THE NOTE: A Kinder, Gentler Hillary

Sometimes politicians say things that sound like gaffes and are. (Ask Mitt Romney.)

Sometimes they say things that sound like gaffes but aren't. (Right, John McCain?)

Sometimes they send things out with typos that are hyped into being gaffes. (Was Barack Obama's mailing was a rush rush job job?)

Sometimes candidates shamelessly pander and hope that Yankee fans chalk it up to a gaffe. (Now you're an American League fan? Seriously, Rudy, how could you?)

And sometimes their spouses do the talking for them -- and there may or may not be gaffes involved when you get them going. (Let's let Elizabeth Edwards speak) for the entire political class: "If it ended up on the front page of Drudge, I didn't say it right."

But when you get a candidate talking about his or her spouse, some things that sound like possible gaffes aren't. In the case of the scripted candidacy of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., where little is left for chance, the actual gaffes are few and far between. So when Clinton told Essence magazine that her husband is "so romantic" -- "He's always bringing me back things from his trips" -- it's a good bet that a larger strategy was at work.

Bill Clinton bought her a Chanel watch because the white cubes reminded him of her teeth? That's just weird enough to actually happen in a real-life marriage. And this is Clinton as we've rarely seen her before: "I never doubted that it was a marriage worth investing in even in the midst of those challenges and I'm really happy that I made that decision. Again, not a decision for everybody. And I think it's so important for women to stand up for the right of women to make a decision that is best for them."

It's another step in the great softening of Hillary Clinton. She has never been the touch-feely emotional type, and she isn't now, either. But she's reaching out to female voters, and marveling at how much attention a 60-year-old woman (OK, 50-something for two more days) is getting from all these men. Her pollster is predicting a seismic shift in voting patterns if a woman is nominated. She talked recently about her struggles as a young working mother, as she learned to master the basics of parenting while pursuing her legal career.

Clinton has her gaffes, too. As ABC's Jake Tapper asks, did she really intend to dis Mississippi? (Some in Mississippi think so.)

But this kinder, gentler Clinton on the trail appears to be having an impact on perceptions many thought were too baked in by 15 years of the public spotlight to melt during a campaign. "Clinton has neutralized the political fallout from some of the most difficult moments of her eight years as first lady, with Democratic voters looking favorably on her failed effort to revamp healthcare and either supporting or having no opinion of her decision to remain loyal to an unfaithful husband," Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook write in the Los Angeles Times.

She's up 15 points since June in the Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll, while Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has dropped 5. That's another 30-point advantage in a national poll for Clinton, who is running up scores like the old Chicago Bulls.

"Nearly two-thirds of Democrats and nearly half of all voters say Hillary Clinton's famously unsuccessful effort in the 1990s to provide health coverage for all Americans makes her better able now to deal with healthcare as president," Wallsten and Hook write. "And 42% of Democrats agreed it was the 'right thing' for Hillary Clinton to stick with her husband after his affair with a White House intern, compared with 5% who said it was the wrong choice."

Clinton is relying on her husband's old team every step of the way. Newsweek's Howard Fineman reports that she's set to receive the endorsement of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"And so the Clinton Family Machine grinds on," Fineman writes. "Lord knows Hillary's campaign could still implode . . . but with each passing day the evidence mounts of just how methodical her campaign is, and just how much it is built on the legacy and contacts of her husband's career."

And her fund-raising advantage is in red states as well as blue -- sorry, former senator John Edwards, D-N.C. "Clinton expanded her donor pool during the summer into states that previously favored Obama -- like Iowa, Colorado and Connecticut -- to beat his third-quarter cash haul, $27.3 million to $20.6 million," Michael McAuliff writes for the New York Daily News. "Other early Obama states that flipped to Clinton in the latest quarter include Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Carolina -- states many experts would consider tough for Clinton to win in a general election, but where party faithful are apparently now more willing to put their money on her."

As for Obama, he's pressuring Clinton on Iran to get at her over Iraq, and last night he celebrated an endorsement of a prominent former Clinton administration official who lives awfully close to New Hampshire.

At a massive rally last night on Boston Common, Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass., "offered a forceful argument for Obama, casting the presidential election as one of historic proportions in which merely a change in party would be insufficient," Scott Helman reports in The Boston Globe. Said Patrick: "You see, this election is not just about who we want. It's about who we are."

Helman writes, "Last night's event underscored the potential value of Patrick's support. Before Patrick and Obama spoke, field workers on Obama's campaign were recruiting people from the crowd to canvass in New Hampshire, even as early as this weekend. And in a measure of Obama's organizational strength, his Boston-area supporters have been receiving text messages, e-mails, and personal phone calls over the past several days urging them to come to the rally."

But it was Obama's interaction with Patrick's predecessor -- or, at least, his predecessor's tangled tongue -- that drew the biggest headlines yesterday. Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., unfurled a classic clunker in South Carolina: "Just look at what Osam . . . Barack Obama said just yesterday. Barack Obama calling on, on radicals, Jihadists of all different types to come together in Iraq."

He's not the first politician to make that mistake, and he won't be the last. Obama said he didn't really care, but his campaign denounced the "fear-mongering" it claims is "at the heart" of Romney's campaign, ABC's Matt Stuart, Teddy Davis, and Sunlen Miller report. "Apparently, Mitt Romney can switch names just as casually as he switches positions, but what's wrongheaded is continuing a misguided war in Iraq that has left America less safe," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.

"Mitt Romney might have still been a bit bleary-eyed on Tuesday morning," The New York Times' Michael Luo reports. "The comment set off some confusion among reporters, with at least one going online to search frantically for comments made by Mr. Obama, another Democratic presidential contender, about Iraq."

Romney's problems may be deeper than a slip of the tongue, The Washington Post's Dan Balz writes. "He has had many messages throughout the year -- competence, freshness, conservatism, a three-legged stool. Lately, because of the jumbled nature of the Republican race, he has been focused on persuading Republicans he is the true conservative," Balz writes. "But it is difficult to sum up exactly what his candidacy is based upon and exactly who he is. . . . So the issue raised about whether Romney wears well may be the critical question for the candidate and his advisers at this stage of the race."

Another whoops in Romney land: The endorsement of pastor Don Wilton, a former president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, was a "personal error," Wilton said yesterday, per the Baptist Press Website. "While I did give my consent to the local campaign to use my affirmation of the Governor's stance on family values in my capacity as an individual citizen, I made the mistake of not realizing the extent to which it would be used on a national basis."

Romney has a new ad up in South Carolina, this one featuring Business Man Mitt. "I come from the business world -- where turning around companies taught me how to manage budgets. That's what I did at the Olympics and as governor," Romney says in the ad. "As president, I'll audit Washington -- top to bottom -- and cut spending."

Elsewhere in the race, could former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., be stirring? He's talking substance on the trail, and he rolled out a get-tough immigration plan yesterday -- a topical topic with the Senate taking up the DREAM Act today.

Thompson at least one some much-needed active verbs. "Thompson sharpened the mood of the Republican presidential debate when he unveiled his anti-immigration policy in Collier County, Fla., yesterday, flashing a rare glint of steel at his closest rivals," Nicholas Wapshott writes for the New York Sun. "The former Tennessee senator's proposed measures to curtail illegal immigration exploited a perceived weakness in his main opponents by drawing attention to their more generous approach to an issue that excites the Republican base like no other."

"The former Tennessee senator's plan is meant to appease the conservative wing of the party, which lashed out earlier this year against legislation to steer illegal immigrants toward citizenship," Beth Reinhard and Alfonso Chardy write in the Miami Herald. This is Thompson using down-home phrases to actual effect: "My opponents would like to focus in on a minnow and avoid looking at the whale, and the whale is that some of them have supported sanctuary cities, and as far as I know, still do."

Thompson appears to be deemphasizing New Hampshire, at least according to a former aide who defected to Sen. John McCain's campaign yesterday. "I didn't want to be the token chairman of a token campaign," Dan Hughes, who joined McCain's campaign yesterday as a statewide vice chair, told ABC's Bret Hovell.

McCain, R-Ariz., is gunning for Thompson (apologies for that verb). He filed for his crucial primary yesterday -- in New Hampshire -- he toured a gun factory, the Concord Monitor's Margot Sanger-Katz reports. "During a talk with more than 100 of the company's employees, the Republican presidential candidate promised to 'bring Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell and shoot him with one of your products.' The line got a big round of applause," Sanger-Katz writes. McCain added a caveat that wouldn't slip by the plugged-in ear: "But only after he receives justice," he said

It's former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., in firm control of the GOP race, according to the Bloomberg/LA Times poll. He's 32-15 over Thompson, with McCain, Romney, and former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., rounding out the top five. "The former New York mayor leads among his party's moderates, conservatives, most income groups and both men and women," Bloomberg's Heidi Przybyla and Ed Chen write. "Among self-described Christian conservative voters, who make up almost 30 percent of Republicans, he runs about even with Thompson and well ahead of the other contenders."

Also in the news:

As California burns, President Bush will preside over a teleconference on his administrations response today, and is headed to the region tomorrow.

"For a presidency still haunted by memories of Hurricane Katrina, the forceful round-the-clock response was a political no-brainer -- the 'anti-Katrina,' in the words of Peter Wehner, a former domestic policy adviser to Mr. Bush," Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports in The New York Times. "Beyond demonstrating that the White House has learned its lesson, the rapid response shows how Mr. Bush, late in his presidency, is relying on his executive powers -- veto threats, presidential orders and his bully pulpit -- to keep himself in the news and convey an image of being in charge."

Maria Shriver's discussion with the candidates' wives had some telling and personal moments, ABC's Jennifer Parker reports. Jeri Thompson: "I'm afraid of embarrassing Fred. I would be terrified of hurting him." Elizabeth Edwards: "Anytime you say anything . . . it gets exploded into a bigger story." Cindy McCain: "Since 2000, I think I'm more comfortable in my skin, politically and other ways, I've learned to say no." Michelle Obama: "You always worry about your life getting sucked out from under you." And Ann Romney: "I weigh in all the time. . . 'Don't work him so hard! Look at the schedule, you're killing the man!' "

The Washington Post's Matthew Mosk tracks down some of Obama's youngest supporters, including a 2-year-old whose 13-year-old brother and 9-year-old sister maxed out with $2,300 each to the Obama campaign. "Altogether, according to newly released campaign finance reports, the extended family of Williams, a wealthy Chicago, financier, handed over nearly a dozen checks in March for the maximum allowed under federal law to Obama," Mosk writes.

"Such campaign donations from young children would almost certainly run afoul of campaign finance regulations, several campaign lawyers said," Mosk writes. "But as bundlers seek to raise higher and higher sums for presidential contenders this year, the number who are turning to checks from underage givers appears to be on the rise."

Obama's got a celebrity (for Iowa) endorsement to brag about in a new radio ad: Duffy Lyon, sculptor of the famous (sort of) butter cow. "You know, you see a lot of manure in our line of work," Lyon says. "It's a lot like politics. You got to know what's bull and what's for real."

Obama is unveiling his list of African-American supporters in Nevada today, and the headliner is Floyd Mayweather Jr. But the boxer "is also a convicted batterer with a history of arrests in Las Vegas and elsewhere," Molly Ball writes in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "On Monday, Obama's Nevada campaign issued a news release headlined 'Barack Obama Campaign to Launch African Americans for Obama with Floyd Mayweather.' But when asked about Mayweather's criminal record, the Illinois senator's campaign downplayed the fighter's role in the event."

Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh sees Huckabee with the potential to surprise some people, in New Hampshire as well as Iowa. "Follow Huckabee for a morning and you quickly conclude that, lackluster fund-raising notwithstanding, his stock has been badly undervalued," Lehigh writes. "In a field where the leading candidates have thus far proved unpalatable or unconvincing to the Republican base, Huckabee is a true believer, a committed, consistent conservative. Now that he's outrun his second-tier rivals, don't be surprised to see his candidacy take off."

Chris Cillizza of also tries to get at whether Huckabee could be for real. "It seems as though every few weeks there is something of a Huckabee boomlet -- usually centered on a news event -- in which much of the national press begins to write about how this just might be Huckabee's time," he writes. "That breakthrough is typically followed by several weeks of retreat as Huckabee fails to capitalize on the opportunity before him." is on to its next battle: "an all-out campaign tomorrow to pressure the two Senators into publicly declaring their support for Chris Dodd's threat to place a hold on and filibuster the bill," Talking Points Memo's Greg Sargent reports. Says spokesman Adam Green: "We'll be asking Obama and Clinton to publicly get Chris Dodd's back and say in a statement that they will explicitly support his hold and filibuster."

Clinton's on board for a filibuster, ABC's Eloise Harper reports.

And Obama spokesman Bill Burton tells ABC this morning: "If the bill comes to the Senate floor in its current form, he would support a filibuster of it."

Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., talks immigration today. Per ABC's Teddy Davis, he plans to criticize Clinton, Obama, and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., for voting to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. "They talk about change," Richardson plans to say according to excerpts given to ABC News. "But they voted for the most blatant example of old-style Washington solutions-- expensive, dumb, and entirely the product of political calculation."

Dodd, D-Conn., is clearly getting the love of the Netroots these days. It's probably not his age demographic, but Dodd wants Iowans to know why his hair is white.

The senators who would be president head back to Washington for votes today -- the Dream Act and Judge Leslie Southwick's appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., is headed home to help his constituents cope with the wildfires, ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who was once ratted out by another congressman for smoking a cigar in his office, yesterday tattled on Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who was having a news conference with what Tancredo thought were illegal immigrants. "Mr. Tancredo announced yesterday morning that he had contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency, calling for the arrest of illegal immigrants he said would attend the news conference," Julia Preston reports in The New York Times.

Gary Hart weighs in on Clinton's red-state impact. "I think we'll know that by her performance in the early caucuses. I think in the primaries, if she has broad appeal, not only to women but to independents, to disaffected Republicans and so on, I think that concern goes away, including in, I guess purple states like Colorado," Hart tells the Rocky Mountain News' M.E. Sprengelmeyer. "If, however, her base turns out to be narrower and she doesn't have broader appeal, I think it's a legitimate concern."

Thomas Beaumont of the Des Moines Register reports on the disparity of intensity of the fight in Iowa. "Democratic candidates for president have wagered vastly more on Iowa than their Republican counterparts, a sign the state's caucuses are seen as more pivotal to the Democrat nomination," he writes. "The intensity of the Democratic campaign compared to the Republican contest in Iowa also is a sign the state is the place where Clinton is most vulnerable."

Stephen Colbert may need to get some truthiness from his lawyers. "The joke could be on Colbert if federal election officials decide his candidacy is for real," per ABC News. "If his campaign plays out the way he's indicated that it will, Comedy Central and Colbert's sponsor, Doritos, could be violating federal laws that bar corporations from backing political campaigns, election law experts say." Says Massie Ritsch of the Center for Responsive Politics: "The Federal Election Commission doesn't have a great sense of humor."

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, has changed his travel routine since his arrest in Minneapolis, the Washington Examiner's Jeff Dufour and Patrick Gavin report. "One thing about his travel plans is different since his widely publicized arrest: Sources tell us he's now connecting through the Denver airport."

The RNC is claiming more than 100,000 hits for its Halloween treat (Hillary Clinton's winning -- by a lot).

Comedian Mo Rocca has the hot new drink for caucus time: the Iowa-tini. Ethanol is the new vermouth.

The kicker:

"I took a city that was full of pornography and licked it to a large extent." -- Giuliani, standing out even on a day filled with gaffes.

"You don't want someone who pretends to be a Red Sox fan. . . . . You want him to be principled, even when he's losing he stands up for 'em." -- Obama, explaining his solid White Sox allegiance even in the wake of Giuliani's newfound support for Boston.

"We thought Mayor Giuliani's endorsement of Democrat Mario Cuomo [in 1994] was rooting for the other team. But for Yankee fans, this might be a new low." -- Thompson's campaign, in a statement.

"We invited him to serve coffee but he was busy." -- Maria Shriver, on the most famous candidate's spouse -- President Clinton -- and his decision to skip the forum in California.

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