The Note: Philadelphia Freedom

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"[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."

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