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.

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