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Obama: Penn offers his two cents...

Here's something we haven't seen in a while: advice from Mark Penn: "So here is a radical suggestion: Rather than sparring on the Republican playing field to determine the rougher and tougher leader, Democrats should introduce more clearly substantive differences. How about this for a message — ending the war in Iraq now, making an Apollo-like investment in alternative energy and starting a revolution in health care to cover every American. I suggest making clear that this election is not about who is strong or weak, but about who is right or wrong. Maybe the key will be to emphasize that there will be real policy differences between a Democrat and a Republican in the White House next year and that those differences will — as they did in the past eight years — make all of the difference in the world to the country and the lives of its people."

The New York Times' David Brooks has allowed himself to get caught up in summer polls. Brooks argues Obama is struggling to put this race away because voters have yet to get a sense of who he is. "If you grew up in the 1950s, you were inclined to regard your identity as something you were born with. If you grew up in the 1970s, you were more likely to regard your identity as something you created. If Obama is fully a member of any club — and perhaps he isn't — it is the club of smart post-boomer meritocrats. We now have a cohort of rising leaders, Obama's age and younger, who climbed quickly through elite schools and now ascend from job to job. They are conscientious and idealistic while also being coldly clever and self-aware.  It's not clear what the rest of America makes of them."

The New York Daily News: "Bill Clinton refuses to say Barack Obama is 'ready' for White House."

Sounding a humble tone as he celebrated his 47th birthday last night, Obama recalled his disappointing loss in New Hampshire nearly seven months earlier and said that the disappointment and extended primary fight that followed was actually for the best, NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli notes. "This may sound like some Pollyannaish thinking," he told donors in a high rise building overlooking the Boston Harbor. "I said I thought it was a good thing because winning shouldn't be easy. Winning the presidency should not be easy… This had to be earned."
 
He admitted the campaign had a "giddy" feeling after winning Iowa, but that the reality check they faced in the Granite State was a needed one. "Cynicism is a natural response to what people have seen over the past 20, 30 years," he said. "There's no reason why they should buy into a lot of flowery language and nice speeches without lifting the hood and kicking the tires to see if this thing is for real. And so we worked harder, and we worked smarter … and we were able to emerge after an incredibly hard-fought battle as the presumptive nominee. And we're now in the process of bringing the party together so we come out of the convention entirely unified and ready to take on the last leg of this journey."
 
As reflective as Obama was, he also did not spare criticism of his rival. The Illinois senator said that McCain had "rendered extraordinary service" to the country, and deserved credit for showing some independence from his party in his 25 years in Washington. "And he's got I think an image, certainly among the press and in the country that is formidable," he added. "[But] we can't assume that just because we've endured eight years of some of the worst arrogance in our history -- [and] that [because] John McCain has embraced some of those policies -- that we will automatically win."
 
The campaign would not say how much tonight's event raised, but an invitation listed minimum contributions to the Obama/DNC Victory Fund as $1,000, with co-chairmen raising as much as $28,500. Obama also came away with a few gifts, including a Hawaiian-style Red Sox jersey, and a "Happy Birthday" rendition by Harry Connick Jr.
 
Sen. John Kerry, who introduced Obama, joked that what he really wanted for his birthday was "Indiana, Colorado and Virginia." But instead, Kerry offered even harsher criticism of McCain. "The other thing is that John McCain has showed a willingness to shift on almost every issue," he said. "John McCain said America wanted a different kind of campaign; wanted a campaign of big ideas, not insults; wanted a campaign that took us to a different place. Here we are, with a campaign as we've seen in the last weeks, that has taken the lowest road possible according to every major judgment."

The Boston Globe says the fundraiser raked in $5 million.