus vote on Feb. 5, a second wave after the crucial first January votes in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina," Sweet writes.

With Obama trying to break through against Clinton, the Boston Phoenix's Steven Stark sees a cure for him: get over yourself. "The Obama campaign's emphasis on a personal story (and it may have been exacerbated by the success of Obama's autobiography) has set his rhetoric hurtling in exactly the wrong direction," Stark writes. "Instead of showing voters where he'd lead them (as he did effectively in his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote), Obama continually tells them how and why he's the man to lead them. He mistakenly talks as if the election were mostly about him, not the country."

Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., is the latest second-tier candidate to get The New York Times treatment. Says Richardson: "I believe that Edwards's insurmountable lead [in Iowa] has eroded. We're the only candidate moving up, gradually and slowly moving up. We are exactly where we want to be, and my objective is to be one of the top three."

But the Times' Leslie Wayne sees Edwards wowing the crowd at a barbecue, while Richardson was "dripping with sweat": "Hardly any campaign signs heralded his arrival, no scrum of supporters followed him around, and he was easily distracted into chats with nonvoters, like a discussion about African politics with a group of visiting women resplendent in their colorful native dresses."

It's not just the money that should have the GOP worried -- what about the organizations? "The latest source of Republican heartburn: The size and scope of Democratic field organizations in Iowa and New Hampshire dwarf the on-the-ground operations of Republicans," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. "This David vs. Goliath staffing mismatch is yet another sign of trouble for Republicans in the general election, said a veteran Republican strategist in Iowa, as it reflects sagging spirits among hard-core GOP activists."

Down the ballot, a couple of candidates are tying baseball to their political prospects. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., a lifelong Red Sox fan, will choose a supporter at random to accompany him to Game Six of the ALCS. "But this being Red Sox nation, there is this caveat: What if someone wins in four or five games?" writes the Hartford Courant's David Lightman. If the Sox win quickly, the winner gets to attend Game Two of the World Series with Dodd. And if the Sox lose to the Indians, "the winner gets to spend a day in Iowa or New Hampshire with Dodd," Lightman writes.

And Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., a Colorado Rockies fan, is using baseball (sort of) to determine whether he'll run for reelection to the House, even as he runs for president. Tancredo "has indicated he'll just wait until the end of the baseball season to make that decision," ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports. "It begs the question: How far does hometown baseball carry inside the 2008 ballpark?"

So when does a non-binding congressional resolution on a 90-year-old historical event create an international incident? When the words "Armenian" and "genocide" come together, as they have in a resolution approved by a House committee yesterday. "Unfortunately, some politicians in the United States have once more dismissed calls for common sense, and made an attempt to sacrifice big issues for minor domestic political games," Turkish President Abdullah Gul said today, per The New York Times.

It's a new congressional strategy for Democrats as they seek to end the war, AP's Anne Flaherty reports. "Congressional Democrats have put on the back burner legislation ordering troops home from Iraq and turned their attention to war-related proposals that Republicans are finding hard to reject," she writes. "The legislative agenda marks a dramatic shift for party leaders who vowed repeated votes to end combat and predicted Republicans would eventually join them."

Wondering what the Democrats' next move is on the war? On Sunday, ABC's George Stephanopoulos sits down with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on "This Week."

The kicker:

"To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, that great philosopher, this administration doesn't make decisions based on facts, it makes facts based on decisions." -- Sen. Hillary Clinton, loving the liberal base.

"One saxophone autographed by a former President of the United States." -- Search warrant released by prosecutors in the Norman Hsu case.

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