The Note: Philadelphia Freedom

"How Not to Win Pennsylvania," by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton:

1. Let staff turmoil subsume your efforts to maintain a narrative that focuses on your opponent.

2. Allow a controversial aide to stay close enough to your inner circle so your opponents can keep that story alive.

3. Permit questions to swirl about your position on trade issues that are more serious than those you're trying to raise about your opponent.

4. Watch your husband's past statements and actions take you wildly, horribly off-message.

5. Become Al Gore.

If Mark Penn is right and his semi-departure is a three-day story at most, it expired last night. Mark Penn is not right. (And he has his former boss -- in part -- to blame. Did he poll on this one?)

Such is the state of the Democratic race that Clinton, D-N.Y., needs to be driving a consistent message -- at least implicitly arguing that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., isn't up to the job -- while all Obama has to do is run out the clock and not make news.

(And no, Elton John won't get that job done Wednesday evening. Nominees for least likely song to be played at Clinton's New York fundraiser with Sir Elton: "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"? "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"? "Candle in the Wind"? "The Bitch is Back"?)

The candidates each got their handful of minutes in the Senate spotlight Tuesday without breaking much new ground -- good news for Obama, who mostly needed not to stumble.

That leaves the focus on Penn and the Colombia trade deal -- and Obama's union allies aren't likely to let up, at least not as long as Penn remains in the campaign orbit.

"Mark Penn continues to roil Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign," Bloomberg's Lorraine Woellert reports. "Pennsylvania is a must-win state for her, and the Penn controversy, if it lingers, may damage her courtship of blue-collar workers." (This from James Carville, on new strategist Geoff Garin: "If they think they're going to let him be used in some bait-and-switch campaign, they're mistaken.")

If only Penn were the end of the story. Guess who else supports the Colombia pact? Politico's Ben Smith scares up the quote (translated from Spanish) from June 2005: "I am in favor of the free trade agreement," said former President Bill Clinton (the one strategist who cannot be demoted).

This is where the (thick) rubber of the Clintons' financial entanglements hits the (icy) road of presidential politics. Huffington Post reports that Bill Clinton was paid $800,000 in 2005 by a group "tasked with bringing investment to the country and educating world leaders about the Colombia's business opportunities."

The Clinton campaign confirms the former president's support for the trade deal. "The acknowledgment adds new hurdles to the New York senator's bid to woo Democratic voters in Pennsylvania and elsewhere who believe free trade agreements have eliminated thousands of U.S. jobs," the AP's Charles Babington writes.

"Many Democrats oppose the deal, amid mounting concerns about free trade as well as the murders of trade unionists in Colombia by right-wing paramilitaries," John R. Emshwiller and Bob Davis write in The Wall Street Journal.

"More broadly, economic concerns have made trade pacts -- such as the North American Free Trade Agreement pushed through Congress in the early 1990s by President Clinton -- a hot issue in the Democratic presidential race."

ABC's George Stephanopoulos, on "Good Morning America" Wednesday: "It comes at the worst possible time. . . . It's going to be hard for Sen. Clinton to shake this issue, and it's an important one to a lot of labor unions in Pennsylvania."

Husbands and wives can disagree, and only one of them is on the ballot. But: "Not sure about you, but I'm wide awake," Slate's Christopher Beam writes.

"Given the degree to which Hillary participated in her husband's administration, shouldn't we expect Bill to be as (if not more) influential in hers? Also, there's a difference between a wanton adviser and a contradictory spouse."

It leaves Sen. Clinton on the defensive, again. "As I have said for months, I oppose the deal. I have spoken out against the deal, I will vote against the deal, and I will do everything I can to urge the Congress to reject the Colombia Free Trade Agreement," she told the Communications Workers of America union in Washington Tuesday.

Obama supporters James Hoffa Jr. didn't do the Obama campaign any favors in equating Austan Goolsbee with Penn, but the fact is there's no real comparison.

And it's not the only area where Bill Clinton, again, has his wife's campaign off-message. ABC's Jake Tapper reports that Clinton last year advised Steven Spielberg not to sever ties with the Beijing Olympics; Sen. Clinton this week made headlines by calling on President Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies.

The campaign missteps have a cumulative effect. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Dick Polman: "I am less interested in Penn than in what Penn's rise and fall tell us about Clinton herself, and about the boneheaded fundamentals of her campaign. Penn has not been the source of her woes, only a symptom."

"It would be easy to dismiss all of this as fairly conventional political stumbling -- if she hadn't made her supreme readiness and managerial competence the central issue of her presidential campaign," Politico's David Paul Kuhn and Jim VandeHei report.

"But since she has, a growing number of Democrats are comparing the Clinton and Obama campaigns -- their first real exercise in executive leadership -- and rendering harsh assessments of her stewardship."

Clinton can argue that there's "something of a double standard" in her being asked whether she would drop out of the race -- as she said Tuesday on NPR's "All Things Considered."

But she's right only in this sense: There's one standard for the candidate who's winning, and another for the candidate who's losing.

The Quinnipiac Poll, showing a tighter race in Pennsylvania, is making its way into the news coverage. Headline in the Harrisburg Patriot-News: "Clinton dips in state polls, threatening her viability."

And as the ad wars rage -- five new Clinton ads are up, jostling for position with four new Obama spots -- Obama is set to break all spending records in Pennsylvania. "Nobody has ever spent 2.2 million in this state: not Rendell, not Specter, not Casey, not Santorum, not Bush, not Kerry," Democratic media consultant Neil Oxman tells The Boston Globe's Sasha Issenberg.

"Mr. Obama has spent roughly half of his money in the expensive Philadelphia media market, which covers the southeastern suburban communities that are seen as a key battleground in this contest," James O'Toole writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"[CMAG's Evan] Tracey said Mr. Obama's financial advantage could be seen not just in the sheer volume of his advertising, but also in the types of shows -- including expensive prime-time programs -- during which his ads appear."

Against that backdrop, a Clinton ally is trying to bring the Rev. Jeremiah Wright back into the mix. Lanny Davis (again claiming to be freelancing) writes in The Wall Street Journal, "One thing is for sure: If Mr. Obama doesn't show a willingness to try to answer all the questions now, John McCain and the Republican attack machine will not waste a minute pressuring him to do so if he is the Democratic Party's choice in the fall. But by then, it may be too late."

Tuesday featured all three candidates at their day jobs, at the hearings with Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. They all played it with caution: "Their tempered performances seemed to reflect the political risks of appearing too easy or tough on General Petraeus in the klieg-light atmosphere of a Washington hearing room halfway through a presidential election," The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller reports.

"Mr. McCain made a veiled attack on his two Democratic rivals, but only Mrs. Clinton responded," she continues. "For the most part, the daylong hearings were a fugue of caution as the three struck somber, respectful stances with General Petraeus."

Newsday's Glenn Thrush: "Confounding expectations they would come out swinging, Obama and Clinton appeared respectful -- even subdued -- trying to highlight their disagreements with the highly regarded general without alienating national-security-conscious voters."

Susan Milligan of The Boston Globe wraps up the messages: "McCain offered the rosiest view of the success of the troop buildup last year and delivered quick questions that elicited responses that fit his campaign pronouncements on the looming danger of Iran and the continuing threat from Al Qaeda in Iraq. . . . Clinton and Obama, meanwhile, used their time to reiterate their pledges to begin withdrawing combat troops from Iraq once in the White House and completing the withdrawal during 2010 -- and both delivered their remarks in ways that addressed criticisms of each on the Iraq issue."

McClatchy's Margaret Talev gives a stylistic assessment of the would-be commanders-in-chief. McCain: "Amiable but somber, alternately encouraging and critical." Clinton: "Calm but pointed." Obama: "Professorial, consensus-seeking."

The hearings provided a needed reality check on campaign rhetoric, Time's Michael Scherer writes. "Despite the lack of answers, the discussion about the acceptable compromises had the effect of elucidating the complex realities of the Iraq situation. It also gets at the heart of the choice that will be facing voters come November."

Overall, the hearings frustrated lawmakers who are eager for an end to the war. "The bottom line was that there was no bottom line," Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks write in The Washington Post.

"What worked in September -- an overall sense of progress that gave the Bush administration additional time to pursue its 'surge' policy of sending nearly 30,000 more troops to Iraq -- sparked little enthusiasm this time among lawmakers who had hoped for a brighter light at the end of the tunnel. Much of their frustration appeared to stem from a realization that there was little they could do to affect policy in the administration's final nine months."

The Petraeus-Crocker tour continues Wednesday with two more hearings on the House side. Here's a topic that might come up: Crocker told ABC's Terry Moran on "Nightline" Tuesday that the US is ready to restart talks with Iran: "We don't want to have just what you describe as a proxy war with Iran inside Iraq, and that is why we are willing to sit down with Iran face to face for talks on Iraqi security at the invitation of the Iraqi government. We've had three rounds of those talks and we've told them we are ready to again."

In terms of political strategy: "Democrats in the House of Representatives on Wednesday intend to use hearings on Iraq to hammer home what they think is a key political point: that the expense of the Iraq war is making it harder for the American economy to rebound," McClatchy's David Lightman reports. "Tying the war to the economy could be crucial for the Democrats in the run-up to November's elections."

President Bush meets with congressional leaders on Iraq on Wednesday, in advance of his speech on the war Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal's Mary Jacoby and T.W. Farnam provide some perspective on the $15 million McCain raised last month: "Sen. McCain's March total compares with the $11.6 million he raised in February and $11.8 million in January, reflecting the time he has spent at high-dollar fund-raisers around the country. But he is being vastly out-raised by his Democratic rivals, underscoring the Arizonan's larger problems motivating the Republican base."

That's one reason Obama may not be so keen on keeping his promise to pursue an agreement on public financing.

His argument: My donors are cleaner than yours. "We have created a parallel public financing system where the American people decide if they want to support a campaign they can get on the Internet and finance it, and they will have as much access and influence over the course and direction of our campaign that has traditionally reserved for the wealthy and the powerful," Obama said Tuesday night at a Washington fundraiser, per ABC's Jake Tapper.

Obama campaigns in Pennsylvania and Indiana on Wednesday, while Clinton hits Pennsylvania early and then heads to New York for her fundraising concert with Elton John. McCain spends much of the day in the Senate, and hits Connecticut for a late afternoon campaign event.

Get all the candidates' schedules in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

Also in the news:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may or may not be angling for the vice presidency (still more likely a not), but Grover Norquist likes what he sees. "If her goal was to convince everyone she would be a good president and, therefore, a good vice president -- she hit it out of the ballpark," Norquist tells The Washington Post's Mary Ann Akers, referring to Rice's now-famous appearance before Norquist's Wednesday breakfast club.

It's not an endorsement, but Elizabeth Edwards is far happier with Clinton's healthcare plan than she is with Obama's. "You need that universality in order to get the cost savings," Edwards told ABC's Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "I just have more confidence in Sen. Clinton's policy than Sen. Obama's on this particular issue."

More thoughts from Mrs. Edwards: "Whenever there's a primary, John will call and congratulate whoever's won the latest primary on their performance — and speak to the other candidate. But [what] we have to offer is not so much an endorsement as a perspective on what we found as we crossed the country, on what is the bigger issue and the solutions that seem most realistic."

And more (sort of) encouragement for Camp Clinton: "I don't actually think it's a bad idea to have an open convention, where we actually got to hash out what the differences [between the candidates] were and how important they are," Edwards said.

This morning's nomination for new Obama campaign slogan -- as overheard at a Michelle Obama rally at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh: "Get me more white people, we need more white people," one event organizer said, per the school newspaper, The Tartan. To an Asian girl sitting in the back row, one coordinator said, "We're moving you, sorry. It's going to look so pretty, though."

The new round of campaign ads have a family touch -- and bonus points if you can figure out what Obama's grandmother (back from under that bus he threw her under last month) is talking about.

A new chapter in the McCain-Obama feuds: "Senator John D. Rockefeller IV personally apologized to Senator John McCain of Arizona on Tuesday after remarking in an interview that Mr. McCain's years as a Navy fighter pilot would not have given him an understanding of everyday issues faced by Americans," The New York Times' Kate Phillips writes.

"On Tuesday, the McCain campaign demanded an apology, not just from Senator Rockefeller, but also from Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, because he has received the West Virginian's endorsement."

DNC Chairman Howard Dean dials up the anti-McCain rhetoric in a Wednesday morning speech before the Communications Workers of America. "John McCain is no maverick," he planned to say, per the DNC. "Yesterday he once again got the basic facts in Iraq on the ground wrong. What that tells the American people is that he will continue the open-ended commitment to fighting President Bush's war in Iraq. Senator McCain has made it clear he's willing to keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years." (There's that line again.)

Response from RNC Chairman Mike Duncan: "Rather than debate the issues facing our nation, Howard Dean is making it clear that he intends to make the Democrats' campaign about character attacks and personal insults."

The AP's Tom Davies looks at the "other woman" who is popping up (in a sense) wherever Chelsea Clinton campaigns these days. "At least three times in the past two weeks, the former and possible future first daughter has been asked about the Monica Lewinsky scandal's influence on the presidential campaign of her mother," Davies writes.

Her answers include: "I do not think that is any of your business." "I think that is something that is personal to my family, I'm sure there are things that are personal to your family that you don't think are anyone else's business, either." And: "If that's what you want to vote on, that's what you should vote on."

Alan Greenspan (freed of official responsibility) speaks the R-word: "Consumers are beginning to shrink in, the automobile markets are beginning to contract, production is beginning to ease, and we are in the throes of recession," he tells CNBC.

Clinton picks up a superdelegate -- and, oh yeah, a new member of Congress has been elected in Northern California. "Twenty-nine years after her first unsuccessful run, Jackie Speier has won election to Congress," Will Oremus writes in the San Jose Mercury News.

How's this for a back story? "Speier was an aide to one of the seat's former occupants, Rep. Leo Ryan, when she traveled with him to Guyana in 1978 to investigate the People's Temple cult," Oremus writes.

"She was wounded in the attack by cult members that left her mentor dead. Speier launched a long-shot bid in the following year's special election to fill Ryan's seat, but finished third. This time, after six years on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and 18 in the state Legislature, Speier was running as the clear favorite to replace [the late rep. Tom] Lantos."

The Chicago Tribune's Christi Parsons identifies a Pennsylvania battleground: "If Barack Obama has any chance of beating Hillary Clinton in this state's Democratic primary April 22 -- and a poll released Tuesday shows him narrowing her lead to single digits—he's going to have to charm voters, especially women, in and around the Philadelphia suburbs they call the Main Line. In this haven of old money and high society, Obama and Clinton are fervently wooing the economically conservative but socially liberal voters, many of whom are disenchanted with Republican politics once so dominant in this land of stately homes and private clubs."

Among the GOP woes: "With seven months until the 2008 elections and filing deadlines now coming and going, House Republicans face a significant number of recruiting holes," The Hill's Aaron Blake reports.

Worth watching in the Senate: "A growing number of Senate Democrats began to acknowledge Tuesday that the aging Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) is no longer fit to chair the Appropriations panel, but there is no consensus within the caucus over whether, when or how to remove him from the powerful perch," Roll Call's Erin P. Billings and Emily Pierce report. "While Byrd's future has been a subject of Senate rumors for months, the issue appeared to ripen Tuesday when a group of about 15 senior Democrats privately discussed whether Byrd is capable of shepherding an upcoming supplemental spending bill for Iraq."

In time for the Oregon primary May 20, Obama's brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, is getting a promotion: Brown's head basketball coach is taking a job at Oregon State University, the Chicago Tribune's Andrew Zajac reports.

The kicker:

"I can only imagine the headline in The Washington Post: Biden throws out people for cheering for Democratic candidate." -- Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joe Biden, D-Del., imploring his colleagues not to mention Barack Obama during Tuesday's hearing.

"If he can throw in a cameo in the next 'Monty Python' movie, we have a deal." -- Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki, taking up comedian John Cleese on his offer to serve as a campaign speechwriter.

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