One Clinton down, one to go. (And yes, the party's getting there, even if that other Clinton is heeding his wife's words and going a bit early.)
To the extent that a single speech can suck the drama out of a convention that was stuffed with it -- and a party that's grown sick of it -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton did her part Tuesday night.
With two political futures at stake, she gave the party something to be excited about -- and to ensure that if her backers don't come around to Sen. Barack Obama, it won't be her fault. (If she didn't heap on the praise, at least she was genuine.)
The Denver Post goes with capital letters: "THE TEAM PLAYER."
If you looked carefully enough, you saw a message coming together at the Pepsi Center -- a procession of speakers competing for sound-bite-of-the-night (and how about Gov. Brian Schweitzer, D-Mont.?) in bashing Sen. John McCain -- then Hillary tying it in a neat bow for the Democratic Party to marvel at.
Now, it's Bill Clinton's chance to make sure it doesn't unravel. (And it falls to Obamaland to reconsider/redesign/spin the setting for Thursday night. A Greek temple? Were they out of Roman thrones?)
As for Wednesday's marquee speech (with apologies to Joe Biden, who has a pretty big night on tap himself):
"Take away the context of this campaign year, and they could be pals, perhaps even big and little brothers of the Democratic family -- the so-called first black president mentors a prospective real black president. But context is everything in politics, and because of that their relationship is anything but close," David Maraniss writes in a Washington Post must-read-and-digest.
"He intends to do what is expected of him, according to many friends and associates, and try to convince the public that Obama has the toughness and wisdom to be commander in chief," Maraniss continues.
"But though the speech might be as important to Clinton as it is to Obama, those close to him say he will deliver it with lingering feelings of estrangement that have surprisingly little to do with the fact that Obama defeated his wife in the primaries. . . . Clinton associates, long familiar with his habits and rhythms, say it would take little more than phone calls on a somewhat regular basis to keep him satisfied."
(Mr. President, we ask again: Is he ready?)
"We're not nervous at all," Obama advisor Anita Dunn said in the campaign's morning convention conference call, per ABC's Sunlen Miller.
Said Bill, surprising party-goers at Invesco Field late Tuesday: "Hillary made the only argument [that] matters tonight. Nothing else matters. This election is not about a politician," he said, per the Chicago Tribune's Josh Drobnyk. "You really don't have any choice."
On Sen. Clinton's night, yet another Indiana victory speech became a rational, sound argument for her supporters to back Obama.
Yes, as ABC's Diane Sawyer noted on "Good Morning America" Wednesday, we didn't hear any adjectives in Clinton's praise.
Yes, it was about her -- "Keep going," she said (and who else could she have been speaking to?) -- but in fairness, to millions of her disappointed supporters (and thousands who converged on Denver in frustration/anger/helplessness) it was going to be about her anyway.
"For one evening, their political world was perfect. Or so it seemed," the AP's Ron Fournier writes. "By the time she was done, Sen. Clinton had delivered a strong, convincing affirmation of Obama and, just as importantly, a thumping of McCain. She did her part. Her husband takes the stage Wednesday and then Obama must make his case to the American people that he will be ready on Day One."
"I think she aced it," ABC's George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America" Wednesday. As for Bill: "He's got to do what Hillary Clinton didn't do. He's got to try and validate Barack Obama as commander-in-chief."
A dream lede, from the Los Angeles Times' Mark Z. Barabak: "Hillary Rodham Clinton, accepting defeat with grace and generosity, moved to close the divide among fellow Democrats on Tuesday night by offering a forceful and unequivocal endorsement of her fierce rival."
And perception becomes reality here: "It came as the message emanating from the Denver convention hall abruptly pivoted from biography to an emphasis on the differences between Obama and McCain," Barabak adds. "One speaker after another took turns on Tuesday pummeling the Arizona senator -- and President Bush -- using economic issues as their club."
It was an "emphatic plea" from Clinton to unite behind Obama -- but there was more at work even on Tuesday, Patrick Healy reports in The New York Times. Clinton "also took steps on Tuesday -- deliberate steps, aides said -- to keep the door open to a future bid for the presidency," he writes.
"Mrs. Clinton wanted to ensure that her star turn at the convention could never be portrayed as insufficiently enthusiastic, should Mr. Obama lose the election in part because swaths of her supporters ultimately did not vote for him," Healy continues. "Mrs. Clinton is almost certain to run for president in 2012 if Mr. Obama fails this time, several Clinton advisers said Tuesday."
"In an address closely scrutinized for perceived slights against Obama, Clinton threw herself fully behind the man she battled and often criticized during a long and at times bitter primary campaign," The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan writes.
"This was a Clinton speech that didn't require any parsing of words," adds the Globe's Peter Canellos.
Michael Saul and David Saltonstall, in the New York Daily News: "Moving forcefully but gracefully to tamp down the enduring bitterness over her tough primary battle with Barack Obama, Clinton unequivocally beseeched her Democratic supporters to follow her lead and vote for the Illinois senator in November."
Salon's Joan Walsh: "While reporters run around Denver chasing the Clinton-loving PUMAs (Party Unity My Ass) -- and believe me, they're here -- Clinton sent an unambiguous message: Party Unity My Ass, my ass."
Could Camp Clinton have designed it better than to let the senator provide the excitement? "Her speech gave the convention an emotional lift after a desultory second day of speeches by a parade of Democratic politicians," McClatchy's David Lightman and Margaret Talev write.
"She offered the electrifying fight that the limpid Obama has not -- setting off paranoia among some Democrats that they had chosen the wrong nominee or that Obama had chosen the wrong running mate," Maureen Dowd writes in her New York Times column. "As in Obama's favorite movie, 'The Godfather,' every time Democrats try to get away, the Clintons pull them back in."
The Clinton drama does get one more turn on Wednesday: Here comes the roll call (will it be responsible for the cardinal convention sin: making news?). And here comes Bill.
It's Sen. Joe Biden's night, but: "The attention today will turn to Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, who will speak to the convention," Bloomberg's Kristin Jensen and Catherine Dodge.
Catch him now, while you can: Per CNN's Candy Crowley, "Hillary Clinton will be on hand for Barack Obama's acceptance speech, but according to a source close to former President Bill Clinton, he will not."
(No slights here, insists Camp Clinton -- but surely they realize that circumstances are such that this is slightly different than Al Gore's or John Kerry's roll call. If they don't -- Mr. Drudge is taking care of that.)
Speaking of political tragedy: "Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's big speech on Thursday night will be delivered from an elaborate columned stage resembling a miniature Greek temple," per the Reuters write-up.
"Some 80,000 supporters will see Obama appear from between plywood columns painted off-white, reminiscent of Washington's Capitol building or even the White House, to accept the party's nomination for president. He will stride out to a raised platform to a podium that can be raised from beneath the floor."
And you thought the faux-presidential seal was bad? Asked to respond to the report, a McCain staffer quipped to ABC News: "Is this from the Onion?"
There are plenty of those who still can't accept that it's not happening for Sen. Clinton in 2008: "When Clinton stepped off the stage and the standing ovation faded into silence, many of her supporters were left with a sobering realization: Even a tremendous speech couldn't erase their frustrations," Eli Saslow writes in The Washington Post.
"Clinton's performance fell far short of the panacea the Democratic Party had desperately hoped for, delegates said. Some worried that, after Clinton's public withdrawal, more voters might defect for Republican John McCain or simply stay home," he writes.
(And yes, this button made it on to the convention floor: "Obamination Scares the Hell Out of Me.")
This won't go over well with this crowd: "Under a deal between the two camps, only some delegates will get the opportunity to cast a historic vote for either a woman or a black man before the split decision will be cut off in favor of unanimous consent for Obama," the AP's Nedra Pickler reports. "Many details were unclear -- which states would get a chance to vote, whether Clinton herself would cut it off in acclamation for Obama and if floor demonstrations would be tolerated."
"Possibilities include allowing only Illinois and New York to vote from the floor, holding a roll call only until Obama secures enough votes to win the nomination, or having a full roll call," Allison Sherry reports in The Denver Post. "Several vocal pledged Clinton delegates feel strongly they both need to stay true to the people who voted for them."
The Hillary whip team -- 40 strong on the convention floor -- stands ready to fan out, per ABC's Kate Snow.
Yet this only keeps the die-hards in limbo: "In a half-dozen appearances since arriving here Sunday, Sen. Clinton has assiduously made the case for Sen. Obama," Amy Chozick and Laura Meckler write in The Wall Street Journal. "But she also has continued to allude to her triumphs in many primaries, and her argument back then that the nomination was rightfully hers. By her math -- including tallying all votes from Michigan, where the contest broke party rules and Sen. Obama skipped it -- she won the most votes."
As for those around her: The Clinton crowd "expressed doubts about the efficacy of Obama's campaign against an onslaught of Republican ads challenging his experience and leadership skills," Washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza reports.
Said Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., to The Washington Post: "You ask him a question, and he gives you a six-minute answer. . . . He is a little like Adlai Stevenson."
Said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.: "The only thing they're going to do is, in old Brooklyn terms, rabbit-punch every day, and Obama has to show the American people that he can rabbit-punch, that he can be in that street fight."
Echoes of the Carville critique: "I think every night we should be doing this" -- as in taking the fight to McCain, former Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe said on ABC NewsNOW.
Asked if Obama can "float above" the attacks and leave the dirty work to his running mate and surrogates, McAuliffe said no: "I hope he doesn't feel he's that kind of person because the Republicans will have no illusions about using his name and distorting his reputation every single day."
Paul Begala even piled on Obama's choice as keynoter, former Gov. Mark Warner, D-Va.: "This isn't the Richmond Chamber of Commerce," he said.
Some people speak with dollars: "A significant number of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's top fund-raisers remain on the sidelines and unwilling to work for Senator Barack Obama, a nettlesome problem that appears to be contributing to the campaign's failure to keep pace with ambitious fund-raising goals it set for the general election," Michael Luo and Griff Palmer write in The New York Times. "Many major Clinton fund-raisers skipped the convention; others are leaving Wednesday, before Mr. Obama's speech."
Missing from Clinton's speech Tuesday: The personal end of things, the direct validation, the lines about how she's seen Obama in action and knows how great he can be. But maybe that wouldn't have been genuine -- and there's time for that still.
"The 25-minute speech focused on policy and warned of the risks of four more years of GOP rule, and she mentioned Obama's name more than a dozen times," USA Today's Susan Page writes. "But Clinton didn't talk about Obama in personal terms. She didn't address criticisms she made during the primaries that he lacked the experience to handle the demands of the presidency."
"Nobody could accuse her of going overboard, but she said the right things," Politico's Roger Simon writes. "But between now and November, Hillary Clinton can go out and work to heal the wounds or sit back and keep them open. The choice is hers, and it will determine her future."
Dana Milbank: "The delegates raised signs announcing 'Unity.' That may be a wee bit premature. While the woman in orange spoke in soothing hues of blue and green Tuesday night, many of her supporters continue to see red."
And what is the country not seeing because it's seeing so much Clinton? "As for how Obama would tackle the voters' top concern, the nation's slumping economy, the convention has barely made a mark. And that has even some Obama backers fretting," Doyle McManus and Robin Abcarian write in the Los Angeles Times.
"Modern presidential conventions are mostly political circus, but for Senator Barack Obama, the question is whether the theatrics and drama of this one are overwhelming one of his most important tasks here: connecting with the economic anxiety gripping voters and convincing them that he has concrete and achievable solutions," Jackie Calmes writes in The New York Times.
That explains this turn: "The single most important thing I have to make clear is the choice we have in November between the same failed policy of the last eight years for the middle class and the new agenda to boost income for Americans and help families who are struggling," Obama said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal's Monica Langley. "I will make that contrast very clearly."
As for the speech: "In addition to laying out his plans and providing some inspiring oratory -- though not as much as in 2004, aides cautioned -- one of the goals of the speech is to argue that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is no maverick, but rather, someone who represents a doubling-down of the current policies of President George W. Bush," ABC's Jake Tapper reports.
Trying out a new theme: "Over the last eight years, you've been falling behind," Obama said Tuesday in Kansas City. "That's the track record, those are the facts. And John McCain is not promising to do anything different than George Bush did."
Settling on an old theme: "A two-headed creature is stalking the Democratic convention, getting kicked and pummeled at every turn," the AP's Charles Babington writes. " 'Bush-McCain' is not a political ticket, but a hyphenated target that Democrats have invented from necessity."
Obama's homage to those who have come before him: "Obama's campaign, staffed by veterans and close observers of past Democratic efforts, has focused on avoiding many of the pitfalls of campaigns past -- the internal dramas, the charges of inauthenticity and the dramatic promises that masked organizational chaos," Politico's Ben Smith writes.
Aside from Bill Clinton, there's that other featured speaker Wednesday: "Biden is expected to help balance Obama's short political tenure with his lengthy one, while also helping to pad the presidential nominee's résumé with his knowledge of military affairs, diplomacy and international relations," Roll Call's Erin P. Billings and Tory Newmyer write.
The alphabetical roll call of the states is set to start shortly after the convention convenes at 5 pm ET (3 pm MT). Fifteen minutes of nominating and seconding speeches per candidate, and then we're off.
Wednesday's convention theme: "Securing America's Future."
Aside from Biden and President Clinton, also speaking Wednesday: Chicago Mayor Richard Daley; Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.; Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.; former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D.; Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.; Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M.; Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas; Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth.
Obama has a morning event Wednesday in Billings, Mont., focusing on national security, before flying to Denver to overnight in the mountain air before his big night.
Out of Denver . . . From the Obama campaign Wednesday morning: "Senator Obama, Senator Joe Biden, Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden will depart Denver Friday for Pennsylvania, the first stop on the bus tour. The 'On the Road to Change' tour will make stops in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, and will mark Obama and Biden's first campaign tour as the Democratic nominees. Obama and Biden will meet with voters to discuss America's economic challenges and the Obama/Biden blueprint for change."
Set your clock (maybe even text yourself a reminder, for old time's sake): McCain is making his choice at noon ET Friday, Politico's Jonathan Martin reports.
"John McCain is planning to rollout his vice-presidential nominee in three battleground states this weekend, with large-scale rallies planned for Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri, according to aides and advisers," he writes. "The GOP nominee-in-waiting will move to immediately change the campaign conversation from Barack Obama's football stadium acceptance speech Thursday to the new Republican ticket, to be revealed at a noontime Friday rally in a Dayton, Ohio, basketball arena."
He continues: "The Missouri rally is being billed to local Republicans as something of a unity rally, since it will feature McCain, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee -- the GOP presidential finalists who effectively divided the vote three ways in the Show Me State's Super Tuesday primary. A McCain aide warned not to read too much into McCain's planned guests, however."
The betting line has shifted: "There are new indications today that he is looking at Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and not foe-turned-pal Mitt Romney," Paul Bedard reports for US News & World Report. "Sources close to Romney tell us that his camp has not had vice presidential talks and dealings for a while, leading them to believe that the other running mate topping McCain's list has edged him out. Of concern is the likelihood that the Democrats would dub a McCain-Romney ticket the richest ever."
Romney, R-Mass., may have seen his stock fade with reporters asking questions about how many houses candidates own -- but he's confident at least what he said about McCain isn't worse than what Biden said about Obama.
"I didn't say that he was not qualified to become president," Romney said at a Christian Science Monitor lunch Tuesday, per ABC's Teddy Davis. "Republicans in our debates pointed out differences on issues and relative capacity. That's very different from saying that he is not qualified to be president."
Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., was also roaming Denver Tuesday, and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., does the GOP counter-offensive Wednesday.
Pawlenty gets his tryout Thursday. The AP's Liz Sidoti, on the mile-high auditions: "Romney, a former McCain rival, would bring economic credentials and a battle-honed pitch from the rough-and-tumble GOP primary to the team, while Pawlenty, a longtime McCain ally, would bring a solid conservative resume and blue-collar roots."
The new McCain ad (no one named Clinton in this one!) aims to scare: "Iran. Radical Islamic government. Known sponsors of terrorism. Developing nuclear capabilities, to 'generate power' but threatening to eliminate Israel. Obama says Iran is a 'tiny' country, 'doesn't pose a serious threat.' Terrorism, destroying Israel, those aren't 'serious threats'? Obama -- dangerously unprepared to be president."
Will this one at least run? "According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which monitors political advertising across the country, only one of the three Clinton-themed ads has been broadcast so far -- and that ad, featuring a Clinton delegate who now endorses McCain, is only airing in Toledo, Ohio," Aaron Rutkoff reports for The Wall Street Journal.
"That doesn't mean these McCain ads won't be seen by voters. The national media, which has its sensors tuned to any signs of Clinton-Obama drama in Denver, have readily amplified the messages." Said CMAG's Evan Tracey: "These were basically video press releases."
The Biden Files:
Watch the narrative get written, as the oppo gets unloaded. Repeat with the GOP: "Typical politician."
USA Today's Ken Dilanian: "Sen. Joe Biden worked to defeat a bipartisan bill designed to curb asbestos lawsuits at a time his son's law firm was filing them in Delaware and a former aide was lobbying against the measure, according to public records and interviews."
He is the senior senator from Delaware: "Joe Biden has fought to preserve Delaware federal courts' disproportionate share of corporate bankruptcies, benefiting law firms in his home state that rank among his top supporters," Nathan Koppel reports in The Wall Street Journal. "Delaware's special status has angered some critics, who argue that companies should be forced to file for bankruptcy closer to their headquarters. Defenders of the practice, including Sen. Biden, the likely Democratic vice-presidential nominee, say it is efficient to have many cases handled in an experienced court."
The family's affairs: "Sen. Barack Obama sought more than $3.4 million in congressional earmarks for clients of the lobbyist son of his Democratic running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, records show," James V. Grimaldi and Kimberly Kindy report in The Washington Post. "An analysis for The Washington Post by Taxpayers for Common Sense of Hunter Biden's firm's lobbying business found that its clients collected $2.7 million in earmarks in the last fiscal year."
Also in the news:
If you see Brian Ross and a camera, you were invited to the right party. The latest from the money trail, from ABC's investigative unit: "Not even the emotionally charged speech by Sen. Ted Kennedy kept corporate lobbyists from carrying out their multi-million dollar campaign to wine and dine and influence Democratic lawmakers at a series of lavish parties last night in Denver."
Said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.: "You must visit, make sure the food they serve is okay, that it passes the taste test and the liquor is the right vintage. Other than that, it's one's responsibility."
Lobbying you may have missed in Denver: "A top Georgian official is urging liberals and members of the Democratic Party here to take up the cause of his nation, which is embroiled in a conflict with its neighbor Russia over two separatist regions,"Seth Gitell writes in the New York Sun.
"One less than John Kerry -- that would be four." -- Mitt Romney, asked how many homes he owns.
"It's all my fault and I feel that very, very strongly." -- Michael Dukakis, explaining to Katie Couric that if he had beaten father, there wouldn't have been a son running.
ABC NewsNOW's gavel-to-gavel coverage of the convention resumes Wednesday. We're on the air (and online) from 5 pm ET to 11 pm ET (3 pm MT to 9 pm MT), hosted by Sam Donaldson and Rick Klein.
Guests Wednesday include former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, and singer Melissa Etheridge.
Follow the links to live coverage at ABC News' Politics site.
And I'm blogging all week here.
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