Obama, McCain Spar on Gas Prices, National Security

We'll know we're past a tipping point in foreign policy if what's old can no longer be made new. (Yes, we are framing another election around 9/11 -- but who's happier this time?)

We'll know we're past a tipping point in energy policy if what's being sold can be made new. (Yes, Sen. John McCain has an ally in President Bush -- for better and/or worse still relevant when he wants to be. Can the GOP turn the gas-price issue to the party's own terms? And does anyone think the Democrats would be able to change course as efficiently, effectively, and extensively?).

We'll know we're reaching a tipping point in the Democratic Party's civil war if there's a second chance for a first (joint) impression. (Only eight more days to let the expectations build!)

We'll know we're at a tipping point in the nation if one party takes a commanding edge in all three of the big-prize battleground states. (A new Quinnipiac poll has one leader -- and it may not be the leader you expect.)

And we'll know we're at a tipping point in the nation's relationship with its presidential spouses if the would-be first ladies can complete their planned makeovers. (Maybe we can just let them settle this race: Cindy McCain's recipes vs. Michelle Obama's pride).

By the numbers in the coverage-shaping Q-poll: It's Sen. Barack Obama across the board, though narrowly, in the big swing states.

He's up 48-42 in Ohio, 52-40 in Pennsylvania, and 47-43 in Florida (!). From the press release out Wednesday morning: "This is the first time Sen. Obama has led in all three states."

By the numbers in the intrigue-building spouses' poll: Michelle Obama's numbers are stronger than Cindy McCain's.

"The early edge is Michelle Obama's, in favorable views and intensity of sentiment alike. But there are sharp differences among groups, and plenty of room to move for the less well-known Cindy McCain," ABC Polling Director Gary Langer writes. "Forty-eight percent of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll see Obama favorably, vs. 39 percent for McCain, a 9-point Obama advantage. Slightly more, though, also view Obama unfavorably -- 29 percent vs. McCain's 25 percent."

The wives take center stage this week, with Michelle Obama co-hosting "The View" Wednesday and Cindy McCain traveling to Asia (including Vietnam) for charity work. (ABC News' Kate Snow will have an interview with Mrs. McCain on Thursday's "Good Morning America.")

But first -- some big rhetorical movement. McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann was the first to raise 9/11, arguing that Obama's comments to ABC about the need to prosecute terrorists help make Obama the "perfect manifestation of a Sept. 10 mind-set."

Responded Obama, per ABC's Jake Tapper: "What they are trying to do is what they've done every election cycle, which is to use terrorism as a club to make the American people afraid -- to win elections."

"The exchange marked the general election's first real engagement over the campaign against terrorism and demonstrated that both sides are confident that they have a winning message on the issue," write The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut and Karen DeYoung. "Obama has shown himself far more eager than [Sen. John] Kerry and other Democrats to challenge the Republicans on the issue."

This debate started last week with the Supreme Court decision, and after a slow start Team McCain likes the lay of this land.

"McCain sicced his attack dogs on those [Obama] remarks Tuesday with blog posts, shots by fellow Republicans and a conference call accusing Obama of wanting a law-enforcement-only approach to terrorism and the captives at Gitmo," Michael McAuliff and Richard Sisk write in the New York Daily News.

"Seems like the McCain campaign has been waiting for Sen. Obama to discuss the intersection of terrorism and law enforcement; they were well-prepared to pounce on it as a perfect manifestation of what they believe is Obama's inexperience," Marc Ambinder writes on his Atlantic blog .

It worked in 2004, but: "The Republican argument proved less effective in 2006 when then Bush adviser Karl Rove said the Democrats had a pre-Sept. 11 view of the world and Republicans had a post-Sept. 11 terror attacks perspective. In November of that year, Democrats captured enough congressional seats to seize control of the House and Senate," the AP's Nedra Pickler and Beth Fouhy write.

Obama takes his next step Wednesday: "The Democratic White House hopeful has scheduled the inaugural meeting Wednesday of what he's calling his Senior Working Group on National Security. It includes former members of Congress and high-ranking Clinton Administration officials," per the AP's Pickler.

McCain on Wednesday gets a boost for his energy push: President Bush follows his lead (though the White House won't say that) in reversing his stance on offshore drilling, with a Rose Garden announcement coming Wednesday morning. (Another issue the GOP is hoping to own instead of letting it own the party.)

"President Bush, reversing a longstanding position, will call on Congress on Wednesday to end a federal ban on offshore oil drilling, according to White House officials who say Mr. Bush now wants to work with states to determine where drilling should occur," Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in The New York Times. "Mr. Bush's father, the first President Bush, signed an executive order in 1990 banning coastal oil exploration, and Mr. Bush's brother Jeb was an outspoken opponent of offshore drilling when he was governor of Florida. Now, though, President Bush is considering repealing his father's order."

On your veep's watch: Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., is right there with him in adopting a new position. "Their switch sets up a battle with environmentalists, as well as with Democratic leaders, most of whom remain opposed to overturning the ban," Stephen Power, Laura Meckler, and Russell Gold write in The Wall Street Journal. "Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential contender, accused Sen. McCain of proposing a policy that would do little to affect gas prices in the short term."

The risks for McCain: Start with inconsistency, and move through the fact that he's still trying to put some distance between himself and the president, while carving a different kind of environmental profile than your typical Republican might enjoy.

He is literally advertising his breaks with his party on climate change.

McCain "is wagering that skyrocketing gas prices have finally reached a tipping point, a threshold moment that has led voters to rethink their strong and long-held opinions against coastal oil exploration," Charles Mahtesian and David Mark write for Politico. "The stakes couldn't be higher: If he is wrong, McCain will have seriously damaged his chances in two key states with thousands of miles of coastline -- California and Florida -- and where opposition to offshore oil drilling has been unwavering."

"Not in modern times has a candidate for president or even statewide office won Florida without promising to keep oil and gas rigs away from its coasts," Wes Allison and Steve Bousquet write in the St. Petersburg Times. "But never before has someone run when gasoline cost $4 per gallon."

"Support for his plan from top Florida Republicans suggests off-shore drilling is not the political loser it once was, or at least is now open for debate," they continue. "That change is most striking in the new support expressed by Gov. Charlie Crist, who just last week said he was not dropping his opposition to drilling off Florida's coast."

More risk: "Major environmental groups, as well as McCain's Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, argued that renewed off-shore drilling would not increase supplies or lower fuel prices for years," Bob Drogin writes in the Los Angeles Times. "They warned that new drilling off California and other states raised the risk of pollution near fragile wetlands and beaches, as well as important fishing and tourist areas."

"Mr. Obama and the Democratic National Committee relentlessly mocked Mr. McCain for what they called his flip-flopping and capitulation to the oil industry," Elisabeth Bumiller and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times. "Mr. Obama swiftly pointed out that Mr. McCain had supported the ban on offshore oil exploration during his first run for the presidency in 2000."

Said Obama: "This is yet another reversal by John McCain in terms of his earlier positions and I think we could set up an interesting debate between John McCain 2000 and John McCain 2008."

"The wobbly start of the GOP candidate's push on energy raised the possibility that the whole thing might topple -- just like his previous efforts to get voters to compare him and Barack Obama side-by-side," Slate's John Dickerson writes. "Whether this bungled start does sustained damage depends on the durability of McCain's Straight Talk brand."

Part of the upside: "The oil industry generally approved Tuesday as Republican presidential candidate John McCain charted his policies on energy with a speech in Houston that jabbed the Bush administration, Democratic foe Barack Obama, Wall Street and oil-rich foreign regimes," per the Houston Chronicle's Alan Bernstein and Kristen Hays.

As for the wives: Polls aside, Michelle's close-up may have higher stakes for her husband's campaign; she doesn't exactly fit the Laura Bush mold (and has she ever faced a foe as formidable as Elisabeth Hasselbeck?)

"The Obama campaign is going to give her a bit of a makeover to stress her humble roots, including co-hosting 'The View' today -- following in the steps of Cindy McCain," ABC's John Berman reported on "Good Morning America" Wednesday.

Bottom line: She's complicated. "Barack Obama often blurs identity lines; before troubles erupted in recent months over the remarks of his longtime minister, his candidacy seemed almost post-racial," the Times' Michael Powell and Jodi Kantor write. "Mrs. Obama's identity is less mutable. She is a descendant of slaves and a product of Chicago's historically black South Side. She tends to burn hot where he banks cool, and that too can make her an inviting proxy for attack."

"You are amazed sometimes at how deep the lies can be," Michelle tells the Times. "I mean, 'whitey?' That's something that George Jefferson would say. Anyone who says that doesn't know me. They don't know the life I've lived. They don't know anything about me."

As for Cindy McCain: "In a symbolic move that highlights her international experiences and passion for childrens charities, Cindy McCain this week travels to Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia to renew her ties to programs like Operation Smile," per US News & World Report. "Now that she's the wife of the presumptive GOP presidential candidate, her visit should help draw more press to her international charity work."

Obama tells the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody that McCain should stand up to attacks on his wife: "I would never consider making Cindy McCain a campaign issue, and if I saw people doing that -- I would speak out against it. And the fact that I haven't seen that from John McCain I think is a deep disappointment."

Watch for the Democrats will push this storyline Wednesday: Mrs. McCain used her company's private jet "on several trips last year that included campaign-related activity but never got campaign reimbursement, according to flight-tracking records and campaign-finance reports verified by the McCain campaign," per The Wall Street Journal's T.W. Farnam.

Of one trip from Phoenix to New York, Farnam writes: "Mrs. McCain's trip offers a good example of the complex and sometimes contradictory ways that post-Watergate regulations have evolved to dictate what is considered proper use of campaign funds. Sen. McCain is one of the leading champions of such rules, but critics charge his campaign has applied them liberally in a number of instances."

Obama gets his (very welcome) outside push next Thursday, when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton makes her first joint appearance with Obama, for a crowd of big money folks at the Mayflower Hotel (another star turn in the political spotlight for that venerable site).

"The two camps have been talking about what role Clinton will play in the campaign and how best to unify the party," reports the New York Daily News' Michael Saul, who broke the story Tuesday. "This event in Washington marks a major step forward."

But all is not necessarily happy: "Two people closely involved with Clinton's fundraising said the meeting had taken on added urgency after several of her money 'bundlers' complained that they felt their concerns weren't heard during meetings last week with Obama campaign officials in New York and Washington," the AP's Jim Kuhnhenn and Beth Fouhy report.

"Among other things, the donors want to make sure Obama knows that in order to get their help he needs to help Clinton pay down her campaign debt. As of the end of April, Clinton had more than $20 million in debt, a figure that likely increased by the time she suspended her campaign June 7."

"The fund-raiser next week in Washington will benefit Mr. Obama's campaign, but aides to both senators said it would probably be the first of several events, including some to help Mrs. Clinton retire her debt through new contributions from Mr. Obama's supporters," Jeff Zeleny reports in The New York Times.

Don't look for Clinton's return to the Senate anytime soon: "She is not expected to return to the Senate until July 7 or July 8 after the Independence Day recess," The Hill's J. Taylor Rushing reports. "Clinton's Democratic colleagues in the Senate are taking a sympathetic attitude toward her extended absence, which comes after a grueling 18-month formal bid for the White House and, according to some calculations, a decade or more of planning and positioning since the days when her husband was president."

The Sked:

Tim Russert's funeral will be held Wednesday in Washington, with MSNBC set to televise his memorial service at the Kennedy Center starting at 4 pm ET.

Obama has a series of chats scheduled in Washington, with a 1 pm ET meeting with foreign-policy advisers and a 2:30 pm ET photo-op with military leaders.

McCain holds a 3 pm ET event on the economy and energy in Springfield, Mo.

"The View" airs at 11 am ET on ABC, in case you want to see Michelle Obama get acquainted with Elisabeth Hasselbeck (or if you want to see Obama talk Chicago with Ferris Bueller himself).

On the veepstakes front, Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., is in Washington to promote hurricane protection and reconstruction needs.

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

Veepstakes:

Obama got the Gore question, and gave an answer that answers nothing: "Obviously Al Gore is a great public servant. He was a great vice president," Obama said. "He may not want to be vice president again, since he's already done that for eight years. . . . But certainly he's somebody that I'll be getting advice from as we go forward and hopefully he'll help me when I'm president."

"Insiders said Tuesday the Obama campaign was already mapping out a schedule of campaign events for Gore, who can also expect to have a prominent speaking role at the Democratic National Convention," David Saltonstall reports in the New York Daily News.

Or, maybe not so much: "Those closest to the former vice president also suggest that he may have exhausted his interest in campaign politics, which would explain his change in direction from the 2004 general election, when he made several fiery speeches lambasting the Bush administration," Politico's David Paul Kuhn reports.

As for Gore's old running mate: "While McCain is keeping his vice-presidential deliberations intensely private, it is not hard to pick up Republican whispers that the wild-card [Sen. Joe] Lieberman speculation is grounded in reality rather than water-cooler fantasy," Salon's Walter Shapiro writes. "No McCain campaign sidekick -- not South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham nor former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina -- does more than Lieberman to burnish the GOP candidate's reputation as a different-drummer Republican."

Says Lieberman of the possibility: "I just think that John's got to go -- ought to go -- with a Republican because obviously it comes to the convention. I'm not a candidate. I don't think it's going to happen. And at this stage in my life, I am very happy where I am."

The New Republic's Bradford Plumer talks up Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, D-Kan. "In her six years as governor, she has proven that she knows her stuff when it comes to policy," Plumer writes. "She's a deft political operator, as evidenced by her ability to persuade a bunch of Kansas Republicans to switch parties back in 2006. She knows how to survive, and win, nasty political brawls--as when, this past year, she thrice vetoed plans for new coal-fired plants in Kansas, in the face of ads associating her with Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., talks up himself: "I'd make a great president. I'd make a great Secretary of State. I'd make a great vice president," said Biden, per The Hill. "There are a lot of people out there who want the job. I'm not one of them. . . . [But] you'd have to take it. There's not a single, solitary person who, with Barack Obama as the presidential nominee in this most historic of races, who if asked would say 'no.' I wouldn't say 'no.' I hope he doesn't ask me. . . . But if he asked me, I'd say yes. I'm not being coy." (Agreed.)

Also in the news:

They may be different kinds of candidates -- the kind that shun corporate largesse -- but they'll accept their parties' nominations in old-style forums. "The host committees for the Democratic and Republican national conventions are using the promise of VIP perks and access to help them rake in nearly $100 million to subsidize what some campaign finance watchdogs have termed 'the biggest and longest political ad of the presidential campaign,' " ABC's Avni Patel reports.

"Both convention host committees have distributed detailed sponsorship packets describing a whole slew of perks and privileges, including access to politicians, that corporate sponsors can expect to enjoy, including 'presidential' and 'platinum' level sponsorship levels," Patel writes. "The Denver host committee has billed the Democratic National Convention a 'once-in-a century' opportunity for corporate sponsors to reach tens of thousands of attendees, including '232 Members of Congress,' and '51 Senators' and '28 governors.' "

Let's hope the Democrats enjoy themselves in Denver: "For Democrats, at least, this may be the last year for such massive corporate funding. Presidential candidate Barack Obama says he wants things to change," Tom Hamburger and Peter Nicholas write in the Los Angeles Times.

"In a statement provided Tuesday to The Times, Obama campaign spokesman Hari Sevugan said: 'Moving forward, one of Sen. Obama's reform priorities will include changes in the way party conventions are funded to assure they can be run without dependence on soft money,' the loosely restricted corporate and union donations that constitute most of the funding for conventions."

McCain's hearing, again, about "100 years": "The first wave in a flood of spending by independent groups in the general election race for the White House came Tuesday with a TV ad blasting Republican John McCain for his support of the Iraq war," per USA Today's Fredreka Schouten. "The spot was paid for by the liberal MoveOn.org Political Action and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- two of the many outside groups and labor unions poised to spend millions to help elect Democrat Barack Obama."

Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, tells The Washington Post that he had some frank talk for the candidate: "The foreign minister said 'my message' to Mr. Obama 'was very clear. . . . Really, we are making progress. I hope any actions you will take will not endanger this progress.' "

Not quite Obama's recollection: "Asked by ABC News if Zebari expressed any concern that the withdrawal of U.S. troops under an Obama administration would undo any security gains, Obama said Zebari did not raise that issue," ABC's Jake Tapper and Jennifer Parker reported Monday.

Said Obama, when asked by Tapper whether Zebari raised concerns about a precipitous withdrawal: "No, he did not express that."

Surely this is not the party-line explanation: "Democrat Barack Obama misused a 'code word' in Middle East politics when he said Jerusalem should be Israel's 'undivided' capital but that does not mean he is naive on foreign policy," per Reuters' Claudia Parsons. "Daniel Kurtzer, who advises Obama on the Middle East, said Tuesday at the Israel Policy Forum that Obama's comment stemmed from 'a picture in his mind of Jerusalem before 1967 with barbed wires and minefields and demilitarized zones.' 'So he used a word to represent what he did not want to see again, and then realized afterwards that that word is a code word in the Middle East,' Kurtzer said.

The White House was none too pleased with this story, but: "Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and John Cornyn (R-TX) are calling for an investigation after an ABC News/Washington Times report revealed that veterans are being recruited for government tests on suicide-linked drugs," per ABC's Jake Tapper and Maddy Sauer.

And ABC News' Jonathan Karl knows more about wine than anyone we know: "Loading up on 1961 Petrus 45 years ago was like buying Apple Computer stock in 1989 -- a good move," Karl writes in reviewing two new wine books in The Wall Street Journal. "The values of what [David] Sokolin calls 'investment-grade wine' have steadily increased, especially since the mid-1980s, as personal wine cellars have proliferated and the major auction houses have gone into the business. Today the Liv-ex 100 Index serves as a Dow Jones Industrial Average of fine wines, tracking the prices of 100 of the most collectible ones. Over the past four years it is up more than 150%."

The Kicker:

"But what are you going to do about your ears?" -- One of the Obama daughters, as quoted by Michelle Obama at a fundraiser in New York, referring to Sen. Obama's promise to go out in public in disguise to avoid being recognized .

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