The Note: Diplomacy and Disunity

Now that the cloak-and-dagger stuff has played out (how did she sneak out of her house for that secret meeting, anyway?), it's your party, Sen. Barack Obama. Will it include:

- A strong play for those he hasn't reached? (Yes.)

- Donations from lobbyists and PACs? (No -- mostly.) (Will that matter? No -- mostly.)

- A formidable general-election opponent? (Yes -- but one who feels like an underdog at the moment.)

- Actions by his opponent that will dial up blogospheric outrage? (Of course.)

- An ugly tape featuring an Obama saying something that shouldn't be said in public? (Doubtful -- though a dare could tempt fate.)

- A happy Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton? (Another maybe.) (A happy former President Bill Clinton? No.)

- Months of veepstakes lobbying from those on the outskirts of Camp Clinton? (Certainly.)

- Choreographed moments that gloss over the dynamics of a split party? (Yes.)

- An ultimately happy party, including the half that voted for Clinton? (That depends.)

It's that last question that's most important to Obama's chances -- and that's why Clinton, D-N.Y., is the most powerful political force in the party at this (fleeting) moment.

Her actions over these next 72 hours could be the ballgame, key to whether the party comes together, whether she can or will make good on her commitment to working for Obama, and whether she has a political future in the Democratic Party (almost certainly yes).

"As her campaign lurched to an awkward close, Clinton had embraced a strikingly different role: a defiant insurgent, a spokeswoman for working-class voters who she said 'felt invisible,' an all-too-human candidate who defined the historic moment's central question as: 'What does Hillary Clinton want?' "Stephen Braun and Doyle McManus write in the Los Angeles Times.

"Now, after her own friends stepped in to nudge her to cede the spotlight to Obama, Clinton must change roles again, from tenacious underdog to presumably gracious loser," they write. "That transition could start Saturday, as Clinton holds a Washington event to thank her supporters and rally them around Obama."

If the handover is a process, not a proceeding, it's moving along. Obama and Clinton met Thursday night to chat privately about who-knows-what (an agreement to help on debt, perhaps?). But the symbolism spoke loudest -- even if those close to the senators can't agree exactly on asked for the private chat.

"Obama delayed a trip home to Chicago last night to visit Clinton at the Washington home of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)," per The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray. "Coming just before Clinton's expected departure from the race, it was seen as a reconciliation gesture to the senator from New York and her millions of disappointed supporters."

Or: The meeting "was initiated by Mrs. Clinton after Mr. Obama spent the day in Virginia, a state symbolic of his efforts to expand the Democratic reach," Jeff Zeleny and Adam Nagourney write in The New York Times.

"The senators instructed their aides not to disclose details of the meeting. They issued an unusual joint statement late Thursday, saying, 'Senator Clinton and Senator Obama met tonight and had a productive discussion about the important work that needs to be done to succeed in November.' " l

Feinstein was "an early Clinton supporter who lately has been advocating for a joint Obama-Clinton ticket," per ABC's Kate Snow.

The meeting won't change plans for Saturday -- the event in Washington remains Clinton's alone, with a few thousand of her closest friends, and not Obama. (And, per Newsday, another weekend event, in New York, could be in the offing for Clinton.)

Said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Thursday night's meeting: "It's an example of the kind of unprecedented cooperation you are going to see between these two campaigns."

On the ticket -- what does Chuck know? "She has said, if Sen. Obama should want her to be the vice president, and thinks it would be best for the ticket, she will serve [!!], she will accept that. But if he chooses someone else, she'll work just as hard for the party in November."

"A surprise ending to a perfectly abnormal day," Jim Tankersley and John McCormick of the Chicago Tribune write on the meeting that was kept secret from the Obama press corps. It was "a fitting nightcap for a day that felt, at the start, like so many dozens before it on the campaign trail. . . . Except that everything had changed. The Obama who showed up on the grassy slopes of southwest Virginia for his first event Thursday was suddenly the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, asterisk-free."

Before the late-night meeting, Clinton had already delivered the most important message of her post-campaign period, recognizing that the only sure way to make Obama look bad is to pressure him to pick her for the ticket.

The statement: "While Senator Clinton has made clear throughout this process that she will do whatever she can to elect a Democrat to the White House, she is not seeking the vice presidency, and no one speaks for her but her. The choice here is Senator Obama's and his alone."

Of course it is -- but the fact that that needed to be said wasn't great for those who want Clinton on the ticket. "The statement did not categorically rule out accepting the position, if offered, but rather appeared to be an effort to tamp down any effort to try to pressure Obama over the issue," Jill Lawrence writes for USA Today.

"In the so-called veepstakes, publicly vying for the job is considered impolitic and the wrong way to get picked," Scott Helman writes in The Boston Globe."Thus Clinton's disavowal of her supporters' efforts should not be read as a definitive statement that she would refuse an invitation to run with Obama."

"Many in Obama's camp are complaining of veep fatigue, souring on a political partnership alternately labeled a dream or nightmare ticket," per Newsday's Glenn Thrush and Nia Malika-Henderson.

"Settle down," Obama said Thursday about the vice-presidential process. He told reporters: "We're just not gonna talk about this anymore." (Good luck with that.)

Yet too many folks still want the veep's subject raised: "Her anticipated concession has sparked an outpouring of voters voicing their desire to see a joint ticket, something most political pundits and many within the Obama and Clinton campaigns say is unlikely," Amy Chozick writes in The Wall Street Journal.

And everyone's favorite freelancer, Lanny Davis, has joined as a senior adviser, as McClatchy's William Douglas and Margaret Talev report.

Clinton supporter Bob Johnson continues to push: "Why take a risk?" Johnson said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. "Senator Clinton delivered voters that Senator Obama did not."

George Will won't dream with him: "If he chooses her, it will be an act of self-diminishment, especially now that some of her acolytes are aggressively suggesting that some unwritten rule of American politics stipulates that anyone who finishes a strong second in the nomination contest is entitled to second place on the ticket," he writes.

The party is Obama's now -- for better or worse -- and he's keeping DNC Chairman Howard Dean in place. "Obama continued to fasten his grip on the Democratic Party and its political machinery, dispatching a top aide to Washington [Paul Tewes] to help run the national committee," Mark Z. Barabak and Noam N. Levey write in the Los Angeles Times. "Obama also announced that the DNC would no longer accept funds from registered lobbyists or political action committees, the same ban he imposed on his own campaign."

Well -- mostly. "The Obama campaign confirms that two other arms of the national party - the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee - will continue to accept lobby and PAC money this election," the Chicago Tribune's Jim Tankersley reports."That's the same position as presumptive Republican nominee John McCain and every affiliate of the Republican National Committee, who all accept lobby and PAC dollars."

The party falls into line . . . Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid makes his endorsement official Friday morning: "[Obama] is a once-in-a-generation leader who connects with the hopes and dreams of the American people and will deliver the long-overdue change that our country desperately needs," Reid, D-Nev., says in a statement. "I could not be more excited to have Senator Obama lead a united Democratic Party to victory in November and I am committed to doing everything I can to help."

Obama is hitting the trail as the presumptive nominee with white, working-class voters in mind. "What we're going to do over the next 2 1/2 weeks is focus on the economy, which is what is pressing on the American people so severely," he tells USA Today's Kathy Kiely.

(And this -- which smells just a bit like a smoke screen: "Obama said he'll accept public financing for his campaign -- which would limit the amount of spending -- only if McCain agrees to curb spending by the Republican National Committee. 'I won't disarm unilaterally,' he said.)

The Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes:"On the first full day after Hillary Clinton signaled their rivalry was over, Barack Obama campaigned in Bristol, Va., on the Tennessee border, wasting no time reaching out to the sort of rural and small-town white voters who shunned him in the Democratic primary -- and he'll need for election in November."

He led off in purple Virginia: "This is our moment, this is our time, and if you will vote for me, I will win Virginia, we will win this election, and we will change the course of history," he said Thursday, per the Washington Times.

For just having started the general election, the campaign looks -- familiar. "He woke up Thursday in a hotel room far from home, worked out at a local gym and hopped into a motorcade destined for a plane that would take him to the next phase of the presidential campaign," Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown writes. "By the time Obama was winding down a town hall meeting in this Appalachian city, his communications director, who has traveled with the senator from the beginning of the 16-month race, confessed that nothing much felt different yet."

To win, he's going to have to be different. "Clinton's potential route to the White House was one that Democrats have followed successfully before. For Obama to win, he probably will need to blaze new paths," writes National Journal's Ron Brownstein."That doesn't mean he can't, or won't, do exactly that. It just means that in a year that Democrats might have been tempted to play it safe, they have opted for a candidate who could transform American politics -- or leave his party second-guessing itself for ages."

Some wounds cannot be healed: "Hillary Clinton has lost the nomination, but some of her most ardent female backers seem unwilling to accept it," Michelle Goldberg writes in The New Republic. "This conviction, that sexism cost Clinton the nomination, is likely to be one of the more toxic legacies of this primary season. It is leaving her supporters feeling not just disappointed but victimized, many convinced that Obama's win is illegitimate."

Also on Obama -- this is called a walk-back: "Facing criticism from Palestinians, Sen. Barack Obama acknowledged yesterday that the status of Jerusalem will need to be negotiated in future peace talks, amending a statement earlier in the week that the city 'must remain undivided,' " Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post.

Or is it? "Asked for comment, the Obama campaign put a reporter in immediate contact with Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla. -- an Orthodox Jew, a strong supporter of Israel and Obama's point man on many of these issues -- who told ABC News, 'that is not backtracking,' " ABC's Jake Tapper reports.



The New York Times' new ace Charlie Savage has a scoop that will fire up the blogs -- and add to the portrait Democrats are trying to paint of the presumptive Republican nominee: "A top adviser to Senator John McCain says Mr. McCain believes that President Bush's program of wiretapping without warrants was lawful, a position that appears to bring him into closer alignment with the sweeping theories of executive authority pushed by the Bush administration legal team."

"Although a spokesman for Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, denied that the senator's views on surveillance and executive power had shifted, legal specialists said the letter contrasted with statements Mr. McCain previously made about the limits of presidential power," Savage writes. "In an interview about his views on the limits of executive power with The Boston Globe six months ago, Mr. McCain strongly suggested that if he became the next commander in chief, he would consider himself obligated to obey a statute restricting what he did in national security matters."

McCain, R-Ariz., tells ABC's Charlie Gibson that he feels like the underdog: "I'm surprised, frankly, to see the polls as close as they are, given our brand problems in the Republican Party. I'm pleased where we are," he said. "We're going to be in kind of a presidential campaign where the independents, Reagan Democrats, would be the reason why I win."

Does everyone have an opinion on an Obama-Clinton team? "Obviously it would be a formidable ticket,"McCain said.

Could he pick up the pieces of a fractured Democratic Party? "Republican Sen. John McCain envisions a November victory built in part around attracting a large number of the millions of voters who turned away from Sen. Barack Obama's promise of change during the historic Democratic primary campaign," Michael Shear and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post.

He's got to feel a little good about this: "Senator John McCain's presidential campaign raised at least $21.5 million in May -- its best fund-raising month yet -- in a sign that its effort to draw donations in tandem with the Republican National Committee is yielding dividends," Michael Cooper writes in The New York Times.

But not this: "Is there a way John McCain can win the presidency without giving another speech?"Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. "That's overstated, of course, but the concern about McCain's wooden and stumbling address before a few hundred supporters here Tuesday night -- the same evening as Barack Obama's soaring acceptance address before thousands of screaming fans -- has sent something of a shudder through the party and left GOP operatives shaking their heads in dismay."

Back on fundraisers: "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will not attend President Bush's fundraising dinner for congressional candidates in another indication that the GOP nominee is distancing himself from the man he wants to replace," Jackie Kucinich writes for The Hill.

A new DNC video, featuring McCain and lobbyists.


What's next for the junior senator from New York? "She'll go from being one of the two most important Democrats in the country to being Senator #68 of 100 (#37 among Democrats)," ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports. Senate leaders "won't be creating a special spot in the Senate leadership for her.

"We don't have a special position. We haven't created one for anybody," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

"The worst number for Clinton may be that she'll always be No. 2 behind Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York's senior senator and the self-styled hardest working man in politics," Ken Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News. "Clinton has a celebrity star power and fund-raising capacity almost unmatched in the clubby, mostly male environs of the Senate - but Schumer has the juice."

(Anyone else think it's maybe a little odd that she's bidding goodbye to her campaign in Washington -- rather than the state she represents?)

Will it matter that she was nudged -- just a bit -- toward the exit? "She said that she was delaying for the purpose of getting advice from her supporters," said House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., who endorsed Obama along with the rest of the New York delegation Thursday. "And she got the advice."

"Love her or hate her, people across the city seemed prepared to welcome Mrs. Clinton back, full time, to her day job," David W. Chen writes in The New York Times. "But there was also a sense among many, and not just Mr. Obama's supporters, that she would need to mend fences with some of her constituents, particularly black voters, after running a race that inspired fervent support and unbridled disgust."

As for Bill . . . "The Obama camp is preparing to embrace Hillary Clinton enthusiastically - but they're reaching for the 10-foot pole to keep her rabid husband at bay," Thomas M. DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News. "Bill Clinton's erratic and increasingly sulfuric behavior on the campaign trail has perplexed senior Barack Obama campaign officials trying to figure out how to deploy him in the fall campaign."

The Sked:

McCain hits the Everglades Friday. Per NPR: "On Friday, McCain has a visit set to the Everglades, where he'll ride an airboat and talk about efforts to restore the fragile ecosystem. So why, he was asked in Orlando, did he vote to oppose a big water bill that contained $2 billion for Everglades restoration? 'I am committed to saving the Everglades,' McCain said.

Obama and Clinton are down.

The full schedules are in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

Odds & Ends:

Obama issues a dare, asked about a long-rumored video featuring his wife saying things she shouldn't have been saying: "If somebody has evidence that myself or Michelle or anybody has said something inappropriate, let them do it,"he told reporters aboard his campaign plane. "Presumably the job of the press is to not to go around and spread scurrilous rumors like this until there is actually anything, an iota, of substance or evidence that would substantiate it." (Hard to argue with that.)

On the Hill . . . "Senate Republicans appeared ready to turn back an ambitious plan to reduce the risks of global warming after a week in which bipartisan bickering and political posturing seemed to drown out the environmental debate," H. Josef Hebert writes for AP.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. -- auditioning for his Zell Miller turn, or just a still-proud (sort-of) Democrat who won't abandon his convictions? "Lieberman's outspoken advocacy for John McCain's GOP presidential candidacy crossed a line this week, prompting Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to corral the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee into pointed face-to-face discussions," Paul Kane writes in The Washington Post.

"Lieberman went beyond simply promoting McCain's candidacy on Wednesday. He joined a conference call in which Republicans attacked Obama's position on Iran moments after the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee had delivered a foreign policy address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee."

Kane continues: "Granted anonymity, Senate Democrats whisper that Lieberman's day of reckoning could come next year if Obama wins the White House and Democrats expand their majority enough that they could risk his departure. Under that scenario, several suggested, his chairmanship would at least be contested."

ABC's Jake Tapper, on the meeting on the Senate floor: "They shook hands. But Obama didn't let go, leading Lieberman - cordially - by the hand across the room into a corner on the Democratic side, where Democratic sources tell ABC News he delivered some tough words for the junior senator from Connecticut, who had just minutes before hammered Obama's speech before the pro-Israel group AIPAC in a conference call arranged by the McCain campaign."

On the veepstakes front -- Gov. Mark Sanford, D-S.C., is Tapper's podcast guest. Per Tapper: "Sanford allowed a bill to become law last night without his signature -- a controversial measure to allow residents to buy license plates proclaiming their Christian faith."

The Kicker:

"They shouldn't call these sleepovers. They should call them wake-overs." -- Barack Obama, looking forward to a quiet night at home that will feature eight 7-year-olds at his Chicago home for a pizza-making birthday party for his daughter, Sasha.

"Had I been forward-thinking, I should have gotten Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to do one." -- Pitkin County spokeswoman Pat Bingham, after pulling an airport audio greeting message recorded by John McCain.

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