Maybe we had it wrong from the start: It's Barack Obama who is running for George Bush's third term, while John McCain just might be pursuing John Kerry's first.
Not on policy, of course (not that Team McCain would much mind that perception these days). But in approach, in temperament, in stability, in take-no-prisoners mindset -- inside which campaign would Karl Rove recognize a piece of himself?
In the one with tightly controlled access, the jugular-aiming (drama-free) political shop, and the temerity to cast aside a fundraising pledge en route to breaking all campaign-finance records?
Or the one with rolling press conferences, scattershot messaging (with missed zingers), and complaints about the other side not playing fair?
We have found the new politics -- and it can spend half a billion dollars to win an election.
There's a signal here that Bush campaign veterans can appreciate: Obama made a coldly calculating decision based on a desire to win. He tossed aside a pledge rather than throwing away the single biggest advantage he enjoys over his rival.
"Sen. Barack Obama's decision to forgo public financing for his presidential campaign clears the way for him to outspend Sen. John McCain by 3-to-1 or substantially more in the general election, a financial edge that dramatically rewrites the playbooks for both candidates," per ABC News. "The comparison with the consistently cash-strapped McCain campaign could hardly be more stark."
If he raises $300 million, $400 million, or $500 million for the general election -- where WOULDN'T he try to compete? (And a new Obama ad that's running in Alaska, Montana, and North Dakota -- and not Minnesota, Oregon, or Washington -- tells that story "straight from the Kansas heartland" on a convenient day for it to be told.)
"Barack Obama faced two critical questions: where to play and how to pay. To answer both, the Democrat reversed course to become the first candidate to reject $85 million in public money for the general election," the AP's Liz Sidoti writes. "The decision will allow the record-shattering fundraiser to raise and spend as much as he wants -- and, thus, implement his strategy to expand the Electoral College playing field."
Not to be lost in all the discussion of broken pledges, broken systems, and broken-down negotiations: Obama, D-Ill., made a very good political move -- probably the only move that spared him the wrath of his own party. It's almost certainly the move that gives him the best chance to actually win. (Which side took that lesson to heart in 2004?)
For Obama, it's another in a series of pragmatic decisions (perish the thought). "He's kept his distance from elements of the Democratic Party that demand purity, from Washington reformers to more ideologically-motivated liberal bloggers," Politico's Ben Smith writes. "Instead, his campaign has sought the Kennedy mantle, modeling the candidate after a revered Democratic family not known for its scruples."
But as Obama would be the first to tell you, 2008 isn't 2004 -- or, for that matter, 1960. A shattered pledge joins non-existent town-hall debates and some shifting positions in the slowly growing all-talk-but-no-action collection being compiled by Team McCain.
"This is a big deal, a big deal," McCain said Thursday of Obama's decision, per ABC's Bret Hovell. "He has completely reversed himself and gone back, not on his word to me, but the commitment he made to the American people."
The calculation really wasn't all that difficult: Obama trades maybe (generously) a few thousand people who care deeply about campaign-finance reform, for maybe (surely) a few million people who will hear his message because he has an extra couple hundred million dollars to spend.
But this is a fact: He never really tried to "aggressively pursue" that agreement. (He's been the presumptive nominee for less than two weeks, and he never had the promised private meeting with McCain.)
(And no one is above reproach -- even if he purports to have created a new, better public-financing system all on his own. We still don't know how far the national press corps is from turning on him entirely.)
"Declaring independence from a 'broken system' by breaking a promise," ABC's Jake Tapper writes. "Obama hopes you'll care more about the former than the latter."
"The Illinois senator, whose campaign mantra has been reform and change, has now put himself in the position of being the candidate who lit the match that allowed the ailing public financing system to finally implode," McClatchy's David Lightman writes.
This is an audacious dance: "The move, never attempted in three decades of public financing for presidential candidates, puts the Illinois senator in the position of being a self-styled reformer, pledged to diminish the influence of money in politics, who now plans to wage the most expensive campaign in history," Christopher Cooper and Brody Mullins write in The Wall Street Journal.
"Barack Obama Thursday became the candidate of change, all right -- he changed his mind on public financing," David Saltonstall writes for the New York Daily News.
Feel the disappointment from friendly ed boards. The Boston Globe: "Senator Barack Obama has presented himself as the candidate of change, but the change he announced yesterday is a throwback to the no-holds-barred rules of campaign finance that prevailed before Watergate."
The Washington Post: "Mr. Obama had an opportunity here to demonstrate that he really is a different kind of politician, willing to put principles and the promises he has made above political calculation. He made a different choice, and anyone can understand why: He's going to raise a ton of money."
This plays into the decision-making, too: "The Obama team is also certain that McCain -- who like Obama portrays himself as a man running against the Washington system -- but who was a central figure in the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law -- has enough lapses himself to tarnish his image," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
"According to aides, Mr. Obama reached his decision knowing he might tarnish his desired reformist image -- he pledged last year to accept public financing if his opponent did as well -- but strategists for the campaign made the calculation that it was worth it, in part, because of the potential for the Republican National Committee to seriously out-raise its Democratic counterpart," Michael Luo and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times.
But don't count on 527s to make up the GOP gap -- one of Obama's main reasons for rejecting public funds. "As of today, he's looking for ghosts that don't exist," Chris LaCivita, who helped direct the Swift Boat effort in 2004, tells the Times.
"The truth is that, less than five months before Election Day, there are no serious anti-Obama 527s in existence nor are there any immediate plans to create such a group," Politico's Jonathan Martin reports.
(As for McCain's supposed head start on raising money for the general election -- ABC's Tahman Bradley reports that, through the end of April, Obama had raised $8.8 million for the general, compared to McCain's $2.8 million.)
What more motivation do Republicans need to step up their game? "Barack Obama's decision to become the first presidential nominee to shun public financing is likely to produce a cascade of money for unofficial campaign groups that until now have been on the wane," Jonathan Salant writes for Bloomberg News.
Some of us are cleaner than others. Obama, in 2006: "What folks don't understand is you're paying for the lack of public financing," Obama said, per ABC's Jake Tapper. "Because all those, you know, pork projects you read about and all the shenanigans that take place around here, you would save significantly as a taxpayer by paying what would probably end up being five dollars per person per year to finance every federal campaign."
(If you could have the high ground or the money, which would you choose?)
McCain probably didn't even have a choice: He's staying in the system.
His response may be "tinged with more than a bit of envy," Michael D. Shear writes in The Washington Post. "Unlike Obama, he's had to do it the very hard way, slogging through fundraiser after fundraiser, shaking hand after hand. By the count of some reporters who trail him daily, McCain has attended more than 90 fundraisers since March 5, flying around the country to court high-rollers in hotels and private homes."
We get another snapshot suggesting how smart this move was with the release of May fundraising numbers on Friday.
But the most anticipated statistic will be Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's debt. (The over-under is set at $30 million. How many speeches will Bill Clinton have to give to work it off?)
"Hillary Clinton's fund-raising has run so dry she'll likely have to eat the entire $11 million loan she gave her campaign, sources said," Ken Bazinet and Michael McAuliff write in the New York Daily News. "Clinton's push to retire her debt -- more than $20 million including her loan -- is going so poorly that getting help paying it down has become a major point of negotiation with Barack Obama, who wants Clinton to help smooth things with angry Clinton die-hards."
McCain on Friday moves the issue terrain to trade and the campaign terrain to Canada, armed with the new Fortune magazine piece to help his argument regarding Obama's shifting positions on NAFTA.
"John McCain heads to Canada today, where he plans to herald free trade and argue that Barack Obama's 'protectionist' policies could be harmful to U.S. alliances," Maeve Reston writes in the Los Angeles Times.
"McCain's advisors believe the border crossing will show McCain in his best light -- as a leader on the world stage unafraid to embrace an unpopular position and optimistic about the new jobs that trade could create," Reston writes. "But some political analysts wondered why McCain would choose to highlight his position in attention-grabbing trips -- whether to Canada or to economically depressed areas like Youngstown, Ohio."
"John McCain visits a place Friday he has absolutely no chance of winning: Canada," David Jackson writes in USA Today.
Another Canadian cut: "Sen. John McCain caps his weeklong push for U.S. energy independence with a trip Friday to Canada, but his own environmental plan discourages use of Canadian oil and drastically increases American reliance on oil from the Middle East and other potentially unfriendly places," Stephen Dinan writes in the Washington Times.
An odd welcome awaits in Ottawa: "One might think the Republican senator would be afforded at least a modicum of political red-carpet treatment here," Greg Weston writes in the Edmonton Sun. "Instead, the prime minister and other federal politicians are staying away, a handshake with McCain (nicknamed 'McBush' by his foe) apparently being the photo op political Ottawa most wants to avoid. Thankfully, not so the Canadian business community."
The Edmonton newspaper reported that US Ambassador David Wilkins helped set up a Friday luncheon that costs $100 a person to attend -- raising Democrats' eyebrows. "Democrats pointed out the article late Thursday night, and alleged that Wilkins's actions could be construed as a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits many kinds of political activities by government employees," per The Washington Post.
One reason to head north: Now McCain will be in a different country than President Bush.
"On Thursday morning, McCain dropped in to flood-ravaged southeastern Iowa, where he toured half-submerged buildings and offered comfort to displaced residents by telling them they had done a 'magnificent job,' " the Los Angeles Times' Reston and Bob Drogin write. "But the images of the Arizona senator flashed side by side on television with those of President Bush, who was briefed on the damage in Cedar Rapids, less than 30 miles away."
"President Bush and Sen. John McCain separately toured flood-damaged Iowa on Thursday, one seeking to ghost-bust the specter of Hurricane Katrina, and the other to score points with voters in a crucial swing state," John D. McKinnon and Laura Meckler write in The Wall Street Journal.
"Mr. Bush stopped in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City while Sen. McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, visited the small town of Columbus Junction, the kind of community that will be important to Republican turnout in the fall elections, given the party's advantage with rural voters in recent elections. The area is of added interest because of its high percentage of Hispanics."
McCain leaves behind some politics in Iowa: "An aide to Gov. Chet Culver said Thursday that Republican presidential candidate John McCain ignored the governor's request to cancel a campaign visit amid a massive flood recovery effort in the state," per the AP's David Espo.
Obama meets with Democratic governors Friday morning in Chicago. (For some reason [we can guess], the governor of Illinois won't be able to make it, per the Chicago Tribune's David Mendell and John McCormick.)
Obama then heads to Florida, with an afternoon press conference in Jacksonville (get those public-financing questions ready) in advance of his appearance before the US Conference of Mayors Saturday in Miami.
In Miami on Friday -- remember Elián: "Summoning a time of political upheaval in Miami, a great-uncle of Elián González plans Friday to publicly denounce two Barack Obama campaign advisors who helped send the boy back to his father in Cuba eight years ago," per the Miami Herald's Beth Reinhard. "One day before the expected Democratic nominee addresses a conference of mayors in Miami, Delfín González will hold a 1 p.m. news conference outside the Little Havana home where Elián lived with relatives for several months in 2000."
McCain heads to the Canadian capital.
This time, President Bush shares the state with Obama: He has a fundraiser in Naples, Fla., and another one in North Carolina.
Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
Fueling the silly-season buzz of the day: "Former Sens. John Edwards and Sam Nunn are on a list of potential running mates for Democrat Barack Obama, a congresswoman said Thursday, one day after she met with the team Obama has reviewing possible candidates," the AP's Ken Thomas reports. "Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., who leads the Congressional Black Caucus, said members of her caucus asked her to forward the names of Edwards and Nunn when she met Wednesday with Obama's vice presidential search team. The team, Caroline Kennedy and Eric Holder, indicated the two were on the list."
McCain meted out some love to his host in Minnesota Thursday night: "Republican John McCain made no secret of his regard for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty during a visit to the state on Thursday, saying Pawlenty has 'a very big place in the future of the Republican Party,' " per the AP's Martiga Lohn.
For what it's worth: "We may be at the flavor-of-the week point in the vice presidential sweepstakes, but that flavor right now for Team McCain is the environment-loving, hockey-playing governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty," James Pethokoukis writes for US News & World Report. "That tidbit is courtesy of a high-ranking McCain campaign official and reflects what I've been hearing of late among GOP activists."
Former JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen hearts Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., arguing that Obama needs the most help on national security: "I don't think Mrs. Clinton fits those criteria," Sorensen said, per the AP's Anna Jo Bratton. "But I think a Republican would. And I'm from Nebraska. I think Chuck Hagel might make a great national ticket vice presidential nominee."
More from Sen. Joe Biden's non-audition: "My role is self-appointed" in the Obama campaign, Biden, D-Del., tells The Hill's Manu Raju. "As a Democrat, I am not sitting still for any Republican suggestion that the Democratic position on national security is weak."
The Boston Phoenix's Steven Stark does some handicapping -- and sees the best choice out of the mix: Gov. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio. "That leaves Obama with [Ed] Rendell and, possibly, [Dick] Gephardt or [Bill] Bradley as backup choices if things don't work out. Yes, Obama could have done better with Strickland. But on the plus side, any of these three would strengthen the ticket and put the burden on McCain to make a selection that matches it."
Also in the news:
That Obama ad misses a detail or two, in discussing his efforts to expand veterans' healthcare: "While the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee authored provisions that ultimately made it into the law, he did not vote for its passage on Jan. 22, when he was busy campaigning in advance of the South Carolina primary," John McCormick writes in the Chicago Tribune.
Obama tries to end the incident over headscarves: "Sen. Barack Obama has personally apologized to two Muslim women who were kept from sitting behind the podium during his rally in Detroit because they wore Muslim head scarves," Katie Fretland and Christi Parsons writes in the Chicago Tribune. "Hebba Aref and Shimaa Abdelfadeel said in a joint e-mail statement Thursday that they are grateful and ready to move forward after each receiving calls from the senator with apologies."
Sen. John Kerry sees a flip-flopper -- and it's John McCain. "He has changed now on torture, which is a fundamental value," Kerry said Thursday on an Obama conference call, per ABC's Teddy Davis and John Santucci. "He has changed on taxes which he once called dangerous, and now he is in favor of the permanent Bush tax cut which he once voted against. A complete change of position on the actual substance."
Says McCain adviser Steve Schmidt: "It looks like John Kerry was for John McCain before he was against him."
Your possible Cabinet holdover: Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "According to aides and allies close to both candidates, the idea of keeping Gates at the helm of the Pentagon under the next president has begun to gain support from national security advisors in both campaigns," Peter Spiegel and Julian E. Barnes write in the Los Angeles Times.
Don't keep a seat warm for Alberto Gonzales: "Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, now under investigation for allegedly politicizing the Justice Department, ousted a top lawyer for failing to adopt the administration's position on torture and then promised him a position as a U.S. attorney to placate him, highly placed sources tell ABC News," per ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg and Ariane de Vogue.
Comedian Mo Rocca does his own version of the "whitey" tape.
Tammy Haddad, writing for Newsweek's blog on the three "Russert miracles" that emerged Wednesday: No. 1: "The family of the late Meet the Press host Tim Russert had requested that Senators Obama and McCain to sit together [at the funeral], and the two presidential combatants obliged."
No. 2: "At the end of the 65-minute-long televised service, a surprise guest appeared: Russert favorite Bruce Springsteen, on a giant screen playing 'Thunder Road.' 'This is for your pop,' Springsteen told Luke."
No. 3: "The third 'miracle' took place as the crowd moved to the rooftop for a reception. The sun returned after a light, fast summer rainstorm and the sky opened to a rainbow extending from one end of the Kennedy Center to the other."
"Is anyone still an atheist now?" Luke Russert asked.
"We're of course willing to split the cost of the call." -- Obama spokesman Bill Burton, writing to his McCain counterpart, Jill Hazelbaker, suggesting that Bob Bauer and Trevor Potter duke it out on the same conference call.
"We'd actually prefer to set up a meeting with the two candidates at 10 town hall meetings of Obama's choosing now through the convention, so we can fully discuss Barack Obama's abandonment of his pledge to take public financing." -- Hazelbaker, firing back.
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ABC News' John Santucci and James Gerber contributed to this report.