The Note: Grounded Control

Should we care that . . .

Sarah Palin and Barack Obama are both pondering futures they don't want to anticipate?

John McCain wants to make the race about another professor (even if he still has Bill Ayers on his mind)?

Plenty of Democratic senators and governors will say nice things about Obama on camera?

Joe Biden is suddenly boring?

Even Borat wants us not to vote (but not really -- and not even for Bob Barr?)?

All of our assumptions just might be dealt atop a house of cards?

For the moment, toss those worries away: Five days out, Obama has wrested control of the race with his typical disciplined style -- and someone's going to have to scramble to take it from him.

Consider his extraordinary Wednesday evening, framed by 30 minutes of primetime television where Obama did not mention the words "John McCain." (Can you imagine McCain going on TV for 30 seconds at this stage of the race without mentioning Obama?)

It was gauzy, sad at times, and it was as unusual as a four-inning World Series clincher. It featured too many starry-eyed politicians, and too much cheesy music. It was also masterfully executed. And the fact that it could be done speaks to more than the wallet behind it.

Cognizant of what got him here, and mindful of what might get him there, Obama highlighted not just himself but the idea he represents. It delivers a message on a tactical level, with solutions for all the hot-button issues, yet mostly it works on an inspirational level -- getting voters to believe in something bigger than themselves, which made Obama's candidacy possible in the first place.

Wednesday may not be the night he clinched anything, but it may end up being the night he made the turn for home. By the time No. 42 finally turned it on for a would-be No. 44, this looked like Obama's race, with McCain and the rest of us just living in it.

"Every single line during that 30 minutes was something that the campaign knows works and appeals to those undecided voters," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reports. "What you saw here was a highly competent, professional, virtuoso performance. The fact that they could go 28 minutes in and hit live to a campaign rally in Florida and right down to the final Obama Biden logo even showed a rising sun. One of the things the campaign knows is that the most optimistic presidential candidate always wins."

"Aired on seven network and cable stations, the ad served as a national get-out-the-vote organizing tool for Obama operatives," Cathleen Decker writes in the Los Angeles Times. "It offered even the swiftest channel-flipper the chance to see Obama looking presidential, helping to condition voters to that possibility. And once again it proved to John McCain, and everyone else, how Obama's deep pool of campaign cash has allowed him to rewrite the rules of the campaign."

"Barack Obama effectively knocked on every door in the nation Wednesday night," David Saltonstall writes in the New York Daily News.

"Barack Obama pulled out all the political and technological stops," Kathy Kiely writes for USA Today.

New politics of pile-on: "Six days before the election, Obama's team produced a 'shock and awe' Wednesday, throwing up a stunning number of assets at John McCain," reports Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times.

"The program gave a new meaning to the word 'infomercial' and, for that matter, to all notions of political advertising," Jim Rutenberg reports in The New York Times. "The infomercial was part slickly produced reality program; part Lifetime biography; and part wonkish policy lecture with music that could have come from 'The West Wing.' . . . It was largely in keeping with Mr. Obama's strategic imperative this year: Make voters comfortable with the idea of him in the Oval Office while at the same time presenting him as a candidate who can connect with everyday, middle-class voters struggling through the toughest economic times in generations."

And he capped it with some mended fences:

"The pair, introduced as 'the 42nd president and the next president,' took the stage to cheers from a crowd of 35,000," Peter Slevin writes in The Washington Post. "Declaring that Obama 'represents the future,' Clinton predicted that Obama would be a smart president 'who wants to understand, and he can understand.' "

Slevin reports: "The timing of the Obama-Clinton appearance is a tactic the campaign intends to repeat in the coming days. An aide said a central goal is to maximize face time on local news broadcasts -- and to cover as much ground as possible before he votes Tuesday in Chicago."

"Clinton praised Obama's philosophy, policies, decision making, and capacity to execute his plans in the White House, saying crisply: 'This man should be our president,' " writes Time's Mark Halperin. "There still may be doubt within their circle of supporters that Obama is fully ready to run the country, but the Clintons themselves are now convinced Obama will win the job."

"This is what it's like to have a great president," Obama said.

"He always respects his audience," Obama said of Bill Clinton, in an interview with ABC's Chris Cuomo, airing on "Good Morning America" Thursday.

Advice from the big guy (who knows a thing or two about closing): "Don't change the subject, don't let people forget what it's about," the former president told Cuomo. "Don't let them grow complacent because momentarily, the price of oil dropped, or because we haven't had a full economic collapse. Remind that people are still in trouble. . . . Keep it on that."

On what it took to get him on the trail: "Well, Hillary's my first choice, but we always said -- I said in the first caucus states, that if she didn't win, and he did, that I would support him."

(Did Biden make a mistake with his line about the world looking to "test" Obama? "I don't know. I think that -- look, Sen. Biden -- one of the reasons that he's going to be a good vice president is that he's candid sometimes to a fault. But I was tested.")

Taking care of this, at last: "Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton are moving from a cold war to a cool peace," George Stephanopoulos reports. "Obama has been praising the Clinton record more and more in his speeches, something he hasn't done before. He has also been reaching out to Clinton privately more and more, sources tell ABC News. Obama called Clinton a couple of times during the financial crisis and consulted with him after President George W. Bush announced that he would have the foreign leaders come to deal with the financial crisis after the election."

The comfort zone: "His 'time for change' closing argument in this moment of national anxiety focuses heavily on the economic issues that are at the core of voter concerns right now, skipping quickly past the questions of war and peace that animated his campaign when it started nearly two years ago," Peter Baker and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times.

"The closing Obama speech is cautious, calibrated to cement the inroads he has made with voters whose comfort level with him has grown," they write. "Even as he sums up the case for his candidacy, Mr. Obama is seeking to defuse any remaining uncertainty about electing a largely untested first-term senator and dispel his critics' depiction of him as an inexperienced, unproven leader who would raise taxes, redistribute wealth and go soft on terrorists."

Sealing the deal? "Obama's use of his campaign cash and of Clinton comes as the Illinois senator looks to hold on to his substantial lead in polls nationwide and in a number of battleground states, including several where a Democratic presidential nominee has not won in years. If Obama can sustain his momentum for six more days, he will be well positioned to win the presidency with a large mandate from voters," Scott Helman writes in The Boston Globe.

"As for Obama himself, he must maintain his steady, cool demeanor, which, ironically, was once viewed as a political liability. But now it has come to symbolize the candidate's sure hand in the middle of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression," Sridhar Pappu writes in the Washington Independent.

On the deal he's trying to close: "Barack Obama has pulled ahead in enough states to win the 270 electoral votes he needs to gain the White House -- and with states to spare -- according to an Associated Press analysis that shows he is now moving beyond typical Democratic territory to challenge John McCain on historically GOP turf, " the AP's Liz Sidoti writes.

"Even if McCain sweeps the six states that are too close to call, he still seemingly won't have enough votes to prevail, according to the analysis, which is based on polls, the candidates' TV spending patterns and interviews with Democratic and Republican strategists," Sidoti continues. "McCain does have a path to victory but it's a steep climb: He needs a sudden shift in voter sentiment that gives him all six toss-up states plus one or two others that now lean toward Obama."

George Will waves a flag for McCain: "From the invasion of Iraq to the selection of Sarah Palin, carelessness has characterized recent episodes of faux conservatism. Tuesday's probable repudiation of the Republican Party will punish characteristics displayed in the campaign's closing days."

David Broder joins him: "McCain was handed a terrible political environment by the outgoing Bush administration -- a legacy of war, debt and scandal that would have defeated any of the other aspirants for the nomination. But because McCain could not create a coherent philosophy or vision of his own, he allowed Obama and the Democrats to convince voters of a falsehood: that electing McCain would in effect reward Bush with a third term."

It's 52-44 in the latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking: "John McCain's crossed back over the 50 percent threshold as a "safe" choice for president, but he's failed to push Barack Obama below it -- and when risk is off the table, the race reverts to Obama's advantage on issues and empathy alike," ABC polling director Gary Langer writes.

New Time/CNN numbers in some battlegrounds:

Pennsylvania: Obama 55, McCain 43

Ohio: Obama 51, McCain 47

Nevada: Obama 52, McCain 45

North Carolina: Obama 52, McCain 46

Arizona: McCain 53, Obama 46

Giving the GOP hope: "After weeks of being out-advertised by Barack Obama, Republican presidential candidate John McCain and the Republican Party are nearly matching the Democratic nominee ad for ad in key battleground markets," per the AP's Jim Kuhnhenn. "Ad spending and ad placement data obtained from Democratic and Republican operatives show that in the closing days of the campaign the Republican voice has grown louder in states such as Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania."

Yet: "Those near-parity levels in crucial states come with a price. McCain has had to trim back his ads in Minnesota, Maine, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, giving Obama even greater edges there."

"Republican John McCain, bolstered by about $18 million in late spending by the Republican National Committee, will hold his own against Democrat Barack Obama on the airwaves in the closing days," Brian C. Mooney writes in The Boston Globe. "But over the course of the long campaign, the Obama operation will have spent more than $100 million more than McCain and the RNC on TV ads, according to data compiled for the Obama campaign and reviewed by the Globe."

Mooney continues: "In the final week, McCain and the RNC will outspend Obama's campaign in the battlegrounds of Ohio, Florida, and Missouri, the report shows. The RNC made its heaviest last-minute purchases of airtime in Florida ($4.2 million) and Ohio ($3.4 million), two Bush states in which Obama is even or slightly ahead in the polls."

On Wednesday, McCain was left on the sidelines: "John McCain blasted Barack Obama's 'gauzy, feel-good' 30-minute network ad Wednesday night as having been bought and paid for with 'broken promises,' affordable only because Obama did not accept public financing," The Hill's Sam Youngman writes.

"Frankly, what's disturbing about it is that [Obama] signed a piece of paper back when he was a longshot candidate," McCain told Larry King, per ABC's Tahman Bradley. "And he signed it, said I won't -- I will take public financing for the presidential campaign if John McCain will. I mean, it's a living document."

McCain's got a running mate who's feeding the living tension: "In an interview with ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas, the Republican vice-presidential nominee was asked about 2012, whether she was discouraged by the daily attacks on the campaign trail, and would instead pack it in and return to her home state of Alaska," per ABC's Russell Goldman.

Palin said she's still anticipating victory: "I'm just thinking that it's going to go our way on Tuesday. . . . I think that, if I were to give up and wave a white flag of surrender against some of the political shots that we've taken, that would bring this whole -- I'm not doing this for naught. We're going to progress. We're going to keep going forward."

Does that mean a Palin plan for 2012? "Sarah Palin makes plain that, should McCain fall short, she intends to stay involved in national politics in the years ahead," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes.

"The comments fueled speculation that has been building over the past week that Mrs. Palin has gone 'rogue' and is looking past the current election to her own political future," Jon Ward writes in the Washington Times.

Pushback from the campaign: "It's just, I think, beyond the pale. I think it's a time for us, as this campaign builds an occasionally acknowledged but real momentum toward a very fast-approaching deadline of Election Day, that this record get corrected. Get corrected very directly, and that some standards of fairness and accuracy be met," said senior adviser Tucker Eskew.

Her plans for 2012? "To help John McCain and his re-election," says Eskew.

Palin tells Vargas that she's not impugning Obama's patriotism: "[I'm] not calling him un-American. There is nothing wrong, though, with calling someone out on their record, their associations. . . . I am sure that Senator Obama cares as much for this country as McCain does. Now McCain has a strong, solid track record . . . "

Does she want any do-overs? "I can't think of anything."

(On the expensive wardrobe -- she says she never saw a final bill, and the clothes were essentially borrowed: "It was convenient, because we showed up for the convention with overnight bags, so it was convenient to have some tools there to borrow.")

On the situation on the plane -- everyone's happy as clams: "Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin tried to tamp down reports about internal dissent in the McCain campaign, telling the Wall Street Journal Tuesday: 'I laugh at 'em,' " per the Journal's Elizabeth Holmes.

"I have nothing but praise for those involved in this campaign," Palin said. "Until any reporter can give me a name of any legitimate source that is criticizing, I will never believe that even the complaints -- the criticism -- is coming from within the campaign."

(Ask Walt Monegan how well things turn out once she has a name.)

Did they make up? "Don't be surprised to see maligned McCain campaign adviser Nicolle Wallace rejoining GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin on her campaign plane very soon," per The Washington Post's Mary Ann Akers. "We're told Palin personally called Wallace last night to smooth things over and, more importantly, stop the campaign from totally imploding."

Obama's thinking about the future, too: He tells ABC's Charlie Gibson that he wants a bipartisan Cabinet, a second stimulus bill, and Democrats who "come in with some modesty and humility" in January.

Robert Gates, staying on at Defense? "I'm not going to get into details, but I can guarantee you that it is important for us, particularly when it comes to national security, to return to a tradition of nonpartisan national security," Obama tells Gibson.

And if he doesn't win? "I'm a relatively young man. You know, they say that there are no second acts in politics, but, you know, I think there are enough exceptions out there that I could envision returning to the Senate and just doing some terrific work with the next president and the next Congress."

McCain's making a late turn back to national security -- and a few professors are in his spotlight.

"Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., continued to criticize the radical professors with whom Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has associations," per ABC's Jake Tapper. "McCain attacked Obama for associating with both William Ayers and Rashid Khalidi on CNN's 'Larry King Live' tonight."

Said Palin, on the stump: "Among other things, Israel was described there as the perpetrator of terrorism rather than the victim. What we don't know is how Barack Obama responded to these slurs on a country that he professes to support. . . . If there's a Pulitzer Prize category for excellence in kowtowing, the LA Times wins."

The RNC gets right to the point with its closing argument ad: "Would you get on a plane with a pilot who has never flown? Would you trust your child with someone who has never cared for children? Would you go under with a surgeon who has never operated? Can you hand your nation to a man who has '. . . never been in charge of anything?' Can you wait while he learns?"

What keeps GOPers going? "Let's just say that McCain's campaign now relies on hope more than Obama's does," Slate's John Dickerson writes. "They hope that the Obama organization isn't as impressive as signs suggest it is. They hope that the greater enthusiasm apparent among Democrats turns out to be less than advertised on Election Day. They hope that the public polls that show a big Obama lead are poorly designed, overstating participation by young voters and African-Americans. They hope undecided voters will all break to McCain in the end."

"It would take what one analyst calls a 'perfect storm' of events breaking his way in the campaign's final days, but he could come from behind, overtake Barack Obama and pull off the greatest upset in 60 years," McClatchy's Steven Thomma writes.

"He'd have to squeeze out more support from independents, score higher with his "Joe the Plumber" warning about Obama's tax and economic polices, and hope that enough undecided voters swing his way to help him sweep almost all the states that now are considered tossups."

In the battlegrounds:

The St. Petersburg Times calls Florida McCain's "most precarious battleground state": "Saddled by reports of infighting and disagreement, the McCain campaign is trying to present a unified front in the last week," write Alex Leary, Janet Zink and Adam C. Smith.

The scene in Virginia: "Foreign journalists are flying in from Australia, Japan and Venezuela, intrigued by the paradox that the onetime capital of the Confederacy could be key to electing the first African American president. A tour group from Finland chose to spend its time hunting for Obama supporters at a Civil War reenactment," Faye Fiore writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Surely he doesn't think the job will be easy: The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman gets out in front of the coming clash in Congress:

"It's better to let things evolve than to revolve. Revolutions are dangerous," cautioned Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the House Majority Whip, who advises a pragmatic approach to governance that would begin with items that have proven bipartisan support before tackling ambitious elements such as universal health care.

"He's a national leader, Clyburn," House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel of New York snapped back, embodying the views of liberals who want to move fast on the most ambitious version of Obamanomics possible. "I'm thinking of his constituents, and he doesn't have the slightest clue what he's talking about."

Searching for the Obama blueprint? The AP's Chuck Babington found it: "In a 10th-floor office a few blocks from the White House is a self-described government in waiting, ready to push detailed proposals for the economy, Iraq and scores of other issues if Barack Obama becomes president."

"The Center for American Progress, formed five years ago by top aides to former President Clinton, could become Washington's most influential think tank overnight. It is about to publish a 50-chapter book on how to run a Democratic administration, and many Obama aides have perused its 26-page document describing what the last five presidents did on each day of his transition."

McCain makes things more difficult for Republicans: "With less than a week to go until Election Day, some congressional Republicans are complaining that John McCain isn't doing more to help them avoid massive losses. Others are just hoping that he stays the heck away," Patrick O'Connor and Martin Kay II write for Politico.

Obama makes things more difficult for Republicans: "Barack Obama is shaking up the South by greatly expanding the black vote and forcing Republicans to confront splits in the same white conservative base that has long fortified the GOP in Congress," Politico's David Rogers writes.

"Like several other Senate and House candidates in North Carolina, Ohio and Connecticut, [Georgia Sen. Saxby] Chambliss finds himself in a tight race even though only months ago he was considered a cinch for re-election," Carl Hulse writes in The New York Times. "A significant part of his problem is the surging participation by African-American voters, their ranks bolstered by the newly registered, a group expected to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats this year."

US News & World Report's Kenneth T. Walsh considers 42 and 43, on the eve of Halloween: "It seems fitting that, in the run-up to Halloween, two spectral presidents are haunting the campaign for the White House -- George W. Bush and Bill Clinton," Walsh writes.

With President Bush convening a meeting of world leaders, "It's like the captain of the Titanic holding a seminar on how to navigate the Atlantic shipping lanes," says Matthew Dowd, a former Bush strategist.

The Sked:

John McCain holds four rallies in Ohio -- first in Defiance at 10 am ET, then in Sandusky at 1:45 pm ET, next in Elyria at 3:10 pm ET, and finally in Mentor at 6 pm ET.

Barack Obama hopscotches to three rallies in three red states -- in Sarasota, Fla. at 11 am ET, Virginia Beach at 5:45 pm ET and last in Columbia, Mo. at 10:30 pm ET.

Sarah Palin begins her day in Cape Girardeau, Mo., at 10:30 am ET, then heads to Erie, Pa., at 4:15 pm ET and finishes in Williamsport, Pa., at 7 pm ET.

Joe Biden also has three rallies planned -- Arnold, Mo., at 11 am ET, Williamsport, Pa., at 4:30 pm ET, and Allentown, Pa., at 7:30 pm ET.

President Bush is in Quantico, Va. Thursday -- he will speak at an FBI Academy Graduation Ceremony at 10 am ET and then visit the Marine Helicopter Squadron One hanger at 11:40 am ET.

One more pre-election stop-by: "Longtime ESPN anchor Chris Berman stopped by the National Press Club on Wednesday, where he announced that it appears likely that he will get to interview both candidates during Monday night's live broadcast, which, of course, will take place just hours before voters head to the polls," per Roll Call's Emily Heil and Elizabeth Brotherton.

Also in the news:

The don't-vote campaign continues -- with more famous faces than we can name (even Borat wants you not to vote). "You're one tiny, itty-bitty person in this big country," says Leo. (But they turn serious in the end -- and they know their Florida numbers.)

Barbra targets women in a new radio spot: "We can be heard as never before."

Hollywood meets Washington: Jimmy Smits hit the stage for Obama Wednesday night with Obama and Clinton -- a fictional president, a former president, and a maybe-future president, and "a case of art meeting life imitating art imitating life," ABC's Jake Tapper blogs.

Joe the Plumber going Hollywood? "Move over, Sanjaya, and tell William Hung the news: Joe the Plumber is being pursued for a major record deal and could come out with a country album as early as Inauguration Day," Jeffrey Ressner reports for Politico.

Doesn't this happen to Hollywood types? "A state agency has revealed that its checks of computer systems for potential information on 'Joe the Plumber' were more extensive than it first acknowledged," Randy Ludlow reports for the Columbus Dispatch. "Helen Jones-Kelley, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, disclosed today that computer inquiries on Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher were not restricted to a child-support system. The agency also checked Wurzelbacher in its computer systems to determine whether he was receiving welfare assistance or owed unemployment compensation taxes, she wrote."

Still waiting on those Palin medical records -- the ones promised by early this week: "Governor Palin's campaign still has not released any information regarding her medical records despite frequent requests from the news media and the campaign's own assertion that they would release this information soon," per ABC's Kate Snow.

Another branch on the Obama family tree? "In a first-floor apartment of a brick public housing complex on a side street in South Boston lives a woman who city officials believe is Obama's aunt. Her name is Zeituni Onyango, as in the 'Auntie Zeituni' in one of his books, a polite and playful resident with an accent that recalls a more exotic place than where she is now," per The Boston Globe.

Todd Domke imagines a new refrain for Obama's inaugural: "No, we can't!"

Positioning for 2010: "Representative Steve Israel, who has spent the last two years working side by side with the Democratic House campaign arm in its effort to steal a handful of seats in New York, is quietly winning the attention of party leaders who in just several weeks time may find themselves scrambling to select a new chair for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Many party insiders expect Representative Chris Van Hollen step down as chair of the DCCC after the elections, though Van Hollen has not publicly announced a decision," Alex Isenstadt writes for PolitickerNY.

The Kicker:

"It's a problem. I've been going though therapy to make sure that I vote properly on the 4th." -- Barack Obama, to Jon Stewart, joking that his white half may get caught up in the "Bradley effect."

"Sounds like it." -- President Bush, asked in the Oval Office if "anybody" has been "measuring the drapes."

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