Forget what politicians are saying for a moment, and listen to what's just behind their messages. Former governor Mitt Romney is running ads on immigration to say that he's not Sen. John McCain (and who would want to be?). Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani's healthcare plan is designed to tell us that he's not Romney (as if their hairlines didn't give it away). Democrats are passing a lobbying reform bill this week reminding us that they're not Republicans (and definitely have nothing to do with Sen. Ted Stevens). Vice President Dick Cheney is making the media rounds, mostly so we know, well, that he's not mute.
Now comes Sen. Barack Obama with a bolder stroke -- a speech on terrorism that seeks to redefine his foreign-policy vision. His 10 am ET speech in Washington goes well beyond endorsing a withdrawal from Iraq by calling for deploying more troops into Afghanistan and Pakistan -- even if the Pakistani government objects, ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "Let me make this clear: There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again," Obama, D-Ill., plans to say, per excerpts provided to ABC. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will."
Obama's endorsement of a more muscular foreign policy -- more aggressive even than that of the Bush administration, at least when it comes to Pakistan -- is an attempt to shake up a remarkably static Democratic field. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's advantage is built on perceptions that Clinton is more experienced and tougher on foreign policy -- perceptions she strengthened in her spat with Obama last week over meeting with leaders of rogue nations. The speech "seems an attempt by Obama to ramp up his campaign to the next phase, where [he] hopes to seem not only a youthful idealist, but a president who would pursue a muscular foreign policy and protect the U.S. from terrorist attack," Tapper reports.
The speech comes as a new national poll shows Clinton padding her lead, now with a 21-point edge over Obama. "The Clinton campaign's effort to underscore her experience in government is paying off, according to the survey," Jackie Calmes writes in (Rupert Murdoch's) The Wall Street Journal. "Respondents ranked 'her experience and competence' at the top of six traits they were asked about, with 53% holding positive views and 22% negative."
Obama is up on the air in Iowa on another issue that seeks to shape perceptions of him (and draw contrasts with his chief rivals). The ads -- and new signs he's hanging in his Iowa field offices -- point out that he is refusing to accept money from federal lobbyists and political action committees. It's "a fresh -- and subtle -- front in his ongoing battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton," per ABC News. "Though the ad does not mention Clinton, D-N.Y., by name, it is clearly meant to draw a contrast between the two Democratic front-runners."
On the Republican side, it's the national front-runner -- not the No. 2 -- who is trying to answer lingering questions on the issues. Giuliani's healthcare plan is a conservative's dream -- tax breaks, no government expansion, and (unlike Romney) no requirements that individuals obtain health coverage. The Democrats, Giuliani said, are calling for a "socialist" solution to health care, and his proposals "set the stage for a contentious battle with the Democratic candidates over health care, a defining domestic issue this campaign season," The New York Times' Marc Santora reports.
Newsday's Craig Gordon sees Giuliani, R-N.Y., avoiding the thorny issue of reaching the uninsured in his attempt to stay true to conservative principles. "In Giuliani's words, that's up to the marketplace, not a government 'nanny state,' " Gordon writes. "But health-care policy experts yesterday were skeptical of Giuliani's claims, saying it will be hard to entice people to leave employer-based programs and also difficult to push marketplace prices down so much that the uninsured can jump in."
Think the plan's not aimed (at least in part) at Romney? ABC's Teddy Davis notes that one of Giuliani's heath-care advisers, Sally Pipes, is "a sharp critic of the state-level mandates and regulations backed by Romney." "Massachusetts Will Fail," blared the headline of the 2006 USA Today op-ed written by Pipes. A year later, she accused Romney of being "in cahoots" with liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
It's $3.4 million for former senator Fred Thompson in his first month as an undeclared candidate. Thompson's calling it "inspiring." (Really? Imagine if he had actually met his own campaign's goals for June. . . .) At least he's not overspending: His non-campaign spent "less than $1 out of every $5 raised," USA Today's Fredreka Schouten reports. "The total misses the $5 million goal Thompson's supporters set for June and lags far behind the money collected by leading GOP rivals," Schouten writes. The campaign points out that most of the money came via only two fundraisers -- but whose fault is it that he didn't hold more?
Joe Trippi alert -- Adam Nagourney of The New York Times looks at how former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is using the Internet to reach around traditional media outlets and connect with the party's Web-savvy liberal base. "After running a decidedly traditional race for the White House in 2004 and in the early stages of this contest, Mr. Edwards has quietly overhauled his campaign with one central goal: to harness the Internet and the political energy that liberal Democrats are sending coursing through it," Nagourney writes. "In a slow but striking power shift, advisers who champion the political power of the Web have eclipsed the coterie of advisers who long dominated Mr. Edwards's inner circle, both reflecting and intensifying his transformation into a more populist, aggressive candidate."
A religion controversy is percolating in the GOP race for president -- and it has nothing to do with Romney, R-Mass. A volunteer supporter of former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., is circulating a letter asking his fellow evangelicals to support Huckabee over Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., ABC's Tapper reports. Huckabee "is one of us," writes Pastor Tim Rude of Windsor Heights, Iowa. "I know Senator Brownback converted to Roman Catholicism in 2002. Frankly, as a recovering Catholic myself, that is all I need to know about his discernment when compared to the Governor's." Watch for Brownback to milk this for all it's worth -- and then some.
You know what they say about Cheney: Never get between him and a camera -- he might shoot you. The veep was Larry King's guest on CNN last night and he conceded -- gasp! -- that he was "wrong" when he said in May 2005 that the insurgency in Iraq was in its "last throes." But don't worry, he's still right on Iraq, and Alberto Gonzales is still the right man to be attorney general, and a top Pentagon aide was right to tell Clinton that asking for troop withdrawal plans helped "enemy propaganda." "I agreed with the letter Eric Edelman wrote," Cheney said, per ABC's Jennifer Duck. Clinton press secretary Philippe Reines (gladly) counters: "It seems the right hand doesn't know what the far-right hand is doing."
This should be fun: Former Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld is a late add to today's House hearing on the Pat Tillman case, joining retired generals Myers and Abizaid -- and ensuring that the hearing "could turn into quite a spectacle," ABC's Kirit Radia reports.
Things are getting thornier for Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska., and that could make things touchy for all manner of Republicans. "The FBI is investigating whether [he] used a $1.6 million congressional appropriation to help an Alaska marine center purchase property from a business partner of the senator's son," The Washington Post's Paul Kane and Dan Eggen report. "That investigation comes amid a widening federal grand-jury probe into Stevens's connections to an energy services company."
Looking for the first piece of fallout from that scandal? The lobbying reform bill was going to pass the House anyway, but after six months of wrangling, does 411-8 send any sort of message? (That's right, eight "no" votes.) "The measure is designed to fulfill a campaign promise by Democrats to end what they called a 'culture of corruption' in Washington," per Bloomberg's Kristin Jensen.
We understand that President Bush wants to flash some fiscal conservatism, but is he really picking a fight over health insurance for poor children? "He's portraying it as the first step on a slippery slope toward 'government-run healthcare,' as if senior senators in both parties were conspiring with Michael Moore to import Cuban doctors to inoculate and indoctrinate American children," writes Los Angeles Times columnist Ron Brownstein. "Bush, seemingly determined to provoke every possible confrontation with congressional Democrats, has pledged to veto the bills. And with the GOP congressional leadership, he is fighting the proposals with a swarm of misleading and hypocritical arguments."
Chief Justice John Roberts is out of the hospital in Maine and in good health -- but now come the tough choices. "He and his doctors will have to decide whether he should take medication to prevent further seizures," Denise Grady and Lawrence K. Altman write in The New York Times. "Patients are advised to avoid heights and not to swim alone." Good thing he's part of that 5-4 majority.
Here's a way to set yourself apart in the Democratic field: Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., is going on Bill O'Reilly's show tonight to defend -- YearlyKos? "The move is significant because it will make Dodd the first Presidential candidate to personally appear on a leading right-wing show for the explicit purpose of defending the liberal blogosphere," writes Greg Sargent of TPM Cafe. "It's got to be seen as a sign of the times."
"Answer cloudy -- try again." -- Donna Sytek, a Romney New Hampshire campaign co-chair, on whether Romney is likely to win the general election next year.
"Horses in the gate are restless creatures. They've been stammerin' and snortin' and I don't want them spittin'." -- Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., explaining (we think) that it's fast-approaching time for Fred Thompson to make a definitive announcement.
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