Sen. Barack Obama wants this election to be about George Bush, the economy, and the Iraq war (maybe in that order).
And everybody wants it to be about Washington insiders -- just not theirs. (May the cleanest man win?)
Pardon us for not being shocked and appalled that people are running for president the way people run for president -- surrounded by the influential men and women who make Washington tick.
But this tussle over lobbyist ties and insider connections does matter to Obama and McCain -- maybe even equally -- in this critical period where their political identities are being shaped. (And this is what they get for the higher standards they've set for their opponents.)
For both candidates, cleanliness is next to electability -- and if one or the other can own this reformer's mantle as different-kind-of-politician, he will (much like whoever "owns" the economy and national security) be a long way toward reaching the middle-of-the-road voters they both covet.
So we have a few distractions along the road to ridiculous sums of campaign cash: "Advisers to the White House hopefuls are also working feverishly to square their carefully crafted images as campaign finance reformers with the need to gather tens of millions of dollars," Matthew Mosk and Michael Shear write in The Washington Post.
This is a chance for McCain, R-Ariz., to grab the upper hand -- building on his reformer's profile with a (probably) to-be-shattered Obama pledge, and a fresh Obama (potential) liability to exploit.
It's always a good idea to vet the vetter: "John McCain criticized his Democratic rival Monday for seeking campaign advice from a Washington power-broker who, Republican officials say, may have improperly received preferential treatment from a controversial mortgage lender," Maeve Reston and E. Scott Reckard write in the Los Angeles Times.
It just helps keep the story in the news that the power-broker in question, James Johnson, is leading Obama vice-presidential explorations.
"It suggests a bit of a contradiction talking about how his campaign is not going to be involved with people like that. Clearly, he is very much associated with that," McCain told Fox News.
The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray: "Here's the trouble with running a squeaky clean campaign: there's very little margin for ethical error."
"Despite Johnson's legendary fastidiousness, his high-profile campaign role has suddenly exposed him to questions about his financial dealings," Politico's Lisa Lerer reports. "The questions range from his relationship with the embattled CEO of mortgage lender Countrywide Financial to his more recent oversight roles on various corporate compensation committees that approved hefty executive pay packages."
(Notice how deftly and methodically Republicans have driven this storyline, muddying Obama's clean window of opportunity. Next up -- watch for the GOP to sully Johnson's fellow VP vetter, Eric Holder, for his role in the Marc Rich pardon.)
This would make it pretty hard to accept public financing: "Leading Democratic fundraisers predict that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) will raise hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few months if he opts out of public financing and begins raising money for the general election," The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports. "Specifically, they say Obama could raise $100 million in June [!!] and could attract 2.5 million to 3 million new donors to his campaign."
But how long before all of this just becomes a pox on both houses? "John McCain, who wrote the law banning corporate donations to the political parties, and Barack Obama, who refuses lobbyist money, will be nominated for president at conventions largely funded by industries whose Washington clout they've railed against on the campaign trail," Bloomberg News' Jonathan Salant writes.
Obama, D-Ill., doesn't mind talking ties to Washington insiders, either -- and an advocacy group is helping his cause against McCain on that front, with a new ad out this week -- but Obama is trying to swing the Big Issue pendulum to a McCain soft spot: the economy.
Should smart Democrats be rooting for $5-a-gallon gas? "Just as Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama break from the starting gate in their race for the White House, zooming oil prices and unemployment rates are highlighting the economy as the nation's No. 1 campaign issue," ABC's Jake Tapper reports.
With some help from the Hill -- a Senate vote Tuesday on oil companies' windfall profits -- Obama is "attacking Senator John McCain's economic policies and moving to focus on the ailing economy as the central theme of the general election campaign," per The New York Times' John M. Broder. "He spoke of hard-pressed workers in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin struggling to pay their bills and buy gasoline. And he laid the blame squarely at the feet of President Bush and his allies, including Senator McCain."
"After a long nomination race in which he and Sen. Clinton had few major-policy differences, Sen. Obama served notice that he and Sen. McCain have big and fundamental divisions," Jackie Calmes writes in The Wall Street Journal.
Said Obama: "The centerpiece of his economic plan amounts to a full-throated endorsement of George Bush's policies."
This is defense as offense: "Obama's new emphasis follows weeks of focus by McCain on national security and foreign policy, areas where the GOP thinks Obama is vulnerable," the Chicago Tribune's John McCormick writes.
Obama "kicked off his first day of head-to-head combat by lashing four-term Republican Sen. John McCain as a rerun of the Bush presidency -- out of touch on the economy and lacking solutions for skyrocketing gasoline prices, spiraling job losses and a wave of home foreclosures," Joseph Curl writes in the Washington Times.
Lessons learned? "Forgoing a softer introduction to the broader electorate, Obama and his advisers have decided to go right at McCain, calculating that the candidates' major distinctions on issues such as tax relief, the war in Iraq, and diplomacy play to their favor," Scott Helman writes in The Boston Globe. "The forceful tack is a departure from 2004, when Senator John F. Kerry, as he transitioned from the Democratic primary race to the fall campaign, sought to burnish his commander-in-chief credentials and downplay criticism of the president."
"Can Obama make this election a referendum on the U.S. economy? He's certainly going to try. If his speech in Raleigh, N.C., Monday afternoon was any indication, though, it's not going to be a slam dunk," Time's Justin Fox writes. "What [Obama's plans] are remains a hard-to-summarize mix of moderate Democratic standbys, populist silliness and the occasional truly visionary proposal. They haven't coalesced into anything you could really call a rallying cry."
The full weight of the Democratic Party swings into economic action Tuesday, with a 2:45 pm ET party unity event in Washington featuring the heavy hitters.
From the DNC's release: "The economy will be a strong point of contrast in this election with John McCain and Republicans offering four more years of costly Bush economic policies which have widened inequality and left our children with a mountain of debt and Barack Obama and Democrats who will work to provide affordable health care, relief to struggling homeowners and a tax policy that works for all Americans."
McCain talks economy as the keynote speaker at a small-business summit in Washington Tuesday, at 9:30 am ET, before heading to New York for a fundraiser.
"Will we enact the single largest tax increase since the Second World War as my opponent proposes, or will we keep taxes low for families and employers?" McCain plans to say, per his campaign.
"This election offers Americans a very distinct choice about what kind of change we will have," McCain will say. "Under Senator Obama's tax plan, Americans of every background would see their taxes rise -- seniors, parents, small business owners, and just about everyone who has even a modest investment in the market."
Obama on Tuesday visits a hospital in Missouri and holds a morning press conference to discuss the economic impact of healthcare costs. He'll work the morning shift alongside a nurse, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jo Mannies. (And he's back in Iowa Wednesday.)
Obama is ready to get an assist from a big healthcare name: Elizabeth Edwards. "I'm going to be partnering up with Elizabeth Edwards -- we're going to be figuring all this out," Obama said Monday in North Carolina, per ABC's Sunlen Miller.
"Elizabeth Edwards is a potential bridge to the disappointed voters -- many of them women -- who backed Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful bid," Michael Saul writes in the New York Daily News.
Something else that didn't happen until after the primaries: "Just days after clinching the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Obama is naming as his economic policy director an economist who has clashed with critics of Wal-Mart by defending the company as a boon to poor Americans," Josh Gerstein writes in the New York Sun. "The appointment of Jason Furman, 37, a former Clinton administration official who is a visiting scholar at New York University, immediately met with skepticism from some who have faulted Wal-Mart for being stingy toward its workforce."
Is this the "unity bump"? The latest from Gallup: "Barack Obama is enjoying a modest bump in support following Hillary Clinton's exit from the presidential race. The latest Gallup Poll Daily tracking update finds Obama leading Republican John McCain, 48% to 42%, among registered voters nationwide."
Attention unity fans: "At this point, Clinton would seem to give a slight three-point boost to Obama's margin over McCain, with the Obama-Clinton ticket leading McCain by an average of 51% to 42% over the past three days."
What's making Howard Dean smile: Obamaland sent word Monday that it plans to have a campaign presence in all 50 states (the fact that he could even consider this speaks to one huge advantage Obama enjoys over McCain --- think $$$).
From the e-mail that went out to supporters, from deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand: "I am proud to announce that our presidential campaign will be the first in a generation to deploy and maintain staff in every single state. The network of volunteers and the infrastructure built up during the historic primary season -- on behalf of all the Democratic campaigns -- have given us an enormous and unprecedented opportunity in the general election."
Says the DNC: "Governor Dean's 50-state DNC is ready to deliver on Senator Obama's vision for a 50-state campaign."
Might we be hearing a few new McCain lines of attack? "Cindy has always been a proud person and proud of her country. Not just once, but always," former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said in introducing McCain at a fundraiser Monday, per the Los Angeles Times' Don Frederick (and we're glad these are now open-press).
And McCain liked this line so much he couldn't help laughing at his own funny: "Senator Obama says that I'm running for Bush's third term," McCain told NBC's Brian Williams. "It seems like Barack Obama is running for Jimmy Carter's second."
President Bush spends much of the day in Slovenia, at the US-EU summit, and has dinner in Germany.
Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
The Clinton Era:
Now she gets the love: "Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech Saturday conceding the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama couldn't have been classier -- and couldn't have been more auspicious for the party's chances of capturing the White House in November," Eugene Robinson writes in his Washington Post column. "It might have taken her a few days, but she delivered. Big-time."
Even Laura Bush now admires her "grit and strength": "It's a huge endurance, process of endurance, and so I'll have to say I have a lot of admiration for her endurance and strength," the first lady told ABC's Jonathan Karl.
Don't close the books on the Clinton campaign yet (much as the candidate might like to): "Besides the $11.4 million of her own money that Mrs. Clinton lent her campaign, she had about $9.5 million in unpaid bills to vendors at the end of April," Michael Luo writes in The New York Times. "The most discussed option is for Mr. Obama, now the presumed nominee, to encourage his fund-raising team to help her with a series of joint events. Campaign finance laws prohibit Mr. Obama from simply transferring money from his war chest to Mrs. Clinton's campaign. But Mr. Obama's fund-raisers could ask their donors to give to Mrs. Clinton."
Retiring that debt won't be easy: "The natural constituency to turn to pay off that debt are people who are precluded from helping you because they already have given the maximum," Clinton finance co-chairman Hassan Nemazee tells ABC's Joel Siegel.
The smart folks are on it: "Three Clinton negotiators -- all confidantes of the Senator and her husband -- have been dispatched to Chicago to spearhead this effort" to bring the camps together, per Huffington Post's Sam Stein."Bob Barnett, a powerhouse Washington lawyer, Cheryl Mills, another lawyer, and Minyon Moore, a political consultant, were meeting today to discuss three key areas of negotiations: what role Hillary Clinton will play at the Democratic convention in August, the nature of her involvement in Obama's general election campaign, and the Obama campaign's plans to help alleviate her campaign debt."
One way to wake from a dream:"Lots of Democrats love Hillary Rodham Clinton. Yet plenty of Republicans, conservatives and all-important independents can't stand her, suggesting possible pitfalls for Barack Obama should he make her his vice presidential running mate,"
In the meantime: "Hillary Rodham Clinton remained holed up in her Chappaqua home yesterday, kicking off a quiet vacation while she ponders her next political moves," Geoff Earle and Daphne Retter write in the New York Post. "After a year when she often worked 20-hour days, Clinton didn't receive any guests yesterday. . . . Senate leaders aren't expecting Clinton to return to work this week, even though the Senate is considering a windfall-profits tax on oil companies, a favorite topic in her campaign."
Jim Johnson was in the news, times two: "Mr. Johnson and former Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., made the rounds on Capitol Hill in what aides described as courtesy calls about potential running mates for Mr. Obama," Julie Bosman and Carl Hulse report in The New York Times."They met Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the House whip; Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Caucus; Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, House majority leader; Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California; and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, Senate majority leader."
"None of the congressional leaders involved in the meetings have figured in speculation about a possible running mate, suggesting that the day's conversations were designed to seek advice," the AP's David Espo reports.
The Washington Times' Stephen Dinan charts the presidential also-rans: Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney both have PACs up and running, and Fred Thompson "is writing columns, delivering speeches and setting himself up as the conscience of the conservative movement."
On the other side: "The competition for prominence in the field of also-rans is no less intense on the Democratic side, but the methods are rather different. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson are using their years of experience at their day jobs to attack Republicans, defend Democrats and all-around pontificate on the major issues of the day," Dinan writes.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. talks up Biden, D-Del.: "He should be at the top of any list of vice presidential picks for Obama. Why Biden? In part because of where he took our discussion: Few Democrats know more about foreign policy, and few would so relish the fight against McCain on international affairs. Few are better placed to argue that withdrawal from Iraq will strengthen rather than weaken the United States."
Big moment for Gov. Tim Kaine, D-Va.: "Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine announced [Monday] afternoon that he will commute the death sentence of convicted triple murderer Percy Levar Walton because he does not believe Walton meets the Supreme Court criteria of mental competence required for an execution to proceed," ABC's David Schoetz reports.
Why the vice presidency will never be the same: "The mere notion that the vice president -- let alone the vice president's spouse -- would be able to set up shop in the White House is a recent phenomenon,"Peter Canellos writes in The Boston Globe. "Even Cheney haters can take some solace in the fact that the expanded vice presidency that he's created may ultimately serve as a counterweight to presidential power. Now that voters assume that the vice president matters, presidential nominees are under much more pressure to choose people of substance, since vice presidential nominees will be vetted accordingly."
Also in the news:
Kennedy update: "Senator Edward M. Kennedy flew back home to Hyannis Port this morning after spending a week at Duke University Medical Center, where he underwent what was described by doctors as a successful surgery for a malignant brain tumor," per The Boston Globe's Vincent DeWitt and Andrew Ryan.
Scottie beams back -- to the Hill: "Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has agreed to testify next week before the House Judiciary Committee about his assertions that top Bush administration officials misled him about their role in the leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson," Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post.
The Senate is a family -- literally: "November could see three Udall cousins from three different Western states all sitting in the U.S. Senate at the same time," ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports."And it's a well-rounded choice for a modern-day American political family – they've got Republicans and Democrats, Mormons and people who don't affiliate with churches, plural marriage and professional basketball players."
Another kind of family affair -- in the race to replace Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y.: "The Republican candidate is Francis H. Powers, 68, a retired Wall Street executive and longtime fund-raiser for Republican candidates on Staten Island. One of two candidates seeking the Libertarian nomination for the seat is Mr. Powers's son Francis M. Powers," per The New York Times.
Did Obama pedal his way into one of those unfortunately iconic images over the weekend? Maybe not, says the Boston Herald's Margery Eagan: "Maybe this goofy shot should become an Obama campaign staple, because predictions are everywhere now that turning him into that radical black guy -- too black for white America -- will become a GOP focus in the upcoming race."
"Basically it's a Google." -- John McCain, joking about his vice-presidential vetting process.
"In a June 7 transcript of Hillary Rodham Clinton's concession speech, The Associated Press erroneously reported one word in the transcription. The New York senator said she has 'a deep and abiding love for our country.' She used the word 'abiding,' not dividing." -- AP correction, on the wires Monday.
Bookmark The Note at http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/TheNote/story?id=3105288&page=1