The Note: Second Acts

It's early in the campaign cycle for second acts, but that's the chore at hand for more presidential candidates than care to admit it -- and we're not even talking about the New Yorkers who will try to look like pros at the food-on-a-stick game today at the national political parade that is the Iowa State Fair.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has a new book out that he hopes will resuscitate his campaign (it's worked so well for Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., so why not?). Former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., needs to prove he's a rocker who has more than the one hit Ames in him (but he hasn't produced much music since Saturday).

Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., is refashioning himself as an immigration hard-liner (having given up on pleasing the GOP base on abortion), while buffing his tough-guy image on foreign policy. Elizabeth Edwards is reshaping her husband's campaign (itself a remade version of his 2004 run) by blasting away at his opponents. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is pitching herself as champion of the "invisible" masses (and getting just the push-back she wanted from the Bush White House -- how often does a White House press statement end up plastered across Clinton's Web site?).

And now Sen. Barack Obama, who has defined his campaign on his freshness, is trying to reestablish his campaign rationale. He restates (and slightly recasts) his campaign argument in a fascinating interview in The Washington Post today, saying that he -- and not Clinton -- has the ability to bring the nation out of "ideological gridlock." "I believe I can bring the country together in a way she cannot do," Obama, D-Ill., tells the Post's Dan Balz. "If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be running." He added that one of his top goals will be to emphasize his experience and judgment in the coming months, and he had this to say about his debate performances (sounding like a job candidate asked to identify his biggest weakness): "Some candidates have mastered that art more than I have."

So far, only the Republican National Committee is taking issue with Obama's statement that US forces need to be do doing more than "just air-raiding villages and killing civilians" in Afghanistan. But even if Obama's right on the policy -- and the fact that no Democrats are taking him on over his latest comments suggest that at least they think he is -- this is at least the third time in recent weeks that his locution on foreign policy is drawing shrugs.

The Clinton camp felt no need to attack yesterday -- the campaign was getting more mileage than it could have possible imagined out of its initial ad. They can thank White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, who went against her better judgment to label as "outrageous" Clinton's claim that most Americans are "invisible" to President Bush. The comments were on Clinton's Web site within minutes -- nothing like an attack from the right to get them juiced going into Sunday's Iowa debate on ABC. "Not only have I said it, I'm saying it now and I will keep saying it because I happen to believe it," Clinton said in Iowa, per Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register.

Giuliani (who will practically cross paths with Clinton today at the state fair in Des Moines) is pushing back hard at former governor Mitt Romney's claim that his policies made New York a "sanctuary city" for illegal immigrants. ABC's Jake Tapper and Jan Simmonds report that the former mayor yesterday unveiled an aggressive new policy to construct a new border fence, deport undocumented immigrants who commit felonies, and require all non-citizens to carry tamper-proof ID cards.

And the former mayor's campaign -- brushing aside the long list of inconvenient statements on illegal immigration from the candidate himself -- is criticizing Romney, R-Mass., for allowing three cities in Massachusetts to declare themselves to be "sanctuary cities" while he was governor. "If there were 'statutes' or 'formulas' standing in Romney's way, then why didn't he take action to change them?" asked Jim Dyke, a senior Giuliani campaign strategist, per Tapper and Simmonds.

Giuliani is also fleshing out his foreign-policy vision with a piece in the new issue of Foreign Affairs where he is "characteristically blunt" on how he'd handle Iran, The New York Times' Katharine Q. Seelye reports. Giuliani says that he would be open to negotiating with Iran "but would not rule out destroying its nuclear facilities as a last resort," Seelye writes. In Giuliani's words, "The theocrats ruling Iran need to understand that we can wield the stick as well as the carrot, by undermining popular support for their regime, damaging the Iranian economy, weakening Iran's military, and, should all else fail, destroying its nuclear infrastructure."

The article is being published as the diplomatic stand-off with Iran ratchets up a notch. The president is set to sign an executive order declaring Iran's 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard Corps to be a "specially designated global terrorist," making it "the first national military branch included on the list," The Washington Post's Robin Wright reports. "The move reflects escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran over issues including Iraq and Iran's nuclear ambitions."

Time to start the good-byes for Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. ABC's Tapper reports that the retirement announcement of the longest-serving Republican House speaker in US history will come Friday in his hometown of Yorkville, Ill.

The Wall Street Journal's David Rogers reports that Hastert has one more big project he wants to finish, and that he could resign his seat as soon as it's done: "enacting climate change, energy legislation with the woman who took the gavel from him, Nancy Pelosi." "It is a remarkable convergence of interests, and given the splits among Democrats over energy policy, the Illinois Republican could be a spoiler for Ms. Pelosi or an invaluable asset with access to the White House and an understanding of the difficulties of her office, having been there himself," Rogers writes.

Speaking of departures, Karl Rove isn't going quietly -- and isn't sounding chastened by the mid-term losses or the president's low approval ratings. In an interview with Politico's Mike Allen, Rove says that Democrats "misread the results" of last fall's election and are "just unbelievably out of touch." (Really? Who's he talking about again?) The president, he said, is poised to remain effective over his final 17 months. "Once again, people are 'misunderestimating' him," he said. And he still believes the GOP is well-positioned for long-term gains: "It's more likely to be achieved in a series of incremental gains that prove to be durable. Notice I didn't say 'permanent.' " Neither will we.

In any event, the White House shouldn't worry -- Rove wasn't that big a deal -- really, he wasn't. That's the "unusual game of double spin" being played by the Bush administration, the Los Angeles Times' Peter Wallsten reports. "While President Bush bear-hugged Rove and showered him with praise in a South Lawn ceremony, officials like [Ed] Gillespie quietly began to whittle down Rove's image as the man who played a key role in almost every major decision of the Bush era," Wallsten writes. And who knew about one of Rove's most memorable contributions -- obviously stealing a page from the Harding administration: "ice-cream Fridays."

In assessing the Rove legacy, The Washington Post's Peter Baker makes the argument that Senator Clinton is the candidate "who seems to be adopting [Rove's] style and methods the most so far." Citing the Mark Halperin/John Harris theory, "the Clintons shared some of the same understandings of how politics work," Baker writes. "So, would a Clinton victory next year be a repudiation of Karl Rove politics or the perpetuation of them?"

Also in the news:

Obama is up with a Spanish-language radio ad in Nevada, and it's the second radio spot targeting minorities that emphasizes the fact that he's Christian, Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. A Spanish-speaking narrator says, "Let us tell you, Barack Obama is a Christian man committed to our community, his wife and his daughters." Per Sweet, "Why the emphasis on Obama's Christianity? Is there a worry that in some precincts there is confusion about his faith because of the Islamic heritage of his father and stepfather?"

Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson criticizes Obama for his caution on drug sentencing, after he told the National Association of Black Journalists last week the he'd appoint a commission before deciding how to reform drug laws that, Jackson writes, have "come to symbolize racial injustice in criminal justice." "It is unclear if Barack Obama's caution precedes consensus or cave-in," Jackson writes. "Without a stronger voice . . . he becomes part of the problem of continually passing criminal laws based on anecdote."

Bloomberg's Hans Nichols has details of Clinton's efforts to woo Hispanic voters, while her campaign is "bracing for a possible swing of black voters toward her chief rival" -- Obama. "The scramble for Hispanic votes has even reached Iowa, where Latinos make up roughly 4 percent of the electorate," Nichols writes. Says Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, who is of Mexican descent: "I'm taking this one personally."

A new national poll has both good news and bad news for Clinton's argument about electability. The Quinnipiac University poll finds Clinton leading Giuliani in a head-to-head match-up for the first time, but Clinton has the highest unfavorable rating of any candidate -- 43 percent. "The 'Hillary hostility' factor is constant and feeds doubts about whether she can win in November 2008," says Maurice Carroll, director of the polling institute.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., is running where there's room in the GOP field -- criticizing the president on foreign policy. "We've got to walk more humbly and a lot more wisely than the current president," Brownback said yesterday, the AP's Philip Elliott reports. Turning his attention to Huckabee and Romney -- both former governors, like Bush -- he said, "I really believe this next president needs to go in with knowledge on foreign policy and not learn it on the job. . . . The problem is most governors don't have foreign policy experience."

McCain is also putting some room between himself and Bush on foreign policy. "His straight talk now equates to tough talk, some of it distancing himself from Bush's policies," writes Reuters' Steve Holland. Said McCain, "When I look into [Vladamir] Putin's eyes, I see three letters: a 'K,' and a 'G; and a 'B.' "

As for one governor who does have foreign-policy experience, Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., is out with a pair of new ads in Iowa. One is serious, touting his record growing New Mexico's economy, the other less so, continuing the popular "job interview" series with the same message about his time as governor.

The non-campaign of former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., gets another close-up in today's New York Times, with Susan Saulny looking at how Thompson is using the Internet to skirt campaign-finance laws. "Mr. Thompson, a Republican, has been able to set up what looks like a stealth campaign on the Internet because federal election laws and enforcement have failed to catch up with the surge in campaigning in cyberspace," Saulny said. "As a result, he has been able to promote his positions and raise money through his Web site, all while technically remaining a noncandidate."

With Thompson preparing for an announcement on or around Labor Day, expect the oppo-research pace to pick up. Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel has details of Thompson's "first and longest-running lobbying client": a $1.7 billion "government-funded boondoggle" -- an experimental nuclear reactor in his home state that was ultimately spiked "with only a giant hole in the ground to show for it." "It's a part of his past that runs counter to the fiscally conservative outsider image he's seeking to cast as he positions himself for an all-but-certain bid for the Republican presidential nomination," Vogel writes.

The kicker:

"We never jammed [through bills]. . . . Well, we never jammed in the sense that nobody knew what was in the bill." -- Hastert, already remembering his tenure as speaker with excessiveness fondness.

"Send an ambulance for me." -- McCain, joking in the wilting heat (index: 105) of the Iowa State Fair.


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