THE NOTE: Big Names Back Rudy, McCain

There are endorsements, major endorsements, and Major Endorsements.

Major Endorsesments -- such as those seen in the Republican field Wednesday -- qualify for capital letters, as much for who they're going to as for who they're not.

Sen. Sam Brownback's endorsement of Sen. John McCain keeps McCain in the presidential game.

In a GOP field that still lacks an establishment, consensus choice (what McCain used to be), the Arizona Republican is making his best play for reclaiming that mantle.

"The nod could provide a much-needed boost, particularly in Iowa, for the Arizona senator and one-time presumed GOP front-runner whose bid faltered and is now looking for a comeback," the AP's Liz Sidoti writes.

Sometimes offense is defense: The fact that McCain kept this endorsement from going to former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., is huge for him and the rest of the Republican field, who can't afford Giuliani to fully answer questions about his support for abortion rights.

But Giuliani counters with his own big get: Pat Robertson.

"Robertson's support was coveted by several of the leading Republican candidates and provides Giuliani with a major boost as the former New York City mayor seeks to convince social conservatives that, despite his positions on abortion and gay rights, he is an acceptable choice as the GOP nominee,"'s Chris Cillizza writes.

It's nearly as significant that Brownback and (particularly) Robertson aren't supporting former governor Mitt Romney.

Romney, R-Mass., had been slowly yet surely emerging as the favored choice of religious conservatives, with Paul Weyrich this week becoming the latest in a string of big names to sign on. The fact that he's oh-for-two today blunts that momentum.

The twin endorsements are also a disappointment former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark. (who would be the conservative choice if he seemed viable to the appropriate pooh-bahs), and former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. (who once aspired to that same title, and is pitching himself as the "consistent conservative" in his first major ad push).

Elsewhere on the political landscape, it's all about change.

In Kentucky, it's a Democrat ousting a Republican governor.

In Virginia, it's Democrats wresting back control of the state Senate.

In Indianapolis, it's a Republican political newcomer overcoming a 10-1 spending advantage to beat the two-term incumbent Democrat.

Election Day 2007 should scare Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. (up for reelection next year), and Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. (whose wife was among the losing state senators on Tuesday).

Indiana's freshman House Democrats can't be happy, either. It's easy to over-read the off-year elections (what else do we have to analyze these days?), but one obvious storyline is that the Old Dominion will be in play in 2008.

"The returns provided the sharpest evidence yet that Democratic gains in recent state elections [in Virginia] represented more than a temporary dip in Republicans' popularity," Amy Gardner writes in The Washington Post.

But more than that, the 2007 elections are going down as big victories for change.

It's the same dynamic that powered this week's extraordinary fundraising haul by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas -- hardly a frontrunner, but the only GOP presidential candidate to be offering a vastly different direction on foreign and domestic policy.

The winds of change are the most potent force in American politics today.

To the degree that they're harnessed by two Democrats in particular, they represent at this moment the biggest threat to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.

Change is the text and subtext of just about everything that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., are saying and doing on the trail.

To take just the snapshot of Tuesday, Edwards challenged Clinton to answer five specific questions about her plan for Iraq.

"On such an important question we need honesty and answers, not double-talk and evasions," Edwards said, per ABC's Raelyn Johnson.

Obama launched an aggressive new attack on Clinton over the issue of ethanol, telling the Des Moines Register in an interview that her record belies her supportive statements.

"If she's willing to shift this quickly on this issue, we don't know whether she will shift back when it gets hard," Obama told the Register's Jason Clayworth.

On Wednesday (assuming he shows up on time), Obama will outline his plans to strengthen the middle class with a speech in Bettendorf, Iowa.

"We're not going to reclaim that dream unless we put an end to the politics of polarization and division that is holding this country back," he plans to say, per his campaign, "unless we stand up to the corporate lobbyists that have stood in the way of progress; unless we have leadership that doesn't just tell people what they want to hear -- but tells everyone what they need to know."

His appeal for blue-collar voters is "a play for the core of Hillary Clinton's support," Politico's Mike Allen reports.

Obama strategist David Axelrod says Obama will make a case for "real and authentic change, not synthetic change." (Isn't that a motor-oil pitch?)

And Democrats aren't looking cowed by Clinton's surrogate-in-chief.

A day after Bill Clinton compared attacks on his wife to the "Swift Boat" attacks on Sen. John Kerry, Obama told the AP's Nedra Pickler that he was "stunned by that statement."

"How you would then draw an analogy to distorting somebody's military record is a reach," Obama said.

And this from Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.: "To have the former president come out and suggest this is a form of swift-boating . . . is way over the top."

Are cracks emerging over at Camp Clinton?

"Bill Clinton found himself in an unusual and uncomfortable position yesterday -- drawing intense fire from Democratic presidential candidates and a brushback from his wife's own campaign," Geoff Earle blares on the New York Post's front page.

"In a stunning in-house slap at the former president, a senior adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign said the former president's remarks were not part of campaign strategy and were considered counterproductive by her advisers."

(And don't miss this from Obama in the AP interview, on Edwards -- a rare skirmish No. 2 and No. 3.

"He's been talking about it on the campaign trail, but when he was on position to do something, we fare well in that track record," Obama said.)

In a CNN interview yesterday, Sen. Clinton acknowledged, "I wasn't at my best" at last week's debate, and chalked up the criticism to attacks that inevitably come "toward the end of a very long presidential primary process."

But she may have given her opponents more ammunition by again avoiding a direct, concise answer on the issue of driver's licenses for illegal immigrants: "I think if you go back and look at the complexity of this issue, I don't think a lot of these hard questions lend themselves to raising your hand," she said.

"It depends upon what state they're in. It depends upon what they think the risks are. You know, a governor of New York that has a lot of immigrants, many of whom we know are not their legally, has to worry about security. A governor of another state where that's not a problem doesn't."

(Which crime-free states might you be referring to, senator? And how is it that the fine-tuned Clinton campaign has now gone seven days without putting this to rest?)

The secrecy of records from Clinton's years as first lady is emerging as a major theme of her rivals' attacks.

And she has more documents to worry about (and explain away): The papers of the late Diane Blair, who was preparing a book she never got a chance to write, won't be released to the public until the politically convenient year of 2009, despite earlier indications that they'd be available by now, ABC's Jake Tapper reports.

"Only two copies of the Blair Report were ever made; one was given to the Clintons, the other remained in Blair's custody until after her death, whereupon the books were given to the University of Arkansas Library," Tapper writes.

The tug between change and nostalgia for the Clinton years is very real in the Democratic Party. Bloomberg News' Heidi Przybyla is the latest to round up red-state Democrats who are concerned about the impact of a Clinton candidacy.

"They say those perceptions raise questions about her ability to defeat a Republican nominee, and may cause trouble for other Democratic office-seekers in swing states like Missouri and in the South," Przybyla writes. "There's evidence to support both sides of the Democrats' debate. The national polls that show Clinton leading in the general election also suggest that her strong support from some voters is offset by strong animosity from many others."

ABC News' Kate Snow made her first (of many, we imagine) trips to battleground Ohio, finding much the same theme.

"I know I won't vote for Hillary Clinton but I might vote for another Democrat," said Sandra Brausch, an investment banker from Medina, Ohio, and who voted for Bush in both 2000 and 2004. "But not Hillary Clinton."

"If that's my choice I am not voting Democrat," echoed Dr. Chris Kalucis, an ear nose and throat specialist in Medina, who also voted for Bush twice.

ABC's Jake Tapper surveys the Democrats' dreams from the Four Corners: "Democratic gains in the Inner Mountain states have party strategists drooling. In 2000, these eight states had not one Democratic governor among them. Today there are five."

Can Clinton compete in Ohio and out West? If recent polling is right, we may just find out.

After two post-debate polls showed her lead slipping, Clinton is back in a comfort zone in the new USA Today/Gallup Poll.

It's Clinton 50 (above that pseudo-magical threshold again), Obama 22, Edwards 15.

And it's one mixed metaphor from analyst Charlie Cook: The Democratic race "is a locomotive with Hillary Clinton's face on it," political analyst Charlie Cook says. "On the Republican side, it looks like the TV show "Survivor"."

On the Republican side, while McCain and Giuliani boast of their big gets, it looks like Fred Thompson is making a move.

There's his new TV ad, where he boasts of his "100 percent pro-life voting record" (though he looks like me might be the third-best actor in the GOP field).

And there's also a more intense campaign schedule (everything is relative). Thompson "appears to be stepping it up, at least to a slow trot," The Washington Post's Michael Shear writes.

Thompson is also engaging in some direct engagement with Romney: "Governor, you can't buy South Carolina, you can't even rent South Carolina!" Thompson shouted, accusing Romney of spending "$20 million of his own personal fortune" in his run, per ABC's Christine Byun.

Writes Byun, "After a period of trying to stay about 'the fray', Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson is sharpening his tongue . . . and taking names."

Per ABC's Matt Stuart, Romney was happy to respond: "When he catches up to me in events then he'll know he's got South Carolina too, but you have to work South Carolina, and that's what I've been doing for the past year."

Romney, who talked up adoption policy on the trail Tuesday, has also been working the religious right.

The Boston Globe's Michael Levenson gets this quote from Paul Weyrich (hardly how the Romney camp might phrase it, but it works): "I believe that he has flip-flopped in our direction, if you will -- the direction of the values voters -- and I think he will stay there."

And here's more of his thinking (closer to the truth?): "In analyzing the primary situation, I believe it's going to come down to a contest between Giuliani and Romney and I don't want Giuliani."

As for Ron Paul, he seemed as surprised as anybody by his raising $4.3 million in 24 hours -- $4 million of it online.

"To me it's pretty remarkable and pleasantly surprising," Paul told Sam Donaldson and David Chalian on ABC NewsNow's "Politics Live." "Everybody that's coming together is sick and tired of big government and they don't trust the major parties and the leadership of the major parties right now."

(And he's never seen or read "V for Vendetta": "It was a mystery and something I'm learning about," Paul said.

And more tea-leaf reading on Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y.

"Mayor Michael Bloomberg's denials that he is running for president seem to be getting weaker," AP's Sara Kugler reports. "In three nationally televised interviews and a news conference over the past week, the billionaire independent dropped the phrase 'I'm not running' from his responses, which had been nearly automatic up until then."

In its place: "I'm not a candidate."

Also in the news:

Obama on Tuesday responded to the first time to blog-fueled talk that he doesn't put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance.

"Been pledging allegiance to the flag, what, since I was three?" Obama said, per ABC's Sunlen Miller "Anytime that you pledge allegiance you put your hand over your heart, and I always have and I always will. . . . It's simply not true."

The New York Times' Katharine Q. Seelye sees the Obama camp's fingerprints on -- but not all over -- the bid to keep Stephen Colbert off the South Carolina ballot.

"The lobbying was pretty intense, according to several people, with most of it against allowing Mr. Colbert, the comedian on Comedy Central and native son of the state, on the ballot," she writes. "They included prominent supporters of Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, although another prominent supporter lobbied in favor of Mr. Colbert. The Obama campaign said that it had no connection to the vote."

With Obama getting some scrutiny for his own disclosures, his campaign is preparing to release new details on his "bundlers," ABC's Rhonda Schwartz and Justin Rood report.

First they raised money on the possibility that you could watch the debate with the former president. Now the Clinton campaign is raising money on the fact that he watched the debate with someone who isn't you. (Anyone still wondering why she's so hard to beat?)

She may not have been at her best last Tuesday, but you wouldn't know it from the glowing reviews in this Web video -- or the snap debate analysis from President Clinton himself: "If you notice, she hasn't hit them back. She answers their charges, but doesn't hit them back."

The Wall Street Journal's Mary Jacoby looks into one of the few clients of Giuliani Partners about which any details are known: the government of Qatar.

"Many details of the deal aren't known, including whether it is still in effect. It was signed with state-run Qatar Petroleum around 2005, according to Chase Untermeyer, who left a three-year term as President Bush's envoy to Qatar in August. It involved a subsidiary, Giuliani Security & Safety LLC, which offered security advice to a giant natural-gas processing facility in Qatar," Jacoby writes. "While Qatar is a U.S. ally, it has drawn scrutiny for its involvement in the U.S. effort to combat terrorism."

The New York Sun's Seth Gitell looks at the competing images of two potential first ladies.

"Judith Giuliani is now playing the role of a surrogate for Mayor Giuliani on health care issues, but Rep. Dennis Kucinich's spouse, Elizabeth, may be showing she possesses the potential to become a more popular public figure than her own husband," Gitell writes.

He judges Mrs. Giuliani's speech yesterday at a breast cancer conference as a success: "Unlike her early Barbara Walters interview on ABC, Mrs. Giuliani spoke comfortably and with authority on an issue with which she, as a former oncological nurse, was familiar. She scored on one important rule of politics: Preparation counts."

Kucinich, D-Ohio, fell short in his effort to get a debate on impeaching Vice President Dick Cheney -- to the disappointment of some House Republicans who changed their votes to see the measure come to the floor.

"The antiwar liberal's seemingly quixotic effort drew unexpected support from Republicans, who saw a golden opportunity to engage Democrats in a debate on the issue," The Washington Post's Elizabeth Williamson reports.

It wound up getting sent to the House Judiciary Committee. "There it is destined for oblivion," Williamson writes.

Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., has a new book out that focuses on energy issues.

"Richardson, a former U.S. energy secretary and the current New Mexico governor, uses this book to hammer at energy-related policies he has espoused at many Iowa campaign stops," the Des Moines Register's William Petroski writes.

The Boston Globe's Sasha Issenberg looks at the innovative campaign approach of Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.: long, complex answers.

He calls it an "an increasingly distinctive approach to policy questions. Biden's complex answers often feature more movable parts than his Democratic rivals', usually reaching beyond typical issue categories such as economic, foreign, and trade policy."

The Washington Post's Carrie Johnson sees Dodd's Senate Banking Committee lagging behind the issues as he runs for president.

"Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who is drawing about 1 percent support in major polls, follows the campaign trail while some of the most critical issues on his Senate panel's agenda remain stuck in neutral," Johnson writes.

We should know more about Michigan's primary date tonight, which should help New Hampshire to fall into place.

"Michigan Democrats who support a Jan. 15 presidential primary say they've got the votes on the party's executive committee to defeat any efforts to switch the date or hold a caucus instead," per the AP's Kathy Barks Hoffman.

Who says Nevada doesn't matter?

With a Democratic debate coming to Las Vegas next week, the state Democratic Party today is previewing its Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner -- and to pick the speaking order at the dinner (out of a cowboy hat, of course).

And mark your calendars: Clinton and Edwards are on board for a presidential forum on climate issues, to be held Nov. 17 in Los Angeles.

The forum's sponsors are billing it as the "first time in history" that presidential candidates will appear at a forum focused on issues of global warming and the nation's energy future, and all of the Democrats and Republicans have been invited.

Looking for another consequence of the most expensive campaign in history?

Vanity Fair's Maureen Orth reports that the Washington social scene is as gridlocked as its lawmaking. "Since Hillary has been here in the Senate for the last eight years, I think I've seen her twice," says Sally Quinn. "Otherwise, she is at fund-raisers. She entertains constantly, but it is all political. It is people who work for her or raise money for her."

The kicker:

"And so do I." -- Thompson, after Fox News Channel's Carl Cameron tried to hurry up an interview by saying, "The next president of the United States has a schedule to keep."

"I have nothing to show." -- Romney, declining a Mardi Gras-style bead necklace, and being confronted by some "Hooters" girls at a chili cook-off in South Carolina.

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