Sen. John McCain is trying to fight his way out of his campaign funk. But what better measure of the ever-shifting dynamics of the GOP presidential campaign than this: McCain, the once-presumed shoo-in, launched an unprovoked attack on Mitt Romney yesterday, and the Romney campaign brushed it off as "sad," "unfortunate," and "borne of desperation."
This is a chance to see McCain, R-Ariz., at his best -- shooting from the hip, unfurling classic zingers -- or his worst -- blowing his top, shrill, flailing. Notice that the inaugural (and there will be more) "Mitt vs. Fact" attack focused on abortion: The McCain camp is convinced (rightly) that their candidate benefits whenever the campaign focuses on abortion, and Romney speaks to the National Right to Life Convention tomorrow. McCain is going after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., at the same time, vowing to fight her special projects in the defense bill.
But McCain is hardly attacking from a position of strength -- which is why the Romney and Clinton camps can pretend not to care. The new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll has Romney, R-Mass., tied with McCain nationally, in third place. McCain is targeting Romney, who is also surging in key state polls (so maybe somebody needed to rough him up). But he's not touching the national front-runner, Rudolph Giuliani, or the man who could pose the greatest threat to all of their candidacies, Fred Thompson.
The context is all-important here: Would McCain need to be on the attack if his fund-raising was humming along, and his advisers weren't afraid of him fading? "Another sign of McCain's extraordinary descent so far in this race is that he has been reduced to frontally attacking Romney in June!" National Review's Rich Lowry writes.
Attacks lose their bite when they look desperate. Huffington Post's Tom Edsall sees it as "a last-ditch bid to revive a candidate whose poll numbers and financial resources are dwindling." He reminds readers that McCain can trace his downfall in 2000 to his decision to attack Gov. George W. Bush: "McCain lost the high ground in South Carolina. Then he lost the primary."
ABC's Jake Tapper finds the substance of McCain's attack slightly odd, since the video clip circulated by the McCain camp highlights a day where Romney "was certainly acting like an anti-abortion governor." Yet Romney rarely looks good when his shifting abortion positions come into focus, and another pro-life Romney critic, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., will also be at the Right to Life Convention in Kansas City.
The GOPers will have a chance to settle their differences in person Aug. 5 in Iowa, at ABC News' Republican presidential debate. Giuliani and Romney announced yesterday that they're in, and surely McCain can't be the only first-tier candidate to stay away and still say he's serious about competing in Iowa. . . .
On the Democratic side, the biggest news of the day came in the complicated tale of Sen. Barack Obama's ties to an indicted real-estate developer . . . wait, who are we kidding? Like any of this matters when the candidate's a heartthrob! "I've Got a Crush on Obama" is the campaign's latest Youtube hit, and we dare you to try to get the song out of your head. Tapper has the back story: "As much as the news may break the hearts of thousands of Democratic men, Obamagirl, in reality, is not the pulchritudinous callipygian who riffs on policy with Akon-esque beats."
Where were we? Oh yeah, Tony Rezko. The New York Times' Christopher Drew and Mike Mcintire go deep and cast Rezko as "a collector of politicians," with Obama, D-Ill., among the pictures on his wall. "There is no sign that Mr. Obama, who declined to be interviewed for this article, did anything improper," they write. "But interviews with more than a dozen political and business associates suggest that the two men were closer than the senator has indicated."
Memo to Clinton camp: We get the message -- you want us to think that Obama will raise more money than you this quarter, just like the Bush campaign wanted us to believe that John Kerry was the best debater since Cicero. "He's raising a lot and it's likely he will out-raise us this quarter. God bless, good for him," Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle tells the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman.
The new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., "profiting at Mr. McCain's expense," and McCain gets "comparatively low marks for being an 'inspirational and exciting' candidate, and for sharing the party's positions on the issues," per John Harwood's Journal write-up. It also suggests a tough fall for whoever wins the Republican nomination: "By 52% to 31%, Americans say they want Democrats to win the presidency next year."
Hope the White House didn't think surviving a no-confidence vote would quiet the furor over the US attorneys mess. Now the subpoenas are flying, and Congress' attempt to force testimony from Harriet Miers and Sara Taylor could end up in a "constitutional showdown," Dan Eggen and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post. With Congress' approval ratings plummeting, though, when do Democrats reach the point of diminishing returns in exploiting this scandal?
Clinton nabs the coveted Spielberg endorsement, but USA Today has another interesting slice on the battle for black voters today. Obama "is surpassing rival Hillary Rodham Clinton in campaign contributions from areas with blacks of above-average income," in another indication of the socio-economic split in the Democratic primary, Fredreka Schouten and Paul Overberg write.
The Obama campaign's top lawyer yesterday called for "Scooter" Libby to be pardoned, but Bob Bauer makes clear he's not speaking on behalf of the presidential candidate. Still, "Bauer's post is already sparking fury and raising more than a few questions in the blogosphere," The Hill's Sam Youngman reports.
Thompson has a new abortion questionnaire (circa 1996) to explain away when he becomes a candidate. In this one, obtained by the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, Thompson was asked to summarize his "personal philosophy" on abortion and made no mention of Roe v. Wade while answering thusly: "the federal government should not interfere with individual convictions and actions in this area."
And how many "major" campaign announcements can Tommy Thompson possibly have left? The former governor, R-Wisc., held a conference call with reporters to announce the "news" that he's going to participate in the Ames straw poll, just as he has always indicated he would. "Most of you have tuned in wondering whether I was dropping out of the race," Thompson said, ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports. Either that or they thought you were Fred.
"Some mystical alchemy provides that the worse he does, the better his chances become of remaining in office," Slate's Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and Dahlia Lithwick, retiring their "Gonzo-Meter" with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales still in office.
"Campaigns should also remind their candidate that they should assume there is a camera on them at all times and act accordingly. It is also recommended that campaigns film their opponents' public events as well," National Republican Senatorial Committee guidebook for campaigns, learning a "Macaca" lesson.