Those not-so-nice things Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama have been saying about each other? The snits and the snubs?
Well -- they did elbow each other out of the way in their efforts to praise John Edwards. And then they ended the evening with a hug (almost) -- and placed each other on their vice-presidential shortlists.
So we showed up for a fight, and a debate broke out. It says that both Clinton, D-N.Y., and Obama, D-Ill., are fairly pleased with where things stand -- if by "pleased" you mean dreadfully nervous about where things may turn before Tuesday.
Clinton has an on-the-ground edge in the big states that vote next. Obama has a clear advantage in enthusiasm and excitement. They both have plenty of money (we know that's not a problem for Obama, at least) to fight it out well beyond Feb. 5.
That's where the battle will be joined -- not on a debate stage, and certainly not on the debate stage Thursday night in Hollywood, in front of all those famous people. "Thursday's debate played out as if they were two talk show guests trading jokes as they worked around the edges of a number of domestic policies," Cathleen Decker and Maria L. La Ganga write in the Los Angeles Times.
"The gravest distinction came on the war, which loomed large as an issue as the presidential race began but has gradually diminished in the Democratic contests," they write. "With the war again the focus, the race reverted to the campaign's purest distillation: Clinton's experience against Obama's judgment."
Like one of those pay-per-view boxing matches that leaves viewers demanding refunds, Thursday night's one-on-one debate in Hollywood was a tactical dance that left both combatants standing. South Carolina was a distant memory.
ABC's David Wright: "Anyone who was expecting fireworks last night might well have been disappointed, but the two candidates both sought to rise above the bickering that marked their last encounter in Myrtle Beach, S.C."
"Gone were the sharp and sometimes personal attacks that have characterized a year's worth of debates, particularly a combative session last week in South Carolina, which both sides conceded had tarnished their images," Jeff Zeleny and Patrick Healy write in The New York Times. "Cordial as the encounter was, the candidates did not mask their own divisions, even as they previewed the attacks one of them will ultimately make against a Republican rival."
We're back where we started, pitting change against experience, or, at least, two different kinds of experience against each other. And Clinton got the deep breath she's been asking everyone to take, as she conveyed measured confidence and competence.
Beyond mild differences on Iraq, healthcare, and immigration, the candidates "sharply disagreed on who has the better combination of leadership and experience to defeat Republicans in November and lead the country as president," Dan Balz and Anne Kornblut write in The Washington Post. "They hewed to strategies designed to give them the upper hand after this Tuesday's 22 Democratic primaries and caucuses in what remains a fierce and extremely competitive nomination battle."
If Clinton and Obama were acting (auditioning for Spielberg and Reiner and Leo) then ABC's George Stephanopoulos was among those who bought their bits. "What I'll bet is, if she gets the nomination, she picks him" as a running mate, he said Friday on "Good Morning America."
Why would Obama want to jinx his January by picking a fight, anyway? Here's what Iowa/South Carolina/Bill Clinton/Ted Kennedy means to a campaign: Try $1 million a day.
Obama raised $32 million in January alone -- a stunning figure by any measure (and one that was met with silence over at Camp Clinton). "The number is the highest any candidate has raised in a single month and matches Obama's best three-month period from last year," ABC's Sunlen Miller writes.
"His money haul is almost certain to dwarf that of bitter rival Hillary Clinton," Michael Saul and Ian Bishop report in the New York Daily News. "Clinton boasted of raising $3 million eight days into January, but has largely been silent since. Her camp refused yesterday to put out her January numbers."
We're beyond the point of the Clinton campaign being scared by Obama's fundraising figures, and she'll still be in fine position for Feb. 5 and beyond. But it's another measure of the Obama excitement -- 650,000 individuals have now given money to his campaign. The money kept flowing right after he lost New Hampshire, in one of the campaign's darker moments. "We took a lot of encouragement from that," campaign manager David Plouffe said.
The cash is funding a new ad buy in Feb. 5 states and in the states that follow -- since no one really believes Super Tuesday will settle anything. It's an "an eight-figure, 24-state barrage of television advertising, heading into the Super Tuesday contests and beyond, that will carry his message to twice as many states as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's ads will reach with her current ad buy," Howard Kurtz reports in The Washington Post.
"Clinton plans to advertise in a dozen of the 22 states that will hold Democratic primaries and caucuses Tuesday," Kurtz continues. "But Clinton is also using some unconventional tactics. Her campaign bought an hour block on the Hallmark Channel to air a portion of the national town hall forum her campaign is mounting, on the eve of the Feb. 5 primaries. Clinton, former president Bill Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, are set to appear."
Money's not a problem for former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., either -- and he's ended his brief TV blackout with an ad buy of between $2 million and $3 million in Feb. 5 states, per the AP's Glen Johnson -- though that's less than the $7 million campaign some aides discussed privately.
At least $1 million of the ads will air in California, the biggest Feb. 5 prize, "enough to give the former Massachusetts governor a presence in much of the state," Dan Morain and Scott Martelle write in the Los Angeles Times.
Late (late) Thursday came word on how he's paying for it: It's $35 million and counting -- just through December -- in Romney's receipts from a certain donor named Mitt Romney. "In the fourth quarter of 2007, Romney loaned his campaign $18 million dollars, double the amount he raised from other donors during that period," ABC's John Berman, Ursula Fahy, and Matt Stuart report. His cash on hand: $2.4 million. (So Ann hasn't shut off the spigot yet . . . )
Yet money's not everything, as a new report out Friday from the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project makes clear. Through Sunday Republican candidates spent about $50 million on 67,798 TV ads, with Romney alone accounting for nearly $29 million spent on some 35,000 ads. "John McCain was far behind, with less than one-third as many/much," per the report's summary.
As for the Democrats: "83,320 advertisements on broadcast TV, with an estimated value of over $57 million. Barack Obama led the pack with almost 30,000 ads, worth almost $23 million, and then Hillary Clinton, with more than 25,500 ads, worth well over $18 million."
Money's always been a problem for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and it was a particular problem in November, when he needed a $3 million loan to keep his campaign afloat. That's not as unusual as what follows: "But obtaining the loan required an unusual extra step: He had to take out a special life insurance policy in case he did not survive the campaign," Matthew Mosk and Sarah Cohen write in The Washington Post.
(Imagine that conversation, between campaign official and bank officer. Think Roberta McCain had to pick up the phone?)
"McCain's campaign is now back on solid financial ground, having raised at least $7 million this month," Mosk and Cohen write. "His victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida have loosened the spigot. In recent days, he has held packed fundraisers in Washington, Florida and California, and 10 days ago, a single event in New York raised $1 million."
Yet cash is no longer McCain's biggest obstacle: Rush is, and he's not impressed by Arnold or Rudy. "So [McCain] just got the endorsement of a big taxing, big spending, socialist health care eco-extreme governor who says the Republican party needs to follow him to the left," Rush Limbaugh said on his radio program Thursday, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed McCain, per ABC's Jake Tapper.
Tapper writes: "Conservative on most issues, McCain is resented for opposing the Bush tax cuts, backing immigration reform, and support for taking action on global warming."
(The San Francisco Chronicle's Carla Marinucci asks McCain whether he intends to reach out to Limbaugh: "No," he said. But he added, "I'll continue to reach out to all in the party, try to unite the party, until everybody realizes that the only way we're going to defeat the Democratic candidate is through a united party.")
The tableau on the factory floor Thursday in Los Angeles -- Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger flanking McCain -- looked powerful, but not with the folks McCain has the most trouble with. "The scene here Thursday morning pointed to a raging question inside both the Republican and Democratic parties: Will a McCain nomination leave the GOP fractured, with its base demoralized, or is he the ideal candidate to field against the Democrats after eight years of President Bush?" Dan Balz writes for The Washington Post.
The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick looks at the divided GOP base: "Since his victory in the Florida primary, the growing possibility that Mr. McCain may carry the Republican banner in November is causing anguish to the right. Some, including James C. Dobson and Rush Limbaugh, say it is far too late for forgiveness."
And yet . . . are we seeing signs of the establishment swallowing the bitter pill (noses held, of course) of John McCain? The Times' Kirkpatrick talks to Grover Norquist: "He has moved in the right direction strongly and forcefully on taxes." Tony Perkins: "I have no residual issue with John McCain." Richard Land: "He is strongly pro-life."
No deals with that particular devil will have to be cut if Romney has anything to do with it. The media may be "ready to anoint John McCain . . . but Gov. Romney has a clear path to victory on February 5th and beyond," Romney strategist Alex Gage writes in one of those just-maybe-meant-for-public-consumption strategy memos, per The Hill's Sam Youngman.
After losing another day (this time to Arnold) in the earned media war (question: is it "earned media" if you don't have to work for it?), Romney "could use something big to 'move the ground,' " Elizabeth Holmes writes in The Wall Street Journal, citing a Romney adviser. In the meantime, "Mitt Romney hopes to revive his Republican campaign by championing himself as the last true conservative contender," Holmes writes.
Romney could use some more quotes like this one, from former House speaker Dennis Hastert, when asked if he considers McCain a conservative: "In my opinion, he is not," Hastert, R-Ill., tells the Chicago Tribune's Rick Pearson. "In almost everything he's done, he's done (things) against what mainstream Republicans thought and he's allied with Democrats. He was always the undependable vote in the Senate."
And -- for some odd reason we can't figure out -- Matt Drudge on Friday rediscovered this story from last March, in The Hill: "Democrats say McCain nearly abandoned GOP."
A big win in Florida plus Rudy and Arnold make John McCain ABC's Buzz Maker of the Week.
The candidates discover Feb. 5 states not called "Cal-i-for-nee-ah" on Friday, though Sen. Clinton stays planted in the Golden State. Get details on their schedules in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
Also in the news:
Since Feb. 5 isn't going to settle much of anything for the Democrats, "the possibility of a protracted fight and some sort of brokered settlement seems to be growing, taking the party into uncharted territory," June Krunholz writes in The Wall Street Journal. Watch the superdelegates: "The Democratic nomination isn't likely to be settled on the floor of this summer's convention, political experts say. But that doesn't mean that a nomination brokered by party leaders is impossible -- or that things won't get even nastier."
A superdelegate fight turns to Clinton's advantage, The Nation's Ari Berman writes. "Clinton has a wealth of contacts to tap, in the party and in her campaign," he writes. "The Clintons are working hard to bring the large bloc of uncommitted superdelegates into the senator's camp."
The battle has already turned into a delegate-by-delegate fight; that's why Bill Clinton has campaigned in Illinois, per The Boston Globe's Alan Wirzbicki. "The Clinton campaign doesn't actually hope to win Illinois, where a trove of 153 delegates is at stake. But Bill Clinton's trip there on Wednesday demonstrated how the two remaining Democratic candidates are quickly revising their campaign strategies to focus on racking up delegates, not wins."
One of those titles Obama could live without: "Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was the most liberal senator in 2007, according to National Journal's 27th annual vote ratings. The insurgent presidential candidate shifted further to the left last year in the run-up to the primaries, after ranking as the 16th- and 10th-most-liberal during his first two years in the Senate."
The pushback, per ABC's Jake Tapper: "Spokesman Bill Burton points out that because Sen. Obama was campaigning for much of 2007, he missed 32 out of the 99 votes the NJ used for its rankings." Good Burton line: "Only in Washington can you get falsely attacked for being like Reagan one week and labeled the most liberal the next."
He doesn't look liberal here: the Chicago Tribune has details of the laid-off Maytag workers that Obama didn't rush to help: "Obama had a special connection to Maytag: Lester Crown, one of the company's directors and biggest investors whose family, records show, has raised tens of thousands of dollars for Obama's campaigns since 2003," the Tribune's Bob Secter reports. "But Crown says Obama never raised the fate of the Galesburg plant with him, and the billionaire industrialist insists any jawboning would have been futile."
Salon.com's Edward McClelland looks at the Obama-Rezko relationship: "Obama's dealings with his hinky friend have never led him afoul of the law, but they show that, despite his high-minded politics, he was no purer -- or no savvier -- than Illinois' biggest hacks in his weakness for a generous contributor. He wouldn't even say no when Rezko cooked up a deal to help the newly elected senator buy a gracious Georgian-revival home."
Bill's such a good boy now: "The new Bill Clinton, playing to crowds in New Mexico, New Jersey and Ohio, is earnest and on script, telling crowds to vote for his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, in the 22 Democratic presidential nominating contests Tuesday," Katharine Q. Seelye and Raymond Hernandez write in The New York Times. "No criticism of her rival, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. And no extemporaneous interviews with the news media. Staff members have shooed reporters away from the rope lines where hundreds of people line up to shake the former president's hand and pose for pictures."
First Lady Laura Bush weighed in (lightly) on the former president's role in the campaign, in an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer. "I think that he's doing what comes very naturally to him, and that is defending his wife," she said on "Good Morning America" Friday. "Anyone would expect their spouse to do that. And, you know, whether or not they cross the line, I guess other people have to judge." As for whether Hillary can control Bill? Big laugh, and then: "I don't know."
The Wall Street Journal editorial board comes down hard on Romney: "We haven't been able to discern from his campaign, or his record in Massachusetts, what his core political principles are," the editorial reads. "Republicans have a pretty good sense of where [McCain] might betray them. Yet few doubt that on other issues -- national security, spending -- Mr. McCain will stick to his principles no matter the opinion polls. If Mr. Romney loses to Senator McCain, the cause will be his failure to persuade voters that he has any convictions at all."
His friend Arnold has cast his lot elsewhere, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y., again says he's not running for president. "Mayor Michael Bloomberg told Google employees Thursday that he is not a presidential candidate and he'll 'stay that way,' a slightly stronger indication that he does not intend to run," he said, per the AP's write-up.
He's said it before, of course, but maybe he means it this time? Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., thinks that if McCain wins the nomination, Bloomberg sits out the race. "My feeling all along has been that if he ran, it would be because he had a real reason to run, and frankly, he and John McCain have a lot in common," Lieberman tells the New York Sun's Russell Berman.
Why Super Tuesday is fun: New Jersey matters.
So does Massachusetts.
Curious about the songs reporters can't get out of their heads these days? ABC's Jennifer Parker has the details on the candidates' theme music.
Tom vs. Eli, or John vs. Mitt? Cough it up -- is it Super Tuesday or the Super Bowl that has you most jazzed? "Call it the nerds against the jocks," ABC's Gary Langer and Peyton Craighill write. "And while each has its own brand of devotee, it turns out that both are almost equally anticipated by the American public."
"Asked which they're more excited about, 40 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll cite the Super Bowl, which kicks off this Sunday at 6:17 p.m. But in a near-upset, very nearly as many, 37 percent, say they're more keyed up about Super Tuesday."
(If we were honest about that question, we'd probably have to start writing a different kind of blog. So it's a tie in our minds -- though watching the imperfect G-men deny the Pats their smug perfection would give greater satisfaction than anything that can happen two days later.)
ABC is giving Super Tuesday coverage worthy of a Super Bowl: ABC News will broadcast at least five hours of live primetime coverage of Tuesday's primaries and caucuses, starting at 8 pm ET on Feb. 5. Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos will anchor "Showdown: Coast to Coast" from ABC News headquarters in New York, with correspondents John Berman, Ron Claiborne, David Muir, Kate Snow, Jake Tapper, and David Wright reporting from the field.
"Nightline" will air at 11:35 pm PT, with Terry Moran and Cynthia McFadden anchoring. And follow the action all night long on ABC News NOW -- with coverage anchored by Sam Donaldson and Laura Marquez -- and at ABCNews.com, where I'll be blogging.
"It's all Rudy's fault." -- Arnold Schwarzenegger, explaining that he only endorsed John McCain because Rudy Giuliani had left the race.
"Everybody plays this card -- the bad guy card, you know the dirty politics thing, talk about the way people dress, act and look -- and he's the choice. He seems like the real deal, you know." -- Hulk Hogan, endorsing Obama for president on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live."
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