The Note: In Sickness and in Health

This is one way to avoid those new baggage surcharges.

Sen. John McCain's rough run continues -- the unending stream of lobbyists now joined by a new pastor and an old pastor in being shown the door. (One day, two rejected endorsements -- there's a sign of cardiovascular strength.)

Whose health should give us more concern -- McCain's, or the McCain campaign's?

Much more on the former Friday -- with the release of his long-delayed medical records. (Three hours for 400 pages -- read fast -- and the AP got a preview to set the day's agenda.)

As for the campaign -- Team McCain unloads the laundry in a week where the main story has still been the Democrats. But all that time to rest and rejuvenate while the Democrats spar has resulted in what, exactly?

McCain, R-Ariz., may be a young and vibrant 71, but his campaign (in the midst of its roughest week since wrapping up the nomination) suddenly seems tired before its time.

"Republicans are increasingly concerned that he could wind up badly outgunned, saddled with serious deficiencies in money, organization and partisan intensity against the likely Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama," Jonathan Martin and Mike Allen report for Politico.

"After making a promising debut as their nominee, McCain has worried many Republicans by seeming to flounder during the past few weeks," they write. "Some see the McCain campaign as a pale imitation of the well-financed Bush campaigns, both models of precision and ruthless efficiency."

The AP's Philip Elliott: "Republican John McCain has been slow to take advantage of his potential head start for the presidency against Democrats, who are better organized and generate more excitement among voters."

It was the Nazi comments that put McCain over the edge with the Rev. John Hagee, after months of controversy over the endorsement: "crazy and unacceptable," he called Hagee's words, in rejecting his endorsement perhaps minutes before Hagee withdrew it.

"A source close to McCain told ABC News the Arizona senator thinks these sentiments [about Hitler doing God's will] are crazy, and that back in February when the campaign accepted Hagee's endorsement, no one on the campaign, and certainly not McCain, had any idea that Hagee believed these types of things," ABC's Jake Tapper reports.

The Rev. Rod Parsley joined Hagee overboard -- and it only took hours, not months, for McCain to toss him there.

"I believe there is no place for that kind of dialogue in America, and I believe that even though he endorsed me, and I didn't endorse him, the fact is that I repudiate such talk, and I reject his endorsement," McCain said in a statement Thursday, per ABC's Bret Hovell.

Just hours earlier, ABC's Brian Ross reported on "Good Morning America" that Parsley had called Islam "the mouthpiece of a conspiracy of spiritual evil," and said Islam is an "anti-Christ religion that intends through violence to conquer the world."

It all serves to obscure McCain's message: "At the start of his Northern California fundraising and campaign trip, the dominant news of the day was not on McCain's official agenda," per the San Francisco Chronicle's Carla Marinucci and John Wildermuth.

"McCain's visit underscored how the senator's presidential campaign has been challenged on multiple fronts by potentially damaging news. Those stories included the planned and limited release of his health records to a handful of media outlets today -- raising questions about his medical history -- along with a new focus on his ties to lobbyists."

What makes the Hagee/Parsley issues particularly troublesome for McCain is the damage it does to the his brand; how easy is it to point out that this would not have happened to McCain 2000?

"Mr. McCain has been courting Christian conservatives after attacking them eight years ago as 'agents of intolerance,' " Neela Banerjee and Michael Luo write in The New York Times. "The latest Hagee remarks to surface may strike at the heart of Mr. McCain's efforts to reach a critical group of voters, Jews, some of whom have viewed Mr. Obama with suspicion."

"In the end, it was just too much," David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network writes. (And what took so long?)

It could have a lasting impact: "John McCain's rejection of John Hagee's endorsement today is the starkest example yet of McCain's ham handed approach to dealing with the Christian Right and with handling religious matters generally," Beliefnet's Dan Gilgoff writes. "It's a striking contrast to era of George W. Bush."

Gilgoff continues: "Having been newly chastened by the Hagee ordeal, McCain may be loath to reach out to other Religious Right figures. Come November, that cold shoulder could have McCain in more political hot water than controversial endorsements from evangelical leaders."

Is it possible we're still not done with the lobbyists angle? "For a decade, Randy Scheunemann has been a campaign staffer to John McCain, an ideological ally in the fight to contain Russian power -- and a lobbyist seeking the Arizona senator's support for former Soviet states," Mary Jacoby writes in The Wall Street Journal. "Mr. Scheunemann's foreign clients aren't controversial. But his political and ideological relationship with Sen. McCain has blurred the lines between his roles as lobbyist and aide."

And you thought Democrats were calling for Charlie Black's head before? "His wife, Judy Black, is a national co-chair of the fundraising group 'Women for McCain,' and she has a vibrant lobbying practice that includes a foreign client and several companies with business before the Senate Commerce Committee, where McCain is a senior member," Matthew Mosk and Jeffrey Birnbaum report in The Washington Post. "The roles assumed by Judy Black as campaign volunteer and lobbyist highlight the difficulties McCain faces as he tries to eliminate the impression that their campaign work is also aimed at helping clients."

The week closes out with medical records -- released under strict conditions that are already part of the story.

The AP's Lauran Neergard and Liz Sidoti set the early tone: "Three-time melanoma survivor John McCain appears cancer-free, has a strong heart and is in otherwise general good health, according to eight years of medical records reviewed by The Associated Press."

"The actuarial tables say if you make to 71 in overall good health your life expectancy is about 16 years," said ABC News Medical Editor Dr. Tim Johnson, on "World News" Thursday. "That would be to about to age 87. . . . Much more difficult to predict," he added, is "any change in mental acuity."

ABC's Teddy Davis rounds up what we know already of McCain's health condition in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

Don't think any amount of records could quiet all the questions: "The records are unlikely to speak directly to the effects of his years as a prisoner of war," The Washington Post's David Brown reports. "McCain's years as a POW -- he was released in early 1973 -- constitute a distinctly unusual health variable among presidential aspirants."

Not everyone gets to read these open books: "After a long delay, John McCain's campaign plans to release the 71-year-old Republican's medical history in Phoenix today, but has decided to restrict access to the records to a small number of reporters," Maeve Reston writes in the Los Angeles Times.

Not a great tone for the media coverage: "As Americans kick off the first holiday weekend of the summer Friday, Sen. John McCain will release 400 pages of his medical records to a handpicked group of reporters who can neither photocopy nor keep the documents, illustrating the sensitivity the campaign places on the 71-year-old candidate's age and health," Joseph Curl writes in the Washington Times.

McCain has acknowledged that his age means more attention on his No. 2 -- and he gets that attention for some prospects with this weekend's "social" call, marking the unofficial start to veepstakes silliness.

"State Republican leaders across the country on Thursday gave a tentative nod of approval to those prospects [who will be at the ranch] while pointing to the possible suitability of others and emphasizing that Mr. McCain needed to please the party's conservative base," Julie Bosman reports in The New York Times.

"Many party officials said they could support those who will be meeting with Mr. McCain at his Arizona ranch: Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. But they also cited other possibilities, including Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina."

(Is being in Sedona good or bad for your prospects? Don't forget the dose of flattery that colors early veeps talk.)

How do GOP leaders feel about this possibility? Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y., had breakfast with McCain last week. "A source close to the mayor informs me that the topic of McCain's V.P. search was very much on the menu," John Heilemann reports in New York Magazine. "One of the participants, in fact, came away from the conversation under the distinct impression that Bloomberg is on McCain's short list."

Dreaming of Democrats:

It must be infectious: Talk of No. 2 is spreading to the Democratic side. Jim Johnson is on board to head up Sen. Barack Obama's vetting team, and Obama scrambled the deck a bit by citing "Team of Rivals" as a potential example for his administration: "By the way, that does not exclude Republicans, either. The best person for the job is the person I would want."

You can put the potential candidates into roughly two categories: All natural-born American citizens age 35 or older, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. And with Clinton, there's always another factor looming.

"He is making no secret that he thinks it would be a good, strong ticket for Barack Obama, and that Sen. Clinton -- Hillary Clinton has earned, basically, the offer of vice president," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Friday. "Now, you have strong Obama allies taking the opposite view."

Cover of the New York Post: "Man and Vice." "A growing number of Democratic officials are now openly talking about an Obama-Clinton ticket that could unite the factions and take back the White House in November,"the Post's Maggie Haberman writes.

Says Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.: "I am one that believes that if it works out that Senator Obama is the nominee, the strongest ticket would be Senator Clinton as vice president. No question in my mind."

"Anyone who knows the Clintons is well aware that, at times, they come to politics with different motivations," Patrick Healy and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times. "Both of them want to return to the White House; Mrs. Clinton, of New York, also enjoys being a senator, while Mr. Clinton, according to associates, sees the vice presidency as perhaps her best path to becoming president someday if she loses the nominating fight. And Mr. Clinton has his own ideas about his wife's best interests -- even if she sometimes does not share them."

"Friends of the former president say his musings have been more casual: He believes that an Obama-Clinton ticket could help unify the party, and he thinks she has earned a meeting with Mr. Obama to discuss the possibility," they continue. "According to these friends, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to be identified revealing private talks, Mr. Clinton believes that his wife's victories in major primary battles, like Ohio and Pennsylvania, and the 16 million votes cast for her candidacy make her the proper choice for Mr. Obama."

Obama, of course, has to be careful: Things are messy enough in the Democratic Party right now even without premature victory laps.

"Obama's preparations on this score are a delicate matter. He does not want to appear to be pushing Clinton from the stage, so he can remain well-positioned to win the votes of her supporters in the general election," Peter Nicholas reports in the Los Angeles Times.

"There's no short list. At this very early stage, only a very long list of potential running mates for Sen. Barack Obama, the likely Democratic nominee," Lynn Sweet reports in the Chicago Sun-Times. "The closely held project for picking a vice president for Obama will be a separate 'silo,' an organization outside the Obama campaign headquarters on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned."

First -- Obama sought to court Jews in Florida Thursday -- and this was a skeptical crowd.

"Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., faced a barrage of questions from Jewish voters in Boca Raton, Fla., about his relationship with some who are anti-Israel, his name and his own personal commitment to Israel,"per ABC's Sunlen Miller. "Obama, with an American flag pin on his lapel, made brief opening remarks aimed at assuring the group of his support of Israel -- reminding the voters that he will not sit down with Hamas, and of his goal to eliminate the threat of Iran."

"Above all, Obama offered a display of his personal familiarity with Jewish culture - recalling a summer-camp counselor who taught him about Zionism, and the role Jewish authors have played in his intellectual formation -- as he declared 'we will always have a special relationship,' appearing for a moment to speak interchangeably about Israel and the American Jewish community," Sasha Issenberg writes in The Boston Globe.

Per The Miami Herald's Beth Reinhard: "The visit aimed to raise Obama's profile in the Jewish community, which favored rival Hillary Clinton 2-1 in Florida's Jan. 29 primary."

And Obama faced some incoming from McCain Thursday: "Republican John McCain launched a harsh attack on Democrat Barack Obama's lack of military credentials Thursday, charging that the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination has 'zero understanding' of veteran's issues,"McClatchy's Margaret Talev reports.

(He went there already?)

In fairness, Obama started it, with an unusual political attack on the Senate floor: "I can't understand why he would line up behind the president in his opposition to this GI bill. I can't believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans," Obama said.

But here's another fight Obama didn't start: "For a young man with very little experience, he's done very well," McCain said of his likely rival Thursday, per ABC's Bret Hovell. "I appreciate his very great lack of experience and knowledge of the issues."

On that veterans' bill -- notice that Republicans broke in large numbers not just with President Bush, but with McCain as well. "Twenty-four Republicans defied the president and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the party's presumptive presidential nominee, by supporting a massive domestic-spending plan as part of the emergency war-spending bill," The Hill's Manu Raju reports. "That included a $52 billion veterans' education benefits package opposed by the White House that has become a flashpoint in the presidential campaign."

Obamaland should be kept up nights by this -- it's amusing, but not funny: "The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy took a blow with Hillary Clinton's collapse. But it is regrouping, and finding plenty of sinister things to say about Obama -- even if he didn't trade cattle futures," Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post.

The Clinton Clan:

Clinton's path to the nomination is so simple: "Have Michigan and Florida's lost delegations seated in full, stretch the number needed for the nomination to 2,210 (from the 2,026 it is now without those states) and fight for the remaining pledged delegates and uncommitted super delegates," writes Todd Spangler of the Detroit Free Press.

"The map favors Sen. Clinton," campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said on a conference call with reporters Thursday, summarizing the arguments to the supers.

Help from the Q-poll: "As of today, Sen. Clinton's argument that she's the better general election candidate seems to be borne out by the data," said Quinnipiac's Peter Brown tells the New York Daily News' Kenneth Lovett and David Saltonstall.

In advance of next Saturday's DNC meeting, the Clinton campaign is rejecting Obama's offer to seat half the Florida delegation -- but it hasn't always been a prospect Camp Clinton frowned on. "That is an appropriate penalty," former President Bill Clinton said on the subject last week, per ABC News.

Wolfson is right to point out that Obama's offer means that the goalposts have moved -- 2,026 is probably not the magic number (but what it is, we still don't know). Yet what if someone plays Lucy to Clinton's Linus?

Forget her enemies: Clinton should be wary of her friends, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. writes. "Clinton's chances of winning are slim, partly because some of her own supporters believe the contest is over. They see the clash over Michigan and Florida as futile for Clinton and destructive to the party," he reports. "Clinton could see some of her own supporters defect on a rules vote rather than risk a party split."

The latest killer quote comes from Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y.: "I would say that at this point we're starting to see a little, you know, desperation on the part of a woman who I supported, and woman who I'll support until whatever time she makes a different determination."

But an excellent point from Arianna Huffington: This thing could have been ended two months ago, and the reason it isn't? Superdelegates. "It's time for the uncommitted superdelegates to stop their dithering, come out of hiding, hop off the fence, endorse Obama and officially bring this nominating process to an end," she writes. "Hillary Clinton has more than earned the right to stay in the race until the bitter end. So it's up to the superdelegates to accelerate the bitter end." l

The Sked:

As McCain's medical records get their read-through, Obama continues his Florida journeys, and Clinton does a day-trip (!) to South Dakota.

Obama fills in for Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Sunday at Wesleyan University's commencement in Connecticut.

It's purple time for Obama: New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado are on his schedule early in the week, per Talking Points Memo's Greg Sargent.

Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

At the White House:

Don't look now but -- but was that some presidential swagger we detected? "There will be tough fighting ahead. But the progress is undeniable. Because of your bravery and your courage, the terrorists and extremists are on the run, and we are on our way to victory," President Bush told US troops at Fort Bragg Thursday, per ABC's Jennifer Duck, who points out that the word "victory" hasn't been near the president's lips in a while.

ABC's Jonathan Karl: "Despite the recent gun battles and civilian casualties we have seen in Sadr City, there are some real signs of progress. Military officials are more optimistic now than they have been at any time since the purple-finger elections of January 2005."

Karl Rove gets the subpoena he never knew he wanted, from the House Judiciary Committee. "The committee has been investigating claims that the Bush administration played politics in decisions made at the Justice Department, including the firing of at least nine U.S. attorneys in 2006,"per ABC's Jack Date, Theresa Cook, and Jason Ryan. "Those firings created a political firestorm on Capitol Hill, and led to former attorney general Alberto Gonzales' resignation last summer."

It gets more interesting than that: "The panel subpoenaed Rove as it disclosed that the U.S. Justice Department was reviewing allegations that former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and defendants in two other corruption cases were victims of selective prosecution," Bloomberg's James Rowley reports.

Kennedy Update:

"It's great to be home," Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., told repoters Thursday, thanking doctors at Mass. General as he ponders treatment options.

The Boston Globe's Jenna Russell takes a crack at one piece of his impact: "Kennedy is best known as a legislative powerhouse, a tireless legend at courting allies and cutting deals, and as the battle-scarred face of the nation's most famous political family. But out of the spotlight and behind the scenes, his constituents say, the senior senator and his staff have cut through red tape to change countless individual lives, advocating for even the narrowest personal needs with a ferocity and attention to detail that still inspires awe in those on the receiving end decades later."

The Kicker:

"Will you be willing to consider everybody who is a possible help to you as a running mate, even if his or her spouse is an occasional pain in the butt?" -- Questioner at a Barack Obama campaign event in Boca Raton, Fla. (Obama didn't directly answer.)

"So you'll walk me down the aisle?  Is that what you're saying?"-- Ellen DeGeneres, to her guest, John McCain. ("Touche," he responded.)

The Note will not publish Monday, May 26. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.

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