The Note: Drilling Down

With a happy 47th birthday to Sen. Barack Obama (one that might have been a little happier had it come a week earlier), five lessons that arrive as gifts of the August heat:

1. Obama is now running against a real Republican message machine (one that's already earned a tighter race -- in addition to a maybe less-than-welcome rebranding for the GOP candidate).

2. Around the time the lights went out in the House of Representatives, a light went on in the GOP idea factory (and a tire gauge may get a party's message back on the road).

3. Race is in the race to stay.

4. The next policy move belongs to Obama, not Sen. John McCain (but that's not a message by itself).

5. The single most important relationship Obama needs to manage between now and Election Day is with the one Democrat who owes him nothing (and has nothing to gain from having a relationship).

So it is that, when asked by ABC's Kate Snow whether he has any regrets about his conduct during the campaign, former President Bill Clinton cracked open a fascinating window:

"Yes, but not the ones you think. And it would be counterproductive for me to talk about," he told Snow, on "Good Morning America" Monday. "There are things that I wish I'd urged her to do. Things I wish I'd said. Things I wish I hadn't said. But I am not a racist. I've never made a racist comment, and I never attacked him personally."

Is he angry? "I'm not, and I never was mad at Senator Obama," the former president said. "And you know he hit her hard a couple of times and they hit us a few times a week before she ever responded in kind. The only thing I ever got mad about was people in your line of work pretending that she had somehow started the negative stuff. It's a contact sport."

"I will be glad to, as soon as this election is over in January, to have this conversation with you and everybody else. I have very strong feelings about it. But I live out here in the fact-based world." (And Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., is off the Christmas card list. A friend? "Used to be," Clinton said.)

On his impact in the campaign: "Go get yourself a map. Look where I went. And look what the vote was."

Stoking more intrigue: "Next year, you and I and everybody else will be freer and have more space to say what we believe to be the truth" about the primaries, Clinton told The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut. (Anyone think he'll wait that long?)

Writes Kornblut (who reports that 42 and the would-be 44 have spoken a grand total of once since the primaries ended): "Clinton volunteered very little praise of Obama, beyond describing him as 'smart' and 'a good politician' when asked about him toward the end of the interview."

(What does it say about the lines of communication that he still doesn't know what role he'll play at the convention that starts three weeks from Monday?)

The week's big messaging will focus on energy, with Obama trying to go on offense in this last week before the Olympics (and his much-anticipated vacation in Hawaii).

It's offense, too, from Republicans: More antics on the House floor, and more mockery of Obama, this time with his comment about proper tire inflation inspiring fun (and useful) props.

Obama adds meat to his energy plan in Lansing, Mich., on Monday. Per his campaign: "Obama's plan will provide an immediate energy rebate to Americans struggling with high gas prices, create five million new green jobs, and eliminate our need for Middle Eastern oil in 10 years."

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