The Note: Fall Guys

One exit -- even the biggest of the big ones, with all appropriate grace and sincerity -- changes so much yet so little. So, herewith eight foolproof assertions for this first full week of the general election:

1. Sen. Barack Obama's success will be directly proportionate to his ability to fuse the words "McCain" and "Bush" in the public consciousness.

2. Sen. John McCain's success will be directly proportionate to his ability to disqualify Obama for the presidency.

3. Whoever nails down his base first -- Obama or McCain -- will win round one (but since neither is likely to get all the way there, it may be a draw that drives them to the center).

4. If one party or one candidate owns gas prices, that party will lose (more) seats in Congress, and that candidate will lose the election. (And might it be time to retire "Pelosi Premium" and try out a new bumper sticker?)

5. Obama's gaffes won't matter at all until they do (at which point they will all matter all at once).

6. McCain's inability to lift his supporters to a higher plane won't matter until it does (at which point it will be too late for him to do anything about it).

7. These town-hall forums will be a whole lot of fun (and would having Mayor Michael Bloomberg moderate one firmly put him on two veepstakes shortlists -- or take him off of both?).

8. The Democratic Party will appear united and peaceful right up until there's the slightest whiff of an Obama snub of either Clinton, or vice versa. (Don't think that, in the wake of a great-for-business primary, it will take much for the national media to turn Obama-Clinton into Lakers-Celtics.)

Obama now has a small window to begin to define himself, for the first time without the disadvantage/advantage of having fellow Democrats helping/hurting his cause. This is his first clear shot at his own general-election messaging -- and he's doing it aggressively: O'Bomber, not Obambi.

It's a new battle plan for new battlegrounds: Coming out of Virginia last week, Obama plans to hit North Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida among other stops in his two-week "Change that Works for You" tour.

Per the Obama campaign: "At every stop, he'll discuss the clear choice between his candidacy and John McCain's when it comes to the economy. Because while the Bush-Cheney ticket won't be up for reelection, the Bush-Cheney policies will, as John McCain offers four more years of the same approach that has failed the American people."

At the lead-off event, at 11 am ET Monday in Raleigh, N.C., the presumptive Democratic nominee (let those words echo a bit) will lay out the election as "a choice between John McCain's plan to continue four more years of costly Bush economic policies that have widened inequality and left our children with a mountain of debt and Barack Obama's plan to provide relief to struggling homeowners, affordable health care and college for all, and a tax code that rewards work instead of wealth."

The pushback: The RNC is calling the tour "Change We Can't Afford," with a new Website, regular conference calls, and ready-for-quotation research documents. From the one out Friday morning: "As Obama Travels To North Carolina, How Will He Explain To Voters That He Supports Raising Taxes On Middle-Income Taxpayers And Small Businesses, And Hasn't Voted With Manufacturing Interests?"

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