THE NOTE: Fred in the Fray

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Not to be outdone late at night, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., hit Leno yesterday, and he mocked Clinton's early lead in polls. "Hillary is not the first politician in Washington to declare 'mission accomplished' a little too soon," he said, in a line he's already raising money off of, ABC's Sunlen Miller reports. And he'll take a spousal match-up any day: "My wife is no slouch. If there was a debate between Michelle and Bill, I'm putting my money on my girl."

ABC's Teddy Davis reports that Clinton strategist Mark Penn pushed back on that line this morning at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast: "This race is certainly not over. We're running an all-out primary campaign that also seems to be playing well with general election voters."

Penn also said that polling conducted during Giuliani's aborted Senate campaign bodes well for Clinton's chances against Giuliani in a potential general-election match-up.

Clinton was "seven or eight ahead," said Penn.

"We've actually had a run-through cycle with Giuliani," he added.

Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., today launches his most direct and comprehensive challenge to Clinton's electability. His campaign is announcing its "True Blue Majority" campaign, where Edwards and his surrogates "will blanket the country arguing that the stakes are too high in this race . . . for the Democratic Party to nominate a candidate who may not perform the strongest in a general election," per the campaign. Edwards supporters kick off the effort today with events in Oklahoma, Georgia, and Wisconsin, while Edwards tomorrow plans to speak on electability in California.

Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen writes that it's too late to declare Edwards "toast." "Iowa Democrats may still give this guy a new lease on political life," Yepsen writes. "Edwards has argued he could attract votes just about anywhere in the country. And as y'all know, Democrats historically don't win the White House without a Southerner on the ticket."

For her part, Clinton is spending the week above the fray. "The last couple of weeks I've been getting a lot of attention from the men in this race," she said yesterday, the New York Daily News' Michael McAuliff reports. "I'm not interested in attacking anyone," Clinton added. Writes McAuliff: "Her new high-road pledge contrasts sharply with an earlier promise: If anyone attacked her, she'd 'deck 'em.' " (It's hard to deck someone who's not near eye-level.)

By talking more openly about motherhood and her struggles as a working mother, Clinton is emphasizing her gender in new ways, Marcella Bombardieri writes in The Boston Globe. "Clinton is increasingly portraying herself more as motherly and traditional than as trailblazing and feminist, sometimes playing up the differences between men and women," she writes. "On the campaign trail, voters see Clinton, who has long been a lightning rod in gender politics battles, trying to soften one persistent image of her as a strident career woman in a pantsuit."

The primary calendar is beginning to sort itself out (sort of). New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner this afternoon delivers a speech on the history of the state's primary that will be subjected to Talmudic interpretations for hints about The Date.

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