THE NOTE: Obama Hits Restart to Confront Clinton

Welcome, New Barack Obama, to the presidential campaign. (This time, we assume, you're here to stay.)

While you were waiting in the wings, not telling us to sing "Kumbayah" and not closely watching who's singing on your behalf, here's some of what you missed:

New Hillary Clinton has jumped out to a 30-point lead in the polls -- while her campaign has gone a long way toward defining the "politics of hope" for you. New John Edwards has been steadily identifying the areas of Clinton's vulnerability -- while refusing to fade in Iowa. New Rudy Giuliani has managed to pander his way into rooting for the World Series champions, and topped off his weekend with an endorsement from beyond the grave.

As for Old Barack Obama, he's been campaigning in front of his usual full houses, yet often disappointing crowds who came expecting magic. Despite scattered promises of a sharper campaign, he's frustrated and infuriated his supporters, who fear that the Obama campaign has become the politics of nope.

Three weeks ago, Old Barack Obama kicked off a "different phase" of his campaign that hasn't been all that different. And more than two months ago, Obama used a sit-down with The Washington Post to signal a course change that never materialized, talking about how only he could move the country out of "ideological gridlock."

But here you are ready to make a move, New Barack Obama, and you do it -- in an interview with The New York Times? Not with bold, fresh lines that redefine your candidacy by contrasting yourself with the frontrunner -- but with this scary declaration: "now is the time" for you to set yourself apart from Clinton. "It is absolutely true that we have to make these distinctions clearer," he said. "And I will not shy away from doing that."

And/but, write the Times' Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny: "Though Mr. Obama's criticisms of Mrs. Clinton were sharper than he has voiced during this campaign, they were, nonetheless, still somewhat restrained, certainly when compared with the criticisms that have been voiced of Mrs. Clinton by Mr. Edwards and much of the Republican field."

Don't expect New Barack Obama to appear on "Ellen" today (the show was pre-taped, and who knows which Obama was dancing to a Beyonce song). But tomorrow night's debate in Philadelphia could mark his first big public appearance.

Clearly, at this point, the Democratic race is not going to shake itself up. Clinton, D-N.Y., appears highly unlikely to make the sort of unforced errors that the rest of the candidates have long been hoping for.

So Obama, D-Ill., is starting to take Clinton on over the details, starting with Iran in foreign policy and Social Security on the domestic front. He's accusing Clinton of dodging specifics in talking about Social Security, as he reaches out to the kind of Democrats (read: older) who will actually show up at caucuses on a snowy Jan. 3. "I don't want to just put my finger out to the wind and see what the polls say. I want to bring the country together to solve a problem," Obama says in a new ad, per ABC's Sunlen Miller.

This follows a campaign appearance on Saturday, where Obama highlighted a voter who asked Clinton a Social Security question at an event earlier this month. "You're not ready to lead if you can't tell us where you're going," Obama said, per Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson.

Obama is right in pointing out that the Clinton camp needs a better retort than, "what happened to the politics of hope?" -- otherwise, Clinton risks looking too smug in her lead. But Obama himself needs a stronger and more substantive rationale for his candidacy, one that reenergizes his supporters but does not sacrifice his unique qualities as a candidate.

What if Obama's obstacles are deeper than Clinton's campaign strength? "No candidate in recent memory has swept onto the national political scene with greater fanfare," Robin Abcarian writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Yet he has been unable to translate the relentless, often fawning attention into anything approaching a surge." Says Drake University's Dennis Goldford: "The music's great, but where are the lyrics?"

His supporters are getting restless. "Could there be anything less inspiring than a candidate who 'tests' his plan to muscle-up a listless campaign by inviting in New York Times political reporters to vet his new 'aggressiveness'?" John Nichols blogs for The Nation. "It's too late for promises. . . . If Obama wants to tackle Clinton, he should do it -- boldly, publicly and without looking back."

A piece of punditry from the other end of the spectrum: Appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America," Bill O'Reilly called it "ridiculous" to think that Obama could challenge Clinton: "What is his poll, 18 percent?" he said. "What has he been doing for six months? I guess he's been on Club Med. I haven't seen him. Have you seen him?" (He doesn't care much for the GOP field, either: "They're like B characters out of 'Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.")

Obama and Clinton still have Edwards, D-N.C., to deal with as well. Speaking today at 12 pm ET in Manchester, N.H., Edwards has a "definitional speech" (shouldn't that be what they all are?) where he plans to sharpen his calls for fixing Washington shortly after filing for the New Hampshire primary.

"You cannot take on the entrenched interests in Washington if you choose to defend the broken system," Edwards plans to say, per his campaign. "It will not work. And I believe that, if Americans have a choice, any candidate who takes their money -- Democrat or Republican -- will lose this election."

On the Republican side, as former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., celebrates the Red Sox dominance (they are the new Yankees now, are they not?), he nabs a public endorsement from an unlikely source: the late President Gerald Ford. In May 2006 -- six months before he passed away -- Ford told Tom DeFrank that Giuliani is "an electrifying guy" and said Republicans will nominate him "if they want to win." Per ABC's Jake Tapper, "Ford was the last Republican president to have supported abortion rights. Giuliani aspires to be the next."

Giuliani is talking healthcare this week, and he's up with a radio ad and a mailing (still no TV from the GOP frontrunner) on the subject, per ABC's Jan Simmonds. "My chance of surviving prostate cancer -- and thank God I was cured of it -- in the United States, 82 percent," Giuliani said. "My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England, only 44 percent, under socialized medicine."

Seeking his one-on-one with Clinton, Giuliani sparred with the former first lady over the weekend, taking issue with her recent declaration that she would send envoys to foreign countries even before she takes office.

"This is very, very premature, talking about sending ambassadors all over the world even before she becomes president to in essence interfere with the policies of the United States," he said, ABC's Simmonds reports. And this move (which is becoming a Rudy trademark): "I am not criticizing her. . . . I am giving her an opportunity to say that she made a mistake and correct it."

File this under damage control, baseball style: "I root for you now, but after tonight when you win, I'm gonna be against you again," Giuliani said yesterday in New Hampshire.

It may be getting toward time for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to reconsider what he can get his mind around. "It's hard for me to accept the fact that we would nominate someone who has fundamental disagreements with one or more of the principles" that are important to conservative Republicans, McCain said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

McCain wouldn't go as far as his campaign manager, Rick Davis, in saying a Giuliani nomination would "have devastating results for our party." But he blasted Giuliani on the issue of torture: "Anyone who says they don't know if water boarding is torture or not has no experience in the conduct of warfare and national security." Per ABC's Bret Hovell, McCain said "he would not rule out voting against President Bush's nominee for attorney general over the issue of torture."

The McCain campaign is wrestling with whether to pull out of Iowa -- saving resources for New Hampshire -- and whether to accept public financing, Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. "That he is even facing an Iowa-New Hampshire trade-off reflects the pallid state of McCain's campaign," Martin writes. Said McCain: "There has been an uptick in fundraising, but is there enough of an uptick?"

Jan. 3 it is for the Iowa caucuses, with Iowa Democrats voting last night to choose the same date as the Republicans. The date "is either a gut punch or a shot of adrenaline to presidential candidates who are courting young voters," writes Jason Clayworth of the Des Moines Register. "Most Iowa college students will still be soaking up holiday break when the caucuses kick into gear. . . . Obama, arguably, has more at stake on the caucus date than any other presidential candidate because his campaign has been among the most aggressive in courting young voters."

Also in the news:

Clinton followed up her birthday bash with a Harlem "homecoming" Saturday, where "she showed off the political unity of her adopted state," Politico's Ben Smith reports. Look who's watching the polls now: "We need somebody who can win, and she runs first in most polls," President Bill Clinton said. "She can win, and it doesn't hurt that she can be the first woman president of the United States."

But the GOP just loves photo-ops of Clinton with House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. "The presence of Rangel is suddenly something of a political double-edged sword for the senator after Rangel unveiled a controversial tax plan," ABC's Jake Tapper writes. Rangel is calling it "the mother of all tax reforms," but Republicans are substituting the word "hikes" for "reforms," citing its $1 trillion price tag.

Obama's gospel tour wrapped up yesterday in South Carolina, and Donnie McClurkin drew cheers from the crowd as emcee. "We're here and we're glad we're here," he said, per the AP's Jim Davenport. "McClurkin's presence created a rift as gay and lesbian activists tried to force Obama to boot the singer from the lineup," Davenport writes. "Obama wouldn't budge, but he tried to quell the anger by adding an openly gay pastor to the event."

With Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., yesterday declaring that the nation "in on a drumbeat here . . . towards military action against Iran," ABC's Liz Marlantes and Mary Walsh look at how Iran is shaping both the Democratic and Republican races. "Obama and other Democrats have been hammering front-runner Hillary Clinton for supporting a resolution they say gives the president leeway for a possible attack," they write. "Among Republicans, it's a very different war of words, over who can sound most hawkish."

Rudy's Feb. 5 strategy is intact, but Giuliani is also spending more time than anticipated in the early-voting states. "A look at the presidential hopeful's campaign datebook shows the former mayor is hunkering down in the two early battlegrounds far more than in other primary states," David Saltonstall writes in the New York Daily News. "Although other candidates have staged more events there, Giuliani has spent about the same percentage of his time in New Hampshire and Iowa as have John McCain and Mitt Romney -- both of whom see the early contests as critical must-wins."

Clinton's not the only one with a treasure trove of documents under tight control. The Chicago Tribune's Andrew Zajac reports on how Giuliani filtered his mayoral records through a tax-exempt foundation. "While no evidence has surfaced that the record was compromised, the city of New York nonetheless changed its laws to prevent another mayor from doing what Giuliani did," Zajac writes. "A coalition of archivists, historians and other city officials also raised questions about whether the documents would be sanitized, but the Giuliani Center was allowed to finish archiving the records."

What doesn't happen in Vegas -- stays in New Hampshire and Iowa? The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan travels to Las Vegas to report on the non-event of the Nevada caucuses. "Major Democratic and Republican contenders have made few stops in Nevada, and visits are brief, often limited to fund-raising events or meetings with powerful union representatives," Milligan writes. "No candidate is advertising on television, there are few house parties, and hardly any campaign signs dot neighborhoods."

Chalk up another (spooky) poll victory for Clinton. It's Clinton 37, Giuliani 14 in the AP's race for who you want to dress up as for Halloween. "While many conservatives have doubts about Giuliani's candidacy because of his moderate views on abortion and other social issues, only 6 percent of that group said they thought he would make the scariest costume," per the AP write-up.

With "The Colbert Report" returning to the air tonight, Stephen Colbert kicked off his (sort of) campaign yesterday in Columbia, S.C., where Mayor Bob Coble proclaimed him "South Carolina's favorite son."

Credit the Edwards campaign with the first to have an official sense of humor about Colbert's candidacy. After The State published a side-by-side comparison of the two native South Carolinians who are running on the Democratic ballot, Edwards spokesman Eric Schultz issued a tart response: "The truthiness is, as the candidate of Doritos, Colbert's hands are stained by corporate corruption and nacho cheese."

Can former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., capitalize on the newfound interest in his candidacy? That's already begun, per the Los Angeles Times' Louise Roug, who reports that Huckabee has raised $800,000 in October -- nearly as much as he did in the entire third quarter. He was rocking (quite literally) in Clear Lake, Iowa, over the weekend. "You guys in Iowa are cooler than we thought you were," Huckabee said.

Romney, R-Mass., didn't take Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., up on his World Series bet, but Tancredo is leaving Congress at the end of his term regardless of how his presidential campaign turns out, M.E. Sprengelmeyer reports in the Rocky Mountain News.

Al Gore is not running for president, but Bloomberg's Al Hunt writes that "whoever does assume the office in less than 15 months will face the presence, the shadow, of the former vice president immediately." Writes Hunt, "A Democrat, especially front-runner Hillary Clinton, whose sibling rivalry with Gore during the Clinton presidency endures, will confront Gore as a watchdog on national security, foreign policy and energy and environmental matters. It may be the most intriguing intra-party dynamic since Senator Robert F. Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson four decades ago."

Need a viewer's guide to the GOP primaries? It's a race to become the "macho man," Salon.com's Walter Shapiro writes. "Thompson, both through his physique and his Southern Bourbon style, represents a new style of machismo. As does McCain, the soft-spoken war hero, and Giuliani, the blustery 9/11 mayor," Shapiro writes.

The kicker:

"He's sick -- he's got an addiction. He needs treatment. . . . He's got a wandering eye, I'll tell you that. Betty had the same impression; he isn't very subtle about his interest." -- The late President Gerald Ford, quoted by the New York Daily News' Tom DeFrank, in his new book.

"I don't know. . . . I mean, who knows." -- First Lady Laura Bush, asked whether living in the White House eight years leaves one better prepared to become president. Asked if she feels conflicted about the candidacy of her predecessor, she responded, "No, No."

"He's selling his dopey book. . . . This is just a publicity stunt to mock the country. And Colbert doesn't have the cojones to face me -- that's all I'm telling Colbert right now." -- Bill O'Reilly, on "Good Morning America."

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