The Note: The Mountaintop

DENVER --

Even if it's disappointed those who were looking for chaos rather than comity, they've had their roles: The defeated rival, coming to terms with a real kind of inevitability; the former leader, bestowing his blessings at long, long last; an evening capped by the grizzled veteran, basking in his moment -- and lighting the path for the chosen one.

In case Sen. Barack Obama needed to see how it was done on Thursday, a couple of old pros made it work for him Wednesday. By the time Obama heard the roar of the crowd for himself, a convention that looked dangerously close to veering off track was tantalizingly close to fulfilling its goals.

Sen. Joe Biden made the case for Obama -- and against Sen. John McCain -- more eloquently, coherently, and tactically than maybe even that guy at the top of the ticket.

Former President Bill Clinton completed the sentiments his wife started (but didn't finish) articulating the night before -- and for a night, and perhaps now for a campaign, we witnessed grace and generosity.

And the masterstroke: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton made the final, minutely choreographed gesture herself. "Clinton did the honors for the man who had denied her dream of becoming the first woman ever nominated to lead a major party," Dan Balz and Anne Kornblut write in The Washington Post.

(Suddenly, with McCain poised to pick a running mate, does it seem that the drama is drifting in the general vicinity of St. Paul?)

At last, a message: "This week's events served as a national debut of sorts for the Obama campaign attack machine, even if that machinery is operated mostly by supporters and aides rather than the candidate himself," Peter Wallsten and Doyle McManus write in the Los Angeles Times. "It was clear that the campaign has settled on its favorite theme: portraying McCain as out of touch economically and an identical twin to President Bush."

Now Obama just has to give at least the second-best speech of his life Thursday night at Invesco Field at Mile High -- while not letting the setting become the story. (He's presumptive no more, but that doesn't take care of presumptuous.)

"His campaign has gambled on the historic moment by creating a stage that will magnify his performance," Eli Saslow writes in The Washington Post.

"Succeed here, in front of the largest Democratic National Convention crowd in nearly 50 years, and Obama's speech will be remembered as one of the most powerful moments in modern politics, a perfect launch into the final stage of the general election," he writes. "Fail, and Obama risks fueling Republicans' criticism that he is an aloof celebrity, fond of speaking to big crowds but incapable of forming genuine connections."

(But inside Obamaland, they'll be feeling their universe expand with every text message sent out of Invesco . . . )

As the campaign tweaks the camera angles -- and prays the Rocky Mountain forecast stays clear -- it's not just Greek columns as backdrop: "He'll be surrounded by an array of little-known supporters, people he has met along the trail and who have become a cast of folksy characters in his campaign speeches," Christi Parsons and John McCormick write in the Chicago Tribune.

"Their presence is quiet acknowledgment of the challenge before Obama as he takes that stage: to soar to the oratorical heights expected of him while still reaching out to the everyday Americans who can deliver him to the White House. . . . Above all, he needs to convince Americans that he is as good as his words."

Worried, anyone? "Workers were still making changes to Invesco Field, home to the Denver Broncos, so it would feel more intimate, less like the boisterous rallies that served Mr. Obama so well early in the primaries, but also created the celebrity image that dogs him," Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times. "For Mr. Obama, the dramatic setting of the speech, which will take place between 10 and 11 p.m. Eastern time, stands in contrast to the 'workmanlike' message he intends to offer."

"When Barack Obama strides onto the 50-yard line of Denver's mile-high Invesco Field tonight to accept his party's nomination, expectations will be just as elevated," Bloomberg's Indira A.R. Lakshmanan reports. "His decision to move his prime-time acceptance speech to a 76,000-person football stadium carries no small risk, and Republicans pounced on aerial photos of a colonnaded stage reminiscent of the White House portico or a Greek temple."

"Having rock star concert crowds and uplifting rhetoric doesn't work with working-class voters," Lanny Davis, a longtime Clinton confidante, tells the New York Sun's Seth Gitell.

Counters Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, on "Today": "It's ridiculous, this convention is going to be open up to the American people, that should be celebrated."

"A common concern: that the stadium appearance plays against Obama's convention goal of lowering his star wattage and connecting with average Americans and that it gives Republicans a chance to drive home their message that the Democratic nominee is a narcissistic celebrity candidate," Charles Mahtesian writes for Politico. "The campaign is already prepared to pull the trigger on ads spun out of the Invesco Field event, perhaps rolling out ads similar to the notorious spot featuring Paris Hilton and Britney Spears."

"This time, advisers said, Sen. Obama won't hesitate to express his views on President Bush and Sen. McCain," Nick Timiraos writes in The Wall Street Journal.

"This convention either ends on a bang if he delivers a well received speech, or it is a huge missed opportunity," per ABC News. "Biden and both Clintons have set the table for Obama. Now it is all up to him."

"Bill Clinton passed the torch. Now it is up to Obama to take it," Todd Purdum writes for Vanity Fair.

He really hasn't given a speech like this yet: "Yes he can -- especially when on teleprompter -- but sometimes, especially when tired and off-prompter, no he cannot," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Thursday.

While he's at it, he just has to take back his convention: "Barack Obama has been forced, by the clout Hillary Rodham Clinton showed in their primary battle and his need for her voters in his race against Republican John McCain, to allow the gathering of Democrats to look a lot like the Clinton Convention," the AP's Jennifer Loven reports.

Then there's a matter of a new voice: "Some of the same qualities that have brought him just one election away from the White House -- his virtuosity, his seriousness, his ability to inspire, his seeming immunity from the strains that afflict others -- may be among his biggest obstacles to getting there," Jodi Kantor writes in The New York Times, in a "Man in the News" piece. (You think?)

"Thursday night's speech will have almost a split-screen element: the adoring Democrats at Invesco Field at Mile High, and the unseen, skeptical voters watching at home," McClatchy's Steven Thomma writes.

History will drip off the hollow Greek columns: "He is delivering the speech on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' address on the struggle for civil rights. And Obama's trademark -- for better or worse -- is emotionally charged speeches that inspire his followers," Michael Finnegan writes in the Los Angeles Times.

"First and foremost, he must convey a sense of leadership and command that will convince voters he can be the leader," Nia-Malika Henderson writes for Newsday. "But he must also comfortably put himself at their kitchen table, in a next-door-neighbor kind of way. He has to draw on his own biography and the march of history to show that he is ready and able to take his turn in the long line of American presidents."

As for the last Democrat to get to the mountaintop: Don't forget what this man can do when he's turned loose. And if he took more time than he was supposed to -- and it took him including Obama in his legacy for him to embrace him -- those are trade-offs Obama would take.

"Bill Clinton raised the roof of the Pepsi Center and shut down with a crash the complaints that people named Clinton somehow could never manage to say anything nice about Barack Obama," Time's Nancy Gibbs writes. "On the third night of the Democratic convention in Denver, it finally started to feel like a family instead of a fight."

"It turned out to be not about him at all, with Clinton delivering a speech that framed the case for Sen. Barack Obama and against the Republicans in a way that no one at this convention had done before," David Maraniss writes in The Washington Post. "Not only did Clinton utter the words 'Barack Obama' 15 times, they came in his first sentence and his last, and there were long riffs about the candidate in between."

He said what his wife didn't -- and sounded like he meant it: "Mr. Clinton proceeded to do precisely what Mr. Obama's campaign was looking for him to do: attest to Mr. Obama's readiness to be president, after a campaign largely based on Mrs. Clinton's contention that he was not," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times.

Two really good speeches combine to make one great one: "While Hillary saluted her 'sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits' and focused on women's issues like equal pay, her husband -- who thrived this spring on rural turf where he wooed what strategists called 'the Bubba vote' -- vouched for Obama's credibility on national-security issues and his fitness to serve as commander in chief," Sasha Issenberg writes in The Boston Globe.

"For many in the arena, it was exactly what the Democrats needed -- a clear, cathartic show of unity by the party's once and future leaders," David Saltonstall writes in the New York Daily News.

This is what Bill (and maybe Bill alone) can do: "He succinctly framed the two great themes of this election, at last for Democrats: 'How to rebuild the American dream, how to restore America's leadership in the world,' " the Philadelphia Inquirer's Dick Polman writes.

The words the Obama camp was waiting a very, very long time for: "The Clintons have left the building. Finally," Politico's Roger Simon writes.

Don't look now -- but can you spell U-N-I-T-Y? "Among the passionate Clinton supporters at the Democratic National Convention, the talk of not voting for Obama was noticeably scarcer after Clinton's Tuesday speech urging unity behind the nominee," Adam C. Smith writes in the St. Petersburg Times.

"Unity Accomplished," Howard Wolfson blogs. "Both Clintons gave strong, believeable speeches in support of Senator Obama's candidacy. Senator Clinton nominated him from the floor. And Senator Obama encouraged the placement of Senator Clinton's name in nomination and offered praise for his former rival and the former President. And I'm betting he will have more words of praise for both tonight."

Then there's No. 2 -- anyone surprised now why Biden's on the ticket?

"Barack Obama portrays himself as a new kind of presidential candidate, but Joe Biden is likely to spend this campaign as the most traditional of vice presidential nominees: leading the attack against the opposition," Susan Page writes for USA Today.

The Boston Globe's Scott Helman: "It was red-meat stuff for the 4,233 Democratic delegates packed into the Pepsi Center for the party's national convention, many of whom were looking to Biden to fill a role they say presidential nominee Barack Obama badly needs -- that of an aggressive and experienced attacker."

"Largely he fulfilled the mission the Obama campaign had assigned him: humanize himself and Mr. Obama, attack Mr. McCain, and present a familiar voice and message to the swing voters and conservative Democrats that Mr. Obama had difficulty courting during the primaries," John M. Broder writes in The New York Times.

The speech was better for its imperfections: "His job is to use his quirky approachability to introduce Obama to voters who have been skeptical about him," writes Slate's John Dickerson. "A guy named Barack needs a guy named Joe as his running mate. (In political-speak, they call this being the validator.)"

Thursday's big speakers (other than the big guy): Al Gore, DNC Chairman Howard Dean; Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M. (bumped from Wednesday); Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.; Gov. Tim Kaine, D-Va.; Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; and Susan Eisenhower.

Your musical guests: (definitely) will.i.am and Stevie Wonder, (probably) Bon Jovi, (probably not) Springsteen.

Choosing Time:

With McCain expected to reveal his running mate Friday (if it holds), Thursday would be the day McCain makes the phone call to said partner. IF, that is, he's made up his mind . . .

"Republicans close to the campaign said that the top contenders remained the same three men who have been the source of speculation for weeks: former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and, possibly, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut," Elisabeth Bumiller and Michael Cooper write in The New York Times. "Mr. Pawlenty gained some currency as the day wore on because of what were perceived as Mr. Romney's downsides, particularly his wealth as many Americans face financial struggles and his past as a venture capital manager."

"A friend said McCain had pretty much settled on his selection early this week, and it crystallized in the past few days," Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin report for Politico.

As for the drama, let Martin explain: "Republican strategist Karl Rove called Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) late last week and urged him to contact Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to withdraw his name from vice presidential consideration, according to three sources familiar with the conversation. Lieberman dismissed the request, these sources agreed."

Unless . . . "Reports of strong support within John McCain's presidential campaign for Independent Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman as the Republican candidate for vice president are not a fairy tale," Robert Novak writes in his return-to-work (welcome back!) column. "Influential McCain backers, plus McCain himself, would pick the pro-choice liberal from Connecticut if they thought they could get away with it. But they can't get away with it -- and this has been made clear to McCain by none other than Joe Lieberman himself."

What Rove/Novak know: "Choosing Lieberman or someone else who supports abortion rights, such as former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, would be risky for a candidate who has worked hard to rally conservatives to his side, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The survey indicates that 20 percent of McCain's supporters would be less likely to vote for him if he selects a running mate who supports abortion rights," Robert Barnes, Chris Cillizza, and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post.

"Vice-presidential candidates customarily do not drive vote choices, but there may be an exception: If John McCain were to pick a running mate who favors legal abortion, it could cost him votes, particularly in some core Republican groups," per ABC Polling Director Gary Langer.

Pawlenty dodged all the interesting questions on ABC's "Good Morning America" Thursday, but on whether a "pro-choice" running mate is wise, he told Diane Sawyer: "He does want an administration that reflects his priorities and values."

Romney is off to San Diego: "Following a raucous rally in Henderson, Nev., on behalf of the Arizona senator and presumptive Republican nominee, during which there were multiple calls for Romney to get the VP nod, the former Massachusetts governor sped off in a white SUV, flanked by police cars," ABC's Matt Stuart reports.

Another top contender will be easier to find: "Gov. Tim Pawlenty is expected to be in Denver this morning, making the rounds of TV talk shows to lambast Barack Obama on the day the Illinois senator will accept the Democratic nomination for president," Pat Doyle writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "The high-visibility mission is the latest stop in a whirlwind campaign swing that for several days recently sent Pawlenty barnstorming for Republican candidate John McCain across the battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania."

"When asked if he has spoken with McCain at all in the past week, Pawlenty initially replied, 'About what?' " Doyle writes.

Also in Denver (and beyond):

No one's concerned about going off-message, are they? The line Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., was told he couldn't deliver at his convention speech, "for space": "Above all," it said, per The New York Times' Raymond Hernandez and Jeremy W. Peters, "we can't have a Statue of Liberty welcoming immigrants to our country as we build a wall on the Southern border. Instead, let us build bridges of friendship and cooperation with our Southern neighbors."

"They kept saying it was for space," Serrano said. "They never said it was for content. They said they wanted it to be 280 words. But when you read it, they took out the meat of the message."

Bloomberg's Michael Tackett and James Rowley trace the arc of history through 82-year-old Nathaniel Jones, in town to see it all with his own eyes. "Tonight, when Democrat Barack Obama, whom Jones met almost 20 years ago during a visit to Harvard Law School, becomes the first black man to accept a major party's nomination for president, Jones will mark the moment with a mix of pride and awe. He isn't a delegate or a party high roller. He's here for one reason: a front-row seat to history."

Still fighting on Bill Ayers: "WGN radio is giving right-wing hatchet man Stanley Kurtz a forum to air his baseless, fear-mongering terrorist smears," Obama's campaign wrote in an e-mail to supporters, per the Chicago Tribune. "He's currently scheduled to spend a solid two-hour block from 9:00 to 11:00 p.m. pushing lies, distortions, and manipulations about Barack and University of Illinois professor William Ayers."

More from the Biden files: "Experts say hundreds of thousands of Americans may have lost their homes due to a bill championed by Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., Barack Obama's vice-presidential running mate," ABC's Justin Rood reports.

Toss in some Tony Rezko: "Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., named over the weekend by presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama as his running mate, has long-standing ties to a Chicago businessman and prominent Obama fundraiser convicted this year in a federal probe that also nabbed a top Biden political supporter," Jerry Seper writes in the Washington Times.

More than you want to know about Obama's outfit Thursday night (unless you're a GOP oppo operative, in which case you can't get enough): "The fabric is 97 percent merino wool and 3 percent cashmere. The pants are pleated and have an inch and a quarter cuff. A similar suit off the rack would retail for about $1,500," per the Chicago Sun-Times' Sandra Guy.

That boom in downtown Denver late Wednesday: "The package was found about 10:30 p.m. shortly after the Pepsi Center had emptied after the convention session. Police chose to detonate it in place, and the loud bang could be heard up the 16th Street Mall. The package contained literature from a political action committee," per The Denver Post.

The DNC is ready for St. Paul: ABC's Jennifer Parker gets a the Democrats' survival kit for reporters: "Inside an envelope labeled 'DNC at the RNC: The McCain Files: A Survival Kit for Reporters,' are press credentials to the Democratic Party's 'More of the Same Media War Room' in St. Paul," she writes. "The packet also contains a flash drive with Democratic party 'opposition research' against Republican nominee John McCain as well as extra strength pain reliever, antacids, a Pay Day and 100 Grand candy bars, and a button that reads 'Ask me how many houses I own.' "

The GOP platform made a small change that's pretty big: "We call for a ban on human cloning and a ban on the creation of or experimentation on human embryos for research purposes," reads the new platform language, per National Review. (Yes, a total ban on stem-cell research.)

Charlie Wilson's op-ed: "We can avoid the need to spend so much on our military -- and put so many of our soldiers in harm's way -- simply by investing more in saving lives, creating stable societies and building economic opportunity. This strategy won't resolve the conflict in Georgia today, but it could help America prevent similar crises in the future," he writes in The Washington Post.

The Kicker:

"Freudian slip, folks. Freudian slip." -- Joe Biden, accidentally calling John McCain "George."

"He did exactly what he was told, except it was the wrong Holiday Inn and the wrong van." -- Tim Pawlenty, on the "inadvertent" theft that left him riding around Pennsylvania Sunday in a stolen van.

Viewing Guide:

Watch Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer & George Stephanopoulos at the Democratic National Convention -- Thursday at 10PM ET on ABC.

ABC NewsNOW's gavel-to-gavel coverage of the convention also resumes Thursday. We're on the air (and online) from 4 pm ET to 11 pm ET (2 pm MT to 9 pm MT), hosted by Sam Donaldson and Rick Klein.

Follow the links to live coverage at ABC News' Politics site.

And I'm blogging all week here.

Bookmark The Note: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/TheNote/story?id=3105288&page=1

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