The Note: Bitter Tastes

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We had our clues back in the arugula-wilting Iowa sun (and one does have to wonder whether his lanky frame is better suited for windsurfing than bowling).

Maybe Sen. Barack Obama's biggest fear should never have been becoming Jesse Jackson. Maybe it should have been becoming John Kerry.

With just a few sentences that emerged Friday and marinated over the weekend, Obama made himself into Mike Dukakis, Al Gore, and Kerry, all rolled into one effete, aloof, unelectable package. Or, at least, that's how the denizens of Camp Clinton are playing it -- and when they grab hold of a message frame, it's hard to make them give it back.

Obama's challenge this Monday is to put an end to the firestorm that's already consumed three days' worth of tone-shifting explanations -- and appears likely to burn right up to Wednesday's debate, and perhaps next Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary.

Obama, D-Ill., on Monday launches a new ad featuring his most important Pennsylvania supporter, Sen. Bob Casey. "He's tired of the political games and division that stops anything from getting done," Casey, D-Pa., says in the ad. "Barack Obama knows Pennsylvania's hurting."

And Obama plans to use an appearance at the Associated Press' annual meeting "to turn the table on the question of who is most in touch with the American people," per his campaign. (Obama watchers have seen this play before -- using a miscue to build a bridge back to his core message.)

Obama wants to talk about the general election (and who can blame him?): "John McCain's 26 years in Washington have not left him in touch with what America needs to lift its workers right now, and if he wants a debate this fall about who's out of touch with the hopes and struggles of working America, that's a debate Barack Obama's happy to have," Obama spokesman Bill Burton says in previewing Monday's speech.

Obama is pushing back at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, too. On Sunday, "Sen. Obama accused Sen. Clinton of playing politics, and his campaign said she would say or do anything to get elected," Amy Chozick and Nick Timiraos write in The Wall Street Journal.

Said Obama, dialing up the sarcasm while speaking to steelworkers in Pennsylvania: "I expected this out of John McCain, but . . . I'm a little disappointed when I start hearing the exact same talking points coming out of my Democratic colleague, Hillary Clinton. She knows better. Shame on her."

"She's talking like she's Annie Oakley!" Obama added, per ABC's Sunlen Miller. "I want to see that picture of her out there in the duck blinds."

We're more likely to see Dick Cheney in native tribal dress -- though the whiskey shot was a nice touch.

Asked Sunday to pinpoint the last time she fired a gun or attended church, Clinton "seemed frustrated," per Shailagh Murray and Perry Bacon Jr. of The Washington Post (and may have helped Obama change the subject -- will Clinton as woman-of-the-people fly?). "That is not a relevant question for this debate," Clinton said. "We can answer that some other time. I went to church on Easter, so . . . but that is not what this is about."

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