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First thoughts: Hillary delivers

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
DENVER, Colo. -- With a backdrop of PUMAs on the prowl here, Clinton donors upset they're not staying at the Ritz-Carlton (as the New York Times wrote), and word that Bill Clinton won't attend Obama's speech tomorrow night, Hillary Clinton last night delivered on two fronts: 1) she gave a full-throated endorsement of Obama, and 2) she made it clear to her troops that voting for McCain was unacceptable. "No way. No how. No McCain," she said. As some Hillary watchers told us, it was her finest speech. It was an impressive balance of anti-McCain sound bites and the case for the Democratic way of governing. She really did strike a Goldilocks balance of preserving her own political future and being for Obama. Yet even better than her speech were the pictures on TV. For all the tension and hard feelings that exist here in Denver, you couldn't tell when you watched her speech. It looked like a unified party. To be sure, last night's speech won't end some of the tension and hard feelings. But both ObamaNation and Hillaryland got what they wanted out of last night's speech. (PUMAs, for those that don't know, are the "Party Unity My A--" crowd -- ardent Hillary backers, refusing to vote for Obama.)

VIDEO: Clinton urges her supporters to back Obama. NBC's David Gregory Reports.

*** When your staff doesn't do you any favors: All that said, who in Hillaryland thought it was a good idea to step on the best speech of her political career by giving blind quotes about a future presidential campaign? She got tremendous accolades from Team Obama, but some Clinton staffer had to spill beans about the speech's motivation to the New York Times. "Mrs. Clinton is almost certain to run for president in 2012 if Mr. Obama fails this time, several Clinton advisers said Tuesday, and any such plan could possibly founder if the Clintons' negative feelings show through this year." It's actually a good example of how no good deed goes unpunished by her staff, and it's another reminder of how undisciplined her campaign would be right now had she won the Dem nomination. It's no wonder there's so little trust between the candidates when staff  -- particularly hers, in this case -- undermines her unity efforts.

VIDEO: NBC's Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd weign in on Clinton's DNC speech and her husband's upcoming speech.

*** Just askin': Did anyone else notice those "Hillary" signs that had the "hillaryclinton.com" address at the bottom? Always be debt retiring! Indeed, immediately after her speech, her folks sent out an email to contribute money.

*** The gloves come off: After last night's round of speeches, we don't think anyone is now going to wonder whether the Democratic convention is going too soft on McCain. In speech after speech, Democrats unloaded on the Arizona senator. They brought up his multiple houses, pointed out that he has said he doesn't understand the economy, and (of course) tied him to President Bush at every opportunity. Beyond those attacks, though, they hit him hard in two ways that could end up proving especially damaging -- because McCain's campaign doesn't seem to have a clear response to them. The first was Mark Warner's future-vs.-the past hit. "The race for the future is on," he said, "And it won't be won with a president who is stuck in the past." The McCain camp issued this tepid response to defend a candidate who admits he's not a big computer user: "Whether it's been rooting out corruption in politics, fighting global climate change or calling for a new strategy in Iraq John McCain has a record of making bipartisan change, and Barack Obama does not." The second hard hit came with this line by Hillary: "[McCain] still thinks it's okay when women don't earn equal pay for equal work." How does a candidate losing women by double digits respond? We'll find out next week…

*** Schweitzer's stem-winders: By the way, last night's keynote was supposed to be Mark Warner, but the governor with unlimited ambition who lit up the hall was Montana's Brian Schweitzer. Who knew he could give the rah-rah stem-winder? While he didn't get much attention from the networks, he was on in the 10:00 pm hour, and he got the crowd so worked up, the anchors had to take notice. One of the few surprises so far…

*** Biden's big moment: Now we turn to tonight's program… Before last Thursday, it appeared Joe Biden would never get a moment like this. He wanted it, ran for president twice to get it, but it seemed the dream was going to die. And then, Obama gave Biden political redemption. The Delaware senator has been preparing for this moment for half his life. He's been a senator for more than half his life. As he likes to point out, he was the Obama of the '88 campaign. Biden may have the unenviable task of having to follow Bill Clinton tonight, but if anyone is up to the task, it's him. Ask any union member about Biden's ability to bring down a house. He's got it in him; let's see if he can pull it off.

*** Elvis is in the building: We swear that tonight's featured speech is Joe Biden, seriously, it is. But it's not the speech that's getting the early buzz -- that belongs to the anticipated remarks of Bill Clinton. What will he say? How will he say it? Will he make an Obama pitch or a generic argument for the Democratic way of governing? Our sense: Bill's a competitive guy, he wants to show Obama why he'd be an asset and why he might be better suited at making the case against McCain.  The one thing that would surprise us: If someone ends up describing the speech as unremarkable.

VIDEO: Romney appears on Morning Joe, handicapping Biden as a VP contender.

*** No rest for the weary: Politico reports that McCain's pick is coming Friday, and the CW is back pointing in Romney's direction, who happens to be in Denver. He was pretty solid today on Morning Joe, talking up the need for McCain to carry Michigan. He sounded like a guy ready for the call.

*** A good day for the DSCC, a bad day (maybe) for the DCCC: Alaska held its primaries last night, offering the possibility that the state's longest-serving Republicans -- Ted Stevens and Don Young, both whom face legal/ethical troubles -- could go down to defeat. Well, it turns out that one may. Per the Anchorage Daily News, Young trails GOP challenger Sean Parnell by fewer than 200 votes. A Parnell win would complicate the Democrats' chances of winning the seat. Somewhat surprisingly, however, Stevens -- who is indicted and faces a trial on corruption charges in the fall -- easily won his primary. And that's good news for Democratic challenger Mark Begich, who now seems even more in the driver's seat in that contest. [***UPDATE*** Young is actually now ahead by 145 votes with 429 of 438 precincts reporting. Democrats are gearing up either way, believing that Parnell's inability to pull away from a candidate under investigation by the FBI, signifies, one strategist said, "the more Alaskans saw of Parnell, the less they liked him."]

*** Today's convention schedule: Wednesday's theme is Securing America's Future (a focus on foreign affairs, as well as a tribute to veterans, active duty military, and military families). The marquee speakers are Bill Clinton and Joe Biden. Also speaking: Sen. Evan Bayh, Sen. Jack Reed, former Sen. Tom Daschle, Sen. John Kerry, Gov. Bill Richardson, Rep. Chet Edwards, and ex-congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth. Also, the formal roll-call vote takes place in the afternoon.

*** The RNC's response: Rudy Giuliani, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, and former Treasury Secretary Rosario Marin hold a press conference in Denver to rebut the Democrats on the issue of national security.

*** Also in Denver: Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer and Dem Senate candidates hold a press conference at 1:15 pm ET at the Colorado Convention Center to discuss the upcoming Senate races, 1:15 pm ET... Officials with the Western Majority Project discuss energy issues at 4:30 pm ET at the Colorado Convention Center.

*** On the trail: McCain is in Arizona, where he does some filming for his campaign. Obama holds a discussion with military families in Billings, MT.

Countdown to GOP convention: 5 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 69 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 146 days

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