The Note: Wrighting the Ship

"But rather than force insurers to stop cherry-picking the healthiest -- and least expensive -- patients, Mr. McCain proposed that the federal government work with states to cover those who cannot find insurance on the open market. With federal financial assistance, his plan would encourage states to create high-risk pools that would contract with insurers to cover consumers who have been rejected on the open market."

The Wall Street Journal editorial page is impressed: "For a man whose heterodoxies have no doubt triggered GOP heartburn, John McCain delivered another speech yesterday on health care that offered a sophisticated set of policies that could lead to some of the most constructive changes to the system in decades."

The plan includes $7 billion for a "Guaranteed Access Plan" that would help states work with insurers to cover Americans with pre-existing conditions. But Elizabeth Edwards (very much in the fray on this issue) blasted the commitment as a "gross underfunding," per ABC's Teddy Davis and Talal Al-Khatib.

Don't miss this smart take from The New York Times' Carl Hulse, on McCain's relationship with GOP colleagues on the Hill: "They would prefer not to be thrown under the Straight Talk Express on Pennsylvania Avenue," Hulse writes. "The McCain campaign and House Republicans, in an effort coordinated by Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the party leader, are engaging in a bit of therapy to strengthen their political marriage."

President Bush's defiant press conference Tuesday escalated his confrontation with congressional Democrats -- and made gas prices an even hotter political issue. "Bush, reaching back to the earliest days of his administration, resurrected GOP demands for new drilling in the Alaska wilderness, fewer restrictions on oil refineries and other measures aimed at lowering fuel prices through higher production," Dan Eggen and Jonathan Weisman report in The Washington Post.

And: "Bush declined to take a position on the concept of a gas tax holiday, saying he was 'open to any ideas' to deal with rising fuel prices," they write.

Obama and Clinton are both in Indiana, while McCain continues his tour (we lost track of what it's called) in Allentown, Pa. Bill Clinton has seven (!) events in North Carolina towns you've probably never heard of (watch that rural vote).

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

Also making news:

If Obama wins this thing, get ready for a show: "Anyone, anyone, who voted for either of us should be absolutely committed to voting for the other" in the general election, Clinton told the Indianapolis Star's editorial board Tuesday. "I'm going to shout that from the mountaintops and the valleys and everywhere I can, no matter what the outcome of the nominating process is."

And Clinton looked into the camera for this one: "Why won't you debate me?" she asked Obama. "It's not too late, if you're watching."

He wasn't -- and the AP's Walter Mears isn't persuaded, either: "Debate challenges are a ploy, not an issue. They are in the playbook for the candidate trying to catch up, in this case Hillary Clinton."

Elizabeth Edwards, on the possibility of an endorsement before next Tuesday's North Carolina primary: "I'd be surprised, but things can happen any day. Never say never," she said on MSNBC.

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