THE NOTE: Obama in Spotlight at Democratic Debate

What we won't see at tonight's Democratic debate in Philadelphia:

1. Donnie McClurkin.

2. Dick Cheney's flag, Fred Thompson's campaign SUV, or Rudy Giuliani's prediction coming true.

3. Mike Gravel.

What we will see:

1. Hillary Clinton's laugh (and patronizing smile).

2. John Edwards' glare (and finger-jabbing anger).

3. Desperation (times four -- or more).

What we might see:

1. An anti-Clinton double (or triple) team

2. A soundbite that doesn't belong to a candidate named Clinton, Edwards, or Obama.

3. A fresh attack from this newly aggressive Barack Obama we've been primed to expect.

If Obama, D-Ill., has some new sharp attack lines in mind, he must be saving them for tonight's debate. It was mostly business as usual on the trail yesterday, with Obama chiding Clinton on Social Security and Iran but passing up some shots at drawing "distinctions" between himself and the Democratic frontrunner, ABC's Sunlen Miller reports. If he hadn't taken the "Ellen" stage with a dance -- to Beyonce's "Crazy Love," for the record -- it might have been any other campaign day.

If that doesn't change tonight, Obama will have some serious explaining to do -- not just to reporters, but to the donors and supporters who are looking for him to rough it up with Clinton, D-N.Y. "Obama seems to have been telegraphing the punches he may throw tonight," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. "The senator will demonstrate either how well he is executing his strategy or will fail to deliver on expectations he's been raising himself."

This time, it's personal (maybe). "The arrows may be pointed even more directly at Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. And they could be coming from more than one direction," The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny writes. "The Democrats have yet to unleash the sharp personal criticisms to the degree their Republican counterparts have against one other."

Obama wants to keep on the issues (no "knee-capping," he's promising), but The Boston Globe's Scott Helman identifies Obama's biggest obstacle: "despite how hard his campaign is working to highlight its differences -- he is vowing again this week to take her on more directly -- he and Clinton are simply not far apart on major issues. . . . That, analysts say, puts Obama in something of a box: If he and Clinton are too alike on substance and policy, Clinton's character should be his prime target -- but to attack that would undermine the unifying, positive message of his candidacy."

Take Iran (as does today): "Clear away the smoke and look beyond the attacks and you'll find they don't differ that much. Both say Iran's Revolutionary Guard supports terrorism. Both want more diplomacy and tougher sanctions to deter Iran's nuclear program. And neither is ready to give Bush authority to go to war."

At the MTV/MySpace debate, Obama was too busy playing defense to get sharp with Clinton. In the wake of his decision to include McClurkin -- a singer who has called homosexuality a choice that can be "cured" -- in his South Carolina gospel tour, Obama was pressed on the issue of gay marriage yesterday, the Des Moines Register's Jason Clayworth reports.

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