Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will break his campaign pledge, rejecting public funding for the general election and allowing the Democratic candidate to possibly raise record millions for his White House battle against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
"You've already changed the way campaigns are funded because you know that's the only way we can truly change how Washington works. And that's the path we will continue in this general election," Obama said in a video message sent to supporters Thursday.
That would be admirable, save for this Obama quote, from November: "If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election." (He's been the presumptive nominee for less than two weeks, and there was no aggressive pursuit, for the record.)
Maybe it's the curse of the Senate, or the price of running for president, or something particular about these two candidates or this unusual year but to a remarkable degree, the candidates are debating themselves -- whether it's Sen. McCain on taxes, offshore drilling, and his relationship with President Bush, or Sen. Obama on trade, public financing for his campaign, and his relationship with the Bush-Cheney energy bill.
Both have valuable brands at stake. And Obama's suffers a blow Thursday morning, with his decision to abandon his pledge on running with public financing.
And Obamaland is learning anew what's already known: It's great defense up until the moment it's offensive.
That's why two Michigan women in headscarves matter: Obama's appeal to inclusiveness loses a piece of vital credibility every time the promise of a new kind of politics proves hollow -- whether it's the campaign's fault or not.
"Two Muslim women at Barack Obama's rally in Detroit on Monday were barred from sitting behind the podium by campaign volunteers seeking to prevent the women's headscarves from appearing in photographs or on television with the candidate," Politico's Ben Smith reports. "For Obama, the old-fashioned image-making contrasts with his promise to transcend identity politics and to embrace all elements of America."
"It illustrates how the pressures of image-making in a presidential campaign combined with sensitivities over unfounded rumors that Obama is secretly a Muslim can create a sudden storm -- awkwardly in metro Detroit, home to the nation's most influential community of Arab Americans," Chris Christoff and Niraj Warikoo write in the Detroit Free Press.
"[Hebba] Aref, a 25-year-old lawyer, said a member of her group was told by a volunteer that she could not invite Aref because of 'a sensitive political climate,' " per the AP's Jeff Karoub. Obama spokesman Bill Burton, on the actions of campaign volunteers who must have thought they were doing the candidate a favor: "It is offensive and counter to Obama's commitment to bring Americans together and simply not the kind of campaign we run."
(Flashback 10 weeks: "We need more white people," said the Obama volunteer.)
This is the price for image (and access) control (and hints at one vastly underestimated McCain advantage): The incident "pointed to pitfalls the campaign faces as it moves into the general election and seeks to maintain control of Mr. Obama's image by tightly managing his public appearances," Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times.
The evidence: "The campaign on Monday barred cameras from a large gathering of African-American civic leaders Mr. Obama attended. It recently refused to provide names of religious figures with whom Mr. Obama met in Chicago and directed some of them to avoid reporters by using a special exit. And on Wednesday, the campaign orchestrated Michelle Obama's appearance on the friendly set of 'The View' and a flattering spread in the pages of Us Weekly."
"Strategists for Mr. Obama, the country's first black nominee, have made it clear that they believe they need to take extra steps to control his image and protect against attack," Rutenberg and Zeleny continue. "But such efforts at times appear to conflict with the candidate's stated desire to be unusually transparent and open, and they have already occasionally put him at loggerheads with news organizations pushing for greater access to him now that he is the presumptive nominee."
Obama adds a new wrinkle to his personal trade wars (was Austan Goolsbee right?). In an interview, "the presumptive Democratic nominee backed off his harshest attacks on the free trade agreement and indicated he didn't want to unilaterally reopen negotiations on NAFTA," Fortune's Nina Easton writes. " 'Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified,' he conceded, after I reminded him that he had called NAFTA 'devastating' and 'a big mistake.' "
And this will fuel the next GOP fire, on national security. (Pick the word you'd highlight in this sentence if you were a Republican operative -- and brace for the full assault.) Obama, on how he would bring Osama bin Laden to justice: "What would be important would be for us to do it in a way that allows the entire world to understand the murderous acts that he's engaged in and not to make him into a martyr."
Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., leads things off for the RNC Thursday morning: "Senator Obama needs to explain why he is arguing that Osama bin Laden should have the habeas rights and privileges of American citizens, and further why bin Laden should be exempt from the death penalty for his vicious attacks."
(That's not what he said -- but good luck trying to reel this one back in.)
That was a whole lot of flags for one little event Wednesday with Obama's new foreign-policy working group: "The meeting was the first major step in a series of actions the Obama campaign plans to take to make sure the Democratic candidate doesn't fall to the same argument that has been particularly damaging to the party since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks," Amy Chozick reports in The Wall Street Journal. "Sen. Obama has no personal military experience and is running against a war hero."
It's an impressive group, but: "At the same time, the Illinois senator's choices for his Senior Working Group on National Security may open him up to more criticism from Republicans that the professed 'change' candidate is relying on familiar Washington insiders or that the failure of these former officials to kill or catch Osama bin Laden before the 9-11 attacks left the nation vulnerable on President Bush's watch," McClatchy's Margaret Talev reports.
This is a tough spot to start from: "Two more Obama advisers acknowledged Wednesday that Osama Bin Laden would be extended Habeas Corpus rights if the al Qaeda leader were brought to Guantanamo Bay," per ABC's Sunlen Miller, Teddy Davis, and James Gerber. "The Obama advisers were quick to add, however, that this reading of Bin Laden's rights, which was established by last week's Supreme Court ruling and would be binding on the next president no matter who wins in November, does not mean that the man who claims credit for the 9/11 terrorist attacks would be released."
But Obama supports the court ruling, and McCain pounces: Obama "doesn't have an understanding of the nature of the threat. And I'll look forward to that debate, quite often, in the future," McCain said Wednesday in Missouri, per ABC's Jake Tapper.
Countered Obama: "Either Senator McCain's campaign doesn't understand what the Court decided, or they are distorting my position."
Rudy Giuliani must have loved that he was able to quote Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., on a McCain campaign conference call. "We could point to many, many examples during the debates where the words 'irresponsible' and 'naive' were applied to Senator Obama, but not by a Republican, but by Hillary Clinton," the former mayor, R-N.Y., said Wednesday.
The Washington Times' Christina Bellantoni: "Democrats warned that the prolonged Obama-Clinton battle could give Republicans ammunition, and they have been proved right as Mrs. Clinton's harsher words resurface in campaign missives from Sen. John McCain and national, state and local Republicans."
And Cindy McCain is willing to play the game, too. Asked about Michelle Obama's "proud of my country" comments, she's no Laura Bush: "I don't know why she said what she said," Mrs. McCain told ABC's Kate Snow in Vietnam, in an interview that aired on "Good Morning America" Thursday. "Everyone has their own experience. I don't know why she said what she said, all I know is that I have always been proud of my country."
History will record that -- whatever else might happen in this campaign -- the next First Lady of the United States has co-hosted "The View."
Michelle Obama's star turn began with a fist bump, touched on her kids and a letter she's sent to Laura Bush, and ended with her image maybe just slightly softened.
"Obama appeared relaxed, cracking jokes alongside 'View' co-hosts Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Joy Behar, and Sherri Sheperd," ABC's Jennifer Parker writes. "Her appearance on the popular women's daytime television program coincides with an attempt by the Obama campaign to soften her image and combat efforts by some conservatives to paint her as unpatriotic or angry."
Mrs. Obama, on "proud of my country": "What I was talking about was having a pride in the political process," she said. "I mean people are just engaged in this election in a way we haven't seen in a long time. And I think everybody has agreed with that."
"The amount of scrutiny the two spouses face is not commensurate -- Mrs. Obama has endured far more virulent attacks by her critics -- but it is somehow symmetrical," Alessandra Stanley writes in The New York Times. "Mrs. Obama went on a popular television talk show to combat the notion that she is a little too authentic to be a first lady, while Mrs. McCain did it to undercut the image that she is too fake."
"Obama's turn on 'The View' proved how much the would-be first lady will remain on the front lines of her husband's presidential bid," writes The Boston Globe's Joanna Weiss. "She's too interesting a figure to linger in the background, an unHillaryesque mix of unapologetic femininity and headline-drawing presence."
McCain dabbles in disaster politics on Thursday -- coincidentally the same day President Bush has chosen to tour flood-damaged areas in Iowa.
The downside: "The debate about whether Senator John McCain is "McBush'' continues, but on Thursday one thing will be clear: The presumptive Republican nominee and President Bush will be in Iowa touring areas hard hit by floods," Elisabeth Bumiller writes in The New York Times.
Said McCain adviser Charlie Black: "We're not going within 30 miles of the city he's in."
But McCain and Bush are teammates in this new energy push: "Republicans positioned themselves for an election-year battle with Democrats on the issue of high gasoline prices as President Bush lined up with John McCain to push for oil drilling off the U.S. coast and in other environmentally sensitive areas, such as oil-shale regions in the U.S. West," John D. McKinnon and Stephen Power report in The Wall Street Journal.
Should we feel bad for McCain here? "Poor McCain has been trying desperately to convince the public that there's a vast, vast gulf between him and the current administration," Gail Collins writes in her New York Times column. "It's been tougher than he expected."
Could another move be next? From the Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader: "For years, McCain has opposed drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Refuge Area (ANWR). But during today's town hall meeting, McCain said he'd be willing to reconsider that stance. 'I would be more than happy to examine it again,' McCain said."
"In a move that was carefully coordinated among the White House, Sen. McCain's presidential campaign and leading Republican lawmakers, the president sharply criticized the Democrat-run Congress for blocking the administration's past proposals to boost domestic oil production," they write.
Plus, the nuclear option: "Sen. John McCain proposed Wednesday to dramatically increase America's commitment to nuclear power, calling for a crash program to build 45 reactors by 2030 and a long-term goal of building 100 such plants across the country," Bob Drogin reports in the Los Angeles Times.
McCain is in Iowa to tour flood damage on Thursday, as is President Bush.
McCain caps his evening with a fundraiser in Minneapolis and a town-hall meeting in St. Paul, Minn.
Obama meets with labor leaders in Washington Thursday morning, and also spends time with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and members of the Women's Caucus before heading home to Chicago.
Obama "met here last night with dozens of union leaders in an effort to mobilize their support for the general election as lingering rifts from a hard-fought primary campaign as well as broader tensions among major unions threaten to undermine organized labor's efforts on his behalf," The Washington Post's Alec MacGillis reports.
Part of what must be overcome: "AFSCME's president, Gerald W. McEntee, criticized Obama until the end of the primaries, declaring in late May that Obama was a weak candidate who 'will literally walk almost lame into the Democratic National Convention' and who 'has a problem with the blue-collar worker and relating to that worker.' "
Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
A new push from VoteBoth.com: The grassroots campaign kicks it to another level on Thursday, with an e-mail set to go out to the more than 35,000 signers of the "dream ticket" petition, urging them to post video appeals to Obama's search team on behalf of Sen. Clinton. A VoteBoth-er tells ABC: "We've been making the case in terms on hard metrics . . . and this is going to be a more personal look at why there is so much support behind the idea of a 'dream ticket.' "
How many more McCain events can retired Gen. James Jones attend before he bumps himself off of Obama's list (and maybe onto McCain's)? No endorsement from Jones, but "yesterday, as the presumptive Democratic nominee held briefings in Washington with dozens of military and foreign policy advisers, General Jones was not there," the New York Sun's Russell Berman points out. "Instead, he was in Missouri, sitting on an energy security panel convened by Mr. Obama's Republican rival, Senator McCain, who praised him as 'a great friend and a great patriot.' "
The slow (for now) drift of Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., continues: "Joe Lieberman describes himself as so estranged from the party over the Iraq war and national security policy that he is committed to siding with Senate Democrats only 'for now' as he campaigns for Republican presidential candidate John McCain," per USA Today's Susan Page.
Said Lieberman: "For now, I've decided to stay and fight for the kind of security policy, foreign policy that I think the party stood for when I joined in the '60s," Lieberman says. Asked if he plans to be a Democrat "forever," he replied: "You know, forever is a long time."
(And Lieberman also tells USA Today that he was among those who encouraged Obama to run.)
Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., was in Washington Wednesday claiming to speak with "one voice across party lines and across chambers" in support of a $5.8 billion package of Katrina aid.
But unity has its limits: "This puts the first-term Republican governor and former congressman at odds with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who labeled the Senate version of the $5.8 billion funding request 'bloated' and criticized it for being attached to measures to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan," per ABC's Z. Byron Wolf, Kate McCarthy, Teddy Davis, and Gregory Wallace.
With McCain headed to Minnesota Thursday night, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been a bit busier parlaying questions about his status: "I'm honored to have my name mentioned," he said Wednesday (starting to get this thing down pat), per Bob von Sternberg of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "The fact is, I haven't been asked, and I don't expect to be asked."
The Los Angeles Times' Don Frederick picks up on the panning Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., got at a fundraising dinner last week in Orange County, Calif. In his appearance, Crist said that Ronald Reagan "came from right here in Orange County." (He must have had him confused with Nixon.) And note to staff: Not all Republicans love California's Republican governor.
Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., weighs in on what might make a good vice president, then leaves the rest to our imagination: "We've ignored the Southwest. . . . We've ignored the Southwest Hispanic vote," he said Wednesday in New York, per The Washington Post's Keith B. Richburg. "If John Kerry had won New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado -- states he lost by two or three percent -- he'd be president today."
More buzz for Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.: "He could become what Democrats have long needed: the soldiers' candidate," Dan Payne writes in a Boston Globe op-ed. "Webb on Webb: 'It's pretty safe to say that I am the only person in the history of Virginia to be elected to statewide office with a union card, two Purple Hearts, and three tattoos.' White guys like talk like that."
Bloomberg's Margaret Carlson likes the sound of "Vice President Al Gore." "The most important reason Gore should be vice president is that he's suffered and learned. He has the temperament some of us reach on our death beds. He could have fought on, but found honor in retreat," Carlson writes.
The New Republic's Ben Wasserstein talks up (and down) Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y. -- for both tickets. "It's easy to see why Bloomberg -- or the idea of Bloomberg--is so appealing to both presumptive nominees. McCain and Obama both believe that the brand of politics Bloomberg has come to represent--intelligent, technocratic, results-oriented, bipartisan, or, variously, post-partisan--is their own," Wasserstein writes. "Politically, Bloomberg represents Obama and McCain as they see themselves. He would be, in short, the ultimate vanity veep -- and part of that vanity would come in ignoring just how bad a choice he would be."
Also making news:
Compromise, at last, on war funding: The House vote is set for Thursday. "President Bush would win $162 billion in long-overdue funding to carry out military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next year under a bipartisan agreement sealed on Capitol Hill on Wednesday," the AP's Andrew Taylor reports. "The agreement reached between House Democrats and Republicans and the White House -- if passed into law as expected -- would finally put to rest Bush's long-standing battles with congressional Democrats over war funding."
"The bill, which could be voted on as early as Thursday in the House, would effectively bring to a close the two-year battle between President Bush and Congressional Democrats over war financing by allocating about $163 billion for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through early next year without imposing conditions like a withdrawal deadline," Carl Hulse writes in The New York Times.
Karl Rove has tough words for both candidates on the economy: "Barack Obama and John McCain are busy demonstrating that in close elections during tough economic times, candidates for president can be economically illiterate and irresponsibly populist," he writes in his Wall Street Journal column. "Messrs. Obama and McCain both reveal a disturbing animus toward free markets and success."
Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr chides McCain: "With regard to domestic policy, Sen. McCain really has put forward nothing that would indicate he believes in dramatically shrinking the size and cost of the government," he tells Washingtonpost.com's Eric Pianin.
Primed for follow-up: "The challenges facing Sen. Barack Obama as he tries to woo supporters of former rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton could pale in comparison with Sen. John McCain's troubles with female voters -- if the voices of a growing number of prominent Republican women are any indication," Carla Marinucci reports in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Something else you'll see again: "Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., outlined a Social Security plan last week that helps inoculate him against Republican charges that he wants to hike payroll taxes on the upper-middle class," per ABC's Teddy Davis, Sunlen Miller, and Gregory Wallace. "But the proposal would raise far less revenue -- $847 billion less over ten years -- than an idea he touted in an Iowa newspaper last year when he was seeking the Democratic nomination."
The Obama outreach: "With the Democratic presidential nomination in his grasp, Sen. Barack Obama is making a full-throttle push for centrist evangelicals and Catholics," Daniel Burke writes in a story that appears in USA Today. "It's a move that's caught off guard some conservative evangelicals, who say they are surprised and dismayed to see a progressive-minded politician attempting to conscript their troops. At the same time, they say Sen. John McCain has done little to court their affections."
Yet: "Sen. John McCain so far is performing well among rank and file evangelical voters," Perry Bacon Jr. writes in The Washington Post. "A Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week found McCain collecting about 68 percent of the white evangelical vote, compared to Barack Obama's 22 percent. That number is very similar to level of support President Bush received in June 2004, when he led then Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry 65 to 30 among white evangelicals."
Advice from Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.: McCain needs to "show the country more of his heart," Brownback tells NPR's Robert Siegel.
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank collects the bold-faced names at Tim Russert's memorial service (and does anyone doubt that Luke Russert is bound for superstardom?).
Robert Novak reveals his source -- no, not THAT one. "Tim and I disagreed on tax policy and other issues, but we never debated over the phone. Instead, we exchanged political information, and I usually was the recipient. He supplied for use in my column news tidbits he could not use. During my half century of journalism, he was the only colleague who was a source."
"Eat what she tells you to eat." -- Intern instructions for how to handle the wife of Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, per The Hill's Alexander Bolton.
"Plus she let me drive the golf cart. . . . I don't get to drive much these days." -- Barack Obama, referring to Ethel Kennedy, at Hickory Hill for a fundraiser Wednesday night.
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ABC News' James Gerber, John Santucci and Jake Tapper contributed to this report.