The Note: Greek Drama

Sen. Barack Obama is set to leave for his much-deserved vacation with one very big loose end that doesn't want to be tied -- and that's not counting the veepstakes.

It's the drama that won't go away, the storyline that's too delicious to recede, the symbol of a party's divisions the very mention of which brings smiles to the faces of editors and producers: Obama vs. Clinton. (Welcome back.)

To former President Bill Clinton's missing praise (to say nothing of what he is saying), we add this: A steadfast refusal by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to rule out allowing her delegates to vent in the peculiar fashion of voting for her on the convention floor, instead of the candidate she's campaigning for.

"I happen to believe that we will come out stronger if people feel that their voices were heard and their views were respected," Clinton, D-N.Y., told a gathering of supporters last week, ABC News reported Wednesday. "We do not want any Democrat either in the hall or in the stadium or at home walking away saying, well, you know, I'm just not satisfied, I'm not happy."

"It's as old as, you know, Greek drama," Clinton said. (We couldn't agree more.)

Clinton gets a chance to clear the air with a noon ET Web chat Thursday organized for supporters (hope you weren't expecting softballs -- or donations that don't come with a price). What does it say about the most important relationship in the Democratic Party that this is still an unresolved issue, three weeks before Obama is set to formally claim the nomination? Can a party heal if one of its principal players -- and a few million of her supporters -- aren't ready for it?

"The refusal to publicly announce her intentions is widely seen as a bargaining chip Clinton is holding on to as party officials negotiate logistics regarding her convention speech and other activities," per ABC News.

Said Clinton friend Lanny Davis(who, like most inside Camp Clinton, don't want a roll call): "It's a reflection of genuine frustration by Hillary Clinton supporters that Sen. Obama seems to have forgotten about 18 million voters."

Think of how much the joint Obama-Clinton statement released late Wednesday doesn't say: "We are working together to make sure the fall campaign and the convention are a success. At the Democratic Convention, we will ensure that the voices of everyone who participated in this historic process are respected and our party will be fully unified heading into the November election."

This is the individual who'll be hitting the trail for Obama on Friday?

"Embedded in those remarks, say friends and advisers, are hints of Clinton's own feelings in the aftermath of a race in which she fought so hard and still fell short," Time's Karen Tumulty reports. "Behind the united front, says an adviser, 'it's not a great relationship, and it's probably not going to become one.' "

More from Tumulty: "In private conversations, associates say, Clinton remains skeptical that Obama can win in the fall."

"At this point, it is as likely as not that Clinton will be formally nominated at the convention, individuals close to the negotiations said," per The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut. "Officials have firmly denied a report last week that Clinton had decided not to have her name put into the record. Advisers on both sides also said that relations between the two are improving." (But still have a ways to go?)

"You only thought it was over," ABC's John Berman said on "Good Morning America" Thursday.

The Clintons, you'll recall, are very good lawyers: "The possibility provides her with a strategic advantage in negotiations with the Obama campaign about her role at the convention and fund-raising to relieve her debt," Sarah Wheaton writes in The New York Times.

Even if it's just a bargaining chip -- does that mean it has to be on the table?

Politico's Ben Smith: "A veteran of Democratic Convention mechanics, Matt Seyfang, explained that Clinton holds some real procedural power, and could probably -- if she chooses -- force a symbolic vote at which her supporters could express their public dissent with the Democratic Party's decision." http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0808/Clinton_Obama_reiterate_unity.html

Who needs this? "I feel there's hope now that Hillary may get the nomination," one organizer of the marches in Denver tells Newsday's Janie Lorber.

This is all drama Obama can afford to lose. Fifty never looked so far away: New CBS numbers have the race at Obama 45, McCain 39.

It's Obama 46, McCain 41 in the new Time poll. "On specific issues, Obama is treading water or sinking a bit," Massimo Calabresi writes.

Cue the Democratic angst: "Such attacks [by Sen. John McCain] have raised worries among Democratic strategists -- haunted by John F. Kerry's 2004 run and Al Gore's razor-thin loss in 2000 -- that Obama has not responded in kind with a parallel assault on McCain's character," Jonathan Weisman and Perry Bacon Jr. write in The Washington Post.

"Interviews with nearly a dozen Democratic strategists found those concerns to be widespread, although few wished to be quoted by name while Obama's campaign is demanding unity." (Does anyone remember Kerry inspiring the same courtesy/respect/cowering?)

"Democrats are worried," said Tad Devine, a veteran of those Kerry efforts.

The most important point in that story: "Most of the independent groups that would have taken the lead in such an independent campaign have been sidelined by Obama's insistence that Democratic donors channel their money to him," Weisman and Bacon write.

Such serenity from Obamaland, except: "Tom Daschle, the former Democratic Senate majority leader, said in an interview with the Financial Times that the Mr Obama's Republican rival John McCain was seeing a 'short-term blip' as a result of the advertising," per the Financial Times' Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Edward Luce.

Said Daschle: "To a certain extent the ads are having some effect. . . . But you can't be thrown off your game plan by a momentary dip in polls."

Some analysis from the other side: "At least temporarily, Mr. Obama's tactics have raised a damning political question: Who is this man?" Michael Gerson writes in his column. "And the McCain campaign has begun to cleverly exploit these concerns, not with a frontal attack on his liberalism or his flip-flops, but with a humorous attack on his 'celebrity' -- really a proxy for shallowness."

Bad for the brand: The New York Times follows The Washington Post's reporting on some rather questionable donations flowing McCain's way (and this story is building, slowly, into Hsu part two).

"Amid a sea of contributions to the McCain campaign, the Abdullahs stand out. The checks come not from the usual exclusive coastal addresses, but from relatively hardscrabble inland towns like Downey and Colton," the Times' Michael Luo reports. "The donations are also startling because of their size: several donors initially wrote checks of $9,200, exceeding the $2,300 limit for an individual gift."

"[Harry] Sargeant's business dealings have caused controversy. Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, opened an investigation last month into whether his company has been overcharging the military for its contract in Iraq, although Mr. Sargeant said Mr. Waxman's office had an erroneous understanding of what the company was billing," Luo continues.

Veepstakes implications? "Democrats pounced on reports Wednesday that a major fundraiser for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Republican presidential candidate John McCain had tapped suspiciously apolitical Californians of modest means for thousands of dollars in campaign contributions over the past two years," Wes Allison and Steve Bousquet writes the St. Petersburg Times.

Yet this is as good a metric as any: "Over the past two weeks, his "celebrity" attacks have stomped Democratic presidential opponent Sen. Barack Obama in YouTube hits," Stephen Dinan writes in the Washington Times. "Mr. McCain has beat Mr. Obama's channel for seven straight days and 11 of the past 14 days, in a signal he intends to compete for the YouTube vote. That is a giant reversal. Mr. Obama had been quadrupling Mr. McCain's YouTube views and beat him every day since February, according to TubeMogul, which tracks online video viewing."

Next phase of the messaging isn't all that different from the last phase: "Is the biggest celebrity in the world ready to help your family?" the new McCain ad (one that's actually running in battleground states) says.

Point taken: "By going after Obama for celebrity, [McCain strategist Steve] Schmidt is taking a page out of the failed playbook of [Arnold] Schwarzenegger's opponent, Phil Angelides. Very odd," Todd Beeton blogs at myDD.com. http://www.mydd.com/story/2008/8/6/14717/11279

It doesn't make it right, but it's not hard to envision how Obama's choice of vacation destinations fits with the frame being built around him. (If you have trouble imagining this, stay tuned to the RNC's Barackbook.com page on Thursday.)

Not that it's a fair one: "It's funny to have anybody characterize Barack as an elitist," Michelle Obama told ABC's Robin Roberts in a "Good Morning America" interview Thursday morning. "This is the kid who was raised by a single mother, who didn't have access to many resources who, you know, has walked away his entire life from lucrative careers to work in the community."

Michelle, on her thoughts on the famous New Yorker cover: "This is tacky."

This doesn't help: "Barack Obama, heavily reliant on major donors and celebrities despite his public emphasis on small contributors, upped the ante this week to enter his VIP donor world," Lynn Sweet reports in the Chicago Sun-Times. "A new high was set Monday for hosting or chairing an Obama event; chairs of his birthday fund-raiser in Boston had to raise $285,000; co-chairs needed to collect $142,500."

Bold-faced name alert: "A string of celebrities from the entertainment world are helping Obama raise campaign money in August and September: Bruce Hornsby, Luciana and Matt Damon, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, Star Jones, Kal Penn, Mira Nair, Ellen Pompeo, Justin Chambers and Scarlett Johansson. Leon Fleisher, Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman will perform at an Obama fund-raiser in Phoenix next month," Sweet reports.

Whose vacation is it again? "There has always been a fine line in politics between fame and success," Peter Nicholas writes for the Los Angeles Times. "According to the latest poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, nearly half of those surveyed said they are tired of hearing about Obama; about one-quarter said the same about McCain."

"Obamamania may be filling Barack Obama's campaign coffers and making him a global celebrity, but Americans are getting tired of hearing so much about him," Charles Hurt writes in the New York Post.

How conventional can we get? "In a presidential campaign billed as 'the maverick vs. the outsider,' this was supposed to be a different sort of election," John McCormick writes in the Chicago Tribune. "So far, however, the nastiness is just as intense as in previous contests, with tire gauges, pop stars and some choice adjectives being tossed about in recent days."

David Broder remains optimistic: "The first question I asked John McCain and then Barack Obama was: How do you feel about the tone and direction of the campaign so far?" Broder writes in his column. "No surprise. Both men pronounced themselves thoroughly frustrated by the personal bitterness and negativism they have seen in the two months since they learned they would be running against each other."

It's not just Democrats who are worried about their candidate. More advice from Karl Rove, in his Wall Street Journal column: "Mr. McCain must also make a compelling case for electing John McCain. Voters trust him on terrorism and Iraq and they see him as a patriot who puts country first. But they want to know for what purpose?"

Rove continues: "Mr. Obama has the easier path to victory: reassure a restive electorate that he's up to the job. Mr. McCain must both educate voters to his opponent's weaknesses and persuade them that he has a vision for the coming four years. This will require a disciplined, focused effort. Mr. McCain has gotten this far fighting an unscripted guerrilla campaign. But it won't get him all the way to the White House."

(But Rove likes the tire-gauge gag: "What is the president of the United States going to do, send out the tire police to make certain we all have inflated our tires to the proper level?" Rove said on Fox News Wednesday.)

McCain Thursday tries to get control of a damaging Ohio storyline: "Republican presidential candidate John McCain is taking up the issue of possible job losses due to the closure of a DHL shipping site in Ohio, the result of a corporate merger aided by his campaign manager during his work as a lobbyist," per the AP's Beth Fouhy. "McCain on Thursday was to discuss DHL's plans with local officials and others affected by the potential job losses."

Still not sorted out: McCain on the Social Security payroll tax.Bloomberg's Ed Chen: "These contradictions reflect a central conundrum for the Arizona senator: He's seeking to both placate conservatives -- suspicious of him because of his willingness to buck the party in areas from climate change and campaign finance to President George W. Bush's tax cuts -- and project himself as an independent ready to work with Democrats on many of these issues."

Since the surge "worked" . . . "John McCain called for an 'economic surge' Wednesday, marrying key language from the war in Iraq with the economic troubles facing the United States," ABC's Bret Hovell reports. "Our surge has succeeded in Iraq militarily, now we need an economic surge," McCain said at a cabinet manufacturer in Southeastern Ohio, "to keep jobs here at home and create new ones." (Anyone clear on what this means?)

"The Surge is so much a part of his mantra that it is now on the verge of becoming McCain's cure-all for America's problems," ABC's David Wright reports.

Those House protests are great optics, but are missing just a few pieces. "It turns out [House Minority Leader John] Boehner was at Muirfield for his annual Freedom Project fundraiser/golf tournament," Ben Pershing writes for The Washington Post. "As for McCain, it would be a big deal indeed if Congress came back into session for an energy vote and the Arizonan actually showed up. This Friday will mark the four-month anniversary of the last time McCain actually cast a vote in the Senate."

Gas gaffes abound: "This morning, officials from Sen. Barack Obama's campaign proudly announced its cool new way to wage the political energy war -- it would run TV advertisements on the subject, starting today, on Gas Station TV, a network of televisions in gas pumps in Florida," per ABC's Jake Tapper. "How cool, how cutting edge, how innovative and unique. Except for the fact that the ads never ran."

"The Obama campaign was apologetic, maintains the ads were confirmed and offered back-up; the company says otherwise. Regardless, it's a major gaffe by a campaign that is typically well-organized," Beth Reinhard writes for the Miami Herald.

The Sked:

A light summer Thursday. McCain has an 11:30 am ET town-hall meeting in Lima, Ohio (GOP territory).

Obama is in Minneapolis and Chicago for private meetings (and a whole lot of Hawaii packing, we can only assume by the need to take a pre-vacation vacation day).

President Bush is in Thailand.

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

The Veepstakes:

Let's hug it out. "It was almost a double man-hug. But just what does it mean?" ABC's John Berman, Sunlen Miller, and Andy Fies report. After Indiana Senator Evan Bayh gave a rousing 12-minute introduction to Barack Obama in Elkhart, Ind., this morning, Senator Barack Obama bounded on stage for an embrace. The two men held each other for a moment, speaking words no one else could hear. And just when it looked like it was over, they went in for more."

"The reasons for Mr. Bayh's apparent presence in the inner circle of potential ticketmates are varied, and they say something about the nature of the 2008 race and the correlation of forces within the Democratic Party," Larry Rohter writes in The New York Times.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., had his day in the limelight Wednesday -- and he had something to say (and just maybe one too many kind things to say about Obama).

The words he probably wanted back (and didn't repeat in the afternoon): "Say what you will about Barack Obama, people gravitate when you have something positive to say."

But he comes with his own catchphrase! "We want to be the party of Sam's Club, not just the country club," Pawlenty said in his veep's audition at the National Press Club. "People deserve and expect a more effective government at a better price."

What's the most important trait in a vice president? "Discretion," Pawlenty said.

"Sketching a profile that in many ways describes himself, the 47-year-old governor said a new generation of Republican leadership is needed to find new ways to engage voters who are worried about the future but who see the GOP as a party of business elites," Kevin Diaz writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

"Even if Gov. Pawlenty doesn't wind up on Sen. McCain's ticket, some believe the Minnesota governor represents the party's future, along with a handful of other relatively young governors, including Louisiana's Bobby Jindal," John D. McKinnon and Douglas Belkin write in The Wall Street Journal. "They have become the public face of what is seen as the party's reformist wing."

Terrible timing for the Mittster: "A former executive who says his boss pressured him to contribute to Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign has filed an employment-bias complaint that offers a rare glimpse behind the curtain of big-money corporate fund raising," JoAnn S. Lubin and Mary Jacoby write in The Wall Street Journal. "Emails from [Gary] Holdren refer to conversations with Mr. Romney, deals Huron supposedly won from Romney supporters at other firms and promises to reward Huron executives with 'business for your contributions.' "

Also in the news:

A small item that could mean a whole lot: "Bob Barr and Ralph Nader, the best-known third-party presidential candidates, are on their way to getting onto most state ballots," USA Today's David Jackson reports.

Obama isn't the black candidate Nader wants him to be. "People who have fought the civil rights battle -- politically, economically, legally -- as we have since the 50's would often talk about, 'Look what would happen if we had an African-American president or chairpersons of major congressional committees,'" Nader said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, per ABC's Teddy Davis. "It doesn't look like it's going to be what we all thought it would be."

Mr. Nader isn't black. From Matt Bai's stellar piece in the forthcoming New York Times magazine: "The generational transition that is reordering black politics didn't start this year. It has been happening, gradually and quietly, for at least a decade, as younger African-Americans, Barack Obama among them, have challenged their elders in traditionally black districts. What this year's Democratic nomination fight did was to accelerate that transition and thrust it into the open as never before, exposing and intensifying friction that was already there."

Cue the campaign issue: "An election-year standstill in Senate confirmation of George W. Bush's judicial nominees will give the next president a chance to tip the ideological balance of U.S. appeals courts that decide such issues as job discrimination, national security and pollution-cleanup disputes," Bloomberg's James Rowley reports.

Seriously -- scalping? "The good news for Barack Obama supporters on Wednesday was the highly anticipated announcement of the plan for distributing free tickets to see his nomination speech at Invesco Field at Mile High during the Democratic National Convention," David Montero writes in the Rocky Mountain News. "The bad news was that party officials left many questions unanswered -- including how early people should get to Invesco Field to clear security, what items could be brought into the stadium and details about how fraud or ticket scalping would be prevented."

Another piece of convention programming to figure out (and another rebuke to Clinton?): "The party is considering giving a speaking slot at the convention to Mr. Casey's son, Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who like his late father is a Roman Catholic who opposes abortion rights," John M. Broder writes in The New York Times. "Mr. Casey's appearance would be an important signal to Catholics, especially those who follow church teachings and oppose abortion."

The Kicker:

"There can be mean games of Scrabble. He and his sister Maya -- oh, they are deadly, in fact. Sometimes we all just walk away and let them, you know, compete into the night." -- Michelle Obama, to ABC's Robin Roberts, on an Obama family tradition.

"Extreme sexism." -- Scarlett Johansson's explanation for the hubbub over her supposed e-mail relationship with Barack Obama.

"We have the most multiply impeachable presidency in American history." -- Ralph Nader.

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