The Note: Solidarity Salsa

It's unity week for the Democrats -- and watch this tense tango: Hillary Clinton two-steps toward togetherness, Barack Obama congas for comity (with a fandango of a phone call) -- and Bill Clinton manages to shimmy out a statement.

While we ponder Sen. Obama's star choices (Samuel L. Jackson or Don Cheadle? Heidi Klum or Cindy Crawford?) and taste preferences (fruitcakes or martinis? -- combine them both and you have a drink worthy of "Sex and the City," female outreach settled) . . . a few questions to frame the day:

How many more polls like this before there's real panic in the GOP? (Answer: One.) How many more panel discussions can turn into debates before there's a real-shakeup inside the McCain operation? (Answer: None -- and two more foreign trips next week? Is he seeing an electoral map we're not?)

Is this one of those weeks where it's good to be a candidate/senator or bad to be a candidate/senator? (Answer: Depends on the senator.)

How many more ads like this before Obama's upside is formally declared to outweigh his downside in down-ballot races? (Answer: Three.)

Is Ralph Nader trying to say things politicians just don't say? (Answer: Yes.) How carefully will Bill Clinton have to choose his words when he puts his endorsement into action? (Answer: Very.) How many of those words will be unscripted? (Answer: None.)

What will it take to complete step one of the Great Reconciliation? (Answer: $10 million -- and remember, that's only step one.)

There's nothing like a second-straight big polling lead to help Democrats feel good about themselves in what's supposed to be a feel-good week. It's Obama 49, McCain 37 in the Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll, and the margin expands to 15 if Ralph Nader and Bob Barr are in the polling mix.

"Democrat Barack Obama has opened a 15-point lead in the presidential race, and most of the political trends -- voter enthusiasm, views of President George W. Bush, the Republicans, the economy and the direction of the country -- point to even greater trouble for rival John McCain," Bloomberg's Heidi Przybyla writes.

Przybyla: "Obama is unifying the traditional Democratic base after the divisive Democratic nomination battle with New York Senator Hillary Clinton. Women, who were Clinton's most loyal backers, now favor Obama by a 54-to-29 percent margin and Democrats give him more than 80 percent support."

"Obama's lead -- bigger in this poll than in most other national surveys -- appears to stem largely from his positions on domestic issues," Doyle McManus writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Both Democrats and independent voters said Obama would do a better job than McCain at handling the nation's economic problems, the public's top concern. . . . But voters considered McCain better equipped to protect the country from terrorism, 49% to 32%."

And Obama took his first big move toward party healing on Tuesday -- seeking to answer the Clintons' big lingering question: money.

"On a conference call with his national finance team this afternoon, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, asked his top contributors to help Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, retire her more than $10 million in outstanding vendor debt," ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "He did not specify an amount. Clinton's debt has been a major point of contention as the two former rivals attempt to reconcile."

Clinton moves next, on Wednesday: "Sen. Hillary Clinton will urge her former supporters to back Sen. Barack Obama and will tout 'Democratic unity' in a closed-door meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill today," per ABC's Jennifer Parker. "It is the first of several orchestrated events this week designed to show Democrats that the once-bitter primary rivals are reconciling."

Bill Clinton took a (baby) step in that direction Tuesday. The AP's Nedra Pickler: "Bill Clinton extended his support to Obama for the first time Tuesday in a one-sentence statement from spokesman Matt McKenna. 'President Clinton is obviously committed to doing whatever he can and is asked to do to ensure Senator Obama is the next president of the United States,' McKenna said."

Newsday's Glenn Thrush found it be "a less-than-thunderous endorsement" -- released through an aide.

"Hillary Clinton speaks for the Clinton family now, and aside from her campaign debt, she has no real difficulty supporting Barack Obama privately and publicly," The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports. "But Bill Clinton has a beef. . . . Why should Clinton embrace a guy who spent the past twelve months bashing him and his accomplishments?"

Place the marker: "Bill Clinton's campaign debut on Obama's behalf is in the planning stages as both camps first aim to heal wounds opened during the bruising primary," Michael McAuliff and Ken Bazinet write in the New York Daily News. "Team Obama expects a ballyhooed rollout event, rivaling the Hillary-Obama unity rally set for Friday in New Hampshire."

Bill won't be at the Mayflower event Thursday or the Unity-unity event in New Hampshire Friday -- but Hillary will. "[Sen.] Clinton will have a chance to return Obama's favor Thursday night, when she introduces Obama to her most generous supporters at the Mayflower Hotel," per The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray.

But first -- a grand return for a candidate who came so close. (There's a ping-pong table set up in Clinton's Senate office now -- metaphor alert! -- and this is the Senate doing what it can on behalf of party comity).

"As she returned in defeat to her old home in the Senate yesterday, she was received as if in triumph," Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post. "And, in a sense, her stature had increased during the failed primary battle: She left as a legislator but returned as the leader of an 18 million-strong movement of women and working-class voters -- a group whose support Clinton's Democratic colleagues fervently desire."

"The United States Senate -- the well-paid, perk-laden consolation prize of a day job -- also doubles as perhaps the world's pre-eminent support group for also-ran presidential candidates," Mark Leibovich writes in The New York Times.

"But few returnees were greeted with as much fuss and anticipation as Mrs. Clinton, of New York, received on Tuesday. This is due in part to the fanfare that accompanies all things Hillary, but also to the fact that some onlookers were watching for signs of discord between Mrs. Clinton and colleagues who had endorsed Mr. Obama, of Illinois, in the Democratic presidential primary."

What awaits Obama?

For starters -- a map that looks in reach: "Barack Obama could make major gains in at least nine states the Democratic ticket lost in 2004 if he can achieve a relatively modest increase in turnout among young and African-American voters, a Tribune analysis of voting data suggests," per Mike Dorning of the Chicago Tribune.

Dorning: "If Obama could inspire just 10 percent more Democratic voters under 30 to go to the polls than did four years ago, that alone could be enough to switch Iowa and New Mexico from red to blue, the analysis suggests. Just a 10 percent increase in turnout among blacks would make up more than 40 percent of George W. Bush's 2004 victory margin in Ohio and more than 20 percent of the Republicans' 2004 victory margin in Florida."

Assuming the money is there, the map is his oyster: "Barack Obama will focus his resources largely in 14 states George W. Bush won in 2004, his chief field operative said Tuesday, hoping to score upsets in places like Virginia, Indiana, and Georgia," Politico's Ben Smith reports. "But winning the White House won't be his only goal, deputy campaign manager [Steve] Hildebrand told Politico: In an unusual move, Obama's campaign will also devote some resources to states it's unlikely to win, with the goal of influencing specific local contests in places like Texas and Wyoming."

Talking energy in Las Vegas only makes sense when you remember that Las Vegas has a real geographical place: "Obama's visit is part of a strategy to score upset victories in the traditionally Republican but independent-minded region that lies between California and the Rocky Mountains," Kathy Kiely writes in USA Today.

And yet: "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) holds important advantages in the states that decided recent presidential elections, despite the strong headwind Republicans face this November,"The Hill's Sam Youngman reports. "Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire show promise for Republicans hoping to hold the White House amid a housing crisis, record gas prices and the Iraq war."

But McCain got it right at his fundraiser, in Newport Beach, Calif.: "We are behind. We are the underdog," he said. Per the Los Angeles Times' Andrew Malcolm: "And then he uttered another truth that McCain's competitors ignore at their peril, 'That's what I like to be.' "

Someone needs a refresher on advance staffing: "During a roundtable discussion on energy security at Santa Barbara's Natural History Museum, one of the panelists invited by the McCain campaign to sit onstage beside the candidate -- disagreed with the Arizona senator's energy plans and lambasted his nuclear energy proposal," per ABC's Bret Hovell, Jennifer Parker, and James Gerber.

"I'm a little bit bemused that I ended up on this panel," said Michael Feeney, chair of the Santa Barbara Land Trust, a non-profit conservation group.

(There's one way to separate your candidacy from President Bush. Per USA Today's David Jackson: "Instead of picking crowds of committed supporters to fill his town hall meetings, aides to Republican John McCain say they are hiring specialists to find undecided and not overly partisan voters.")

Settled: Santa Barbara was a poor choice. "In this coastal city, the site of a disastrous oil spill in 1969, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee was dogged by critics at nearly every turn for his recent embrace of offshore drilling," Maeve Reston and Michael Finnegan write in the Los Angeles Times.

Someone is getting a refresher in intellectual honesty. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus drips on the sarcasm: "So Obama isn't just junking his campaign pledge to participate in the public financing system if his opponent agreed to do the same. He isn't just becoming the first presidential candidate since Watergate to run a campaign fueled entirely by private money," she writes.

"No, he deserves praise for this selfless -- scratch that, patriotic -- move," Marcus continues."What's galling is Obama's effort to portray himself through this entire episode as somehow different from, and purer than, the ordinary politician."

Obama has much to gain -- but what might he lose? "To some observers, Obama's transformation from upstart candidate to presumptive nominee has made him begin to look dangerously like the typical Washington politicians he so often rails against," Time's Jay Newton-Small writes. "Worried about his patriotism? He now wears a flag pin daily. Worried about his church? He left it. Think he's inexperienced? Don't fret; he's got lots of renowned advisers. Too liberal? Well, just look at his recent policy statements on defending Israel and protecting warrantless wiretapping."

"It's extremely unlikely that Barack Obama and his campaign will get in legal trouble for featuring a revised version of the presidential seal," Jim Geraghty writes for National Review. "But like Michael Dukakis riding in a tank or John Kerry declaring that he voted for war funding before he voted against it, we may have just witnessed one of those unexpected moments that, in retrospect, comes to define one of the candidate's unflattering traits."

No talk like that in Hollywood Tuesday night -- though there was a Seal (performing): "Sen. Barack Obama's bid for Hollywood's financial support was officially cinched Tuesday night at -- where else? -- a gala attended by celebrities, studio executives, producers, directors and other well-moneyed people," Tina Daunt and Michael Finnegan write in the Los Angeles Times. "Many in the Hollywood crowd -- which had been deeply split between Obama and Clinton during the primaries and caucuses -- said they hoped to send a strong message: that the industry A-listers, even those who had sided with Clinton during the primary, were standing firm with Obama."

But, as ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Wednesday, "not a ton of high-profile Hillary Clinton supporters showed."

"Given Hollywood's affinity for Democratic causes, few doubt Obama will be able to draw Clinton's supporters, even as McCain makes a play for some of her top donors and fund raisers," Variety's Ted Johnson reports. "The question, however, is to what level of enthusiasm her donors will work for Obama, whether through fund-raising or out on the campaign trail."

Let us ponder a comeback, just to keep things interesting. . . . House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on the just-ended candidacy of Hillary Clinton: "I think her candidacy was a bright, bright moment for us, and she may run again," she said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, per ABC's Karen Travers.

The Sked:

Obama meets with business leaders in Chicago, and has a 4 pm ET press conference on the agenda.

McCain spends his Wednesday in Las Vegas, talking energy (Yucca, anyone?) and raising money.

The DNC pre-buttal: "Senator McCain's plan for Nevada can by summed up in four words: fewer jobs, more waste," says spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

Elsewhere on the Trail:

Charlie Black's Kinsleyian line gets another turn through the grinder -- but what if (as most seem to agree) he's most likely right?

"On some level Mr. Black's assertion was the logical extension -- if inartfully expressed -- of the McCain campaign's premise that Mr. McCain is better suited than Senator Barack Obama to keep the nation safe from terror," Michael Cooper writes in The New York Times.

"Making that case, of course, can be a balancing act, the challenge being how to position Mr. McCain as the candidate who will keep Americans safe without seeming to be exploiting their fears. The Obama campaign struck back hard, questioning why Republicans who favored invading Iraq were presumed to have expertise in fighting terrorism, and labeling Mr. Black's remark as part of a 'cynical and divisive brand of politics.' "

It IS the strategy, after all: "One of Sen. John McCain's main strategies for overcoming the deficit he and his party face in opinion polls is to make the election about national security and terrorism," Elizabeth Holmes writes in The Wall Street Journal."That approach helped the Republican presidential candidate emerge victorious from the primary field, and the topic remains the top issue on which he bests his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama. Even so, Sen. McCain risks accusations from Democrats that he is following the Bush administration by playing into the politics of fear."

"Behind their protests lay a question that has dogged Democrats since Sept. 11, 2001: Was Black speaking the truth?" Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post. "Radio host Rush Limbaugh said aloud what other Republicans have been saying privately for months. Black's comments were 'obvious,' Limbaugh said yesterday on his program as he criticized McCain for distancing himself from them."

Obama may get his chance to make a strong statement on this theme this week, with the FISA bill (and enrage liberal groups in the process: "He has also begun a shift to the political center, saying he would support a compromise bill to authorize warrantless wiretapping of terrorist suspects over the strenuous protests of civil libertarians and party liberals. The Senate will vote to break a Democratic filibuster of the measure today," Weisman reports.

Cue the calls for Black's head: "Regret wasn't enough for some, including an umbrella union group with some 6 million members, Change to Win, that has backed Obama and called on McCain to fire Black," David Saltonstall writes in the New York Daily News. "The memory of our workers and all Americans who died on 9/11 demands it," the organization said in a statement.

Obama is taking on the challenge offered by Dr. James Dobson. Responding to Dobson's line accusing him of endorsing a "fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution," Obama told ABC's Jake Tapper and Jennifer Duck: "I have no idea what he's referring to. Anybody who's read that speech will tell you that I extol the need for people with religious faith to express their views in the public square, and I don't interpret the Bible in the ways he's referring to."

"Obama is not polling any better with white evangelical Protestants now than Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., did in 2004," Tapper and Duck report. "Despite those numbers, Obama has said he is trying to reach out. 'Even if they may not end up supporting my candidacy, I want to make sure people know I'm listening to them and I'm a person of faith,' Obama said in an interview."'s Steven Waldman, on the "potential Obamagelicals": "In past elections, voters who were the most religious clearly broke for the Republicans, and Democrats were increasingly seen as hostile to religion," Waldman writes. "But by a variety of other measures, the survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that Democrats have pulled even or ahead among the religious."

The Rev. Jim Wallis has some new ideas for Democrats: "Abortion reduction should be a central Democratic Party plank in this election," Wallis tells ABC's Teddy Davis and Gregory Wallace. "There are literally millions of votes at stake."

Knock a state off McCain's wish list: "The McCain campaign said yesterday its New York operations would be based out of what the campaign billed as a 'New Jersey/New York regional campaign headquarters' in Woodbridge, N.J., a 30- to 40-minute drive from New York City," per the New York Sun's Russell Berman.

We get it -- they want him to look presidential. But how many places can McCain visit that have zero electoral votes? Next week: Colombia and Mexico. "Since he became the all-but-certain Republican nominee this year, Senator John McCain has traveled to Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Britain and France (on the taxpayer's dime) and to Canada (on his campaign's)," Michael Cooper writes for The New York Times.

Speaking of McCain: When was the last time they won a few news cycles in a row? "There is something lacking in the McCain camp's ability to drive and sustain a message over a period of more than a day or so," Commentary's Jennifer Rubin writes. "They can whine all they would like about liberal media bias, but they rarely penetrate the din, their surrogates are not the sharpest (Joe Lieberman and Randy Scheunemann the clear exceptions) and they operate on a level of generality ("Obama would put us on the defensive on the war on terror") which is easily swatted away by the opposing camp."

Obama grabs another magazine cover -- Rolling Stone, with an interview that takes us inside his iPod. "I've got to say, having both Dylan and Bruce Springsteen say kind words about you is pretty remarkable," Obama says.

(But really? He thinks he knows his Springsteen and he addressed him as "The Boss"?)

He's careful on rap: "I am troubled sometimes by the misogyny and materialism of a lot of rap lyrics," he said, "but I think the genius of the art form has shifted the culture and helped to desegregate music."

Maureen Dowd pushes back at Karl Rove depiction of Obama: "Rove's mythmaking about Obama won't fly. If he means that Obama has brains, what's wrong with that? If he means that Obama is successful, what's wrong with that? If he means that Obama has education and intellectual sophistication, what's wrong with that?"

Which candidate is cozying up to Obama in the Oregon Senate race? That would be the Republican, Sen. Gordon Smith. From his new ad: "Who says Gordon Smith helped lead the fight for better gas mileage and a clean environment?" (Dramatic pause . . . ) "Barack Obama."

"It could be seen by some voters as a kind of link between the two. If you like Obama, you should like Smith, and vice versa," Jeff Mapes writes in The Oregonian.

Said Obama spokesman Bill Burton: "Barack Obama has a long record of bipartisan accomplishment and we appreciate that it is respected by his Democratic and Republican colleagues in the Senate. But in this race, Oregonians should know that Barack Obama supports [Democrat] Jeff Merkley for Senate."

Not there yet: "With the clock ticking fast toward November, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) has yet to begin coordinating his presidential campaign with the Hill to advance the Democratic Party's message and strategy," per The Hill's Erin P. Billings and Tory Newmyer. "Regular meetings between his operatives and House and Senate Democratic leaders have not taken place, official liaisons have not been dispatched, and a blueprint for Members to

Enter Ralph Nader, dropping the insight that, in his opinion, Obama "talks white." "He wants to appeal to white guilt," Nader says in an interview with M.E. Sprengelmeyer of the Rocky Mountain News. "You appeal to white guilt not by coming on as black is beautiful, black is powerful. Basically he's coming on as someone who is not going to threaten the white power structure, whether it's corporate or whether it's simply oligarchic. And they love it. Whites just eat it up."

Nader, to The Washington Post's Paul Farhi: "If you're locked out of the governmental system, if you can't get a hearing, and I can't, you go to the electoral system. What's my alternative? Should I go to Monterey and watch the whales?"


Speaker Pelosi adds a new name to the mix -- and she loves her institution (particularly members who have tough reelection campaigns): "I do think on the list of considerations there should be someone from the House of Representatives," Pelosi, D-Calif., tells Tammy Haddad in a Newsweek "TamCam." "[Rep.] Chet Edwards [D-Texas] is a person that many of us think would be a good person to have in the mix."

Said Edwards, to The Hill's Mike Soraghan, when asked about Pelosi's comments: "I cannot imagine too many Americans wouldn't consider it an honor to serve our country as vice president." He added: "I have not met with the Obama campaign about this."

Haddad also catches up with Obama vetter Eric Holder, an early Obama supporter who is marveling at his newfound social status: "I have a lot more friends than I used to. People think that I am taller, better looking and it's good to see them all getting on board and believing in Senator Obama as we do," Holder said.

The Washington Times' Sam Hananel takes a look at the higher profile being enjoyed by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. "The plainspoken former prosecutor and state auditor has been all over TV news and political talk shows as a top surrogate for the campaign. Obama calls her one of his closest advisers. She's even offering guidance on possible vice presidential picks and her name has popped up as a potential running mate."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., wants the Republican brand to come in for some "freshening up" -- and guess who he thinks can do it? "We now have a candidate in John McCain who is viewed as independent-minded and taking different approaches, who is a little on the leading edge of some of the emerging issues, like energy issues and climate change," Pawlenty tells NPR's Michele Norris.

Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., didn't bite in a round on the cable shows Tuesday. "He's got terrific people to choose from," Romney said, per ABC's Matt Stuart. "I'm just going to stay away from that."

The Kicker:

"I told her that running for president was actually easier than sitting through the lunch." -- Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., offering advice to a fellow failed presidential candidate.

"The first time they called me a strategist . . . I literally laughed on TV." -- Jane Fleming Kleeb, who enjoys the cable talkfest identity of "Democratic strategist," her own laughter notwithstanding.

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