The Note: 'Lift-off':

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In case that wasn't juicy enough, McCain mentioned the "confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate," as he "began his national case against the Democrats," per Greg J. Borowski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

On "Good Morning America" Wednesday, McCain sought to clarify his comments about the length of US troop presence in Iraq: "I don't think we're going to have a war there [for 100 years]," he said. "The US could have a military presence anywhere in the world for a long period of time. . . . It is a gross distortion to say that I think we will be in a war for a long period of time."

Cindy McCain is getting in on the act, too. "I don't know about you, if you heard those words earlier, I'm very proud of my country," she said Tuesday in Milwaukee, in a fairly direct swipe at Michelle Obama's comments in the same city a day earlier, per ABC's Bret Hovell and Sunlen Miller.

McCain's simple declaration from Tuesday capped a long, hard road: "I will be our party's nominee for president of the United States." (And his speech seemed honed for the occasion -- and heavy on foreign affairs -- in stark contrast to Obama.)

One source of optimism: He had his best night of the campaign so far with conservative voters -- a sign, perhaps, that noses are sufficiently held. "McCain's win signaled a coalescing of a Republican electorate that has struggled for a year to find a candidate it likes," Glenn Kessler and Michael Shear write in The Washington Post.

"He posted one of his best showings among GOP voters, beating Huckabee by 22 points. . . . Conservative voters split about evenly, a stark improvement for McCain."

Not that former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., seems to notice: "Let me assure you that if it were ego, my ego doesn't enjoy getting these kinds of evenings when we don't win the primary elections," he said Tuesday evening, per ABC's Kevin Chupka. "It's gotta be something other than that, and it is. It's about convictions, it's about principles I dearly, dearly believe in."

For those interested in symbols, Huckabee visits the Alamo on Thursday. "People sometimes think of the Alamo as a defeat, but it actually was the springboard to Texas victory and independence," Huckabee said.

After Sen. Clinton's morning fundraiser in New York, both Clintons crisscross Texas on Wednesday, and Obama and Huckabee also camp out in the Lone Star State. McCain spends his day in Ohio. Get all the candidates' schedules in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

Also in the news:

Obama gave a brief interview to the San Antonio Express-News, and called for two higher taxes in the midst of seven answers. On education funding: "Some states want to increase their state income tax, which seems a little more equitable than the property tax, and that's an option but it isn't something the federal government can control." (Texas has no income tax.) On energy: "What we ought to tax is dirty energy, like coal and, to a lesser extent, natural gas."

In Texas, Obama is talking electability: "I think I can affect independents and Republicans in a way she can't," he said in San Antonio.

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