The Note: Drama Club

We wouldn't have known what to do without you, really. You were with us from Iowa and New Hampshire to Pennsylvania and Indiana, at two dozen debates and inside umpteen FEC reports, through superdelegates and a supersized nomination season.

We suppose you were coming to Denver anyway, your ticket reserved by history, purchased by the media, and punched by a former president.

Now you're coming to your biggest stage yet. Welcome, Clinton-Obama Drama -- enjoy your stay.

Maybe it was better for the Obama campaign to invite you inside, since you would have made an ugly scene outside. Surely Sen. Barack Obama can afford to be gracious, even to you, since he'll leave Denver with the only prize that counts.

But the decision to include Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in a roll-call vote at the Democratic National Convention ensures that the nominee's showcase event will be about something more than the nominee himself: A number approaching half of the delegates in the hall could cast a ballot for a candidate who is not Obama.

(And, before we continue: Did Obama get what he wanted by having his first joint appearance with Sen. John McCain focus on the topic of religion?)

(Did Republicans get the pictures they were waiting for when Obama finally took his shirt off to go bodysurfing in Hawaii Thursday?)

Three of the four convention nights could very well be dominated by Clinton storylines (arrival, then back-to-back speech nights, and the Wednesday roll call itself), with so much of the fun stuff -- not to mention the party's lingering divisions -- playing out in the open.

Savvy and gracious gesture that soothes tensions and unites the party while giving Clinton's supporters something productive to cheer about? Or unnecessary and dangerous capitulation that only underscores questions about whether Obama is ready to lead? (If he can't control his own convention . . . )

*As in so much in this race, might this be for two people named Clinton to determine?)

"With Mrs. Clinton scheduled to deliver a prime-time speech in Denver, a state-by-state roll call vote increases her time in the convention spotlight," Jeff Zeleny writes in The New York Times. "The former rivals never spoke directly about the matter, but advisers said Mr. Obama encouraged Mrs. Clinton to agree to place her name into nomination as a nod to the historic nature of her candidacy."

Or maybe it wasn't all Obama's call: "Democratic sources said Clinton, who has been grappling with the best way to get her supporters on board, has been mindful of being seen as a poor loser like Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in 1980," ABC's Kate Snow, Jake Tapper, and Jennifer Parker report. "Finally this week, Clinton officials said they wanted Clinton's name to be in nomination. Obama personally had let his staff know that was fine with him, Democratic sources said."

What will the show look like (and how will it be described to viewers back home)?

"After having her name entered into nomination, Clinton could then ask her delegates to support Obama, bypassing the long process of reading names aloud," Anne Kornblut reports in The Washington Post. "But several advisers said they think there will be some kind of roll call, which could begin as early as Tuesday night of the convention. As a superdelegate, Clinton is expected to vote for Obama."

"The tentative plan is for the states to announce the number of delegates for Clinton and Obama, then for Clinton to turn her delegates over to Obama and cast her own superdelegate vote for him," Foon Rhee and Lisa Wangsness report in The Boston Globe. (Don't forget: Bill Clinton is a superdelegate, too.)'s Chris Cillizza calls the accommodation a "savvy bit of political strategy." "In politics, it's always better to appear magnanimous than small; petty disputes between candidates tend to turn off voters -- especially at the presidential level where voters expect the most of candidates," he writes. "If the convention organizers can limit any public signs of disunity to a handful of disgruntled activists, it's likely that the average viewer won't even pick up on the protests."

It won't be enough for everyone, of course. "Nevertheless, pro-Clinton groups unaffiliated with the Clinton campaign like People United Means Action and Colorado Women Count/Women Vote have said they will host parades and hand out fliers and promotional videos at the convention arguing that Sen. Clinton is the stronger candidate to defeat Sen. McCain," Amy Chozick writes in The Wall Street Journal.

Who got more of what he or she wanted in this deal?

Headline in the New York Post: "Hillary Pushes Way Onto Stage."

"Russia rolls over Georgia, Hillary Clinton does the same to Barack Obama. Now we know who's boss," Michael Goodwin writes in his New York Daily News column. "Obama blinked and stands guilty of appeasing Clinton by agreeing to a roll call vote for her nomination. . . . It was supposed to be his party. Now it's theirs. His and hers."

Now comes time to talk religion: For the first time since winning their respective primaries, Obama and McCain are set to share a stage Saturday at Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback megachurch in Orange County, Calif., with back-to-back sessions with the host.

"We're going to look at leadership, specifically their character, their competence, their experience," Warren tells ABC's Jake Tapper. "Many evangelicals think neither of these guys are . . . I think both John McCain and Barack Obama and their relationship to Jesus Christ is their relationship. But I'm going to give them a chance to explain themselves."

McCain talks faith in a fascinating interview with the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman -- and describes the little-known "church riot" he helped lead against his captors in Vietnam.

"It is a story unknown by a public still getting to know McCain and searching for shared values with the candidates," Zuckman writes. "In an extended interview, McCain talked about how his faith was tested during his years as a prisoner of war from 1967 to 1973, said God must have had a plan for him to have kept him alive, and reminisced about his appointment as informal chaplain to his cellmates."

Said McCain: "There were many times I didn't pray for another day and I didn't pray for another hour -- I prayed for another minute to keep going. . . . There's no doubt that my faith was strengthened and reinforced and tested, because sometimes you have a tendency to say, 'Why am I here?' "

And he suggests he was spared for a greater purpose: :I can't help but feel like that to some extent, and I'm not a fatalist," said McCain. "I think it's remarkable that I've been able to survive so much and to have the opportunity to do the right thing. I do think we make our own choices, but certainly I think I was meant to serve a cause greater than my self-interest."

Among McCain's big trouble spots: young evangelicals. The Washington Post's Krissah Williams Thompson: "[Jonathan Merritt] is part of a growing group of young born-again Christians standing on one of the many generational breaks surfacing in this election cycle. Merritt still shares his parents' conservative convictions on abortion, a core issue that forged Falwell's Moral Majority and brought evangelicals firmly into the Republican camp, but he says they are no longer enough for him to claim the Republican Party."

From the other direction: "Mr. Obama, who is pro-choice, is trying to give such voters a home," Jon Ward and Ralph Z. Hallow report in the Washington Times. "In the months after the [2004] election, Democrats vowed to try to peel those voters away from Republicans by talking about values and by trying to convince evangelicals that they should judge Democrats on issues such as fighting poverty and AIDS and protecting the environment and human rights."

What McCain wants to move: "Republican McCain tops Democratic rival Obama 68% to 24% among self-described white evangelical voters, according to a Pew Research poll released Wednesday," USA Today's David Jackson and Martha T. Moore report. "In 2004, President Bush got 78% of the evangelical vote, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls."

Obama gets a boost during the broadcast: "Arguing it's time for 'a better Christian witness in politics,' the Evangelical group, Matthew 25 Network, is preparing to make a $20,000 television ad purchase touting its support for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., during Saturday's compassion and leadership forum at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church," ABC's Tahman Bradley reports.

It's going to get personal: "I'm going to ask them questions about character, competence, about values, vision, virtue, about their convictions in leadership, about their experience. And I'm going to deal with their personal life -- because character matters. Their personal life does matter as a leader. God says so," Warren tells the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody.

Should Obama be pleased with the event regardless? "The joint appearance of McCain and Obama at Saddleback is only one event in a long political campaign. But it is also a significant antidote to the poison that the religious right injected into American politics," Alan Wolfe writes for The New Republic.

(It will be hard to get inside: "For the past couple of weeks, the general public had been told via the church's Web site that ticket information would be forthcoming," write Alejandra Molina and Greg Hardesty of the Orange County Register. "Then last week, the message changed and said a limited number of tickets would be available this Wednesday. Monday night, the message was revised again, saying all tickets had been distributed.")

John Edwards won't be getting Rick Warren's vote: "John Edwards and others like him have lost the trust of America because they lied, and fundamentally beneath every affair it's dishonesty, its deceit, its deception," Warren tells ABC's Tapper. "They're lying to God. They're lying to themselves. They're lying to their wives and they're lying to the public. How do you trust someone who's constantly lying? You can't."

On adulterers more generally: "If you can't keep your faith to your most sacred vow – ''til death do us part' -- how in the world can I trust you to lead my family, my government?"

(How did McCain's first marriage end again?)

New details on the John Edwards story that don't make anyone look good. Dallas lawyer Fred Baron (he of the apparent hush money to Rielle Hunter) was behind the December statements that appeared to clear Edwards' name.

"After initially saying that he did not know how the lawyers were chosen to represent Ms. Hunter and Mr. Young, Mr. Baron acknowledged that he might have played a role," Serge F. Kovaleski and Mike McIntire write in The New York Times. "The revelations of ties among the lawyers emerged through public records and interviews with people close to Mr. Edwards and Ms. Hunter, which suggested that their affair went on longer than Mr. Edwards admitted and that the effort to conceal it by Mr. Edwards's inner circle was much more extensive than has been reported."

"The review found that Mr. Edwards's political action committee went to unusual lengths to make a final $14,000 payment to Ms. Hunter's film company months after its contract with the committee had ended," they continue. "Furthermore, a woman who helped Ms. Hunter create a Web site on New Age spirituality in 2006 says she regularly corresponded with her about a married North Carolina man named John whom Ms. Hunter was dating in March of that year, if not earlier. Mr. Edwards has said his affair with Ms. Hunter did not begin until after she had started doing video work for his political action committee months later."

(Note: Obama aides are still not saying whether Baron continues to raise money for them.)

One area where Obama is not rolling over: Responding to the smears. The aggressive pushback has begun: detailed rebuttals, extensive surrogate work, and a big push to discredit the purveyors of lies and half-truths.

"The Obama campaign is mapping out an aggressive counter-attack against the new Swift-Boat-Vet style book targeting Obama -- including plans to dig more deeply into the author's past statements, plans for increased surrogate action against the book, and stepped up pressure on high-level media executives to let the Obama team have air time to rebut the charges," Greg Sargent reports for Talking Points Memo. "The planning reflects an uncomfortable reality for the Obama camp: They realize that the book, and any ensuing GOP attacks in its wake, are certain to continue to get extensive media coverage."

"Beyond the questionable and disputed claims in Corsi's anti-Obama book and the one Corsi co-authored in 2004, 'Unfit for Command,' which sought to discredit Kerry's Vietnam war service, Corsi has, as a poster on the conservative site, made a number of comments that are pretty out there," ABC's Jake Tapper reports. (He has, among many other writings, disparaged the Pope, called Arabs "ragheads" and "women-haters," and peddled some bizarre World Trade Center rumors.)

(We'll see if it hurts sales.) The campaign put together a response "book" of its own. File this under lessons learned -- and bonus points for realizing that how you appear to be responding can be as important as the response itself.

"It's called 'Unfit for Publication,' but the subtitle could be: 'We Are Not John Kerry's Campaign,' " Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. "In an move that is one part genuine pushback and one part message-sending, Obama's campaign has released a 41-page pdf file designed to rebut accusations made in Jerome Corsi's book, 'The Obama Nation.' "

Is McCain pushing too hard on the Russia-Georgia dispute?

Who's presumptuous now? "With his Democratic opponent on vacation in Hawaii, the senator from Arizona has been doing all he can in recent days to look like President McCain, particularly when it comes to the ongoing international crisis in Georgia," Dan Eggen and Robert Barnes report in The Washington Post.

"The extent of McCain's involvement in the military conflict in Georgia appears remarkable among presidential candidates, who traditionally have kept some distance from unfolding crises out of deference to whoever is occupying the White House," they write. "The episode also follows months of sustained GOP criticism of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, who was accused of acting too presidential for, among other things, briefly adopting a campaign seal and taking a trip abroad that included a huge rally in Berlin."

Maybe it's just the comparison that matters: "For the last several days, Senator Barack Obama has seemed to fade from the scene while on his secluded vacation here, as his opponent, Senator John McCain, has seized nearly every opportunity to display his foreign policy credentials on the dominant issue of the week: the conflict between Russia and Georgia," Michael Falcone writes in The New York Times. "It is as if the candidates' images have been reversed within a matter of a few weeks."

Thursday brought the pics most everyone will see of Obama's vacation (at least he looks graceful).

On Thursday: "McCain for the first time declined to rule out a military intervention, if diplomatic pressure fails," Seema Mehta and Maeve Reston report in the Los Angeles Times. Said McCain: "I really hesitate to talk about a military option at this time because I think that would escalate rather than de-escalate what we want to see achieved here."

McCain brought back an attack line on Iraq Thursday in Aspen, Colo.: "I think he used the issue of Iraq for political reasons to get the nomination of his party," he said, per ABC's Ron Claiborne.

Easy pushback on national security: "Democrat Barack Obama has received nearly six times as much money from troops deployed overseas at the time of their contributions than has Republican John McCain," Luke Rosiak reports for the Center for Responsive Politics. "[T]he fiercely anti-war Ron Paul, though he suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination months ago, has received more than four times McCain's haul."


McCain's "pro-choice" trial balloon is making for good target practice, with former governor Tom Ridge, R-Pa., in conservatives' sites. "For those who have been anxiously awaiting McCain's pick as a signal of his ideological intentions, there was deep concern that their worst fears about the Arizona senator may be realized," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes.

"Explanations were abounding Thursday on why Sen. John McCain mentioned Tom Ridge as a possible running mate -- including a serious pick, a trial balloon for the right and an ecumenical gesture for the left," Ralph Z. Hallow writes in the Washington Times.

Don't make it Sen. Joe Lieberman either, Rich Lowry writes for National Review. "A McCain-Lieberman ticket might have an unbecoming pleading quality -- please, we're not really Republicans, so let us in for just 1,461 days. The ticket would make McCain, the experienced hand, the steward of a campaign verging on the gimmicky. . . . McCain-Lieberman is a more desperate move than McCain should feel compelled to make right now."

Mike Huckabee has a long memory: "I think there are better choices for Sen. McCain that have the approval of value voters," Huckabee said of former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., on Fox News. "The issue is that in many ways, Mitt Romney has had very definite swings of position. Not just on one or two things, but on many of the issues."

The convention schedule is filling out with short-listers: "Two candidates rumored to be in the mix to become Barack Obama's running mate have been given speaking slots for Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the convention committee announced Thursday," per ABC's Z. Byron Wolf and Matthew Jaffe. "Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., will both speak on the night of Wednesday the 27th, the same night as the eventual vice presidential nominee."

(Of course, it's easier to change a schedule than it is even to repaint a plane.)

David Sirota uses his syndicated column to join the liberal Bayh-bashing. "Obama selecting this corporate Frankenstein would implicitly signal that the Illinois senator's populist campaign promises are a farce," Sirota writes. "Let's say Obama doesn't mind destroying Democratic enthusiasm for his candidacy. Let's say he is specifically looking to win a Republican state like Indiana. Even in that context, a Bayh nomination is absurd." Bayh and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., square off on CBS' "Face the Nation."

The Sked:

Obama wraps up his Hawaiian vacation Friday, as he and his family (and the traveling press corps) head back to Chicago.

Obama and McCain will be in Orange County, Calif., for the joint faith forum at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church.

For the veep's watchers: Obama is back on the trail Sunday, with events in Reno, Nev., and San Francisco. Then it's New Mexico on Monday, Florida on Tuesday, and -- per The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder -- Richmond, Va., on Thursday.

McCain has private meetings Friday in Long Beach, Calif., in advance of Saturday's faith forum.

President Bush heads to Crawford, Texas, to begin his delayed vacation.

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

Also in the news:

The Obama plane scare was a lot more serious than we realized at the time: "The incident involving Sen. Barack Obama's campaign plane last month was much more serious than the airline or the Federal Aviation Administration said, according to FAA control tower tapes obtained by ABC News."

Obama on taxes: "Sen. Barack Obama's, D-Ill., top economic advisors announced on Thursday that he is seeking to raise the capital gains tax rate from 15 percent to 20 percent for those Americans making more than $250,000 per year," per ABC's Teddy Davis, Arnab Datta, and Rigel Anderson.

Follow the money: "John McCain's presidential campaign lacks the support of several Republican-leaning industries central to President George W. Bush's record-setting fundraising four years ago," writes Bloomberg's Jonathan Salant. "Democrat Barack Obama has captured $9.6 million in donations from employees working for securities, mortgage and drug companies, compared with McCain's $6.6 million. In 2004, people in those industries gave $10.6 million to Bush and $5.4 million to Democratic nominee John Kerry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group in Washington."

Look who's back: "Phil Gramm didn't stay in the dog house for long," Todd J. Gillman writes for The Dallas Morning News, with Gramm popping up at McCain's side Thursday.

McCain's son, Andy, gets some unwelcome Wall Street Journal attention.

Better than the prizes on Wheel of Fortune: "The Obama campaign will unveil the ten supporters selected to be 'Backstage with Barack' at the Democratic National Convention next week. The ten voters selected for backstage access for Obama's speech next Thursday represent the diversity of Obama supporters and come from all across the country. The ten supporters were selected from ten different states, and each will be able to bring one guest to Denver. The supporters will receive airfare, accommodations, and will attend two days of convention activities -- including a private meeting with Senator Obama before his historic speech at Invesco Field in Denver on Thursday, August 28th."

A job Obama may not want to advertise: "During one school year at Columbia, Obama was a telemarketer in midtown Manhattan selling New York Times subscriptions over the phone, wearing a headset. He did not like the job because 'he worried that some of the people he called couldn't really afford the subscription,' " the Obama campaign tells the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet.

The Kicker:

"A lot of my taste in music stopped about the time I impacted a surface-to-air missile with my own airplane and never caught up again." -- John McCain, on his retro music tastes.

"Please don't, don't tell me to call in 10 minutes early. I gotta be honest with you, I'm skeptical that there were technical difficulties. I think you guys were worried we wouldn't call in. I'll call in when you tell me to. They said 'oh. you gotta call in and go over all these things,' none of which were true. So please, don't do that with me in the future." -- Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., not realizing that a DNC conference call with reporters wasn't quite over.

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